Broadcaster Meets Podcaster: Mathilde Piard
March 22, 2016
Mathilde Piard has just been named a project manager in NPR's programming division. Before that, she was the product manager for podcasts and social media. She shared her insight into podcasting during a panel discussion that I hosted at the Nielsen Audio Client Conference last fall. I asked her to share more of her wisdom with you here...-Seth
1) What is your role with podcasts at NPR?
Up until recently, I've been the product manager for podcasts (as well as social media). This has involved things like working with our designers and software developers to overhaul our podcast publishing and distribution infrastructure, redesigning the podcast listening experience on our website, switching out the vendor integration that handles dynamic sponsorship insertion, or building new tools for public radio podcasts to be available in apps like NPR One. Our editorial and programming colleagues count on us to handle all things from the technology perspective, so they can focus on putting out world class radio programs. I also chip in with marketing by coordinating opportunities with partner platforms, and keep a close eye on metrics to assess which platforms our audiences spend the most time on to listen to our content. So my role has somewhat been at the nexus of all things podcasts at NPR - whether from a programming, marketing, sponsorship, measurement, or technology perspective. As a result, I'm actually changing jobs as of Monday March 21st, and switching over to NPR's programming division as a project manager, to work even more closely with all those teams on launching new initiatives, and to help improve overall operations in Programming.
2) In a nutshell, what is NPR's podcasting strategy?
I am not in charge of NPR's podcast content strategy, however, in a nutshell: I can say we want to get our journalism and great storytelling out in as many places as possible, keep reinventing ourselves and keep connecting with people in meaningful new ways, whether it's via podcasts or the radio.
3) Describe how a podcast goes from conception to launch at NPR.
It varies for each podcast. In the past year and some change, we've launched three, with several more coming down the pipeline (our first episode of our latest podcast, Embedded, drops March 31st). The process for each one has been very different, depending on whether it's going to be a podcast with just a couple episodes per season (like Invisibilia) or one with an ongoing publication schedule (like Hidden Brain), whether we're leveraging an existing brand and audience (like the Politics Podcast) or one that requires new marketing materials. One thing that's become pretty standard for most of our new programming is making the most from the amazing opportunity we have to pilot content in the NPR One app, and look at the listening data to help inform next steps for the podcast.
4) How does NPR market its podcasts?
As a non-profit, we really don't have much of a marketing budget, at least when it comes to paid promotions (we've done a tiny bit of paid social). So we mostly rely on a variety of "levers" we can pull by leveraging existing resources - I guess the term du jour for this is "growth hacking."
One big one is our cross promotional efforts - where clusters of our podcasts will promote each other to their listeners. This started with an experiment where we carefully tracked the impact on our downloads using a pretty strict methodology to account for popular content vs cross promotion, so we know that it works. Social media is of course very important to us as well. When we launched our politics podcast, it was fascinating to see it climb the iTunes charts before it was being promoted anywhere except for Twitter. And we've been experimenting with different ways to make audio social, for example with our Facebook experiment in January.
In both of those cases, we're reaching existing listeners and increasing their dedication to our content, or converting our social audience into podcast listeners if they aren't already. In order to reach outside of our existing core audience, we pitch our platform partners on content that they would be interested in featuring, like iTunes. Finally and perhaps most importantly in terms of reaching new audiences who potentially don't listen to podcasts yet - 83% of the US population (update - now down to 79%, according to Edison's annual Infinite Dial report!) - we also have a killer PR team that does an incredible job of pitching our content to media outlets. So it's really a team sport played by people across the entire organization.
5) Can you share any interesting numbers about NPR podcasts with us?
NPR podcasts have 2.8 million weekly listeners (with a year-over-year increase of 21%) and 40 million hours downloaded per month. Something that is especially interesting to highlight is the Public Radio Podcast Measurement Guidelines published last month, which were the result of a collaboration between 14 of the biggest podcast providers from the world of public radio. This is the first time a group of major podcast publishers have agreed upon a way to measure podcast audiences. We are also working with external groups like the IAB and hope these public media guidelines can inform the efforts to create an industry-wide standard for podcast audience measurement.
6) What has been the interest level in podcasts from sponsors?
High! We doubled our revenue in 2014, and then doubled it again in 2015. For 2016 we expect that growth to continue, and we have seen a significant increase in interest from large branding advertisers. Sponsors have been especially interested in the intimate, personal experience that podcast listening offers, because that connection extends to companies that support that podcast. We've seen this "halo effect" confirmed with multiple surveys. For example, in a survey that was commissioned from Edison Research for the industry's very first podcast upfront last year, we found that 72% of public radio podcast listeners agreed that they "appreciate companies that support public radio podcasts." 62% agree that their opinion of a company is more positive when they find out that it supports public radio podcasts. Half have unaided recall of a brand/company mentioned as a public radio podcast sponsor, and over half are likely to purchase a product or service they heard about on a public radio podcast.
7) Tell us about an interesting lesson NPR learned on its podcasting journey that led to a shift in strategy.
The biggest change in strategy was when we pruned our portfolio starting two years ago from 100 offerings down to 30 or so, and then focused on bringing a wider audience to this leaner list of shows. Poynter and the Jacobs Media Blog covered the successful results of this last year. Since then, I don't think we've had any major shifts in strategy - it's more about keeping track of research and analytics, and then carefully iterating over time. Each new podcast launched has taught us something new about how to market our podcasts, for example. And we've been doing a lot more with content experimentation, whether by piloting our content in NPR One and learning from the listener metrics in there, or even post launch, with podcasts like Hidden Brain and the politics podcast experimenting with format and finding their voice.
Podcasts are also becoming an additional tool in our newsroom's toolbox - they allow our journalists to stretch their storytelling muscles, experiment with longer form or different angles. Thanks to NPR One, we can release "extended versions" of interviews or several episodes of the political podcast on an extremely newsy week. For the State of the Union address, we released the full speech as a podcast soon after it aired on broadcast. There is cross-pollination between the work that our reporters do on air and for podcasts and it all enriches their journalism.
Seth Resler will be hosting a panel discussion at the 2016 Worldwide Radio Summit called: "Broadcasters Meet Podcasters: How Radio Can Enter the Mobile World of On-Demand Audio," featuring Andy Bowers of Panoply, Todd Cochrane of Blubrry, Eric Nuzum of Audible, and Rob Walch of Libsyn.