From pitch to streaming platform, a news brand podcast’s journey is one of curiosity, refinement and bringing value to listeners
Every podcast comes from an idea.
Sometimes it comes from something you notice — especially if what you notice is that it doesn’t exist yet. That’s how the Guardian’s head of audio Nicole Jackson felt when she noticed a lack of podcasts offering a “witty analysis of pop culture”.
Speaking to PodPod in November, she explained: “There was an obvious gap in the market — both I think within the sort of Guardian range of podcasts for something pop culture focused and, to be honest… in the wider market.” With that, the news brand’s successful ‘Pop culture’ podcast was born.
Other times, it starts with something close to your heart. Jess Austin, Metro’s first-person and opinion editor and host of new podcast ‘My Platform’, was inspired by the column she edits, giving underserved voices a space to tell the stories they want to people to hear.
She says: “When I mentioned my desire to launch [a podcast] for our section, I received brilliant support from my editors.”
Some podcasts don’t start life as a podcast at all. The Telegraph’s daily ‘Ukraine: The Latest’ podcast started life as a Twitter Spaces broadcast in the wake of the initial invasion, with the recording put out as a podcast so more people could catch up with the discussion.
Talking to Press Gazette at the end of last year, the news brand’s associate defence editor Dominic Nicholls explained how it moved exclusively to a podcast format: “We collectively realised that something was happening here, the appetite was so strong for a daily offering and events in the war were happening so fast that it was irrelevant to try and do a weekly – and even daily there was just so much.”
Before getting behind the mic…
You’ve got an idea down — now it’s time to turn it into reality. That can be more difficult than it may seem.
For anyone who thinks putting a podcast idea into action means just getting behind the nearest mic, the Guardian’s Nicole Jackson quickly bursts that bubble. She revealed that several Guardian podcasts took many months to pilot before they were ready to release publicly.
Top of the list for the ‘Pop culture’ podcast was finding a host. Jackson said: “We did a lot of piloting internally and externally and actually, it was incredibly helpful, because there were loads of people who were brilliant, and we’re going to get them back as guests.
“But writer and journalist Chanté just really stood out…just like she had the thing, you know, when you’re just hearing, you’re like, ah, there it is.”
Tone and structure were also important to nail down, particularly when it came to try to speak to younger audiences.
“I really want people to feel like they’re eavesdropping on their smart friend explaining something”, she said, adding: “I always think it’s a mistake to try and make stuff specifically for, quote unquote, young people, because I think you can end up feeling inauthentic and I think anyone can smell that a mile off.”
This ‘eavesdropping’ into insider knowledge is also important for John Cross, the Mirror’s chief football writer and co-host of Reach’s Football Digest.
He says: “I feel what we should offer is something behind the scenes. Something we can give through being there. The little insight from a press conference. Something you’ve seen in the tunnel. A little bit of inside info which isn’t always a big story but can be interesting and revealing.”
Mel Evans, Metro partnerships and project editor, singles out the need for the content to be able to add something to the subjects they want to speak about: “We want our content – no matter the medium – to have real impact, so sometimes that means many a meeting, fine-tunings and preparation so any podcast we launch is the best quality possible to really thrive.“
The view from across news brand podcast creators is clear: to make a podcast that is successful with their audiences and makes a meaningful contribution to their lives, the proof is in the planning.
How can brands get involved?
With podcasting never more relevant or popular among audiences, news brands offer advertisers an opportunity to take advantage of a highly engaged listenership and align themselves with issues they care about.
Natasha Acquisto, Metro head of innovation and partnerships, underlines the importance of authenticity when it comes to a brand sponsoring editorial content. She says: “We want to work with brands that share similar values and have a clear synergy ensuring an authentic output that will resonate with our listeners.”
What about podcasts tailor-made by news brands for brands’ campaigns? Acquisto says they are always “at the heart of the episode”, with a say on content and guest selection.
However, she advises them to trust podcast teams’ expertise in producing engaging content: “Like native content, branded podcasts need to be engaging and authentic. Podcasts need to feel like a conversation and not a script.”
She adds: “It is about striking the right balance.”