Steve Pratt: Podcast solutions for the budget-conscious

Guest columnist Steve Pratt is co-owner and Partner of Pacific Content, which creates original podcasts for brands including Slack, Mozilla, and Dell. This article originally appeared on the Pacific Content blog and is the announcement post for the acquisition of Pacific Content by Canadian broadcast group Rogers Media. RAIN News reported the acquisition yesterday.

Making a high-quality, full-length podcast can create a huge amount of value for a brand, but it isn’t cheap. It takes a lot of time from a lot of talented people, from the hosts to the guests and from the producers to sound designers. And time + talented people = not cheap 🙂

We are very lucky to work with many brands that can afford to make world-class 25-minute podcast episodes on a regular basis. However, we also talk to a lot of businesses who are really interested in podcasting but can’t afford to make these bigger-budget shows. And we talk with a lot of businesses where a big-budget show doesn’t make strategic sense because they have a smaller potential target audience, either due to geographic limitation or the desire to super-serve a laser-focused group of people.

Good news! There are some really easy ways to get into podcasting without breaking the bank… and there are also some really common pitfalls to avoid.

Mistakes to avoid for budget-conscious podcasters

  1. Don’t make a low-quality show. The most common route to podcasting on a smaller budget is to make a lower quality show. Usually, this means an interview or conversation format, and usually, that means that a one-take, unedited recording. This, in our opinion, is a mistake.
  2. Don’t compensate for a lower budget by making it up in volume. There is often an assumption that you need to make a lot of episodes in order to be successful. Many interview-format shows publish weekly, or even multiple times a week. This, in our opinion, is also a mistake.
  3. Don’t make a show any longer than it needs to be. There a frequent assumption that longer episodes are better. While many podcasts can be an hour or longer, the average U.S. commute is roughly 26-minutes and we often start with that as a target length. In almost every area of podcasting, we advocate that less is more and that doing fewer things better leads to greater success. Many smart people in podcasting agree.

Better options for budget-conscious podcasters

  1. Keep quality as high as possible. Quality is the one area you should never sacrifice. Value the time and attention of your listeners and make the best show you can possibly make. Lower quality content won’t attract audiences, it won’t ‘wow’ the audiences you do reach, and it won’t reflect well on your brand. So how do you deliver high quality on a lower budget?
  2. Shorten the episode length. As a listener, I would rather listen to an AMAZING 5-minute episode than a mediocre 25-minute or 60-minute episode. And as a podcaster, I would rather have a 95% completion rate at 5-minutes than a 60% completion at 25-minutes. Why? I’d prefer to have a shorter, high-quality show where listeners consume almost all of every episode, instead of a longer show where people lose engagement as the show progresses. Very high engagement is a marker of great editorial.
  3. Produce fewer episodes. Respect people’s time. With clients on a fixed budget, we will always recommend fewer episodes at a higher quality level. As a listener, I’d prefer to have fewer episodes that are all amazing than double the number of episodes at lower quality. And as a podcaster, I’d rather have a passionate, fully engaged audience who listen to every single episode because it’s so good than a semi-committed audience. I’d also prefer to use my marketing budget on a smaller number of episodes so that it has a bigger impact. Instead of making a show and publishing regularly forever, think instead about seasons of 6–10 episodes at a time.
  4. Get creative. Creativity executed well can deliver huge engagement and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Try to do something different and special instead of a lower-budget version of a popular podcast. So make a unique show. Make a show that only you can make, even if it’s short and even if there aren’t that many episodes.

What does short, high-quality, and creative sound like? I’m biased because I helped produce it, but we made a really fun show with Envoy a couple years ago called Envoy Office Hacks and it still sticks out for me as an example of being “awesome on a budget.” Short episodes, creative format, and fun execution.

In the end, you win if you can create a show that listeners value. You can pull all sorts of levers to manage the budget, from length to frequency to format. Just make sure you’re producing a show that matters to your audience.

Steve Pratt