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15 things to consider before starting an association podcast

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It seems as though you cannot throw a proverbial rock without hitting a figurative podcast; everybody seems to have one. Everyone from comedians to movie buffs and, yes, associations are trying their hand at podcasting. There are many blogs, videos and podcasts describing why you should, or should not start a podcast. 

Don’t be in a rush to hit record. It is fun and exciting to jump into a new project, but without extensive planning, you will be on the road to a destination with no map or GPS. Hang tight; let’s consider what needs to get done.

An association’s podcast is a communication, marketing, and membership development activity, and as a result, many departments in your organization should have input. 

1. Consider what you want to accomplish by starting a podcast:

  • Shape public perception/policy
  • Member business development
  • Reach new audience
  • Deepen your network
  • Get to know your members and industry leaders

Whatever your motivation, plan your content to align with your business goal.

2. Know your audience. Do not rush this step. A content marketing best-practice is to develop buyer personas. According to HubSpot, “A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better”Many podcasters develop their content to an avatar. An avatar is a single representative of the large audience, similar to a buyer persona. The podcast is created for this person. Speak to this person. Will this person enjoy this episode, this guest or topic? If you think about and speak to this person when planning your content, you will create focus and a niche audience. 

Take a lot of care here. If you are doing an interview-style podcast, are there enough people in the guest-pool to fulfill your format and angle? If you begin the podcast without a clear avatar, your focus can drift, and potentially alienate listeners.

Do not be afraid to create niche content vs. for the masses. If the internet has taught us anything, it is that there is something for everyone. Case-in-point: Ever notice that there is an association for every profession or interest?

3. Commit. Weekly, monthly or by “season,” commit to the podcast. Without a plan, you may get the “seven-episode itch” and quit. Starting a podcast is relatively easy. Maintaining one is difficult. iTunes and other podcast directories are littered with podcasts that publish fewer than five or 10 episodes. About 10 episodes into this venture, you will still be figuring out your recording and editing workflow. It will get more difficult before it gets easier. While there are many resources online from expert podcasters, you still learn by doing and by going through your own learning curve. You will also discover this new venture is a lot of work and takes more time than you anticipated. If you commit to posting regularly no matter what, you will learn to streamline your workflow. 

4. How often will you publish? Establishing how often you post an episode correlates to the aforementioned “Commit” consideration.Whether you choose to post an episode weekly or monthly, once you commit, stick to your schedule. The key to building an audience is posting regularly. I expect a new episode every Monday on Bill Burr’s “Monday Morning Podcast.”

Want to take a break? Some successful podcasters produce “seasons” like TV shows. NPR podcasts like Serial and Invisibilia do this. 

If the content is not time-sensitive, you may want to “stock up” on a few episodes so you can take a vacation, or publish over a holiday. It is also common to upload a “rerun” of a previously published episode.

5. Who will host the podcast? While people might listen and subscribe to your podcast because of the title or the subject matter, they will continue to listen because they appreciate the host’s stance, opinion or style. The host or hosts tie(s) the show together. Ensure that whoever hosts the show, they are committed to the process of producing a regular piece of content.

6. What is the format and length of an average episode? You have an idea for a podcast and an idea of personnel involved. How will the information be presented? Will it be a highly produced NPR-style podcast, a single host speaking to the listener, or a host or panel discussing a topic? Perhaps you will consider a Chris Hardwick-style interview where a host has a deep conversation with a subject for an hour. Maybe you will have 5-10 minute episodes like former “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe reading an essay in his show, “The Way I Heard It.”It is OK to experiment with this a little, as your show “finds its way” eventually.

7. Script. One thing I love about the podcasts I listen to is I can always count on certain things happening or being said. As a creature of habit, I enjoy singing along with Kevin Smith’s opening theme on his show, SMODcast, or say, “Enjoy your burrito” on the ID10T (formerly Nerdist) show with Chris Hardwick. I always enjoy when Bill Burr gives uninformed advice at the end of his “Monday Morning Podcast” to listeners who write in. We all like routine and structure.

These shows are successful partially because famous people host them, but I would argue that listeners love their format, executed by their script. Having a script does not mean reading from a page word-for-word. A podcast script can simply organize intro and outro music, promotional reads, advertisements, when one speaks and the general flow of an episode. 

Our script helps layout the order of the episode long before we start recording. It aids in planning and gives the listener an idea of what to expect from your show each episode. Here is my script for our client’s show, Talking Industrial Automation which I based on this guide that the CDC authored.

