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How to play to your strengths

In the second of our Ask the Consultant Q&As we speak with Mike Russo, who develops boutique approaches to audience growth at one of the world’s leading podcast publishers, PRX. Although his current role at PRX is not in marketing, in this interview he shares his personal outlook developed through podcast marketing consultation work he has undertaken in the past.

It focuses on getting the best results for the resources available – catering to a podcast’s unique strengths and maximising those through planning, tracking and measurement.

He summarises his approach in four points: 

1) List and evaluate the methods of promotion and audience growth you have.

2) Be realistic about what you can do, but also inspire yourself with all the tools you have available.

3) Develop a template that you can become familiar with and return to for each new audience growth campaign, so it doesn’t feel like you are reinventing the wheel for every launch.

4) You can lose steam or resources by having a plan which focuses on searching for the newest ideas or just testing something that then fails. Too many marketing plans chase going viral and that’s a method for failure and burnout.

This month's guest: Mike Russo

As Project Manager for the Training Team at PRX, Mike runs accelerator programmes for independent podcasters. He has previously worked as Audience Development Director for the Kansas City NPR Affiliate (KCUR).

Mike Russo headshot

Podcast marketing is a wide-ranging subject with many different people espousing many different approaches – tell us about your approach to identifying the right ‘levers’ to pull?

My approach to marketing isn’t the best and newest ideas. It’s consistent strategy and production. Planning things over a period of time, implementing them, and measuring them. I started talking about my marketing message toolkit as levers when I worked at a station as a way to assess new products that were being developed and how we might address their needs. As I moved into podcasting I realised that each podcast marketing team can use the same tactics and it helps to just look at all of your available pieces. Even more so, it helps to know you don’t have to do everything all at once.

Would you advise different approaches depending on how many listeners a podcast has?

I would advise every show to set out clear goals of success and to list more ways of measuring success than just through downloads per episode. If they can understand that sometimes their success is the reach of their influence, or maybe even super-serving a niche, they can move their goalposts toward a better analysis of sustainable progress. If a podcast has a smaller audience, as long as it’s known and tracked, this can still be very useful and effective. Smaller-audience podcasts need different growth strategies in that growing to certain sizes of audiences need different approaches. A podcast growth strategy shouldn’t have the same plan to get from zero to 1,000 that they would to get from 20k to 40k.

Some people speak of a magical 10,000-listener mark – does the entire way you look at promotion change when you get to this many listeners?

I think people talk about 10k as the magic number because this unlocks certain tiers of ready-made third-party ads. And for a lot of people, getting those ads is their first moment of income, so I’m not going to say that isn’t a big deal. The benefit of working with a network is that often you will be paired with a sales team that can tell your story beyond your raw numbers and be able to monetise in more diverse ways. However, it is true that once a podcast reaches a larger audience the numbers will often grow with quicker intervals if production and quality are maintained.

Are there any particular promotion/marketing techniques that you have seen recommended that you would avoid?

As far as things to avoid, I would say don’t believe the hype on paid ads not working. It may take time for you to get good at paid ads and develop their benefit. Yes, social media ads are not directly geared toward podcast subscription and listening. However, I believe a small budget for paid ads has a place in every marketing budget. Many organisations, like Spotify, are working daily to make their ads more and more effective for early and mid-level podcasts.

Is there one aspect of marketing that you would consider an absolute must for every podcaster?

I think the only must is “every podcast is an influencer”. I know this can be a yucky term, but every podcast has something to say. Every podcast wants to be interacted with and social, so a social presence by somebody on the production team (often the host) is needed for sustained and early growth. A podcast is usually one piece of influence a piece of content is offering, so thinking about how to leverage it in that ecosystem is really helpful.

Podcasting has evolved very quickly over the past few years – what would you say is the most significant change/approach we have seen?

One shift that I really enjoy is the rise of the local podcast. The podcast that serves their geo-specific community is a really nice change. This is really healthy for news organisations but it extends much wider than that. Podcasts have always been a way to know and explore your community, so it makes sense that sometimes that community is where you live.

What do you predict will be the most significant change in podcasting in the next year or so with regards to marketing and promotion?

YouTube is going to only grow in their influence of podcasting. This likely means podcasts needing to think more like visual-first pieces of media, but it also just means embracing YouTube as a podcast platform. I could talk on other stuff that would be just speculation, but I would bet on YouTube’s influence growing in podcasts for sure.

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