Should An Ad Agency Produce Your Branded Podcast?

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(By Tim O’Brien) The first place just about every organization goes to when considering production of their own branded podcast is their ad agency. It makes sense.

Need an online video? “Call the ad agency.”
Need a radio commercial? “Call the ad agency.”
Need a multi-media package for a big trade show? “Call the ad agency.”

Conventional thinking is that if it involves video or audio production, a smart brand puts the project in the hands of its ad agency. In turn, the agency may use the resources it has in house, but more likely it will outsource to niche professionals like videographers, studios and post-production houses.

It’s customary for the brand to assign something to an agency and then forget about it until they come back with a production plan, budget and timetable. But here’s the problem. Not all ad agencies have the foggiest idea what it takes to produce and sustain an affordable podcast that generates listeners to build a community.

With this in mind, here are four basic questions to ask the agency before you ask them to take on your branded podcast:

Question #1: Do you listen to podcasts?

Sub-question: If so, what do you think makes an effective branded podcast?

These are important questions. While many in the ad world do listen to podcasts, and some produce their own, that doesn’t mean that they know what it takes to create an effective branded podcast.

I’ve listened to my share of branded podcasts that are highly produced and expensive, but they are lacking one key ingredient. They don’t engage the listener. Instead, they do what agencies are good at doing – taking a core message or theme and driving it home so professionally, so consistently, so perfectly, that it loses a certain amount of authenticity. And to be an effective podcast of any kind, you must be authentic.

These podcasts may feature good-sounding voices, and they follow an established format. You have your questions and you have your answers. They make the producers feel good about it when they listen. But what they are not doing it creating an accessible production that makes the listener feel something.

Agencies typically view the podcast as just an audio extension of their larger campaigns, so they don’t necessarily put much attention into leveraging the uniqueness of the podcast medium to capitalize on its benefits, which count among them: creating an emotional connection with your audience; building a community through your audience; revealing the human side of your brand on a continual basis.

Question #2: How will you affordably keep us on track and get us to 100 episodes?

You have a budget. I’m sure it’s not unlimited. Most ad agencies are structured to deliver audio-visual productions as one-offs or as a short series. In the process, their cost-structures can be high, so that when you look 100 podcast episodes into the future, you quickly realize from a cost standpoint, the model is unsustainable.

You know from experience that any time you engage an agency in a production project, it will take huge chunks to time to plan and execute. The process involves a collaborative process that can be burdensome when you have so much else to do.

On the flip side, you want quality and consistency with your other branding activities that working with the same agency provides.

You may have to consider a hybrid approach to your podcast, one that doesn’t rely on the ad agency to do everything from start to finish for every episode. That way you can tap their expertise and value without breaking the bank and without taking too much time.

It may be worth considering creating a team of internal and external specialists who can each take on a portion of the podcast program so that once it’s up and running, it’s as easy and affordable to manage as keeping your organization’s blog up to date.

Question #3: How frequently should we post new episodes?

Of the four questions we’re covering here, this one is a litmus test. There are right and wrong answers, and how the agency responds may reveal just how credible their responses are to the other three questions.

Veteran podcasters will tell you that to build a following, frequency and consistency matter. If you produce a weekly podcast, it had better come out every week around the same time. Podcast listeners are, if anything, creatures of habit. To help them create and follow the habit of listening to your podcast, you must follow some habits of your own.

Another thing podcasting veterans advise is that the more frequently you produce new episodes, the greater the chance of building a community. Fresh content matters.

Based on what I’ve experienced, seen and learned from others more experienced than me, if you produce a branded podcast you should produce at least two episodes per month, but weekly would be ideal. If you only budget and plan for one podcast episode per month, you’ll never build the momentum needed to help the podcast fulfill its potential.

If your ad agency tells you otherwise, you are probably talking to people without a deep amount of podcasting knowledge. The primary reason an agency would advise a less frequent podcast would center on their ability to meet your budget. The reduction in the number of episodes works for them, but probably not you.

One other approach that can help address the issue of frequency is considering production of your podcast in seasons instead of an ongoing basis. There are pros and cons to that which may be best saved for another article.

Question #4: How will you help us build a community through our podcast?

Expect to hear the agency respond to this question with something like this: “We will leverage your social media channels so that your key stakeholders know about your latest episode and are encouraged to comment and share.”

Actually, they should say this and they should do it. But that’s not the best answer to the question.

The best answer should focus on how they are going to ensure that the content strategy within the podcast is special. How it’s so special that your listeners want to listen. They want to share. They want to engage with you. They want to belong to your brand, and they want your brand to belong to them, and listening to your podcast has to be a part of it.

This comes with creating content that is thought-provoking and vulnerable at times. It shouldn’t be perfectly scripted and without flaw 100 percent of the time. There has to be a sense that the brand isn’t trying to maintain vice-like control over the content of the podcast at all times.

It has to feel like a free-flowing, give-and-take that makes both the audience better and the brand better for having had the conversation.

You can measure this through analytics of social sharing, and that’s good. But a focus on content is where it all should start. The time to start thinking of building a community is long before an agency involves its social media function. The time to start building a community through a branded podcast is when you start building the podcast.

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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