Steve Goldstein: Steve Pratt thinks most podcast marketing is wrong

Steve Goldstein’s Amplifi Media works with media companies and podcasters in developing audio content strategies. Goldstein writes frequently at Blogstein, the Amplifi blog. Steve can be reached directly at 203-221-1400 or sjgoldstein-at-amplifimedia-dot-com.

Fighting for media attention is maddening. Social channels are jammed and less effective than ever.

Just a few years ago you could pop a link into a Tweet and your podcast would be off and running.  Today, regardless of platform, most posts don’t generate much traction which leads to more frantic tactics to draw attention.

Attention is a scarce commodity and lasting attention, well that requires different thinking.  In the podcast space I can’t think of anyone who has put more thought into creating awareness and relevance for podcasts than Steve Pratt.

Steve co-founded Pacific Content, the company that essentially

invented branded podcasts.  Necessity being the mother of invention, Steve and his team learned early that finding an audience for a show was exponentially harder than making great content.  Pacific Content was a labaratory for podcast discovery.

In 2019, Steve sold the company to Canadian media giant Rogers and is now on to his next thing; “The Creativity Business.” His new firm is focused on development of content that stands out.  His timing is great.

Steve wrote a blog post recently about earning attention, which, well, caught my attention. We spoke about the different types of social media and why one form stands out significantly more than others.

A very quick primer – Not all social media is created equal. Most is paid for (ads) or owned (content you control like your own Instagram account). The third, and by far, most difficult, is Earned media which is publicity or exposure gained from other sources.  It’s essentially online word of mouth, mentions, shares, reposts, reviews, recommendations, or content picked up by 3rd parties.

Steve G: You wrote a magnificent post about eaaaaarnnnnned attention .  Was this an epiphany or something else?

Steve P – It was an epiphany that I knew the whole time but had not been able to say it as clearly as earning attention. I’ve been writing about content and strategy for a while. My whole career has been in the media, and I’ve been trying to tell stories. There are all sorts of different types of content strategy from clickbait to content marketing, to brand storytelling.

So much energy goes into TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – there are teams of people generating GIFs and graphics and clever links.  It feels like an endless flood coming at us.

Here’s how I think about this; I don’t want to grab attention or steal it or buy it, which all sound very selfish. It’s about earning it. If people take a chance on your content and they’re happy they did it, that’s earned attention.  It feels very values-based and aligned with what my personal strategy has been and, what’s worked really, really well for a lot of different clients over the years.

What are examples of earned media where people say “ooh, ooh, look at this. It’s smart, it’s different, it’s important.”

It starts by focusing on the people that you’re trying to serve, or the people whose attention you’re trying to earn and creating value for them. There is a flood of content out there and people are looking for something selfish in return.

That’s different than short term thinking. I don’t mean to pick on anybody, but the Buzzfeed universe of salacious headlines or listicles or clickbait things, the whole notion of “you won’t believe what happens next” is not earned attention. There is an emptiness when you’re done. You feel like you’ve kind of been hoodwinked a little bit.

Seth Godin is a prolific content creator. He’s been blogging daily for over a decade. I look forward to it every day. He has earned my trust.  He creates value for me all the time. I think about some of the clients I used to work with at Pacific Content.  The ones that found the most success were the ones that thought about the show that we can make that comes uniquely from them, but isn’t about them, it’s about serving the needs of the audience they want to reach.

Charles Schwab has done an amazing podcast for a long time called Choiceology. It’s hosted by a professor of behavioral psychology at Wharton, Katy Milkman. Every episode is a story about a cognitive bias or a blind spot that leads you to make not great decisions. There’s no mention of Charles Schwab products or investment options or anything.  But obviously all the decision-making stuff helps you do better financial planning.

Earning Attention By Being Great And Being Generous Over Time Builds Trust And Trust Builds Relationships. That’s How You Get Talked About.

Your team essentially created the category of branded audio.  As you know, we are involved too, working with several clients and co-producing one of the top branded podcasts. To me, it’s the toughest of all podcast categories because no one wants to listen to a brand blather about itself. You must have learned a lot about earning attention because finding an audience can be tough.

It was tough. No one on the Pacific content team had a sales or marketing background.  Everybody came from content and storytelling. It was a bit of a gamble.

We felt like we could help brands earn the attention of listeners by making things that are better than sales and promotion copy.

It’s a XY graph with creative bravery on the bottom and commitment on the vertical axis. It helped as a wonderful shortcut to go to a company and say, “your job is to be very creatively brave.”

You have to make something so good that you would listen to it and tell other people about it.

