Audio inherently activates imagination — and we love the idea of activating listeners in new ways through audio. We think about what listeners can be doing, how they can be participating while listening.
As part of my series of interviews about “How to Become the Center of Influence Through Podcasting”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maggie McGuire. She is CEO of Pinna, an audio-first children’s media company offering the only ad-free, audio on-demand streaming service that delivers breakthrough, original audio programming as well as aggregates and curates podcasts, audiobooks and music just for kids. A seasoned media executive with deep experience in cross platform brand strategy, product/content development and innovation, Maggie most recently was vice president of eScholastic, the digital division of Scholastic. Prior to her 15-year tenure with Scholastic, Maggie’s experience in children’s media included positions with Viacom, Cablevision and JP Kids. Maggie began her career as a teacher recruiter for Teach for America and led the team that launched the International Baccalaureate’s Middle Years Programme, an international curriculum designed for students aged 11 to 16, offered in schools worldwide. She holds an MA in Educational Theater from New York University and a BA in English Literature and Philosophy from Boston College.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about why or how you got started as a podcaster?
Pinna launched in 2017 as a pilot project under Panoply Media and is now a stand-alone entity backed by Graham Holdings Company. Pinna is an audio-first children’s media company, producing kid-safe and age appropriate podcasts for children ages 3–12. I have an extensive background in both children’s digital media and education. I was a Language Arts and Literature teacher for 8 years which led to a career in children’s digital media development working with JP Kids, Cablevision, Viacom and Scholastic. I came on board to further develop the vision of the Pinna service and lead Pinna’s expansion into the consumer and educational marketplaces. With an incredible team in place, we launched Pinna into market in January 2019 and repositioned the service as a service that not only delivers podcasts — but delivers all of the best audio, all in one place curated and created just for kids — including podcasts, music and audiobooks. It’s a screen-free, ad-free way to play and listen that parents can trust and kids LOVE.
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started podcasting?
Our content development process for our Pinna Original podcasts combines best practices from all areas of entertainment to guarantee programming that will surprise and delight young listeners. Pinna ensures that its podcasts are of the highest quality and will have strong appeal to children in part because we kid-test each and every original production in a pilot phase. This approach ensures the ideas, humor and interactivity imagined by adults actually resonates with kids. During this pilot phase, we’re able to see the children’s reactions firsthand and witness their interactions in response to our content in real-time.
When recently testing a new mystery show based on a well-known book property, one boy, who is a fan of the books, listened in awe through the entire pilot episode — not moving a muscle. It wasn’t until the story ended that he snapped back into conversational mode, recounting every last detail of the mystery. Other times it looks like kids aren’t listening at all — they flop into a chair with their eyes closed, play with toys or doodle. We’ll think that maybe we’ve lost them, but then — if we’ve done our job right — when the podcast ends they can tell us all about it and are eager to hear more.
How long have you been podcasting and how many shows have you aired?
Pinna relaunched its service in January 2019 and currently has over twenty original titles, including two daily shows, with more original podcast launching each month throughout the year.
What are the main takeaways or lessons you want your listeners to walk away with?
Pinna believes in kids’ right to explore, discover, learn and play on their own terms — in a space created for them. When creating our original podcasts, we take into consideration how we can activate kids imaginations and get them giggling, guessing, wondering, moving, creating, learning, puzzling and participating. For example, one of our new series, “Anytime Art,”is a virtual art class for kids hosted by one of the best New York art teachers and her unique approach to inspiring the artist in all kids. In this show, while listening along, kids create artwork with a variety of mediums including printmaking, drawing, painting and collage alongside their art teacher, Sasha. Artists are encouraged to develop multi-layered complex works of art over the course of five episodes per project.
During Pinna’s “April is Comedy Month” campaign, we released a slew of comedic entertainment to continue encouraging active listening while getting kids laughing.. Ensuring content and comedy is age appropriate and funny, we worked with child development experts and a wide variety of comedy writers and performers in the content creation process. We created a number of shows including breakout Don’t Break the Rules , a comedy-improve show designed to get 4 to 8 year olds giggling and learning, alongside a daily joke show Hill-Larry-Us.
Can you share with our readers the five things you need to know to create an extremely successful podcast?
Podcaster Influencer, Maggie McGuire of the Pinna Original Podcast shares the best ways to:
Book Great Guests: When it comes to kids podcasts, we think about who kids want to hear from. Guests have to be relevant to our listeners’ interests and passions. We’re on the ground constantly talking to kids about what they love and what sparks their imaginations and then we find the best storytellers and experts to deliver on that.
Increase Listeners: Know your audience and be authentic. Pinna offers over a thousand podcast episodes, audiobooks and songs for kids from science and fantasy to interactive game shows and mysteries. We not only aggregate the most entertaining and popular audio content for kids in one safe place, but we also create great content that aligns with what kids are interested in at the moment. That’s exactly what we did with our new series, The Totally Unauthorized Minecraft Fan Show, where listeners geek out about all things blocky with real-life Minecraft fans. This show brings together kids to share ideas for new survival strategies, hear stories from fellow crafters and test their own mastery with a Minecraft quiz and building challenges.
