Six Lessons from Two Years of Podcasting

by Jason Ocker

We started Agency on Record two years ago at Maark as part of our marketing efforts, but also because we just wanted to. For the podcast, CEO Michael Colombo and I engage in conversations about creativity, technology, and marketing, as we’ve done for decades even without mics aimed at our faces. Both of us were inexperienced at the form, though, so we had to learn as we went along. And this is some of what I’ve learned personally from the project. Mike can write his own article.

1. Practice Makes Palatable

Mike and I have known each other for 20 years, so conversation isn’t hard for us. However, the second we throw headphones on, it’s a much different conversational context than getting ciders at the pub down the street, although that’s the tone we’re aiming for.

I think many of our early, awkward episodes were us practicing having a conversation under these new circumstances. In hindsight, we could have benefited by a set of practice episodes before any public consumption. But there was also, rightly, a sense that if we didn’t just dive in and fill the pool on the way down, we’d never kick this project off.

But even now, 60-odd eps in, we still find ourselves in situations where the conversation is going nowhere or we only find the real thread after talking about the topic for a while. In those instances, we just start the podcast over. Or we’ll have a pre-conversation from our desks about the topic before going anywhere near the mic. These “practice conversations” always makes the episodes better.

2. Engineers Are Essential

One of the false allures of podcasting is that you sit in front of a mic for an hour, and you have baked content ready-to-go, as opposed to all the days spent writing an article or all the skills you need to film even a talking head video. But it’s not true. Somebody needs to edit that audio file for sound, length, pace, content. You want to make sure every minute is listenable.

In fact, you’re probably looking at four hours of post-production work for every hour of podcasting (not including all the posting duties), and it needs to be by someone who isn’t just technically capable as an engineer, but someone who understands the subject matter.

3. Pre-Production is a Pre-Requisite

The whole angle of our podcast isn’t to declaim knowledge, it’s to arrive at a conclusion through conversation, often surprising ourselves. That means we might only have a vague idea where we stand on a topic when we sit down at the soundboard, even after a “practice conversation.” It’s like how writing is “physical thinking.” You might have a vague notion about something, but the act of typing it and organizing it and editing it outside your brain congeals that vague notion into a concrete idea.

But that doesn’t mean we’re not preparing for the topic (in the ideal, at least). We need examples and stats, and when it’s a topic from the headlines, we need to know what happened in detail. On top of that, we need to know a general direction that the conversation is going to head (because any one topic can spawn 8,000 different conversational directions). Incidentally, that pre-production is another few hours to add to your podcasting tally.

4. Be Real, but Be Real Careful

Because we’re having real conversations, we don’t get to hide behind careful word choice and phrasing like we can when, say, we write an article. However, because we’re talking about topics related to our clients, our employees, our business, our colleagues, sometimes our opinions and topics hit in places with, let’s say direct relevance (careful word choice!).

So we always have to be conscious of the audience for that reason. But we’ve made mistakes in that area and endured near-misses. A few times, we’ve had ideas for topics that we’ve had to table until we had some distance from it, because it was too close to a situation that recently happened. Podcasts can easily be weaponized into their own versions of Tweet rants, and we want to be wary of that.

5. Enjoy It or Hit Stop

Like any creative endeavor, a big part of the reason for doing it is that you like doing it. If it’s purely a marketing exercise or purely an assignment, it’s going to come off that way and probably be awful.

Most of the podcasts that I listen to are by people who know their stuff well, but are just having fun jawing about it. And I think that’s important. If Mike or I aren’t getting any value or enjoyment out of either an individual episode or the podcast experience as a whole, chances are neither is the audience.

6. Perseverance Makes a Program

The mortality rate (podfade) of podcasts is about 50%. You start it with enthusiasm, and then by episode seven, you’re done. And it makes sense. It’s hard. Lots of hours. And even though our podcasting station is steps away from our desks, it’s still hard to fit even just the hour or so we need just for production into our schedules. We’ve got business and client tasks to get to. Travel. Meetings. TV to watch.

Somehow we’ve beat the statistics on podfade, but that doesn’t mean we’ve been ironclad faithful to a schedule. We’ve missed weeks. We’ve missed an entire month during the holidays. The point is to stick to it. To be at least somewhat regular. To put together a foundational body of work. Because then you’re suddenly at 63 episodes and you think you have lessons about podcasting you can tell people.

Haven't heard Agency on Record yet? Check it out!

Jason writes. Tells stories. Develops strategies. He oversees a wide range of creative and technical projects. He’s also an award-winning author of half a dozen books and has been featured on or in CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.

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