If you start putting your executives in it or telling customer stories or start talking about your own products and services, you start drifting back.  Maybe people will listen once, but they’re never going to come back.

So, lets unpack the various marketing channels 

The hard work is looking for a specific type of listener.

Activating your owned channels is key.  As a brand, you’ve already got lots of people who have opted in on other platforms and using those effectively is going to be of value. But it’s not something that a lot of brands do well. That was a big aha for us. The work that Dan Misener and the audience development team at Pacific Content did took it up another level.

Everything feels very instant and so many voices clamoring for attention: listen now, watch now, read now.  You talk about an old, but valuable, marketing lesson, “the marshmallow test.”

Right.  It feels like a very short-term race to the bottom, where the business models are prioritizing putting out as much content as humanly possible so they can have more ad inventory and be able to have more revenue. There’s a push to get more and more every quarter. To me that feels like a bad version of the marshmallow test. It is a famous Stanford University test that used young kids and offered them a marshmallow to eat now, or if they wait 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow, they got a second marshmallow.

There are life lessons for people who could delay gratification.  Sometimes you get more marshmallows with patience and quality.

Earning attention by being great and being generous over time builds trust and trust builds relationships. That’s how you get talked about.

There Are A Lot Of Different Phrases Associated With Getting Attention; Like Steal Attention, Grab Attention, Purchase Attention, Capture Attention. They All Sound Aggressive

I think about what resonates these days.  Sure, it’s the earthquake or a fascinating crime or a political gaff, but how do you develop a discipline to think more long term? 

There are a lot of different phrases associated with getting attention; like steal attention, grab attention, purchase attention, capture attention. They all sound aggressive almost like an assault or something.

 What is the most sensationalist thing we can do to get you to click on something?

That empty feeling like you’ve been tricked — you thought you were going to get a meal and you got a couple of calories.

There’s a process to go through to earn it.

The ultimate reward is when people choose to spend their time with you rather than being resentful that you tricked them.

In your post about earned attention, you highlight a classic commercial from the mid 1980’s for the financial firm Smith Barney, with a highly recognized actor, John Houseman.  

I used to make fun of it. I used to joke about the Houseman ads.  He is such a classic character in the way he says, “they make money the old-fashioned way. They, eeeeaaaarrrnnn it. If you watch the ads, even though it’s for an investment firm, it’s about doing the hard work to get better results and not short-term shortcuts and hacks.

I recognize that I’m a of a certain age where most people have no idea what this ad is.

It was original and breakthrough.

Let’s go in a slightly different direction; there are a lot of shows in the podcast space that are really good but over time fall off the radarI love Freakonomics. I can’t tell you the last time I listened. They have earned a space in my brain,  but are competing with other podcasts for my time. Does that fit into to what you’re talking about?

I fall victim to that too. I think we all do. There are all sorts of shows I want to watch on Netflix or a podcast that I want to listen to. I have a long cue of episodes that I haven’t listened to.  But I do think about what are the factors that make me choose to listen to the things and what cuts through.  What am I actually going to watch tonight?

Have you heard people talking about a particular Freakonomics episode recently? Has anybody told you about it? The word-of-mouth part matters a lot. It’s social currency. That’s part of the cultural conversation, or it has some momentum going on.

Dan and Chip Heath wrote Made to Stick about what makes ideas stick and be memorable. Jonah Burger has a book called Contagious about how ideas spread.  Both good.

I wonder whether some shows, even though they’re still fantastic, whether they’re surprising anymore. We all know about Freakonomics, we all know about this American Life. And I’m sure every single episode is still fantastic, but there may not be that curiosity.

I’m guessing more and more podcasts will face this

Things change for sure.  There just seems to be a lot of interest in rethinking lives and reconfiguring things right now.

Longevity research is a big category. Did you hear that there’s a podcast that says no alcohol is safe? That’s the sort of thing that gets you to go listen and you feel like, “oh, I should check that out because everybody’s talking about it.”

It seems another danger for content creators is falling into a mode of me-too and not being original 

There’s a lot of people who will copy Ira Glass, The Daily, or Joe Rogan.

What’s your voice? What’s your unique voice and what’s the thing that’s actually going to be valuable and interesting? That’s the thing that no one can copy.

Many categories are saturated and it can be hard to distinguish and find the good.

I think differentiation in all its many facets is a huge part of your strategy and evaluating what you’re putting out and why you’re putting it out and how you’re different, interesting or unexpected compared to other things that are out there. If you don’t have a good answer for that, I don’t think you’re gonna have a lot of success.

As they say, if you haven’t earned it, don’t expect it.

Thanks Steve, and best of luck with the new venture.

Steve Goldstein