8. Scheduling guests. If you do have guests on your show, then you will discover that scheduling a time is like scheduling any other meeting: there’s a lot of back and forth to find space on each other’s calendars. 

You want to make it easy on your guest, so use a tool like Calendly or other scheduler-app that will show your availability. Tools like this will integrate with your work calendar and allow the guest to book only on days or dayparts you choose. I record only on Wednesdays and Fridays, typically between 10-3 p.m. Central. My guests cannot see my other appointments and cannot book outside of these parameters. They can choose a time slot that works for them while ensuring I am not double booked.

9. Equipment. I have launched two podcasts in my career, and both were started with borrowed or already-owned equipment and free software. You do not have to go out and buy hundreds of dollars of equipment to start. You can begin recording a podcast with a smartphone. Add headphones which include a mic and record in a quiet space and you are underway. You will want to consider, though, if you will be able to budget for some podcast equipment. 

Once you have a budget to upgrade your equipment, you can start to add items to improve the sound quality and time spent editing. Adding some key things like a digital recorder (like an H4N Pro) and a few decent microphones will improve sound quality and are good first choices.
For under $500 you can own some decent equipment that is mobile and will set you up for success. Here’s a sample equipment list and what we use.

10. Technology. How will you conduct your podcast? Will you record in person or remotely? There is nothing like being face to face, but if your guests are international, it may be necessary to record over the Internet. This consideration goes hand-in-hand with equipment.

I like to use Zoom video conferencing, which is free to use for one-on-one meetings. You can set it to record individual video and audio files in case you need to do some advanced editing. If you also plan on a video podcast for YouTube or Vimeo, Zoom will record your respective webcams. Zoom has a built-in “director.” In other words, the camera shows whoever is speaking. If you plan to have three or more people then you will need to upgrade if your show is over 40 minutes. You can also evaluate Skype along with plugins like “Pamela” or “Evaer.” One other platform is Zencaster, an online podcasting-specific platform.

You can edit your podcast with the free software Audacity or a paid software from Adobe called Audition. Apple’s GarageBand has become podcaster unfriendly in the last few years.

11. Podcast hosting platform. Choosing the platform that works for your association is a big decision. There are free or $5/month platforms, and $15-20/month platforms. Consider how often you will publish episodes. Most podcast hosts have a tiered platform based on how many megabytes you upload or host per month. 

You do not want to move your podcast to another host without careful consideration, so choose wisely. It can be done, but you risk losing all of your hard-earned subscribers if you do not do your research.

12. Preparing the guest. Whether you have a guest host, panel or guest, ensure you are preparing them to hit the ground running.

I created a document I share with my guests that helps them book a time and prepare their surroundings for the best quality recording. Awareness of distractions and noise in their office will increase the audio (and video) quality of your show.

13. Consider slowing your roll. Are you ready to tell everyone yet? Hang on, you are almost there!

Make a list of podcast directories you will want to be found on. iTunes? Check. Google Play? Check. Those two might be obvious. You should research to find if there are niche podcast directories that align with specific formats and subject matter. Did you know that iHeartRadio and Spotify are growing their offering of podcasts?

Keep it all straight with a spreadsheet. Some directories will not accept you until you are one or two months old. Others may list your podcast only if they approve of your content.

Submit to directories and post a few episodes, but do not go “pedal to the metal” just yet. This gives you time to make tweaks and edits before you let the world know you have your own show.

14. Hard launch. Are you now listed in the most popular directories? It might take 1-2 months to be approved. Once you can confidently tell listeners that the show is found wherever they listen to podcasts, you are ready to go.

How will you get the word out? Here are the promotional activities I do for each episode:

  • Post to our online member forum
  • E-blast to all members
  • Post to association’s LinkedIn company page
  • Personal LinkedIn profile
  • Tag interviewee and your LinkedIn page.
  • Post to association’s LinkedIn group

Here is the email template I send to guests and their marketing contact, which asks them to participate in promoting their episode.

15. What about a news release? You should consider holding off on releasing this to the media. Ever see a blog or video series with only ONE entry that says, “This is my blog. Here I will… I’m going to…I look forward to…”

Your podcast isn’t anything yet, so why would a journalist want to cover something that you might do or say? After nearly 20 episodes, I still have not prepared a news release.

I’m reminded of Anthony Bourdain’s advice when cooking a steak: like a steak hot off the grill, let your show be. Just make new episodes. Concentrate on content, good guests and great conversation.

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