SF IABC recently hosted a dynamic and wide-ranging virtual discussion with Shel Holtz and Jeff Rader. Holtz, who has been podcasting since 2005, has written six books on communications and is currently senior director of communications at Webcor. Rader is past SF IABC president, longtime board member and current communications consultant with Resources Global Professionals. He spent nearly 10 years at Chevron as managing editor of digital media and has a deep background in podcasting. 

Read on for a few highlights of the event.

The long view

Holtz began his podcast For Immediate Release in 2005, when only a few hundred podcasts existed, and says he learned a lot by doing. For example, using a regular website hosting service won’t work. That’s when he began using a storage service dedicated to podcasts, Libsyn (more on tech below). At that time, skepticism abounded, particularly about the ability of podcasts focused on niche topics to find audiences, but time has proven otherwise.

The increasing popularity of podcasting is partly testament to the simultaneous explosion and fragmentation of communications since that time. Podcasts provide unique content, fast. People listen to podcasts while they’re driving or exercising or just about anywhere. A full episode might be 12 minutes. 

Some of the most popular podcasts today tap into themes with mass appeal, such as crime. These have high numbers of listeners, and high production and marketing budgets. On the other hand, some of the top podcasts of 2021-2022 target niche audiences like fans of the television serial The Office. The ability to appeal to a niche audience is something Holtz appreciates, and that applies to his audience of communicators.  

Forbes reports that 57% of Americans over the age of 12 listen to podcasts.

Podcasting for purpose and passion

Audiences today care more about purpose and passion than a brand or logo. Businesses and organizations have figured out that podcasting is a great way to reach niche audiences, too, and are exploring how to deliver that value. A number have published well-received podcasts, including Trader Joe’s, Gatorade, GE and LinkedIn. With Trader Joe’s and Apple product podcasts, people who work for these companies and are massive fans of their employers become advocates for them. As with all things social (media) related, people want to be inspired. Then they share. In internal comms, people share when messages are meaningful for them first, more than because it’s part of their job.

Starting your own podcast        

Having hundreds of thousands of listeners isn’t necessary to be successful. What makes a good podcast is “finding your voice and finding what resonates that you can talk passionately about,” says Holtz.

Spending a lot of money also isn’t necessary, especially when getting started, Rader notes. Getting started “is pretty straightforward and requires just five things,” he says. 

  1. An input device, ideally a decent microphone
  2. Some good headphones
  3. A computer
  4. Editing software 
  5. A host for your audio files

More on equipment

For audio podcasting, sound quality matters a lot. “People will drop podcasts where even though the content may be fascinating, the audio quality is poor. So one thing you might want to earmark some of your budget for is a good microphone,” says Holtz. “You don’t want to talk into the built-in microphone in your laptop lid.” Blue Yeti is one USB microphone that feeds directly into your computer.

Jeff Rader Headshot

Good headphones are also important. Look for a pair of hard-shell headphones that fully cover your ears and won’t fall off. “These cut out extraneous sound so you’re listening only to what you’re recording, or editing. You don’t need to spend more than $100 to get a great set, although I confess I use buds sometimes,” says Rader. Both recommend Sennheiser.

Nonetheless, “quality on newer iPhones, such as the iPhone 13, is decent and a good place to start if you want to test the idea out before investing,” says Rader. He has interviewed people using his iPhone, and the results were perfectly acceptable.

Holtz has used the Samsung Galaxy S20 in the field, and “the audio is just fine. If you have a spontaneous opportunity to do an interview, moving the phone back and forth can work very well.” 

Software and storage

Editing software by Audacity for Windows and Mac is very good and completely free. “If you can edit text in Word, you can edit audio in Audacity,” says Rader. “I used Audacity for a long time before switching to Adobe Audition for some of its features. But you don’t have to do that. It’s expensive [around $600] and actually made for music.” On the PC side, GarageBand can also get you started.

Libsyn, short for Liberated Syndication, is an example of a service that requires monthly payments only for storage. Megaphone is another. 

If you’re looking to create a consumer-grade podcast, podcast production companies are out there that have soundproof studios and produce outstanding quality — for example, Podville Media.

Best practice tips

  • Register your podcast RSS feed at every platform including iTunes, Spotify, Google, and Stitcher. You can’t control where your audience is getting their podcasts, and you want to be discoverable wherever they go.
  • Have a website dedicated to your podcast. Link your podcast to your corporate site, but make sure it has its own identity. 
  • Publish show notes on the site because those are what you’re going to go out and promote with. Send people to the page where they can read about what’s in the episode. Make sure you link to related material that you keep up to date. 
  • Descript is an audio/video editing service that allows you to drag in your mp3 file to produce a raw transcript that you can copy/paste into show notes. Doing this increases the likelihood that somebody searching a topic covered by one of your podcasts will find it. 
  • Promote new episodes on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.
  • GaggleAMP is an employee advocacy tool that will send notices to listeners who sign up, asking them to share with their community.

Have more podcast tips or a podcast success story? Email us at sfiabc@gmail.com.

A few of Shel’s and Jeff’s favorites:

  1. This American Life 
  2. Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me 
  3. 99% Invisible
  4. On the Media
  5. Unorthodox
  6. The Grateful Dead’s podcast
  7. Hip Hop Saved My Life

Leslie Hanna is an award-winning content strategist, writer and editor specializing in health and medicine. She has worked in and across healthcare sectors including pharma, biotech and public health. She is currently on the SF IABC Board and IABC’s International Program Advisory Committee.