Emily Shaw
May 17 · 6 min read

5 Steps To Fresh, Authentic Audio Collaborations

As a podcast producer who specializes in creating custom content for clients, I’m constantly trying to understand the factors that lead to successful collaborations. Metrics aside, to me a successful branded podcast:

  • Feels fresh, authentic, and human
  • Provides content the target listener wants to hear (*it doesn’t sound like a commercial*)
  • Amplifies a brand’s strengths and what makes it special

In my years as a podcast producer, I’ve experienced successful and not-so-successful collaborations. I want to share some of the key ingredients to tasty branded audio that I’ve identified. This list isn’t exhaustive, but I hope it serves as a useful starting point. Let’s dive in.

1. Feel Out The Vibe

First impressions can tell you a lot about what it could be like to work with a certain client or team. Whenever I meet a potential client, I always pay attention to how I feel when I’m interacting with them. Do I feel relaxed and at ease? How comfortable do I feel asking really honest, direct questions? Making a joke? How does the other party respond if I bring up a concern? After our meeting, do I feel energized and inspired, or depleted and bummed?

In my experience, the most interesting and creative ideas emerge from a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

While it’s definitely not necessary for every client and producer to be best friends, if right from the start you’re feeling uneasy, or finding yourself dreading follow up conversations, it’s important to investigate what’s going on. For producers, is there a way that you can be clearer about what you are and aren’t able to offer the client? Never assume — there’s often a lot more wiggle room in a given project than you might expect, but you may need to be direct in presenting different options and guiding the conversation. If you’ve tried every reflection and communication tool at your disposal, and something still feels off, this might not be the best fit for a creative partnership.

2. Get Aligned Creatively

“We want Cozy Boat, but about our intercom company’s 50th anniversary.”

For creatives, it’s a beautiful thing when a client loves your style and just wants you to do your thing.

In early conversations with the performance intercom company Clear-Com, I was honestly surprised to hear that the team had listened to my podcast Cozy Boat, and wanted something in that style. Cozy Boat was a quirky, super intimate music podcast I had created purely as a passion project. It took place in an inflatable boat filled with pillows and twinkly lights and explored deep questions like “Where do songs come from?” and “What happens when you need someone else to do what you love?”

Not only did I have the green light to lean into my creative impulses, but it was incredibly useful to know that we were aligned on creating a podcast that didn’t take itself too seriously — something whimsical, approachable, and human.

In the early stages of dreaming up a new branded podcast project, I recommend that clients make a list of podcasts and other creative content that represent the style they’re going for. And when reviewing a producer’s work, listen to their independent projects. This will give you a sense of where their passions lie, and where their creativity can take your project.

The more open a client is to leaning into a producer’s distinct style and point of view, the fresher and more creative the final result will be.

3. Listen

An effective client-producer partnership capitalizes on the unique expertise that each party brings to the table. The client knows their brand inside-out: they know their key differentiators, have tons of subject matter expertise, can identify the best talkers, and are privy to juicy insider stories. Plus they have valuable relationships with experts in their industry. The producer knows what makes great audio, and how to craft a compelling story that listeners will want to hear. And, importantly, the producer has a valuable outside perspective — they can perceive magical goodies that employees might take for granted, and are uniquely positioned to sniff out and remove kool-aid from the content before it hits the public.

Returning to the Clear-Com example, in my initial conversations with the team, one thing that struck me was the fact that the company had gone from a couple rock and roll nerds in the 1960s to a successful company with customers like NASA, The White House, The Olympics, and Broadway. Having worked at a tiny startup that ultimately did not succeed, I knew first-hand the reality that most companies don’t last a few years, let alone fifty. I was genuinely curious about how this transformation had happened, and so that’s what we explored in the first episode.

Great branded podcasts think about what their target customers want to know, and what will resonate with them. For example, if a company sells customer support software to customer support managers, it’s a wiser idea to produce a podcast about how to overcome the biggest challenges in customer support than to produce a podcast about why the various product offerings the company has are great.

4. Build Trust With Approvers

I have found the most success on client projects when there is clear communication and trust with approvers — ideally no more than one or two — and the same approvers are involved in the production process from the ideation stage through to the final version. For example, with the internal communications podcast at Pandora, our internal comms approvers were present and engaged in our regular editorial meetings, and we maintained communication while working on the episodes, too. And because we were creatively aligned on the feeling, tone, and purpose of the show, approvals were consistently a breeze.

As a producer, one way to build trust with approvers is to thoroughly answer their questions about how the production process works, and to give them a clear sense of what different types of episodes might sound like in the initial planning stages, so there aren’t any surprises.

As an approver, one way to build trust with a producer is to be decisive in your feedback, so the producer doesn’t do a bunch of work, only to find that you’ve changed your mind about what you want later on. It also helps to make it clear to the producer that you trust their creative expertise. This can look like sharing feedback on a draft, but allowing the producer to filter changes through their own creative lens.

I appreciated that my approvers on the Clear-Com team encouraged me to follow “whatever you think makes sense for the story.” It’s impossible to predict exactly how a podcast will ultimately sound during the planning stages. You can make an educated guess, but ultimately you just need to lay down the tracks and make a rough version to see what works. Because of this, the quality of the finished product will always be higher when a producer has flexibility to make changes and follow their judgment along the way.

5. Trust Your Instincts

At the end of the day, if something’s boring — cut it. If something sounds cheesy or like a commercial — cut it. If one of the co-hosts of a show raps in their free time and the other is a sick beat boxer, yes, ask if they’ll perform a special rap for the show. If you find yourself processing your experience of working at a failed startup during your interview with the president of an intercom company, go for it. Allow yourself to be a full human with emotions, curiosity, and a unique point of view. This is the first step to drawing out the humanity in others, and making content that a lot of humans will want to listen to.

This article also appears on LinkedIn here.

Emily Shaw is a podcast strategist and producer based in San Francisco. She delights in producing fresh, authentic audio independently and in partnership with brands and private clients. Find out more at www.emilyshawcreates.com.

Emily Shaw

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Collaborating with brands to make fresh, authentic, human podcasts @ www.emilyshawcreates.com

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