Wondering what’s all the buzz about podcasts? In our latest episode, Alyssa Zeff chats with resident podcast enthusiast Cheryl Ross to dig up the dirt on this trend.

Learn why podcasting has exploded as a popular entertainment and education medium over the past several years. Find out what catapults a great podcast to the top of the charts. Hear how to make a podcast stand out from the pack. And learn what it takes to plan, produce, publish and market your very own employee communication podcast.

Episode transcript: 

Alyssa Zeff:
Hi everybody. Welcome back to Employee Buzz. I am Alyssa Zeff, your new homeschool expert and also jigsaw puzzle master. That is from our time during our stay at home order. I'm here with Cheryl Ross. You may recall that Cheryl was on our show last year talking about writing. Cheryl is a podcast fanatic, particularly true crime podcasts. She's an ordained reverend, we'll keep that in mind, and she can kind of speak French. Cheryl, can you kind of say something in French real fast?

Cheryl Ross:
Oh, you're going to put me on the spot.

Alyssa Zeff:
I totally believe that French. Today we are doing a podcast about podcasts. I know it's very, very meta. It's like podcast Inception. So let's kick it off right with that. Cheryl, you are a self-admitted podcast fan girl. Tell us about some of your favorites.

Cheryl Ross:
Sure, absolutely. Well, first of all, thanks for having me. The reason I can almost kind of speak French is because I studied it, but getting a little old so I don't remember everything. But yeah, I love podcasts. I listen to them all the time, and especially now that we are finding ourselves with more time on our hands, I'm listening to a lot of stuff. As you said, one of my favorite topics is true crime. I'm really fascinated with it, and this is a genre that has really blown up in recent years in the podcast scene. My favorite podcast is called “My Favorite Murder.”

Alyssa Zeff:
I know that one.

Cheryl Ross:
Do you? And yeah, it's very popular, and no, I don't condone murder. I don't like it. I'm fascinated by it. And this is one that it's very conversational. It's almost like you're chatting with friends about this really salacious topic.

Alyssa Zeff:
Any non-true crime podcasts that you like?

Cheryl Ross:
Yeah, yeah. So I love things that really get into story and storytelling and helping you to visualize. So there's a well-known podcast called “Hardcore History.” It's done by this guy named Dan Carlin, and what he does is he dives into, for hours, these historical eras. So one that was eye-opening for me was about World War I because I really just didn't know much about it, and I listened to like eight hours of this guy talking about it, but I loved it because it brought everything to life.

Cheryl Ross:
There are other storytelling ones. My cousin got into one called “Imagined Life,” where these actors and actresses bring to life biographies of well-known people, but you don't know who it is until the very end of the story. All of a sudden, they say the name and you realize who they've been talking about. It's a pretty cool twist on a biography.

Alyssa Zeff:
That's very cool. My experience with podcasts is more limited, but one of my favorites is one called “Armchair Expert” with Dax Shepard, which I think is really interesting.

Alyssa Zeff:
Let me just throw out some stats. In 2018 there were 525,000 podcasts. Now, there are almost 900,000 podcasts, and I suspect that's even gone up since I researched that stat. Ninety million people listen monthly, regularly, and the appetite is growing. Sixty-three percent of people say they listen to more podcasts now than they did a year ago. So what is happening? Why are people so interested in podcasts right now?

Cheryl Ross:
It's pretty amazing the way that podcasts have blown up in recent years because they've been around for decades. When you think about all the podcasts that we just rattled off, they are topics and people who are very interesting to us. So the most popular podcasts are very niche in what they are talking about and the stories that they're telling.

Cheryl Ross:
They're usually providing some kind of information that you haven't gotten yet. So for example, the history one I was telling you about is teaching you something, or maybe the celebrities have... There are a ton of celebrity podcasts out there. So some of them are just really into a pop culture topic that people are really interested in.

Cheryl Ross:
So a couple more stats just to throw into the fire here is about the topic. Seventy-four percent of people, and this is from a poll by Podcast Consumer, 74% of people say that they listen to podcasts to learn new things, and then 71% say they listen to be entertained. So it's really this mix of can I learn something and can I be entertained? Something I love about podcasts or even listening to audiobooks is you could multi-task while you're listening. It helps pass the time, and then it's saving time. I find myself actually reading physical books a lot less. I don't have the time to sit down and do that, but I can listen while I'm doing chores.

