What do you do with 19 jet-lagged or otherwise fatigued podcasters during a heatwave in Boston?
Take them out to the ball game, of course.
At the end of the second day of our week-long intensive training for the newest Google Podcasts creator program teams, we went to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play (and lose to) the Tampa Bay Rays. We bonded over hot dogs, popcorn and singing “Sweet Caroline” (“So good…so good!”) during the eighth inning.
But the real camaraderie formed back at the PRX Podcast Garage, where nine podcast teams– the six selected for the program, and the three runners up who joined us for the training week– settled in to work
We’ll say it again (and again): Podcasting can be a lonely business
Throughout the week, we overheard members of the group say something like, “Wow. It is so nice to be working with other podcasters.” And from our participants working in India, Lebanon, Spain, Colombia and Brazil, we heard that it’s not enough to just make a podcast. These producers are also hard at work teaching people what podcasts are, and what they can be in the future.
They’re figuring out ways to convince advertisers, too, that they have something of value. And they’re forming networks, because they know success will only come with more creators entering the scene, releasing more compelling content that will serve more listeners.
Radio Ambulante CEO and co-founder Carolina Guerrero spoke to some of these challenges on Thursday afternoon. “We built our own audience,” she told the room about the show’s early days. “We didn’t steal someone else’s.” That’s because, as one of the early narrative Spanish-languge podcasts, there was no existing audience to tap into.
Guerrero shared details of successful audience experiments that our teams could take inspiration from, even if they’re not yet at the stage of having a full three-person engagement team like Radio Ambulante does. Some of those efforts include running listening clubs that bring their audience members together for face-to-face conversations and leveraging Whatsapp to push new episodes to listeners and source audio from listeners, as they did for an episode about the 2017 Mexico City earthquake.
Diving into a week of design thinking, podcasting basics and conversations with industry superstars
The training itself began with an immersive introduction to human-centered design, which reinforced the need for the teams to be thinking about their audience. Any good design project is made stronger by having a clear and defined sense of your user, and an understanding of how the thing you’re creating will be useful and meaningful to them. This is doubly true for podcasting, with its wealth of niches. As we constantly reminded our teams, designing for someone instead of for everyone, is the surest way to make their shows stand out from the crowd–and the clearest path to success.
The teams will spend the next month getting to know their current and potential listeners, and beginning to imagine how they can create shows that will be useful and meaningful to those specific people they hope to target. As for the actual creation of those shows–that’s where our guest speakers came in.
Knowing that our podcast teams were coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, we were sure to include some foundational technical practice around recording and editing skills with producer Ian Coss and our own PRX Podcast Garage operations manager Kevin O’Connell. Karen Given joined us from WBUR’s Only a Game to reprise her terrific talk on the basics of storytelling, memorably titled “What the F is Narrative?” PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman gave an overview of the podcasting landscape, while Director of Design, Chris Kalafarski delivered a primer on distribution and metrics.
Radio Ambulante co-founder Daniel Alarcón talked about shaping narratives and getting great tape, and Guerrero gave a masterclass on audience engagement– from listening clubs to What’s App engagement, these tips were particularly valuable to many of the participants who come from regions of the world where podcasting is still very new. That evening, Guerrero and Alarcón joined teams from the U.S., Latin America and Spain for a dinner that reinforced the Latinx podcast community taking shape across continents.
Advisory Committee co-chair and co-founder of Pineapple Street Media, Jenna Weiss-Berman talked candidly about running a production house, something very relevant to several of our creators. (In hindsight, we’re impressed that Jenna was able to keep the big Pineapple Street news to herself!)
And of course we ended with the very first of four Creative Reviews over the 20-week program. This was the teams’ opening chance to present early versions of their podcasts and receive feedback (lots of it) from a group of industry experts–Hoffman, Alarcón, Weiss-Berman and Google Podcasts product manager Zack Reneau-Wedeen–PRX staff and friends from the larger Boston audio community.
Tons to look forward to
We sent the nine teams who participated in this training week on their way laden down with Post-its. On those Post-its were words of encouragement, constructive criticism, and ideas for moving forward that they’ll take with them as they develop and iterate on their shows. For the six teams who will be continuing on in the program, this is just the start of a 20-week sprint to December, during which they’ll work to create, test and refine everything about their shows, from the name of their show to content to sound design . They’ll build out production and marketing schedules for new season launches. And they’ll prepare live performances for a storytelling event that will showcase their progress.
More details about that, and info about forthcoming launches, to come!
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Photo credits: Chris McIntosh, Shaneez Tyndall, Mark Pagán