It’s OK to take a break. You may work hard on putting out weekly episodes, then question your effort and decide to quit. Don’t think of it as quitting. Think of it as taking a break. Sometime during that break, you’ll probably think of many new ideas for episodes and, when you’re sufficiently recharged, get back into the booth.
As part of my series of interviews about “5 things you need to know to create a very successful podcast”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dave Newmark.
Dave Newmark began his career in advertising after graduating from Stanford University. His agency, Newmark Advertising, specialized in radio advertising in his home market of Los Angeles. After focusing on all formats of radio advertising, he discovered the power of endorsement radio advertising, and began to hone his direction in that area to serve his clients. In 1998, Dave and his wife, Patty, also a Stanford grad in psychology, brought radio endorsement advertising national. With the expansion of audio formats in the mid-2000s, the Newmark agency extended its expertise in all areas of audio, including terrestrial and satellite radio, streaming audio and podcasts, for his client roster. In 2016, noticing a “discovery” challenge for podcast listeners, Dave developed an online directory exclusively for podcasts, called PodSearch, launching it in 2017. Following that he launched StartAPod, a comprehensive resource for aspiring podcasters in early 2020. Dave has been asked to speak at various audio industry conferences about the state of podcasts and its forecast for growth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of your “personal backstory? What is your background and what eventually brought you to this particular career path?
Maybe I was destined to be an ad man. My father was one of those “Mad Men” (really!) in the 1950s and 1960s, including storyboard presentations to clients and three-martini lunches. In the 1980’s after graduating college and joining his new solo ad agency operation I found a love for audio advertising. Dad is now happily retired, and I’ve carried the torch with a career path that went from doing local (Los Angeles) radio ad buys to national radio ad buys to, now, podcast advertising. The agency’s expertise of podcast advertising was started by my wife and co-founder, Patty, who I met in college and joined me at the agency in the mid-1990’s. Her background in psychology proved invaluable in understanding the influence of podcast hosts in delivering advertisements to their listeners.
Can you share a story about the most interesting thing that has happened to you since you started in the podcasting business?
Yes! In January 2019, a full year before the Coronavirus outbreak and at the peak of what had been strong growth in our podcast ad agency, Patty, who at the time was spearheading and supervising all of our podcast ads buys as President of the agency, accidentally fell on a marble floor in our home and broke every bone in her elbow. This meant she had to refrain from day-to-day operations, doing months of rehab while her muscles and bones that took all year to heal. This meant I had to run the agency without our “star” player on the field, so to speak.
My solution, aside from momentary panic, was to re-think the way we were structuring our agency. My approach was to work with our senior management team to develop a specially designed database and processes that would distribute media information across the company in easily accessible form. This effort has proved to be a huge success, able to accommodate the substantial growth in the sheer number of podcast shows available to our advertising clients. We still rely on Patty for her strategic guidance but we now have a system in place that ensures we can serve clients even when one of our “stars” is out of action for any particular reason.
Can you share a story about the biggest or funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaways you learned from that?
I learned a valuable lesson in business with another company I started a few years before the Great Recession of 2008. In 2005, I started an ad auction company called Bid4Spots which was growing rapidly. Problem was, I thought the good times would last forever. They did not. Unfortunately, in 2008 I took out long term leases for office space and bought furniture that we never used because at the end of that year was the beginning of the Great Recession. The takeaway I’ve had ever since is to take out short-term leases even if the square footage rate is slightly higher. This strategy paid off handsomely in 2017 when we had a reversal in business (unrelated to the general economy) and we were able to exit a large space for smaller space. We’re now in a growth mode again but I’ll stick with the short-term leasing strategy for the foreseeable future because it gives us maximum flexibility to grow or contract as needed without excess overhead.
What are the main takeaways, lessons or messages that you want people to walk away with about podcasting?
Here are my top 10:
- You’re going to try and be good when you launch, but it’s OK to be bad when you start — allow yourself the time to refine your show.
- It’s OK to change the course. You may believe your show should take one direction, but you may find that it takes another. That’s a natural evolution.
- It’s OK to take a break. You may work hard on putting out weekly episodes, then question your effort and decide to quit. Don’t think of it as quitting. Think of it as taking a break. Sometime during that break, you’ll probably think of many new ideas for episodes and, when you’re sufficiently recharged, get back into the booth.
- It’s OK to come up with more than one show. The internet generally and podcasting specifically has no rules. You can do a show about whatever you dream up. Dream it, do it and with two or more shows under your belt, you’re a “network”!
- Don’t use “promoters” to boost your download numbers. Almost every week, some promoters from a far-away country pitch themselves to me as someone who can “promote” the show for a fee. All they are doing is getting you “fake” downloads. It’s wrong and a waste of your time and money. Most hosting companies who are IAB (Internet Advertising Bureau) compliant, can sniff out that kind of activity and will scrub it from your totals.
- Invest in your show by hiring a freelance producer to be your “coach”. At StartAPod, we have a section that connects podcasters to freelance producers. Their talent and experience can make a huge difference in the sound and structure of your show.
- Invest in decent microphones, both for your “in studio” setup as well as “in the field” interviews. Recording on a mobile phone may be easy and cheap for you but it’s not a pleasant experience for the listener.
- Use a hosting service rather than trying to get the RSS feeds out to all of the player apps yourself. They don’t cost very much and will automatically make sure your shows get out to the broadest possible audience.
- Take some time to dissect shows that you really like. Notice the little things like the pace of their speaking, how they introduce episodes, how long individual segments are, how loud the music is, when it comes and out. This attention to detail will undoubtedly inform your show.