Cheryl Ross:
One of the last reasons that podcasts really are exploding is the technology and the work that companies are putting into it. So, it's kind of an upward spiral if you think about it. The more that podcasts become popular, the more that companies and people are putting higher levels of production into the podcasts. So you get opening music, you get theme songs, you get people using high tech recording equipment. It's not just done out of a basement anymore. Now, these are really well-produced pieces.

Alyssa Zeff:
But the good news is the technology has also enabled that you don't need a high tech studio to make that happen. You can record a pretty high-quality podcast with all of the elements that you just mentioned without needing to go into a studio the way you used to for like a radio show. And I think that's one of the reasons why we're seeing it with our work and our clients. For internal communication, this is becoming a very popular vehicle, and people are getting smarter about how they're doing it. They're following the external trends, which is great, focusing on something niche, making it entertaining, et cetera.

Alyssa Zeff:
So let's jump into that a little bit. There's a couple of business podcasts that I'm familiar with that has really taken off. Trader Joe's, which started out as something for employees and has since gone to be for customers and now just general consumers all over the place, which is called “Inside Trader Joe's” and American Airlines, which is called, “Tell Me Why.” Start with those two. What do you think they're doing, right?

Cheryl Ross:
So yeah, those are two very popular company podcasts that started internally and have grown external because of their popularity. So, “Inside Trader Joe's,” it's down to earth. It's really just conversational people within the company talking about the company. They're telling stories about the products that they sell, they're telling stories about how do we choose which products that we want to sell, how do we find out what's going to be popular? It's really the inner workings of the company. And one of the really important things is it's short. These are typically 20 to 25 minutes, and so they're easy to consume.

Cheryl Ross:
Now, American Airlines, that “Tell Me Why” podcast is different. They're actually interviewing employees, and those employees on each episode are talking about how we work. There are higher-level folks talking about key decisions that have been made, are sharing company news, and then also folks on the ground telling how they do their job. And those are really short. Those are 10-minutes or shorter. So they're just very easy to consume, and they're interesting. They're tapping into the knowledge of people and sharing that knowledge in a way that's fascinating.

Alyssa Zeff:
What I think is so interesting about the examples, it's not another vehicle to share the same stuff that would be on an intranet or via an email. It's really trying to tell stories, provide something that provides value to the listener, whether the listener is an employer, whether a listener is a customer, whether the listener is just the general public, whatever it is. But it really makes it unique. And, that's what I think is so important for companies who are trying to do this for employees, or for anything, which is to say who is identified with the audience is, and say: “How can we bring value to them?” Knowing everything that we know about our employees, what do they want to hear, and very often, it does revolve around storytelling.

Cheryl Ross:
Absolutely.

Alyssa Zeff:
What would you say to an employee communicator thinking about creating a podcast? Where do they start?

Cheryl Ross:
I would start with exactly what you just said. It's all about figuring out the content. That's really where you should start. As with any quality communication vehicle, you should really start with your objectives. That is going to be key in figuring out where you should go with your content. What do you want to talk about? So think about what your employees might be interested in. Is there something that you want to teach? Is there a certain point of view that you would want to share? Is there a gap of information that you can fill, that people would find interesting? Do a little research, maybe bring some people together, run a focus group or something. Get a brainstorm going.

Cheryl Ross:
Based on all of that information, pick a content area, and narrow it down. Get specific, but be careful not to get too specific because if you want to produce multiple episodes, you've got to have enough fodder to make more episodes, right? So find a niche, something that's going to be really interesting. Hopefully, share some knowledge and be entertaining. Remember those two key objectives and go with that.

Alyssa Zeff:
Great. I think as we think about our clients and the kinds of clients that we're working for, I think about how this could come to life. We work with a big healthcare company who has a leader, and this leader has done podcasts, a leader of one of the functions, and this leader has done a podcast as a way to reach and engage employees within his function. Because a lot of those people aren't necessarily at a desk all the time. So it's a remote workforce in general, and the idea was to bring him to life and his personality, and he interviews key people, and it's not sharing news. It's not company updates and things like that, but it's really about getting to know these people more personally and helping to drive engagement with the function by bringing their leaders to life and seeing them come to life, which I think is a nice example.

Cheryl Ross:
Yeah, I mean, you just pointed out two really great things. One is that this is a fantastic tactic to reach people who are not necessarily tethered to a computer. I can listen to this on my phone with my headphones walking, I can listen to it while I'm in the car driving from sales appointment to sales appointment. And then thing number two, it's such a great media to showcase personality because you can hear that inflection in the voice when people are talking.

