Hands up, who listens to podcasts? Here’s a confession: I’ve always been lukewarm to them. Previously, I’ve found them to be ponderous and, with the exception of the BBC and FT ones, generally poorly-produced.

It turns out I’ve been wrong. I was doing some research on cloud computing recently and stumbled across the Cloud Computing Podcast, which I found to be a goldmine of insight into cloud computing (believe me, it’s hard finding this stuff). At the same time, one of my digital marketing buddies, Bernie Mitchell, has been extolling the virtues of podcasting to me for about the last year and is five episodes into his own podcast, Engaging People.

The rise of smartphone use and growth of free or cheap tools to create podcasts, plus a focus on content marketing has created a mini-revival of podcasting.

It’s not just the biggies like The Bottom Line with Evan Davis from the BBC or Listen To Lucy from the FT that attract large audiences, but independent podcasts like Answer Me This, which reportedly gets 50,000 downloads per week.

From a PR’s perspective, there are three reasons to take in interest in podcasts.

1. Listen: learn about your industry.

2. Reach out: get your clients or your company featured on leading podcasts.

3. Speak out: make your own podcast and reach your target audience in a different way, at a different time.

The reasons also map quite nicely onto a three-step process for PRs to get into podcasting. I’ve spoken to half a dozen podcasters to get an insight into why they do it and ways PR people can engage with them, with some surprising insights.

Podcasting picture - http://www.flickr.com/people/p8/

Picture by Peet Sneekes, via Creative Commons

1. Listen
If you have regular ‘dead time’, such as travelling on the Tube or doing household chores, then podcasts are an easy way of filling time with ‘something useful’. Podcasts are great for buffing up on your industry area, so for PRs this might mean learning about search engine optimisation or getting tips on how to improve a WordPress blog. Podcasts such as Neville Hobson and Shel Hotz’s For Immediate Release and Jon Buscall’s Online Marketing and Communications are highly recommended for PR and marketing professionals.

2. Reach out
Speaking to a number of independent podcasters, I didn’t get the impression that they are often targeted by PRs, which is odd given that audience figures are comparable to successful blogs or trade magazines. Jon Buscall, for example, says that his podcasts have reached up to 6,000 downloads, while even newcomers regularly get 500 downloads.

Kelvin Newman, Strategy Director at SiteVisibility, the company behind the Internet Marketing Podcast, which covers the latest SEO developments, gives PRs some very familiar advice about approaching podcasters: “Actually spend some time listening to our podcast, reference some of the people/products we’ve featured recently and make a connection to who you’re representing.”

Neville Hobson agrees and says that the best way of PRs getting clients involved with For Immediate Release is to firstly listen to a few episodes and then join in the online discussion communities on Google+, Facebook or Friendfeed. He says, “Don’t lurk, join in and contribute. Comment on a topic: it’s almost guaranteed to be included in a show.”

Ruth Arnold, who produces a technology and parenting podcast called Parental Geekery with her husband John, suggests, “A considered approach from PRs is important, offering something relevant that gives us something to talk about. Or somebody with something interesting to say that we could interview – I think interviews actually work better in podcasts than they do in the blogging world.”

3. Speak out
So, you’ve listened to a gazillion podcasts, got your clients or company featured on the best ones that matter to their audience – what next? Make your own podcast, of course!

Perhaps this isn’t for everyone as podcasting is a big commitment – even more so than blogging. But Engaging People podcaster Bernie Mitchell says that’s the appeal, and that one of the great things about podcasting is that it gets you used to a good discipline of producing a show on a regular basis.

It’s important to think about who’s fronting it up. John Arnold, who’s made a number of podcasts, including Parental Geekery, says, “The whole thing hinges on whether people end up feeling they like the hosts. Podcasting at this ‘long tail’ end of the market depends very much on the feeling that the hosts are trustworthy, available and likeable.”

Jon Buscall, who has produced over 80 episodes of his podcast over two years says, “I think the main thing to remember with podcasting is that it’s a slow burn. It takes time to build relationships with customers / leads. However, the real strength is that you get to be in people’s ear buds. There’s something incredibly personal about that. Regular listeners really get to know you, get a sense of your personality and that breaks down barriers. I’ve got some great jobs through podcasting with clients in El Salvador, the UK, Canada as well as Sweden.”

So there you have it: podcasting can help you keep up to date, profile your business or your clients and can help win business in its own right. What’s not to like?

Where next for podcasting?
It seems that despite all the virtues of podcasting, there are a few shortcomings. As Neville Hobson says, “Knowing how many people, and who they are, that listen to your show is the Holy Grail of podcasting!” Firstly, it’s notoriously difficult to pin down listener figures, as there’s not a single platform for downloading them and there’s no body equivalent to RAJAR to monitor them. From a PR’s perspective, this makes it hard to assess the ones which are the most successful. On top of that, podcasts don’t feature prominently on the PR industry databases, such as Gorkana, so they aren’t found easily. A podcast Gallup-style chart, broken down by topic area would help solve this.

There’s no doubting that there’s still a lot of variability in quality. Personally, I think podcasts are a bit like video – little and often is usually better than long shows (although some, like For Immediate Release, manage to defy this rule).

They say that the cream always rises to the top, but I’d like to see more debate about podcasts and people recommending the best ones to each other so we can all get more out of the discipline.

So, to kick things off, here are some podcasts to check out.

Great podcasts for PRs, selected by podcasting experts (and me!):

Freakonomics – economics podcast, nominated by Neville Hobson and Kelvin Newman.

FT Connected Business – B2B technology podcast, nominated by Phil Szomszor.

Photography Tips From The Top Floor – photography podcast, nominated by John Arnold.

Manager Tools office tips podcast, nominated by Ruth Arnold.

Media Talk – media podcast from The Guardian, nominated by Phil Szomszor.

Six Pixels of Separation – digital marketing podcast, nominated by Bernie Mitchell and Jon Buscall.

Target Internet – digital marketing podcast, nominated by Kelvin Newman.

Trafcom News Podcast communications podcast, nominated by Neville Hobson.

Wired UK – general geekery, nominated by Firefly’s Charlotte Stoel.


Plus, thanks to my contributors in this article. Check out their podcasts:

Engaging People – digital sharing economy podcast.

For Immediate Release – public relations and technology podcast.

Internet Marketing Podcast – SEO podcast.

Online Marketing and Communicationsdigital and marketing podcast.

Parental Geekery parenting and tech podcast.


Any other suggestions for great PR, marketing or digital podcasts?

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