- Taking advertising is an easier way to make money from podcasting than asking for donations. Even your most ardent supporters will get tired of your pleading with them, however nicely, for financial support. I recommend that even if your show is general/national in subject matter, try calling on local businesses to support you with advertising. Chances are, your listeners are going to be mostly local, so local businesses, especially ones you patronize yourself, will be willing to give your show financial support in return for you talking about them in your show.
In your opinion what makes a podcast binge-listenable? What do you think makes podcasts unique from the others in their category?
Binge listening in podcasting is done mostly with stories that are evergreen in nature, rather than topical. You’ll find this to be true with almost any genre from psychology to history to true crime to comedy.
Doing something on a consistent basis is not easy. Podcasting every work-day, or even every week can be monotonous. What would you recommend to podcasters about how to maintain discipline and consistency? What would you recommend to others about how to avoid burnout?
I’ve noticed that one trick podcasters use to “liven up” their shows that may be getting into a rut, is to go live in front of an audience. It doesn’t matter how large it is, just the act of getting out of the usual recording setting can inject new energy into a show. For discipline and consistency, I recommend scheduling interviews, if interviews are in the format of your show, well in advance. When you know you have an interview coming up, you’ll be motivated to be fully prepared for it with thoughtful questions.
Ok fantastic. Let’s now shift to the main questions of our discussion. Is there someone in the podcasting world who you think is a great model for how to run a really fantastic podcast?
Yes, Shankar Vedantam, host of the NPR show, “Hidden Brain”. For years, he has managed to explore a wide range of topics under the general banner of “how people think and behave” with an enthusiastic curiosity that makes every episode highly engaging.
What are the ingredients that make that podcast so successful? If you could break that down into a blueprint, what would that blueprint look like?
Passion and curiosity drive content; attention to production detail drives audience growth.
You have a very unique perspective on the podcast world as a whole. Can you share with our readers the five things people need to know to create an extremely successful podcast? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)
- Be personal (one of the best examples of this is the show “Terrible, thanks for asking” where the host, a stand-up comedienne, who has lost her husband to brain cancer, shares stories of hope and recovery with a sense of humor).
- Release consistently (listeners make certain podcasts “appointment listening” so if you release at 5 a.m. EST every day, do it every day and don’t miss a deadline. Erica Mandy does this with her “Newsworthy” podcast).
- Don’t worry about show length (many people want to know the “right” length of an episode. Mark Maron of WTF is heard by millions of people and his shows regularly go well over one hour).
- Allow plenty of time for production (Liz Covart, host and producer of Ben Franklin’s World, a podcast about history in the time of early America, talks about how she spends 60 minutes of production time for every finished minute of the show. Most podcasters don’t have that kind of time, but the more time you spend on production, the better the story will be for listeners which, in turn, will generate more listening).
- Be natural (If you are being “fake”, listeners will be able to tell. On the show, Pod Save America, the hosts are naturally outraged about various political issues and listeners know it’s not an act. Shows like Back Story, on the other hand, are a quiet, thoughtful and academic discussion about historical issues and that is a natural style for them. Both shows are successful not because they are loud and high-energy or soft-spoken. They are successful because that is their natural style of communication.)
Can you share some insights from your experiences with podcasters about the best ways to: 1) book great guests; 2) increase listeners; 3) produce it in a professional way; 4) encourage engagement; and 5) the best way to monetize it? (Please share a story or example for each, if you can.)
- Book Great Guests: My view is that any guest can be great as long as the host cares about them and is curious about what they do and think and if the host believes the listeners will care just as much. Therefore, don’t waste your time and the listeners’ time with anyone else.
- Increase Listeners: The single biggest method is word-of-mouth. The single biggest factor in spreading word-of-mouth is having a great show. There are also free ways to promote including PodSearch, a free listener directory.
- Produce in a Professional Way: It’s important to remember that podcasting is an audio medium, so aside from music or sound effects, the single biggest way to sound professional is to have a decent microphone setup, for yourself and for your guests. Too often guests use a poor-quality microphone built into their computer or cell phone and that will turn off listeners faster than anything.
- Encourage Engagement: Don’t ask standard questions. I’ve been interviewed a number of times by podcasters who seem to ask the same set of questions of me as they would ask any other guest. This makes the show sound “rote”, the opposite of “engaging”. For inspiration, listen to any episode of “Fresh Air” by Terry Gross. She is a master interviewer because she is a master listener and thinker. The more closely you listen to the answers of your guest, the more engaging the interview will be.
- Best way to Monetize: In the beginning, as you are building up your audience, turn to the businesses with which you are most familiar and ask them for ad support. They will likely say “yes” because they want to please you and get more customers like you. Once you have more than 5,000 listeners, you’ll be attractive to a wider range of advertisers. That is what we help podcasters do at PodSearch and StartAPod. We buy ads for many different businesses and organizations on shows from 5,000 listeners and up.
For someone looking to start their own podcast, which equipment would you recommend that they start with?
There is no “magic” set of equipment. I recommend going to Guitar Center and asking for their GCPro department. They have a range of equipment and experts on hand (or online) to outfit any podcaster at any budget.
Ok. We are almost done. 🙂 Because of your position and work, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could, I would like to inspire a movement for local podcasts. We have hundreds of thousands of podcasts that appeal to a national audience but relatively few that are focused on the life and happenings of cities, towns and regions. Yet, we have so many advertisers looking for such content. If I could wave my magic wand, that is what I would love to see.
How can our readers follow you online?
We post a ton of useful content and information on StartAPod’s blog and regularly post about new shows and categories at https://www.podsearch.com. Personally, I can also be found on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/davenewmark/
Thank you so much for sharing your time and your excellent insights! We wish you continued success.
It’s been a pleasure!