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Building a Successful Media Relations Strategy in an Undefined and Emerging Podcast Market

From targeting and creative development to measurement, we offer the most advanced solutions to make your podcast campaign a success.

Molly DeMellier, PR Lead for North America at Acast
November 22, 2023

In the vast and ever-changing media landscape, podcasting –  despite being two decades old by some accounts – remains an emerging medium. This means that compared to more legacy media forms like online, broadcast, and streaming many aspects of the podcast industry remain undefined.

However, sitting at the intersection of a rapidly growing global creator economy, with the latest projections anticipating a $480 billion valuation by 2027, and the expected podcast advertising market value of $4 billion in the US alone by 2025, the current impact and increasing potential of the space is more than evident.

So too is the need for brands to develop a perspective and communicate their value to the market – creating a lot of noise as well as immense challenges for communications teams throughout the industry. 

At Acast, as a global brand with a presence in 15 individual markets and a near decade of operating in the space, we have unique insight into the intricacies of the industry as well as experience in crafting, adapting, and sharing the right messages far and wide.

In this post we’ll explore some of the common misconceptions about the role of media relations within an organization, how to define your brand position in the context of the broader ecosystem, building relationships with press, legacy media to learn from, and more.

Debunking Myths About PR

Before delving into how to develop a media relations strategy, it’s important to first understand what the role of public relations, PR, is and what it is not. Having started my career in agencies, I am very attuned to the fact that many organizations, particularly young ones, do not know what they are investing in when they hire a PR manager or firm. 

The two most common misconceptions I’ve witnessed are that the only responsibility of PR is to write press releases and then to distribute them using a wire service like Business Newswire or – my personal favorite – thanks to characters like Samantha Jones from Sex and the City, that our job consists of throwing extravagant parties in the Hamptons while drinking cosmopolitans.

Both could not be farther from the truth.

Quality PR is strategic business communications and brand storytelling through a variety of channels. Importantly, PR is also earned media that stems from relationship building, brand awareness, and thought leadership development.

At Acast, and at most organizations, paid media opportunities like sponsored articles or panels fall under marketing to secure, and then PR supports the development of the content to ensure it aligns with approved brand messaging and leverages the appropriate spokesperson.

Defining Your Brand Position in the Podcast Ecosystem

Regardless of the point of maturity of a market, the most important first step a company can take from a media perspective is to have a clearly-defined objective and position in the space. 

For Acast, to put it more simply, we are for the stories. We host, distribute, and monetize podcasts across every listening app out there to help more podcasters grow their audiences and make money from their craft. Since 2014, we have paid more than $300 million directly into the pockets of podcasters through our innovative ad tech solutions and we continue to pioneer the industry as we work with major advertisers around the world.

While we may talk about a variety of topics across just as many languages on any given day – everything from the talented podcasters like Marc Maron and Michele Norris and publishers like the BBC and the Economist that we get to work with, to our massive industry partnerships with the likes of Warner Bros Discovery and Higher Ground, to our ad tech innovations like Conversational Targeting and First Party Data Targeting – all of our messaging consistently ladders back to this brand positioning.

Building (and Maintaining) Relationships with Press

The greatest value of a PR team to an organization is in their ability to create and foster media relationships for the brand. The most important relationships, especially in the beginning of building a media relations strategy, are with the trade press. These are the reporters and influencers talking to the most valuable audience for your message – and that beat reporters from mainstream publications are reading.

When sharing news with press, we take an extremely bespoke approach with each contact based on their coverage and personal areas of interest. According to a recent article by PR Daily, as generative AI continues to infiltrate industries, including PR, these personalized approaches are going to be the most important factor in breaking through to reporters and developing a brand’s perspective in media.

While at Acast we frequently share news with trade and mainstream press, some of the most impactful media relations work our team does occurs without the expectation of a story to follow. We foster our press relationships in a variety of ways including introductory and background interviews, product demos, in-person coffee or lunch meetings, invitations to VIP events, and more. This is a also indicative of our brand values at Acast, where we encourage a sense of openness and transparency with all of our partners to improve opportunities for collaboration.

As a global, multicultural brand, we rely on our regional PR leads to direct this strategy based on their own media market nuances. For example, in some markets a publication’s Code of Ethics restricts reporters from accepting gifts in any form, including a coffee, from a potential source, while in some markets it’s a completely acceptable exchange. In a field like PR that relies so heavily on genuine relationships, it’s imperative to trust your regional leads within each market to use communication strategies and tactics that reflect the cultural nuances of that market.

Overall, the most effective media relations strategies are built around listening more than talking. By doing this, you’re able to better understand the broader industry conversations that your customers and audiences are paying attention to and identify areas for your brand message to fit into – or disrupt – this conversation.

Taking a Page From Legacy Media Playbooks

Since podcasting is an emerging market, PR teams are challenged to not only become experts on our rapidly-growing industry, but also on the broader media landscape. Understanding the broader media landscape allows PR teams to consider historical context that is not always available to an industry as young as podcasting. By looking at other forms of media and even specific companies, we can study how they got to where they are today.

Notably, there are many parallels between the trajectory of podcasting and that of the streaming industry approximately five years ago. Personally, I choose to follow the arcs of companies like Netflix and Hulu when developing my own media strategies for Acast in North America.

I tend to follow Netflix most closely because I’m very familiar with the brand having worked with their PR and Corporate Communications team at the beginning of my career. In this role, I worked closely on the research and market launches of major products like the Choose Your Own Adventure feature that was unveiled first in Black Mirror and with creatively communicating consumer data with the release of the Top 10 List. 

While I have never worked directly with Hulu, I continue to follow its business trajectory because unlike Netflix, it has always been an ad-supported platform – which is like podcasting. Imagine it Forward by former GE mogul Beth Comstock gives a brilliant peek behind the curtain of developing and growing Hulu amid the streaming wars from a marketer’s point of view.

Regardless of an ad-supported or subscription model, I’ve found that the streaming industry circa 2018 was discussing some of the exact same things we’re trying to tackle in podcasting today including: standardization of measurement and Asia as an emerging market.

When it came to measurement, we saw streaming companies like Netflix creating their own arbitrary measurement standards with, at best, apples to oranges comparisons of content consumption. In podcasting we’re also seeing major players in the industry attempting to set the standard of measurement by similar approaches that are equivalent to grading their own homework.

At Acast, we identified the opportunity to shift this narrative in podcasting and recently partnered with Podscribe as our global attribution partner. 

The rise of Asian markets contributed to the growth of streaming because of the region’s high population and early adoption of technology like smartphones for entertainment consumption. This led to the advancement of dubbing technology to enable more sharing of stories across the world, contributing to global phenomena like Squid Game.

While still in the early stages, podcasting is seeing similar value in these markets for continued growth. At Acast, we had the foresight to recognize the value of these markets and their audiences to the podcasting space. In 2022, we opened up operations in Singapore and since have continued to grow by monetizing content in markets including India through partnerships with major players like Luminary.

Building a media relations strategy in an emerging market requires a multifaceted and agile approach. For more tips and insight into how media relations can grow your brand’s market position, be sure to listen to my conversation with Heather Osgood on The Podcast Advertising Playbook podcast.

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