HubSpot — ever heard of ‘em? This tech-giant has built their brand over the years by dishing out practical, tactical advice on tons of marketing topics across their blog. And if you’re in the B2B space, chances are you’ve read at least a blog post or two of theirs, if not three or four, over the past ten years. Given their knack for creating engaging content, it may not come as a surprise that HubSpot has started to wade into the podcast waters as of late — in fact, they already have several.
These shows cover everything from stories about brands growing their businesses and fostering a great office culture, to what it’s like working at an agency and how to hone-in on your marketing, sales, and customer services skills. But, what if I told you they have yet another podcast that dives into the careers of, say, a professional dream analyst or a former contestant on The Bachelor? Yep, they do! It’s called Weird Work and it’s arguably one of the most interesting podcasts in the B2B space.
HubSpot has built its brand on a bedrock of pragmatic content. But, over the years, they’ve also realized that people crave creative, narrative-driven content and that crafting a truly original, fun show can benefit their brand and bottom line just as much as actionable guides can.
We sat down with Matthew Brown, HubSpot’s Senior Audio Producer, to learn about the story behind Weird Work and its impact on the business. Read on to learn how they launched B2B’s weirdest podcast and how you can launch an unconventional podcast of your own!
Before launching Weird Work, Brown and his team had been producing HubSpot’s flagship podcast, The Growth Show, for two years. Each week, they released a new episode and eventually built The Growth Show into a top business podcast.
Despite The Growth Show’s success, Brown felt the itch to try something new — something that focused less on traditional business stories and more on the unique ways people make a living. That’s when the idea for Weird Work hit him.
“As lead producer, I wanted the show to be entertaining, human, and irreverent. I wanted to normalize the cultural taboo about what’s considered ‘weird’ and celebrate the fascinating folks who have these incredibly interesting jobs,” Brown says. “Jobs like an international pizza consultant, an LSD microdosing coach, a professional hand model, etc.”
“I took the direction of the show somewhere that even today debatably straddles the proverbial business podcast line, which made ’Weird Work' as much about culture as it is about business.”
Armed with a compelling concept and a track record for podcasting success, getting internal buy-in for Weird Work was relatively easy. But that doesn’t mean Brown didn’t come prepared with a business case for the show.
“I took the direction of the show somewhere that even today debatably straddles the proverbial business podcast line, which made Weird Work as much about culture as it is about business,” Brown says. “This opened up the sheer size of the potential audience while avoiding any cannibalization of The Growth Show’s audience.”
After HubSpot gave Brown the green-light to launch Weird Work, he felt confident his team could hit the ground running. They had already catapulted The Growth Show to the top of the business podcast charts — what were they going to run into that they haven’t already overcome?
Well, as soon as Brown placed his feet onto the starting blocks, hurdles that he had never encountered before started cropping up right in front of him.
One of these hurdles was navigating the complexity of booking guests with unconventional jobs. “After coming from booking CEOs and company founders for The Growth Show, we figured booking more everyday folks would be easier,” Brown says. “Of course, that was foolish. A professional mermaid’s time is just as important as the CEO of a popular startup and equally as hard to lock down.”
Weird Work also pressure-tested Brown’s writing and storytelling skills. The podcast started out as an over-the-phone interview show, but it quickly evolved into a narrative-style podcast. So Brown adapted accordingly, shifting his focus toward storytelling and meticulously planning out each episode.
“If there’s one thing Karen Given, the executive producer of WBUR’s Only a Game and a two-time winner of the national Edward R. Murrow Award for sports reporting, has taught me, it’s that narrative doesn’t happen by accident,” Brown says. “So, whether that’s our English- and Japanese-language episode about a bowl of ramen that can help you find your dreams, or the story of the art world’s last television repairman for pieces from Nam June Paik or Andy Warhol, Weird Work has put my writing skills to the blade, and I think I’m all the better for it.”
Brown was now nearing the final stretch of Weird Work’s launch. But there was one last hurdle he needed to jump over before he could cross the finish line — promoting the podcast.
