Branded Podcasts: Series Or Episodic?

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(By Tim O’Brien) In my last piece for Podcast Business Journal, I covered the four questions you should ask before tapping your ad agency to produce your branded podcasts. Question number-three on that list addressed the issue of episode frequency, where I raised the notion that you could opt for a series approach to your podcast, as opposed to an episodic one. I mentioned that this decision deserves its own conversation, which brings us to now.

Note to veteran podcasters: This may be a little “Podcasting 101” for you, but it may include some good reminders.

What Are “Episodic Podcasts”?

First, let’s tackle the terminology. When most people think of podcasts, they think of episodic ones. These are the episodes you listen to whenever they come out, regardless of order. Each episode is standalone, so you don’t have to binge-listen to get caught up before you can listen to this one.

The episodic structure enables listeners to jump in and listen to any and every episode they’d like, in any order they’d like, without missing a beat.

What Are “Series Podcasts”?

The other major type of podcast format is the series approach. Not unlike any form of serial entertainment, a larger storyline drives the narrative of the podcast. Each episode is only an installment as part of the larger story, even if that story is told through interviews, theatrical style, narrative, or the storytelling form that This American Life perfected, and which led to Serial. The series has a defined beginning, middle, and end or conclusion.

Because of this, it’s usually necessary for listeners to start at the beginning. If the podcast designs the structure to consist of more than one series, it may label the first set of episodes “Season One,” the second “Season Two,” and so on.

A compelling series podcast may consist of eight to 12 episodes per season, though that number is totally up to the creator. Tied to this approach, there is ample pre-promotion, launch promotion, and a lot of marketing to entice listeners to download episodes when they are available. Many very popular series only consist of one season.

The Episodic Series

One other approach to the series format is not to use the serial approach, but to produce a series of episodic podcasts within the framework of a given season. The podcast producer may still only create a set number of episodes for the season, but listeners pick and choose which episodes they want to hear and when, without concern over losing their place in a larger narrative.

Usually, when a podcast uses a series approach but an episodic format, the collection of episodes have something in common, which supports the rationale of why the series itself needed to exist in the first place. A podcaster focusing on travel, for instance, may produce an entire series of episodes on travel in Europe. The next series might focus on travel to South America.

Still others choose the series approach for nothing more than logistical reasons. They don’t have the bandwidth to produce a new episode continually and frequently according to a standing schedule.

Managing Your Branded Podcast’s Costs

But if you are considering a branded podcast, there are ways to manage costs by opting to go the series route and not the episodic one.

Let’s say your brand is a college or university. You only have so much money budgeted for your podcast, and you can only free up so much time for staff to work on it. So, as much as you’d like to produce a new episode every week of the year, you recognize that’s just not feasible.

What you can do is create a podcast that follows a series approach that enables you to produce eight to 12 episodes, for instance, in a given period. You can then manage the expectations of your listeners not to look for a new weekly episode 52 weeks a year.

Given the nature of the academic calendar, a university can produce two to three series per year and that would make sense in the minds of its audience.

If the podcast is designed to showcase the school’s rich academic resources, a Fall series could focus on subjects coming out of the Humanities Department or English Literature.  Then in the Spring series, the podcast could shift gears and tap the intellectual resources of its Political Science Department or Business School.

In your case, whatever you decide, the most important thing to remember is that you are not bound to producing 52 episodes per year once you’ve embarked on a branded podcast for your organization. But you should have an explainable structure that allows your listeners to manage their own expectations, while anticipating your next episode.

I prepared a one-pager on the Five Steps a Brand Can Take to Create its Podcasting Story. Please feel free to get in touch with me to get your copy.

Tim O’Brien founded Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications and is the creator of the Shaping Opinion Podcast, an award-winning branded podcast. He consults with clients on branded podcasts. To get in touch with Tim, call 412.854.8845, timobrien@timobrienpr.com, or on Twitter: @OBrienPR

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