Broadcasters and podcasters are sharing the stage at Advertising Week this week as Madison Avenue takes a fresh look at radio and figures out the best ways to maximize their investments in the buzzy podcast medium. While there are differences in how content is distributed, consumed, measured and monetized across the two audio formats, they actually have more in common than many people may think.
“Audio has always meant a special connection and, in particular, with the community and your listeners,” said Big Tigger, morning host at hip-hop/R&B “V-103” WVEE-FM Atlanta, during a Tuesday session presented by Audacy that was stacked with panelists from the company. “Because they look to you for information, they look to you for entertainment, they look to you to smile when there's nothing else to smile about.”
Jill Schlesinger, the Emmy-nominated Business Analyst for CBS News and host of the “Jill On Money” podcast, said she prefers audio over TV “mostly because you don't have to wear makeup.” Beyond that, audio provides instant feedback from listeners and enables a “deeper, more emotional connection,” she added.
The personal connection with radio stems from the fact that people generally listen to it alone, said Spike Eskin, VP of Programming for sports WFAN New York and CBS Sports Radio. “You're speaking to a lot of people but it's all individual conversations,” he told the crowd of agency execs and brand marketers. “What makes it so personal is this relationship, especially when they listen over and over in a lot of different ways. From a storytelling perspective, from a client perspective, it allows you to use that relationship better than any other platform.”
That personal connection applies to all forms of audio, from an impassioned sports talk show host to a history professor who made a podcast about strippers. Natalia Petrzela, author, co-producer and host of “Welcome to Your Fantasy,” says her students would always say her ability to tell stories well made something that could be dull, like history, sound interesting. She said she’s getting the same kind of reaction to “Welcome to Your Fantasy,” the podcast she hosts about Chippendales that is racking up millions of downloads and getting rave reviews. “It's been really amazing to get feedback from people who are like, ‘I never thought I would care about Chippendales,’” Petrzela said.
While listeners may be attracted to a host’s storytelling skills, they won’t keep coming back if the personality doesn’t remain motivated and continue to evolve. What’s kept Big Tigger on the air for 27 years is focusing on the target audience – and what they want – and feeding off the energy he gets when he is able to deliver that. “When they keep coming back, it gives me energy, it gives me drive and focus to say, ‘Okay, this is working,’” he told the Advertising Week audience. At the same time, he stressed that personalities need to evolve “with the times, with the situations, with whoever's in office with whatever is going on up the street.” Add to that the significance of staying true to who they are. “Remaining your true self within whatever you're doing, or what you're talking about, is amazingly important,” he continued.
That’s a fundamental principle in podcasting, too. Calling it “an unforgiving medium for bullshit,” Max Linsky, co-founder of Pineapple Street Studios, said they look for hosts who genuinely care about the topic. “If you don't care, people can hear it, they can hear it immediately,” Linsky explained. “And whether it's on the radio or podcast, they've turned it off. So the first thing that we look for is: does this person actually care?”
That emotional investment on the part of the host is important for advertisers that support radio and podcast shows. “Caring about what you're talking about, that comes through, and we want that to come through for ads as well,” said Diana Anderson, Senior VP, Group Director of Network and Digital Audio Activation at ad agency Carat USA. “It's very important for the agency, the client, to let the host put their personal spin on the ad and not want to be so prescriptive, because then it comes through as more authentic.”
Anderson went further, saying the personal connection hosts have with their listeners is why advertisers keep coming back to audio. “You're influencers in the space so we should be leaning in and taking advantage of that,” she said.
The use of produced spots and programmatic advertising can diminish the power of podcasting and defeat the purpose of why advertisers began investing in it in the first place, Anderson added. “Podcasts became popular because of the hosts and the stories they were telling, and their connection to their audience.”