Here are the six essential planning steps to take if your newsroom is considering launching a podcast
You walk into work one morning and your editor has an idea: “Let’s make a podcast,” they say excitedly. “We have all the reporting done already!”
Faced with this suggestion, you might agree — and then stay up until 3:00 a.m. trying to figure out how you’re going to suddenly create a podcast on top of your full time job. You might also be up until 3:00 a.m. thinking about the possibilities, but unsure about where to start.
So, here are the actual steps you should be thinking about (not in the wee hours of the morning, but at your desk, with a pen and paper, or a whiteboard if you prefer) to make sure you’ve thought of the process and sustainable workflow that will get you from a pitch draft, to a green light from your editor, and finally into your listeners’ ears.
1) Determine if audio is the best format for your idea.
First things first. Stories can take many shapes and forms, and it’s worth taking a step back to ask yourself: Why is audio the medium for telling this story? If you want to create a podcast based on reporting your newsroom has already undertaken, or even already published — what is the reason for telling it in audio rather than in print or in a digital format?
If you’re creating a podcast as a complement to a print series, what does the audio add to the story? Are you just telling the same story in a different format? If you intend on relying on written articles as your content for the audio, keep in mind that writing for the ear is very different from writing a print story — podcast scripts don’t follow traditional written story structure.
The same goes for interviews: You might have a bunch of recorded interviews with your story subjects that work for printed quotes, but they might require a different kind of editing if you want a listener to stay compelled through the recorded conversation.
2) Define your goal.
What is the goal you want to achieve with your podcast? Maybe you want to tell a meaningful story about a certain topic. Maybe you want to reach a new audience. Your podcast will likely have several goals, but it’s helpful to narrow them down to a couple, achievable “SMART” goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Bound.
SMART goals are often used in project management settings (the term was coined in the ‘80s), but they can be a really helpful tool when building out your pitch, and figuring out how you’re going to track your podcast’s success. They’ll help you manage expectations (whether your own or your boss’s) and focus your energies on the goals that are your highest priority.
The main takeaway for these two first steps is to lay out the goals you want your project to achieve and then to decide whether audio is the best way to get to those goals.
3) Who is the story for? Pinpoint your audience—and be specific.
If you’re working in a newsroom, you likely already have an audience interacting with your content. Think about how you can leverage your current print, digital and social channels to point your current readership toward your podcast.
If you’re targeting a new audience, define the specifics. How does the new audience differ from the one you have now? If the phrase “diverse audience” comes up as a goal, unpack what that means. Does it mean reaching more people of color? Younger listeners? Listeners who live in a particular geographic area? Think about your staff—do your producers and reporters reflect the audience you want to reach?
4) Build a competitive landscape.
Okay. So you know what your goals are for your podcast. You’ve outlined the audiences you want to reach. The next step is taking a look at the market: There are 700,000 podcasts out there and counting. Where does your podcast fit in?
First, identify the podcasts that are your direct competition — these are the shows that are covering the same or similar topics, have a similar mission, and have a similar format, etc. Then, compare your show’s strengths, challenges and opportunities against the others. This will help you figure out what your main differentiator is, and how you can set your show apart from what’s already out there in terms of its story structure, its subject-matter, or even your podcast’s cover art.
5) Sketch out a (realistic) budget.
How much does it cost to make a podcast? That depends on the type of show you want to produce! Do you see this as a serialized investigative show or is it a weekly news roundup? Does your newsroom (and your team) have the bandwidth to be producing a weekly show on top of the work you’re already producing? If you’re considering hiring a producer, take a look at what folks are getting paid to podcast with Werk It Festival’s podcast pay transparency survey here.
If you’re trying to secure budget and buy-in from your editors and/or management, demonstrate how this podcast dovetails with your newsroom’s goals and priorities, and serves your audience (or the new audience you’d like to reach with this new show).
6) Getting your show in front of your audience:
Sometimes it’s time to get scrappy (especially when the budget is low). Remember how you put in the time to define your audience? Think about the podcasts they already listen to and whose opinions they trust when looking for recommendations.
This is also where your competitive landscape comes in — trades and collaborations with similar podcasts can get you far, especially in terms of reaching audiences who are interested in the subject matter you’re covering and are already podcast listeners. Often, it’s as simple as sending an email and exchanging shout outs.
Launching any podcast is hard, whether you’re working at an audio-first organization, a print paper or going at it on your own. There will be a lot of lessons learned along the way, and you will learn by doing. But there’s also a wealth of resources (and amazing people) out there to get you on the right track.
Werk It (WNYC’s Women’s Podcast Festival) has you covered — this year, we have sessions on everything from leveraging web strategy to reach your audiences where they already are, to how to build a realistic show budget (and make your podcast financially sustainable), to editorial and operational strategies for producers looking to intentionally make podcasts for and by people of color.
The festival is happening on October 3-4, 2019 in downtown Los Angeles — register now and join us for two full days of panels, knowledge-sharing and industry insights with the women leading the audio industry, including 1:1 workshops with audio engineers from AIR and personalized mentor matches. Folks from WNYC, Spotify, KPCC, Crooked Media, NPR, Vox Media, and so many more will be there.
See the full program and register now at werkitfestival.com.
P.S. For even more tips on how to launch a podcast effectively, listen to Rekha Murthy’s 2018 Werk It session Designing for Purpose and Produce-ability. Shout out to Rekha for bringing this talk to the stage during Werk It 2018!