Alyssa Zeff:
So if I'm a communicator, I'm like, okay, I'm on board. I kind of get the idea. I like it. But I'm a little concerned about logistics. What does this look like logistically? How do I get something like this off the ground?

Cheryl Ross:
Sure. Yeah. I mean, there's a lot that goes into it. Going back to objectives and figuring out where you even want to get started, once you figured out your topic, one of the next things to figure out is what's your format.  So our format here is, you have a host, that's you Alyssa, and you, every episode, interview someone. You bring in the subject matter expert to interview on a specific topic. So that's one format.

Cheryl Ross:
Another format is that you could have two hosts who are just having a conversation together, and it's always the same two people chatting with each other. You could have just one host who's speaking and telling a story. You could have something that's scripted, a scripted format. It's almost like listening to an audiobook. So there are a lot of different formats, and you need to sit down and figure out what your format is going to be, and then once you've done that, then you can get into starting to create and build this thing.

Cheryl Ross:
So there's a lot to consider. What's your title? Come up with something snappy. Come up with something that really fits your theme. What about background music? What about visuals? This is a completely audio medium; however, if you're going to post it online with Spotify or with Apple iTunes, it's going to need to have some kind of visual that goes with it. Is it an icon? Is there a logo?

Cheryl Ross:
When you get into the format of the actual piece, timing. How long do you want it to be? Do you want it to always be around an hour? Do you want it to be more like half an hour, more like 10-minutes? There are a lot of things to consider, and that's really going to change the type of content and how much content you're putting into each episode.

Cheryl Ross:
Then you get into all the technical aspects. What platform are you going to use to create and build this podcast and produce it? How are you going to do your recording? And then, how are you going to share the podcast? What platform are you going to use to host the podcast? How will employees access it? Can they get it off of your internet? Do they have to go to Spotify? Do they need a subscription to something? What can you do to break down those obstacles, so it's really easy for your employees to get to that podcast?

Alyssa Zeff:
And I'll just add, that's a great time early on to be talking to your IT partners to understand what obstacles you have. So, for example, if people on the road have to VPN in, will they still be able to access all those firewall issues? And are you making this public, will this content be available to the public? That's a good time to chat with IT and make sure everyone's on the same page before you get too far and find out that you're going to hit these walls.

Cheryl Ross:
Yeah, absolutely.

Cheryl Ross:
The next aspect is the actual production, and Alyssa, I was thinking maybe you and I could kind of talk through this because you go through this on a regular basis as you produce this podcast. Where do we start with this podcast? First, we have to have a nugget of an idea, right?

Alyssa Zeff:
Yeah. Well, and just to back up a little bit to your point, we decided early on what our title, what our theme. We wanted people to get an inside look for what it's like to be at Davis & Company. We wanted our culture to be there. That's where the buzz, the game, the playfulness comes into it because that's who we are. So we know going into each show that we have an idea in mind or what the tone's going to be. That stays consistent. But like you said, we know we're always under the umbrella of employee communication. That's never going to change. So even though it is a niche, it's a big enough niche that there's a lot of room in there. So that's number one.

Alyssa Zeff:
But like you said, okay, so Cheryl is going to be the guest. One of the first things we do is brainstorm where do you want to be; what do you want to talk about? And from there, we usually come up with a few ideas, and then it goes into a script or run of show. Run of show is kind of an inside baseball term, but that's sort of like minute-by-minute, how's this going to work? But it's loose because, again, because of our tone, we like to banter back and forth. We don't want to read from a script. We want to have a conversation. That's what this is more about.

Alyssa Zeff:
Rehearsal, that we talked about if needed, then record, then our lovely behind the scenes people, Christine, shout out are doing editing cuts and et cetera. Rerecords, if necessary, packaged, file and upload, and then we market it.

Cheryl Ross:
Yeah, yeah

Alyssa Zeff:
Well, Cheryl, I really want to say thank you for being here. I think we've learned a lot about podcasts and also excited about the opportunity to dip our toes in the water even more with some of our clients, and I hope others have learned some as well. Thank you again for being here.

Cheryl Ross:
Yeah, happy to be here. This was a lot of fun. As you know, this is a media that's near and dear to my heart. I just love it, and I agree, we're not seeing a lot of this in the employee communication space these days, and I think it's a huge opportunity.

Alyssa Zeff:
Thank you so much again for being here, and I look forward to all the new podcasts that are going to appear.

Cheryl Ross:
Yeah, I can't wait for it. This was a blast. We're both winners, and thanks so much for having me.

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