FRIDAY 22 MAR 2019 12:16 PM

HEARD AND NOT SEEN

The use of audio in corporate communications is becoming more prevalent. How can podcasts build trust between organisations and their audiences? Stephanie Adams investigates

The medium of radio has always inspired trust between the listener and presenter. Similarly, corporate podcasts are building communities and enforcing authority through carefully crafted content. This is helping combat the lack of trust in organisations, cited by Edelman’s Trust Barometer over the past few years. However, podcasts have to develop an emotional connection with their audiences in order to avoid disloyalty and distrust in the business.

From a niche company like ADAMA Agricultural Solutions’ Arable Aware to Mastercard’s Fortune Favors the Bold, corporate podcasts can be heavy on content without the effort of reading and as easy to engage with as video, without the requirement to become fully immersed. The hosts of podcasts can become integrated into a day’s landscape just as in radio, on the move, at the gym, at work or at home, but all by choice out of genuine interest. Companies are beginning to capitalise on this captive audience.

There is good reason why podcasting remains one of the more elusive content mechanisms in a communicators toolbelt, making up under 5% of marketing and comms budgets. A bad podcast host can ruin the relationship between an organisation and its audience and bad production values can make an organisation look incompetent and unsuccessful.

Rather than investing in company messages, successful podcasts invest in what audiences are interested in. Kerri Watt, founder of PR consultancy Rising Tide Media, says those looking to podcasts with sales in mind need to tread carefully, “Podcasting is an incredible way to raise your profile and get right in front of your potential clients. The challenge is not doing it solely with that intention.” Regardless of subject matter or production values, a podcast needs to be interesting to its listeners, not sales-oriented.

In recent iTunes podcast charts, the thing that successful corporate podcasts all have in common is consistent production schedules and the quality of their content. Founder of Audere Communications Russell Goldsmith, the 2019 Corporate Content Awards gold winner in the ‘Best use of audio’ category, says, “The host needs to be able to hold a conversation and engage and that’s the biggest thing. If you can’t change your voice, are reliant on a script and it’s all scripted answers, people read straight through that.” And since podcast listeners are already invested in the topics they stream or download, Watt adds, “Avid listeners are searching for your chosen topic and a show that hasn’t had an episode published in a year just looks poor.” Relying on engaging content, in-studio interview podcasts FYI - For Your Innovation by ARK Investing and the Royal Academy of Arts both chart in the top 10 of their categories on iTunes without in-field segments, musical flourishes or otherwise elaborate production values. They simply publish with regularity.

Even the largest organisations don’t always produce podcasts with bells and whistles. In a less is more approach, several of Mastercard’s Storylab produced podcasts don’t appear to include any field recordings or elaborate soundscapes. Instead, its ‘Changemakers,’ ‘Inside Circles,’ and ‘What’s Next In’ podcasts focus on in-house conversations with Mastercard employees at every level, focusing on its employees’ contributions to the world, work-related issues and upcoming trends affecting workplaces and the society.

“Podcasting is an incredible way to raise your profile and get right in front of your potential clients. The challenge is not doing it solely with that intention”

Christine Elliott, executive vice president of communications for Mastercard, says, “We create some podcasts specifically for our employees and the watercooler conversations can be equally as important as any data point… Employees expect the same kind of content experience and creativity as other audiences. Our employees are our best brand ambassadors, so much of Storylab’s creativity goes into content designed to stay within our walls.” From an employee engagement and employer brand perspective, these Mastercard podcasts are impressive and achievable examples. It’s personal, simple and it makes working with Mastercard look attractive. Job done.

Keeping things intimate, another rare and resource-lite option is to leverage the face of an organisation – if they are so inclined. For example, John Galliano, the famed fashion designer who headed Givenchy, Christian Dior, his own label and now Mason Margiela, hosts the ‘In Memory Of’ podcast about insider fashion stories. The experience is immersive, with Galliano orating slowly alone about creativity in an avant-garde, abstract way that is mesmerising.

While most heads of brands would never commit to hosting such an abstract podcast, Edelman’s data indicates that people do want the heads of companies to personally speak when it matters. The data shows that 76% want them to lead change and 71% want them to respond to events. Podcasts can be the perfect opportunity to keep such channels open to employees and customers, but they could as easily strike gold as set the house on fire. Imagine the difference between a podcast hosted by Bill Gates versus Elon Musk. There’s a reason those in charge usually limit their exposure.

Yet lest those with limited resources jump to producing ‘simple’ in-house podcasts, content that varies in location and sound design are far more likely to stay interesting, even without a silver-tongued host. It takes a lot to maintain a conversation by oneself and as Goldsmith says, “If [a podcast] is poorly, produced, difficult to listen to, not well structured, not well planned, with audio quality that is not great, your opportunity has disappeared.” For the Arable Aware podcast, Audere Communications records in farmers' fields across the UK, giving contrast and atmosphere for listeners and giving the experts and farmers the opportunity to adjust their planned conversation as they observe their field surroundings – things that couldn’t happen in-studio.

Goldsmith believes the Arable Aware podcast to be a success because “it’s almost a one-on-one account-based marketing but for those two experts to not just report the podcast on the farm but get to chat to the farmers at the same time. They may or may not be customers but what we’re doing is chatting about their own life and work – that is about building trust. The podcast is the outlet for developing trust. It’s not just about the content, it’s wider.” It’s exactly the same mix of radio quality in-studio and field recording that the likes of Duolingo uses in its Spanish podcast, rated first in its iTunes category, and Mastercard uses in its most successful podcast, ‘Fortune Favors the Bold.’

There’s no one way to produce a podcast, but done well they can bolster corporate reputation in a uniquely personal way. While no one claims that brand awareness isn’t important, an audience feeling like it knows the person behind the voice of an organisation builds community, loyalty, trust and sales. And the amazing thing is that starting up a podcast is relatively easy. Watt says, “No one vets us before we hit the mic but saying you host a podcast show automatically brings you credibility and credibility is a major factor when it comes to trust. If someone is on the fence about buying your product, a simple listen to your podcast could encourage them to then make that purchase.” Beyond in-person business development, quality branded podcasts are the next best thing to getting in a room with clients and employees, which surely organisations of all sizes.

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