Media analysis: Podcasting enters the mainstream

Cheap to produce but with a potentially global reach, the major newspapers and magazines are waking up to the possibilities of podcasts. Hannah Marriott looks at what the burgeoning medium means for PROs

Podcasting has now clearly emerged from a nerdish ghetto to find itself embraced by the major print titles. The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Sun are among the newspapers producing the downloadable sound files that can be listened to via PCs or MP3 players. Magazines including Stuff, NME, Gramophone, New Scientist, Kerrang! and Q are also getting in on the act.

Last month, City AM hired giant advertising screens at London’s Liverpool Street and Waterloo stations to alert commuters to the fact that they could download a podcast, via Bluetooth, to their mobile phones. But the medium really caught the public’s imagination back in February with Guardian Unlimited’s hugely popular The Ricky Gervais Show podcast, which set a world record for the most-downloaded podcast, securing 2.9 million downloads.

Podcasts are cheap to produce and give print titles global brand exposure, enabling them to deepen their relationship with existing readers. Many also provide revenue through sponsorship and advertising.

Up-and-coming channel
Lewis PR head of blogging Drew Benvie argues that the opportunities for PROs are huge: ‘Because podcasting is such a new phenomenon, journalists probably aren’t inundated with ideas specifically packaged for them yet – podcasting editors sometimes aren’t even on the PR industry’s to-call list.’

Harvard director Anthony Mayfield argues that PROs should make the most of the nascent medium. ‘Podcasting is like a very new version of radio, often produced by relatively inexperienced people who are particularly open to new ideas,’ he says.

But he reminds PROs that podcasts are not yet suited to breaking news. ‘They are something you download and listen to when it suits you, so it makes more sense to use them for features, analysis or opinions.’

Weber Shandwick director of web relations James Warren plans to start preparing podcast kits for clients, containing press packs, audio clips, quotes, music and sound effects.

Indeed, as print titles increasingly exploit the medium, PROs need to be prepared for their output getting a broader airing.

Mayfield warns: ‘Some spokespeople come across well in print, but their delivery is not broadcast-friendly. Now you can call a press conference, then find a story turning up on a podcast. So you’re always on show.’

City AM
News editor Michael Glackin
Tel 020 7015 1204`

Tell us about the City AM podcast.
It’s called City PM because it’s available at 5pm every weekday, with five to seven minutes of insight into the following day’s big stories, as well as a round-up of that day’s news and sport. Former BBC broadcaster Giles McMullen reads it for us, with deputy editor Claire Oldfield presenting a section called Heads Up, giving our predictions for the markets the next day.

How do you put the podcast together?
We usually know what news stories we want to use by around 3pm – so we write them up and give them to specialist podcast producer Daisy Media, which compiles the content for us. At 4.30pm, when the markets
close, we’ll give Daisy Media a bit more information.

How much of the podcasts’ content is exclusive?
It is unlikely that we would break a huge story on a podcast. But the insight and analysis can’t be found elsewhere.

How can PROs maximise their chances of podcast inclusion?
We would love to arrange more exclusive podcast content involving those mentioned in the stories, with spokespeople perhaps taking part in phone interviews or debates.

Guardian Unlimited
Assistant editor Neil Mackintosh
Tel 020 7278 2332

How many podcasts does Guardian Unlimited produce?
There are several weekly ones, including podcasts based around the subjects of news, Westminster, science and media. Our travel podcasts include language lessons and city guides, and there are special podcasts that are produced during certain events. Our daily podcasts for the current World Cup in Germany are a good example of this.

How are they produced?
We spent around £8,000 turning a corner of the office into a podcast studio. They tend to be discussions using our own columnists and writers, many of whom are broadcast-trained or regular broadcast pundits anyway. The podcasts are much less structured than the paper, with interviews, discussions and guests coming in.

What should PR people do to make the most of podcasts?
If they can think of a really good idea involving a product or a personality that might interest your typical Guardian reader, then it is well worth getting in touch with us to discuss it. The nature of the medium means that we can be very flexible and can get things out to air very quickly.
Editor Ben Perreau
Tel 020 7261 5079

How many podcasts has the NME done?
We’ve done four or five so far. These have been based on going behind the scenes and chatting to bands or people in the crowd at events such as the NME Awards. But we’re aiming to produce weekly podcasts before the summer ends. Plans include casts from festivals such as ‘V’ and an unsigned talent competition called ‘Walkman NME Breaking Bands’, which will feature casts with interviews of the most popular bands.

How do you record the podcasts?
I produce them using a £300 digital recording machine. We are moving towards recording everything we do, then deciding whether to use it for the magazine, as a digital stream, or for a podcast.

Are there any problems with podcasting?
My main complaint is the reluctance of record companies to give away free tracks on podcasts, despite bands such as the Arctic Monkeys proving that it builds loyalty.

How could PROs help?
Often, digital journalists are given less time with bands than print journalists: it would be good if that changes, because a digital report has the potential to be more emotive than a written article.

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