Drawing from his experience with The Growth Show, Brown knew that marketing Weird Work would be much more complex than marketing your typical ebook. So he and his team developed their own promotional strategy — one that wasn’t going to be found in any standard content-launch playbook.
To start things off with a bang, Brown and his team launched Weird Work at a co-sponsored event with The Moth Radio Hour at HubSpot’s annual INBOUND conference in 2017. This allowed them to associate Weird Work with the best of the best in storytelling and attract a like-minded audience.
Next, one of Weird Work’s first guests was Heather Feather, a popular ASMR-tist on YouTube, so Brown and his team sponsored one of her ASMR videos. She then mentioned Weird Work during the episode and linked out to the show in the description.
These co-marketing ideas paired with more traditional tactics — such as Overcast ads, ad swaps with other podcasts like Twenty Thousand Hertz, and sponsorships through NPR and Spotify — spread Weird Work to the masses. The show ended up securing a spot in iTunes New & Noteworthy category, got featured in The New York Times, and was named a top podcast by Inc. Magazine.
As a result, all of this press made it easier for Brown and his team to monetize Weird Work. But just like Weird Work’s marketing strategy, they took a much different approach to monetization than a typical podcasting team would.
Instead of selling Weird Work’s ad placements, Brown and his team used them to promote other marketing initiatives that HubSpot had just launched, like one of HubSpot Academy’s new courses.
This innovative promotional strategy yielded tremendous results for HubSpot during Weird Work’s first season, generating tens of thousands of dollars in ad placement opportunities and producing conversion rates that were equal to or above those that HubSpot’s social team saw on Facebook.
“This innovative promotional strategy yielded tremendous results for HubSpot, generating tens of thousands of dollars in ad placement opportunities and producing conversion rates that were equal to or above those they saw on Facebook.”
After the first season of Weird Work concluded, plenty of folks reached out to see if they could sponsor the podcast. But Brown and his team decided to use this opportunity to give back to their customers instead of taking away their hard-earned dollars. So, before the second season of the podcast aired, they ran a contest for customers and gave the winners free sponsorship throughout the show’s upcoming second season — with host-read spots co-created with HubSpot’s podcast team.
“We really do try to put our customers first,” Brown says. “I’m constantly looking at how we can add value for our listeners instead of how we can extract value from them. If you’re only thinking about monetization, then your podcast is probably not worth listening to.”
Now, if there’s a way to help your customers grow better, which is HubSpot’s brand slogan, that’s how you do it!
The story behind Weird Work can inspire any creatively focused marketer to pitch, create, and launch a podcast at their company. But how, exactly, do you do that? To help you get approval and start crafting some truly creative work, we’ve extracted four key takeaways from Brown’s process.
Rehashing your flagship podcast’s concept is one of the best ways to disappoint your audience — there’s a reason why most sequels are critically panned. Check out our guide on how to nail your binge-worthy content’s concept with a show positioning statement to avoid creating the podcast version of Basic Instinct 2.
If you’ve already successfully created a podcast at your company, your higher-ups should have enough faith in you to launch a new one. However, if they think your new podcast idea is too “out there,” come up with a compelling business case for your podcast, just like Brown did. Jay Acunzo, founder of Marketing Showrunners, wrote an insightful guide on getting internal buy-in for your show — check it out if you need help making a business case for your podcast.
If you don’t already have a podcast or video series in your back pocket that you can point to, another way you can boost the odds of getting the green light is recording a test episode of your podcast. You’ll be able to give others a taste of the emotional experience your show provides by actually showing — not just telling — them what it will be about.
Take a page from Brown’s podcasting promotion playbook and co-sponsor events with similar types of podcasts, sponsor your guest’s content, and do ad-swaps with other podcasts that you admire. If you want to explore more promotional strategies for your podcast, here are 11 other ways to grow your audience.
Weird jobs shouldn’t be limited to the likes of professional cuddlers or the Saturday Night Live bandleader. People with traditional 9-to-5 roles can and should carve out time in their schedules to do some weird work of their own. Because if HubSpot, the “how-to” brand of B2B, can pull off an unconventional podcast, you can too! Now, get recording.