I’m on the train, riding the Pacific Coastliner towards Los Angeles. To many of you, there’s nothing special about that. But, for me, a humble tech startup guy from Scotland, it’s yet another amazing leg of an American podcasting odyssey.
The motivation for this trip was Podcast Movement 2015 – one of the only Podcasting dedicated events, and certainly the biggest, in the world right now. Since I’m in the early stages of growing out The Podcast Host, I thought, “That’s where I’ve gotta be.”
Here, I want to cover my takeaways from the event which, I think, represent the state of podcasting coming into the second half of 2015. A number of themes and topics kept coming up, again and again, really showing where our heads are at right now in the industry.
What About the Event?
First off, I’ve got to lay some serious plaudits on the organisers. I’ve attended a lot of conferences in my time (a plus and a minus of a distant background in university research…) and Podcast Movement was truly one of the most flawless events I’ve been to.
The organisation, the timings, the refreshments, the entertainment, the compering and the sessions were slick, smooth and seamless. I’ve rarely been to a conference where something didn’t go wrong somewhere. But at Podcast Movement, if it did, we didn’t notice!
Congratulations to the founders Jared Easley, Dan Franks, Gary Leland and Mitch Todd for pulling off an event which seemed to run like the proverbial clockwork.
New Podcasters in their Droves
Getting to the takeaways, one thing that became very apparent was the makeup of the audience. The same questions came up in talk after talk: “Who has a podcast? Who has been podcasting under 6 months? Over 6 months? Over 3 years?”
My neck craning and hasty counting seemed to reveal one obvious trend: new podcasters (< 1 year) outnumber old podcasters by a significant amount. Even better, aspiring podcasters, in turn, outnumber new podcasters.
This was pretty exciting for me, even if just to put some proof behind what we’re all thinking. The space is growing, with more and more people getting excited about the medium. I spoke to dozens and dozens of people looking to launch in the next few months.
“Why months?” I generally asked. “Just record a few shows and get it out there. A week is all you need!” I was pretty pleased to hear a lot of the presenters saying the same thing. Just get it done.
Pat Flynn’s keynote (the highlight of the event, for me) was all over this. His ‘voices in the head’ segment was brilliant, hilarious and insightful. Ignore the doubts, the niggles, the inner hater. Silence that voice and ship it. I wasn’t surprised to hear, when we chatted afterwards, that he’d practiced the whole thing over a dozen times, and the intro up to 100!
I loved finding out afterwards, too, that it was fellow UK Podcaster and friend Mike Russell who put the voices segment together for him. Good work Music Radio Creative.
One of the most interesting things to come out of the ‘aspiring podcasters’ group was that many of them had been sent by their employers. This wasn’t the classic group of cubicle escape artists or solo entrepreneurs. These were people from good sized companies, local to national. Businesses who have heard about the medium, are taking it seriously and want in on the act.
Industry is starting to take us seriously. That has pros and cons for us all, but make no mistake, it creates a whole lot more opportunity. It makes it even more vital that, if you want in, you need to get over yourself and ship it. Now.
The Money Question & Amateur Thinking
Another theme that came up time and again, for obvious reasons, was monetisation. I saw a lot of great stuff on this, but I also saw a lot of really surprising dogma, and from even more surprising people.
“You wont make money at this. You CAN’T make money at this. Get in it for the fun, the passion, and maybe money will come your way.”
This winds me up no end.
It smacks of amateurism. Of immaturity. Of ‘podcasting ‘experts’ who can’t see beyond a hobbyist mindset.
I agree that many podcasts will never make money. And many never WANT to. But telling a room full of entrepreneurs and businesses that you can’t plan a podcast to be profitable is just ludicrous. It’s damaging to the medium. and to the speaker’s professional credentials.
Podcasts CAN Be Planned as a Business
Podcasts can be planned with business in mind, in the same way that ANY OTHER marketing effort can. Define target audiences, avatars, calls to action, aims and the deck can be stacked in your favour. You can’t guarantee profit, of course. No business activity can. But, it’s ridiculous to say that a host (or a business) can’t plan a podcast for profit and stand a far better chance of achieving it as a result.
I hear people shouting, “But people will never listen to that!” Again, nonsense. The host is still going to present something they love, that they’re passionate about. Of course they are. I’m not talking about creating sales material or propaganda. I’m talking about great content marketing, offering tonnes of value and building an audience in an authentic way. The final step is creating ways to serve that audience with paid products and services as a result.
You can design that. You can plan that. Well, you can if you’re a professional. And many of the presenters gave that message. But a surprising number did the opposite, and I think they’re holding us back.
To me, planning and strategy are so important that they form the basis of our Podcast Launch courses in The Podcast Host Academy. These modules helps aspiring podcasters make sure they start off on the right foot.
Passion is Great, but Planning is King
Since I’m ranting a little, I also want to call out the passion-ites. It’s still going on: “Follow your passion and the profit will come!”
Small-thinking. Amateur. Irresponsible!
Yes, passion is what’s going to make a show pop. You need a host that lives and breathes the topic. But, especially now with the competition growing exponentially, a passionate show is going nowhere fast without planning.
It's irresponsible because people take advice from speakers like that, speakers like me, investing months of their lives in ‘just being passionate,’ getting nowhere as a result. It’s our job to prepare them as best we can, and “follow your passion” is anything but useful advice. It was great to hear Jordan Harbinger from Art of Charm say exactly the same thing on-stage in his session.
You need to know who you’re targeting, what you’re giving them, and what the benefits are. Otherwise you’re going to get lost in a sea of equally passionate people, producing equally valuable material.
The world is littered with hugely talented people who failed to be strategic about how they go about their art, and failed to be successful as a result.
Still Figuring it Out
Having said all that, I don’t want to give the impression that I think I’ve figured it all out. And that was the final big theme of the conference for me: no-one has.
While all the signs at the event were great – growth, interest, professionalisation (mostly…) – we’re still figuring out how to turn this into a mainstream medium. It was interesting to hear that even the guys from midroll can’t give solid answers around sponsorship. Listener numbers and CPMs are very variable, depending hugely on your topic, and perhaps that’s the way it should stay.
There was great advice, from Midroll and others, on seeking sponsorship and other types of monetisation, but even the top tier seem to still be feeling their way. We’ll get there, of course, as long as people keep sharing their experience.
Finally, We’re Great!
The final take-away for me was that, and I hope this isn’t a surprise, Podcasters are amazing people! Like I said, I’ve been to a lot of conferences and this was, hands down, the most friendly, fun event I’ve ever been to. The exception, perhaps, is UKPOD14, but then that was full of podcasters too.
This weekend I must have chatted to over a hundred people, and made a bunch of new friends. Among those people, everyone was gracious, generous, welcoming and brilliant in their own way. The only downside is that I have dozens of new podcasts I want to check out, but I’ll never have the time to listen to them all!
I’ve talked earlier about making podcasting more professional, but I hope that, in the process, we don’t lose that fun and friendliness. Knowing the people I’ve met, I’m sure that wont be the case! Missing them already, I’m starting to plan my trip to Podcast Movement 2016. If it’s anything like as good as this one, you need to beg, borrow and steal to get there next year. See you in Chicago!