Assembling Your Showrunning Team: A Pitch for Producers
What is the most important behind-the-scenes part of your show? Is it the budget, which keeps the show going episode after episode? Is it the tools and tech you use, which physically allow you to record the show?
While those factors are important, I’d posit that there’s only one truly irreplaceable element in showrunning: the people behind the show. Without their vision, ideas, and creativity, the show would not exist — and it certainly would never have a hope of becoming someone’s favorite.
As showrunner, your job is to keep the show…well…running. That means every element of the show, from budget to content to marketing, is under your remit.
Too often, showrunners try to juggle each of these elements alone. Then, when they gain the necessary budget to begin building their teams, they hire audio engineers. In so doing, they attempt to offload the technical work of showrunning so they can focus on the content and production. Many marketers who also host shows think they don’t need producers at all.
But while audio engineers can and certainly do improve a show’s sound, producers can improve the show’s content — and the showrunner themselves. As you begin to grow your team, take a long-term approach. Find the people who will help your true assets — the ideas that support your show — resonate as clearly as possible.
What is a podcast producer?
So what does a podcast producer do, anyway? In a word: everything. According to Master Class, a Hollywood producer “is the person responsible for finding and launching a project; arranging financing; hiring writers, a director, and key members of the creative team; and overseeing all elements of pre-production, production, and post-production, right up to release.” The same is largely true of podcast producers.
On a podcast, the producer serves as a kind of product manager. They make sure the show happens on time and on budget. They act like journalists and become deeply involved in the research and strategy as well as the booking, preparation, and editing.
This differs from the role of an audio engineer, who focuses solely on — you guessed it — the show’s audio.
What is an audio engineer?
An audio engineer (also sometimes called a sound engineer) makes the podcast sound technically better. The audio engineer’s expertise lies in recording and editing — not in strategy or content development. Their role starts at the point of recording and continues in post-production.
How should you compose your team?
Producers and audio engineers are both important in creating high-quality shows that have the potential to become someone’s favorite. A podcast delivers two things via audio: information and sound. A producer deals with the show’s information: the knowledge, the ideas, the feelings, the emotions. An audio engineer improves the show’s sound — that is, the technical delivery of the information.
So whom should you hire? If you only have room for one additional person on your team, you might consider a producer — even if you’re confident in your own producing and showrunning skills.
Ask yourself this fundamental question: do you want someone on your team who can make the recording better, or who can make the experience better? Audio engineers absolutely improve the recording. They can help you select tape, remove or rearrange audio, add sound effects, and generally improve the sound quality. Certainly, their work can have a positive effect on how the listener interacts with the show and their emotional response.
But a producer can help make the story and the experience better. They can serve as end-to-end teammates in the construction of an episode. It’s their job to help showcase the show’s premise and underscore key themes. It’s their job to understand what will resonate with the audience. It’s their job to trade in your show’s true currency: ideas.
Collaborating with producers can make you a better showrunner. Producers can remove burden from you at various points within the show development process: by coordinating calls with guests, preparing interview questions, and creating a rough cut of each episode, for example. But their value transcends these tasks they lift from your proverbial plate: they can also provide proactive feedback while you’re recording your interviews. News anchors wear earpieces that connect them to producers, who feed them real-time news and information that improves the news anchor’s work. As showrunner, you can do the same thing. Your producer can listen to your interviews and offer you real-time feedback (e.g., you’re speaking too quickly, don’t forget to ask about XYZ, etc.). While an audio engineer helps improve the sound of the tape you record, a producer can help you record better tape in the first place.
Your team is your best asset
In an ideal environment, you would have the resources to hire a comprehensive team of content creators, audio engineers, and producers who could each focus on distinct elements of your show’s production. Many marketing departments, however, are still far from that reality.
If you only have the resources to build a small team, though, think about how to maximize value from each individual hire. Find people who can do double-duty: who can improve both the sound of your episodes and their content.
And finally, don’t try to do everything alone. Ideas are not meant to be closely guarded — they’re meant to be shared, incubated, pressure-tested, evolved. Hire someone who not only challenges listeners to think about ideas in new ways — hire someone who challenges you to do the same.
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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