This question about podcasts is one I hear more and more frequently each year, and it’s a good one to ask. There are many benefits to launching a podcast, from furthering your association’s brand to establishing your organization as subject matter experts and even helping you accomplish some of your DEI goals. But they are also a significant investment, in terms of the time and resources they take to do them well.
As you have internal discussions about whether podcasting is the right choice for your association, there are a number things to keep in mind.
This is one of my favorite questions to ask, and not just when I’m talking about podcasts (if it’s good enough for Simon Sinek, it’s good enough for me). Are you just talking about podcasts because it feels like everyone else has one? With roughly 2 million podcasts in existence as of September 2021, it’s an understandable feeling to have, but not a great reason to undertake an ongoing project that comes with direct and indirect costs. Asking “why” will help you think more critically about what you want to accomplish so you can set yourself up for success within the strategic goals your specific association is working to accomplish.
Advertising revenue for podcasts rose to $842 million in 2020, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). That represented a 19% year-over-year increase from 2019. When the final numbers come in, they expect 2021 revenue to surpass $1 billion, and predict we’ll hit $2 billion by 2023.
As associations search for non-dues revenue streams to plug holes left in their budgets by declining membership levels, this is certainly an enticing opportunity and one that should be given significant weight. The average podcast will usually command $18 – $25 per 1,000 monthly downloads with advertisers preferring podcasts with at least 5,000 monthly downloads. The fact that an association’s podcast will inherently hit a niche market that will appeal to industry sponsors will make it easier for you to justify higher ad rates and/or lower monthly download rates.
Keep in mind that even with that leg-up, it will still take months, if not a year or more to build up enough audience to attract a sponsor. During that time when you’re building your audience and not bringing in any revenue, you’ll need to incur any technology costs like a quality microphone (even basic investment will likely set you back $200). While there are distribution services that have free options, most will start charging money after a set trial period or once you’ve hit a certain number of episodes so that will represent an ongoing budget line item to get your podcast out to the major platforms like Apple Podcasts and Spotify. It’s also a drain on staff time as they are being pulled from working on other projects that could provide benefit for the association.
For larger organizations that have more flexibility in your staffing to try something new and organizations whose focus is increasing brand recognition as opposed to driving revenue, you could treat podcasting as a loss leader and get some solid long-term results. For smaller organizations with more constraints, this is a larger piece of the puzzle to consider. Leveraging shared resources through an AMC can help. RGI’s podcasting studio is available to all our clients at no cost to the associations.
Associations trade on our unique knowledge base and inherent access to experts. Leveraging the expertise within your own membership builds your association’s brand and elevates you within your industry’s discourse as subject matter experts and a trusted source of valuable information.
Making it happen
If you have those frank internal discussions and decide that yes, podcasting is the way forward for your association, here are a few logistical questions to think through and recommendations for getting started:
- Unique value proposition: With roughly 2 million podcasts already out there, what are you bringing to the table that no one else is? Is your purpose to demonstrate the expertise of your own members or to bring in outside experts as a form of professional development for your members?
- Content generation: Come up with 10 ideas of subjects you could talk about on an episode and specific people you would like to interview. Podcasts are beasts that must continually be fed with new content. If your entire staff and/or volunteer committee is brainstorming and cannot collectively come up with that many ideas, this may be a sign that another medium would be better suited to your purposes.
- Choosing your host: Staff or volunteer? In most cases, volunteers are closer to the subject matter and will come up with questions staff members may not, while staff members like your executive director or communications professional may have more experience at being an interviewer. If you go with a volunteer, I recommend asking them to commit to a set period of time as host so they don’t feel like they’re being asked to commit to a potentially permanent obligation.
- Duration & research: How long will each episode be? You don’t have to be exactly the same every time, but each episode should be roughly the same time commitment (one episode being 15 minutes and the next being 18 is entirely fine; one being 15 minutes and the next being 55 is… not best practice). Who is responsible for doing the research to fill that much time? Just your host? Your host and a staff liaison? A volunteer committee?
- Commit to a distribution schedule: Regular distribution is a key requirement to building an audience. Weekly and bi-weekly are some of the most common, but some opt for monthly. If you don’t have the volunteer base and/or staff support to make that happen, consider a limited-run annual schedule (e.g., 6-8 weekly episodes every summer). If you go for weekly or bi-weekly, I recommend getting 8-10 episodes recorded and ready for release before distributing your first episode so you have a cushion to get you through times when you need to focus on other work like your annual conference, your host is sick or on vacation and can’t record, etc. You can always add in timely podcast episodes in the middle of your schedule and bump back the other unreleased episodes.
- Telling the media: Don’t send out a press release about your first episode. Any journalist that reports on your podcast is, to an extent, putting their own brand behind you. They’ll want to know that your content is of interest to their audience and that you won’t just disappear after episode 3, neither of which will be clear after one episode. Consider waiting until roughly your 10th episode with a focus on what listeners can expect from your podcast, specifically mentioning one or two of the top-tier guests you’ve interviewed so far.
One of the first lessons I learned after I started working for an association management company is that “if you’ve seen one association, you’ve seen… one association.” Other associations doing a podcast doesn’t mean that you need to do one; the fact that a podcast wasn’t worth it for another organization a colleague is associated with doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea for your current group. The best thing you can do is sit down and have a frank discussion about how a podcast may fit within your overall strategic goals, and go from there as a united team. Whether it’s a podcast or a different project, we’re always better off when the whole crew is rowing in the same direction.