How Communicators Find Success With Podcasts

podcast recording at home

Traditional media has not had a good run as of late, with journalists and news outlets evaporating at an alarming rate. 

So it may not come as a surprise that brands, organizations and agencies are looking for other ways to reach an audience. Many PR strategists see digital platforms as another option when coordinating media outreach as well as content creation. Many not only look at pitching but also engaging a community via an in-house podcast. 

Encouraging Podcast Data

According to a 2023 digital platform study conducted by Pew Research Center, half of Americans listened to a podcast in the past year, and most of those listeners came across news content. 

With half of Americans surveyed saying they sometimes get news from social media, it’s also been found that three-in-ten say the same of podcasts. 

One-in-five respondents report listening to podcasts at least a few times a week. This frequency increases amongst respondents under the age of 30.

With podcast listeners trending upward year-over-year, it makes sense for communicators to look to this medium to push a new product or score an informational interview depending on the audience

The Pew Research also shows that listeners are engaging with podcasts in ways other than listening, which influences off-platform behavior—and can be encouraging for PR professionals. The survey shows that 60% watched a movie or read a book because of a podcast’s influence, 36% say they’ve tried a lifestyle change (a certain workout, recipe-making or journaling, for example), and 28% of respondents bought something because of a podcast they’ve listened to. 

Pew Research Center chart shows how podcasts influence listener behavior.
c/o Pew Research Center

If people are interested in learning about topics or eventually buying products from these sources, it’s a fit for PR professionals to approach. It's now important to place podcast interviews in addition to sources in news stories.

Pew’s podcast research published in February 2024 shows that 46% of top-ranked podcasts brought on at least one guest in 2022. About one-in-five (22%) featured guests regularly, and 5% of the shows had guests in almost every episode (90% or more of the time). 

Going All-In on Podcasts

In May 2023, agency Global Situation Room launched Situation Room Studios. The full-service public affairs agency found that podcasts were becoming one of the best ways to generate earned media and were incredibly valuable in building relationships with reporters as well as policy and business leaders. Fortune 500 companies, celebrities and some of the largest and most important institutions, from the World Bank to Mastercard, turn to SRS for their communications strategies. 

Christine Baratta, Director of Situation Room Studios & Editorial Content at Global Situation Room says it’s become an important tool for clients. 

“It's an effective messaging tool to reach their target audience and for organizations to connect their mission and values with the public,” Baratta says. “It's no longer a vanity exercise, and is used to deal with very specific communication objectives.” 

Baratta notes the value of podcasts lies in not just the topic of conversation, but who you are bringing to the conversation. SRS does this by booking guests that attract listeners. This can include partnering with leading journalists, academics, government officials and other public figures. 

“It’s a tool for clients to expand their network ahead of or during a conference or industry event, to engage and sit down with the most important speakers, artists and journalists in the field,” she says. “Not only do leaders come to you, but they then let everyone know, sharing your conversation—on your issues—across their platforms.” 

Baratta references SRS’s podcasts as examples of connecting audiences. 

“One Decision”—currently the number one global affairs podcast in the world—features conversations with influential world leaders, including former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, former CIA Director Leon Panetta and U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Marco Rubio. SRS’s U.S. politics podcast, "Press Advance," is hosted by Global Situation Room CEO and former senior Obama official Johanna Maska, and features bipartisan conversations with political insiders, lawmakers and former White House officials to give listeners an inside look at the government and how to approach and solve the country’s biggest policy challenges.

Baratta offers questions for PR pros to consider when starting a podcast for their organizations or clients. 

“Figure out what kind of podcast you want to produce,” she says. “Is this designed to reach a small or large audience? Do you want to make news or just elevate your brand? What do those audiences want to hear, rather than starting with what you want to say?”

In-House Podcast Success

But don’t think podcasts are just for B2C organizations and big names. A truly creative, niche podcast that can resonate with the right crowd can ignite an engaged audience overnight. 

Staffbase, a B2B platform for internal communications with employees launched the podcast “Infernal Communication” in August 2022, striking a chord with a PR and communications professionals audience. Since its launch it’s gone on to win a 2023 Hermes Creative Platinum Award and a 2023 Bronze Signal Award. Its second season launched in January 2024 with an overarching theme this season of “storytelling.” 

Brian Tomlinson, Head of Content at Staffbase and the pod’s co-host, says having a branded podcast allowed the company to spend more time with its audience of communicators than on any other marketing channel.  

‘It’s the most worthwhile medium to leverage storytelling—the most effective communication tactic unique to humans,” Tomlinson says. “Sharing stories that have purpose and serve to inspire have helped us evolve over time. Today, communications professionals tend to be the glue that holds companies together, but they can often feel undervalued. The Infernal Communication podcast is designed to build a community where these professionals feel seen, heard and get re-energized about the important work they do.”

Tomlinson believes their podcast style—which is fun and engaging, yet an educational listening experience for anyone interested in the art of communication—has led to their success.

“It’s been a breath of fresh air in what can sometimes be a sea of sameness," he says. “At the same time, it has addressed real-world challenges that communicators face in their day-to-day work and life.”

He believes B2B companies can be successful with podcasts, as Staffbase has seen, but they need to decide on how they are truly going to stand out. Much of that, he says, has to do with humanizing your brand and flexing those storytelling muscles.

“The key when developing a show is to know what your audience needs—what problems they need to solve,” Tomlinson says. “Ask yourself, Why should they listen to this show? What would prompt listeners to hit play, listen to more than one episode, and share with a friend or colleague? Overall, be sure to make it interesting, make it educational and/or make it entertaining.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal