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Marketing Showrunners

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By: Molly Donovan on November 26th, 2019

Forgiveness, not Permission: When to Proceed With Your Podcast or Video Show Without Making the Case

November is Make the Case Month at MSR. Every week, we’ll load you up with the big-picture ideas and tactical tips you need to sell your  branded show concept to the “powers that be” within your organization. We know that shows are the best vehicle to help grow brand affinity among your customers; this month, we’re helping ensure everyone else at your company understands that, too. If you’re as pumped as we are, catch up on the content we’ve already published and subscribe for exclusive bonus content and conversations here.

In today’s installment of Make the Case Month, we’re channeling Nike (the brand, not the goddess). We’re skipping past making compelling arguments, battling for budget, and tailoring your arguments to different stakeholders. Today, we’re talking about when you should pull a Nike and just do it — without making the case at all. 

What do we mean by that? There are some select cases when it might behoove you to forego asking for permission to make the show and…just make it. 

Here’s what we’re NOT saying: we’re NOT saying every showrunner should stick it to the proverbial man and create a surprise podcast or video series. The best shows are those your constituencies — both within and outside your organization — support. 

But in some cases, a confluence of factors can converge to force your hand. In these cases, it makes sense to move forward without explicit permission. 

What are those situations (and why should you care)? We’ll walk you through them. 

But First! When You SHOULDN’T “Just Do It”

Before you can consider making a show without making the case, you need to consider when you absolutely should not do this.

1. You’re New

If you’re brand-new to an organization, you simply should not move forward with a project as complex and multifaceted as showrunning without buy-in from others on your team. Full stop. If you haven’t yet learned the intra-team dynamics at your company, you won’t know certain factors that could influence your show’s creation. Has your team discussed making a show in the past and decided against it? Why? Would your boss support a show, but only if they could host it? Does another team or another leader have a certain sensitivity around marketing initiatives or showrunning in general? Is a show already in the works by a different team? If you don’t know, don’t proceed. 

2. You Need Substantial Budget

If you’ve done the prep work you need to create a solid, differentiated show that appeals to your audience and have discovered you’ll need some substantial budget to get it off the ground, hold off. Even if you have discretionary power to purchase, don’t proceed solo. You don’t want your show to become a point of budgetary surprise or resentment for your boss or others on your team. For the show to keep succeeding, you’ll need their continued buy-in.  

3. You’re Flying Solo

While you may not need explicit approval to make your show, you do need to have show supporters within your organization who will advocate for you. When developing the concept for a show, the best marketers get as much input as possible: from their peers within the marketing team, from sales staff, and from their audience itself. If all you have is your own idea and your own validation, slow down and step outside your tiny echo chamber.

4. It’s Just Not How Your Team Works

If this fits your situation, you’ll know. Some leaders and organizations are more willing than others to give their teams autonomy. If you know your boss would not appreciate being left out of the loop, don’t proceed without approval — even if you really, really want to get moving with your idea and know your boss could be the holdup. At that point, your ultimate decision may be whether or not this work environment is too constrained for your personality.  

When You MIGHT “Just Do It”

With the aforementioned being said, there are some situations when you might consider throwing some caution to the wind and moving forward with your show — even without first making the case. 

1. You Have a Sense of Urgency

In some cases, outside factors might create a sense of urgency that transcends your own ambitious itch to get a show off the ground. In this case — particularly if you work in an organization or industry with notoriously slow approval timelines — it might make sense to move forward fast and explain later. 

For example, Jenna Spinelle is the host of Democracy Works, a podcast produced by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State. When the MSR team recently asked her how she made the case to create her podcast, she admitted that she didn’t, exactly. 

“After the 2016 election, we saw lots of conversations about democracy happening in articles, books, and other media, but nothing in the podcast space,” Jenna explained. “We thought it would be a good opportunity to utilize the McCourtney Institute’s expertise and help us expand our profile and reach in this area.”

But Jenna knew the typical approval process could delay the show, stymying momentum and potentially removing a first-mover advantage. 

“We didn’t see anyone else doing the show we wanted to make, and we didn’t want someone else to beat us to the punch!” Said Jenna. “The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly in higher education, and adding layers of approval would have slowed us down. My bosses (who are also my cohosts) and I were on the same page about the concept and how we were going to execute it, and we felt confident moving forward together. Establishing the partnership with WPSU [Central Pennsylvania’s NPR station] at the beginning of the process also helped us build credibility. It was huge to be able to say that an NPR station was behind the show once it started airing.”

These latter points — the buy-in Jenna had received from her co-hosts and from the radio station — are an instrumental part of proceeding permissionless in showrunning.

2. You Have Some Existing Validation

If you’ve decided to move forward and make your show, it’s important that you have validation you can point to when you inevitably need to explain yourself later. Gather the data — both quantitative and qualitative — that convinced you of the need to make a show quickly. Have customers been engaging with a particular type of content, which inspired your series? Have you heard murmurs of interest in a show from your brand at tradeshows and other industry events? Are leaders of other departments within your company demanding a show? Take note — it won’t be enough to tell the powers that be that you made a show because you had a hunch you could create something successful. 

3. You’re Prepared to Collect Data Early and Often

Once you’ve launched your show, immediately begin collecting feedback, so you can have a rational and data-filled conversation with your team once the show has entered the world. As you do this, remember what kind of data points really matter: those that indicate the show’s potential to hold attention, not just attract it.

In the case of Democracy Works, the podcast connected the McCourtney Institute with peer organizations in a way other types of content simply couldn’t. “We’ve had listeners in all 50 states and 141 countries and heard feedback about how it’s helped people feel more informed — and maybe even a little hopeful — about the future of democracy,” says Jenna. “We’ve also been able to build connections with other universities and nonprofits who are doing work that’s in line with ours. We would not have had any reason to reach out to these organizations if it weren’t for the podcast.” 

Look for these types of stories, which you can share with your team as you continue to gain institutional buy-in post-launch. If you create something that resonates, as Jenna did, you may even hear positive feedback from the individuals whose approval you circumvented in the first place. 

Why Does it Matter?

If getting approval for your podcast or video show will take too long or be too difficult, why do it? Why go through the trouble?

It’s a question you could ask about any new idea or type of content in the marketing world. Why do something radical, when maintaining the status quo pays your bills?

I have a hunch that the answer to that underpins much of why good marketers get into marketing in the first place: to create something, and to connect with people. If you’re not pushing your organization — and the envelope — then you might not be fulfilling the creative drive that likely exists deep within you. 

And if you’re not pushing and ideating and challenging, you’ll become someone who’s known within your organization as reliable, dependable, and responsible. All excellent traits, certainly, but not necessarily the person others would seek when they need a big idea. Not necessarily the leader. If you want to be a successful showrunner, you need to be all these things: reliable, dependable, responsible — and visionary.

So sometimes, in some cases, it makes sense to be that person who takes a risk. If you can mitigate your risk in advance — by gaining support from other teammates, understanding the needs of your audience, and collecting the data you need to retroactively make the case — you can end up elevating the whole team. 

As Jenna said when asked what advice she would give to marketers in a similar situation: “Don’t be afraid to take a risk! You might fail, but you might also be really successful. You’ll never know unless you take the plunge. Every time you succeed, the realm of what’s possible expands a little bit more, and you’ll have ammunition to take to the next project. In other words, it’s not always a bad thing to beg forgiveness instead of asking for permission.” 

Subscribing to our newsletter is a good idea any time, but particularly exciting during November 2019. During MSR’s Make the Case Month, subscribers will receive weekly newsletters with exclusive invitations to chat live with the MSR team. What are you waiting for? Subscribe now!


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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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