Produce it in a Professional Way: Pinna partners with respected children’s brands including Scholastic, Highlights, American Public Media, among others, to acquire content while also developing a slate of original podcasts with some of the best show writers and kid experts working in the business today. With a focus on activating kids’ imaginations and encouraging participation, Pinna ensures that its podcasts are of the highest quality and will have strong appeal to children in part because we kid-test each and every original production in a pilot phase. This approach ensures the ideas, humor and interactivity imagined by adults actually resonates with kids.
Encourage Engagement: We believe in kids’ right to explore, discover, learn and play on their own terms — in a space created just for them. Our shows like ExtraBLURT, ExtraBLURT Jr and Kyles’s Wild World are good examples of podcasts designed for the whole family and that encourage listeners to actively shout out answers in response to multiple rounds of trivia based game show segments in every episode. Audio inherently activates imagination — and we love the idea of activating listeners in new ways through audio. We think about what listeners can be doing, how they can be participating while listening. With heads up and hands free, listeners can participate in art, movement, meditation, debate and so much more. Our Anytime Art podcast is a virtual art class in your ear! Listeners learn how to make paper sculpture, self-portraits, abstract art and more while following our art teacher and host, Sascha, as she helps them navigate the process from idea to finished masterpiece! Through our podcasts, songs and audio stories, we inspire kids to giggle, guess, move, wonder, learn, puzzle and participate.
Monetize Your Show: In exchange for a subscription fee, Pinna provides a value that parents and subscribers can not get anywhere else. We are an on-demand streaming service that is ad-free, kid-safe and curates audio content across formats into one solution. We make it easy for kids to discover and enjoy a growing catalog of top-quality entertainment with search and discover functionality that allows users to find audio content by recommended age, format, and theme or type.
From your vantage point what are some of the reasons why a person should consider creating a podcast series?
Parents are increasingly looking for options to balance the amount of screen time and other entertainment activities their children access daily. The rising popularity of podcasts among all ages proves there is an appetite for audio-led, imagination-activating, immersive storytelling. We understand the different development and entertainment needs of every child so we are always looking for podcasts, stories and songs that encourage active listening, conversation, social interaction and imaginative play.
Nowadays it seems as if everyone is trying to jump on the podcast bandwagon. Are there people to whom you would advise to avoid podcasting and instead focus on another medium?
Unless you are ready for the rigor that comes with creating podcasts that truly resonate with kids which requires testing your work with kids — I’d advise against it. That said, Pinna invites everyone to think creatively in terms of how audio and podcasting can help expand the storytelling medium and fandom around favorite brands. We work with all types of creators and producers to turn ideas into great audio storytelling for kids. Imagine taking the physicality of block play and turning it into a podcast. That’s exactly what we did with our new series, The Totally Unauthorized Minecraft Fan Show , where groups of kids gather to talk about their latest builds, offer pro tips for survival mode, make predictions on swarm battles and share their wildest Minecraft pranks and stories.
How has your position as a podcast host and a person of high authority, impacted your business, sales, and/or increased your opportunities? Can you share a story with us?
We are working with some of the biggest brands in the kids business — extending their storytelling in a new medium, as well as innovating from the ground up and developing original IP. Our show Grimm, Grimmer, Grimmest immerses kids in a classroom of third graders engrossed with bestselling author Adam Gidwitz’s fantastic — and funny — retelling of the Grimm fairy tales. The popularity and inventive format of this show has opened doors with other authors and publishers as we imagine new was to bring books to life. We’re also now looking at how TV shows and other media can translate into audio uniquely well.
What makes your podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes your podcast unique from the others in your category? What do you think is special about you as a host, your guests, or the content itself?
By deploying a high-touch curation process that ensures all content is entertaining and age-appropriate, our shows keep kids coming back for more. We offer a growing library of podcasts that represent a diverse portfolio of fiction and non-fiction genres and themes. From science and fantasy to interactive game shows and mysteries, we have hundreds of hours of the highest quality original programming to pique the interest of every kid. Pinna originals already boast several award-winning titles including the Peabody Award-winning podcast The Unexplained Disappearance of Mars Patel, which delivers an edge-of-your-seat, daring adventure about four friends in search of their missing pals. With a high-octane plot line, compelling characters that kids relate to and three seasons of cliffhangers — this podcast delivers on binge-worthy! With a focus on activating kids’ imaginations and encouraging participation, we’ve created participatory game shows that include ExtraBLURT, ExtraBLURT Jr., and 5 for 5 Trivia that invite kids and their families to play along with the show hosts as they answer trivia questions against the clock.
Where can our readers find you on Social Media?
Is there a specific high-value guest (obviously still living) that you would love to interview on your show, and why? He or she might just see this when we tag them!
We’d love to work with content creators with diverse points of view and backgrounds as well as those who have a passion for the entertainment space and who love kids. Lin-Manuel Miranda, if you are reading this, we’d love to do a musical podcast show with you!