Neil Cowling on the quickening market for branded podcasts in the U.K.

When we heard that Neil Cowling, Creative Development Director of the UK’s Maple Street Creative, was putting more resources into Fresh Air Production, which specializes in branded podcasts, we sent a few queries about what seems to be changing in the UK podcast scene. Cowling is a radio veteran (producer and presenter) who joined Maple Street Creative (a division of Radioworks, a radio advertising agency) in 2015. He had founded Fresh Air Production in 2001.

Following is an edited account of an email Q&A. Cowling also elaborated on these answers in an essay entitled “Time for UK podcasting to grow up.” You can read there HERE.

You are shifting your work to focus more on branded podcasts. Does this reflect an industry trend? Are advertisers increasingly turning to this type of brand extension?

The shift is simple but dramatic. Businesses are approaching US about making them a podcast. I’m no longer cold-calling and hoping that I can pitch to a half-interested marketing manager about a new medium with no solid numbers. On the contrary, we’re getting calls every week from marketeers who love podcasts, see the opportunity, and want our help to capitalise on it.

Frankly, it’s time for the UK podcast market to grow up.

In branded podcasts often the brand is not promoted as explicitly as in regular podcast sponsoring messages. What is great about branded podcasts from the sponsor’s viewpoint?

[It’s] about creating genuinely entertaining and appealing podcasts that embody the brand values and deliver the messages by association, rather than the business necessarily being the focus of the content. But they get it – that’s where the value is. They want the listener to think “That podcast was great, it enriched my commute, and I’m grateful to the brand for bringing it to me”. If they’ve learnt something along the way, had expert advice, or had their brand awareness raised, then so much the better.

Please describe how Fresh Air works with a potential partner to develop a show. Does the client come to you with an idea? Do you develop the idea for them? How long does it take, typically, from start to launch?

The client might start off with an idea of what they think will work, and our job is to make it better – to add our expertise to their brief and work with them to make content that’s truly worthy of the listener’s time. Development can take weeks or months (normally weeks if we’re honest), but good clients understand that it’s worth getting right.

What does the future hold for Fresh Air?

I don’t want to be jealous of what’s going on in the States. I want them to be jealous of us […] This shift we’ve seen and this window of time presents an opportunity for us as UK audio creators to get serious and shape how we want to achieve our goal: To make work we’re proud of for the money it’s worth.


Brad Hill