** WARNING – THIS BLOG CONTAINS (UNNECESSARY) TV & FILM SPOILERS **
Audio podcasts have been about since around 2007. In that time there have been a few big hits and of course a few channels with hopelessly devoted subscribers. Some have even managed to build celebrity careers out of the most popular podcasts, Karl Pilkington for example, who first came to wider attention on The Ricky Gervais Show.
Yet there hasn’t really been a podcast that brought the media format to the masses and dictated a cultural mood. Until Serial that is.
For those outside the zeitgeist, very quickly, Serial is a podcast first released in October 2014 that explores the 15 year old murder of an American teenager over 12 audio episodes led by broadcast journalist Sarah Koenig. It has become an absolute smash hit and is at the forefront of a trend for armchair detectives also containing nonfiction TV programmes like The Jinx (best documentary I’ve ever watched), dramas such as True Detective and even the BBC’s digital whodunit The Last Hours of Laura K.
It ranked at No. 1 on iTunes even before it débuted, reached five million downloads faster than any other podcast before it and won a prestigious Peabody award, the first podcast to be recognised with the award for excellence in radio, TV or online media. But perhaps the greatest demonstration of its cultural effect is the online forum Reddit creating a separate page purely for listeners to discuss the podcast in-depth and share their theories on what really happened to the high-school student.
But can a podcast become a marketing tool?
A recent article on Digiday.com suggests absolutely, yes. According to the piece, Serial’s producers have been in Cannes over the last week wooing brands for advertising ahead of the release of the second series later this year. And they’ve got the numbers for some pretty persuasive negotiations.
A survey of Serial subscribers found that 81 per cent of listeners could correctly recall a season one sponsor. Averaging seven million listeners each week it knocks out the park many hit TV shows. The recent Game of Thrones season five finale where *** **** was unexpectedly murdered, for example, achieved just 1.7 million viewers.
So advertising is a shoo-in for the podcast market, but can communications enter this space?
Perhaps if we take a look at why Serial has so enraptured its audience you’ll see why PR might be an easy fit.
Essentially it is just long form journalism and storytelling (albeit done to a very high standard). So nothing new and in fact two skills PRs have possessed since the dawn of comms. Sarah Koenig is a recognised master at the art of storytelling, but so is PR, which is why marketers are really secretly super jealous of what we do.
Side note: It’s also really promising for those of us who lament news becoming nothing more than 140 character headlines and click-bait images to see there really is appetite for in-depth analysis and newsgathering.
As has been seen with the growth in owned media, audiences are open to receiving branded content, provided it serves a purpose. This could mean entertainment, or perhaps it is instructive or could just be plain interesting. If your client has something to say and an audience wants to hear it, why not consider making a podcast?
In terms of what to do once you’ve got your podcast the principle is no different to any other content – share, share and share! Growing subscribers is the same for any returning audience medium, like Twitter or a newsletter – create good content consistently and they’ll come.
Your client may not become the next Serial or Karl Pilkington – fingers crossed on that last one – but communications isn’t about being the loudest. It’s about being clear with a message and perhaps audio will help you do that in a way an article, tweet or even video simply can’t. And with brand recall figures and listener devotion at the level seen from the Serial podcast, it seems foolish not to at least try.