Friday, October 21, 2016

PR and Podcasting

A few weeks ago I was musing in a class discussion that podcasts may not be for everyone. As for me, someone who consumes a lot of media, I would prefer to read. I can read faster than I can listen in real time. I can skim, skip, and delete to get through more content faster. So while I have a few podcasts in my iTunes podcast app on my phone and tab in my laptop iTunes software, they tend to add up while I am busy reading through my blog feeds, email newsletters, academic journal table of contents alerts, and even books on both Nook and hard copy.

But then the evidence to the contrary about the popularity of podcasts started accumulating. Local media and a student organization launched new podcasts. I participated in a Twitter chat about podcasts, and I started a discussion in a LinkedIn group of PR professionals to ask about podcasts.

GVSU PRSSA's Podcast.
One new podcast is PR Hangover, recently launched by the GVSU PRSSA chapter. The podcast is a bi-weekly recap of the chapter's meetings as well as interviews with officers and other news about the student PR group.

Student Kelly Darcy, who has a background working for WCKS 'The Whale" student radio, hosts the podcast. She says the primary audience is PRSSA members, from GVSU and other chapters, but also other young professionals. They've had more than 100 listeners on their Mixcloud account already, and more will come as more episodes are released (there are 5 as of this posting) and now that they are also available on iTunes.

"I am using a Blue Snowball iCE condenser microphone (soon to be two of those, for better sound quality) and recording/editing in Garage Band on my Macbook," Darcy said. "There wasn’t much a learning curve, but after being involved with the radio I had a pretty good grasp on how to record, do sound checks, watch my levels, all of that. Google has also been my best friend."

Even with her radio experience, Darcy is learning a lot doing the podcast and sees the importance of the skill for aspiring PR professionals. She said her peer millennials are constantly on the go but crave learning, and podcasts serve as blogs for busy people.

Pat Evans, a reporter for the Grand Rapids Business Journal and the host of its new podcast, also expects to reach a younger audience with this extension of the weekly paper.

"As the GRBJ Podcast grows and establishes a footing and consistency, it can help us attract a younger demographic along with the growing segment of people who no longer pick up a physical newspaper, don't get to their email or don't have time to read their news," Evans said.

Evans also had experience in college that helped him, in his case doing podcasts for the State News at Michigan State University. But they brought in a sound engineer and producer to ensure the audio quality is professional. He says the radio format isn't too strange for a print journalist--he just forgets the microphone is there and has a conversation like he would in a regular interview.

Both the college student group and the local media outlet have specific reasons for their podcasts, but they also are using them as a PR tactic that serves to expand their reach, educate audiences, and build their brand. 

I asked about using podcasts for PR purposes in the PRSA LinkedIn group and got positive responses from PR professionals in agency, corporate, association and county government settings. A woman from a law firm said audio is less intimidating than video and the casual nature of the conversations gave the lawyers a friendly reputation. Another professional said the podcasts established their company as industry thought leaders. The professional in county government said podcasting was an effective way to educate constituents about county services. 

One of my pet peeves about podcasts is that the audio is not rich or the participants mumble. Podcasts have to have quality sound or people bail. However, everyone I talked with said GarageBand, Pro Tools and other software make this aspect easier. It's just important to test sound levels and quality before posting. 

I also asked about length. As I said at the outset, I'm busy and can't sit still for too long "just listening." My commute is only about 20 minutes. Evans said the length is determined by the guest and how interesting the conversation is. Darcy said they've tested several lengths and a medium length seems best. For both of them the average length is 20-30 minutes. 

However, in a Twitter chat about podcasts hosted by Ragan Communications, social media guru Shel Holzsaid his listeners are not put off by podcast episodes that last an hour and a half. So the length depends on the subject matter as well as audience interest and media consumption preferences. 

The bottom line here is that podcasts are a good and relatively easy tool for modern PR professionals. They offer a new format with the advantage of intimacy and also efficiency for people on the go. They also are a new media relations opportunity. A 20-minute interview on a podcast by GRBJ or other media is a wonderful long-form media placement.

If you want to learn more about this yourself, Ragan is offering a Podcasting Boot Camp for Business Communicators next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, I'll be listening. In addition to the two podcasts mentioned above, I subscribe to "PR Week Review", "WSJ Media Mix", "Inside PR", "On the Media", and my quirky interest, "Presidential", a series of historical reviews of all US presidents. 

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