The first podcast everyone told me that I must listen to was This American Life. Then Serial. And then, for those in the startup world, StartUp by Gimlet Media. My personal favorite continues to be How I Built This with Guy Raz, where somehow the ups and downs of the greatest founder stories can be told through a cohesive narrative in under 45 minutes.
Podcasts are having their moment with more people than ever tuning in to listen. This is especially true among entrepreneurs, who are said to tune into podcasts for both ideas and inspiration. And it’s not just the volume of podcast listeners that’s on the rise, it’s the engagement. Close to 85% of people who start a podcast listen to all or most of it.
As we all know, where there is audience, there are advertisers. Podcast advertising was said to reach more than more than $220 million in 2017, up 85% from 2016. NPR found that 75% of listeners took action on a sponsored message.
In addition to advertising dollars, we’ve seen a rise in brands entering the podcast world as content creators are finding new channels to connect with their audience. From eBay’s Open for Business to GE’s The Message, brands are leveraging podcast content as a way to get in front of their audience and control the storyline.
So audience, engagement, and ad dollars are all on the up, and with that, comes an increase in the number of podcasts trying to break though. A quick search through iTunes will reveal podcasts on just about everything. Yet despite all the enthusiasm about new shows, it’s hard to strike the balance between entertainment and engagement, storytelling and sales.
In an effort to cut through the noise, I listened to dozens of emerging business podcasts. Here are the 5 podcasts that I think got it right.
- Masters of Scale: Reid Hoffman, Cofounder of LinkedIn and Partner at Greylock, knows a thing or two about creating scalable companies (is there anyone left who doesn’t have a LinkedIn profile?). In Masters of Scale, he turns the microphone on a guest list that reads as Who’s Who of Silicon Valley’s tech scene. The episodes unfold as a mystery, as he digs into those nuggets of wisdom behind specific insights on scale. Masters of Scale has made a pledge to keep their guest ratio at 50% men and women. Favorite episode: The Howard Schultz episode, which discusses the connection between profit and purpose.
- Financial Grownup with Bobbi Rebell: Before writing the best-selling How to Become a Financial Grownup, Proven Advice from High Achievers on How to Live Your Dreams and Have Financial Freedom. Bobbi was a business journalist at Reuters, CNBC and CNN. Her journalism expertise shows in the way that she expertly weaves together interesting stories from business leaders with succinct personal financial lessons. Each episode is under fifteen minutes, and strikes the exact balance between informative and entertaining. Favorite episode: Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary (a.ka. Mister Wonderful).
- Skimm’d From the Couch: Skimm rose in fame when they became the go-to news resource for the millennial generation. Their podcast Skimm’d from the Couch recently launched with the goal of sharing real conversations with female leaders. In sharing a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s really like to start company, Founders Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg said they hope that “sharing it and talking it through will hopefully help others go through their own when it’s their turn to get their business off the couch.” Favorite episode: Tina Brown.
- Powderkeg: Matt Hunckler and Powderkeg shine a light on entrepreneurs beyond the reach of the Bay area (yes, they do exist). He digs into the founder stories beyond Silicon Valley and highlights incredible people all across the country. Favorite episode: Interview with Heather Hartnett, CEO and Founder of Human Ventures.
- #The Tools from Rent the Runway Foundation and Project Entrepreneur: This podcast has very specific learnings about how to take a next step in startup, featuring entrepreneurs and VCs who have been there done that. Each episode is very focused—the 90-second pitch, budgeting, metrics that matter—and is repurposed from Project Entrepreneur’s live workshops. Sidenote: This is a great example of how to repackage existing conference footage into an interesting podcast. Favorite episode: Branding and Marketing with Rockets of Awesome.
The podcast trend shows no sign of slowing down (which is good news for those of us who are avid listeners). For those companies thinking about launching one, make sure you have a solid value proposition on why listeners should tune in to you. Podcasts discovery is still largely organic, which makes it all the more important to be clear on your messaging. Develop a strategy for what you want to share with your listeners, and how it ties back to the voice of your brand. Whether you want to educate, inspire, activate or entertain, as these five podcasts show us, it is possible to build an engaged and enthusiastic audience.
I am the CEO of RAISE Communications (@raisecommsgrp) a boutique PR and content strategy firm that helps tech startups, VC Firms and Leadership Teams shape ideas, create influence and inspire action. Follow me @carisommer.