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Marketing Showrunners

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By: Tallie Gabriel on November 22nd, 2019

How a Marketing Team Got Exec Buy-in for Its Well-Funded, Highly-Produced Podcast

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.

All month long, we’ve been tackling a central idea: how to make the case for your podcast or video show. How to arm yourself with the data and resources you need to get your team not just accepting but excited. How to get the executive buy-in you need to turn your idea for a show into a reality. Getting that initial “yes” from an exec is often the toughest hurdle, or at least the most obvious initial obstacle. 

When we consume shows that are just so good, we may forget the initial struggle that likely existed for that company, too. It’s easy to listen to or watch a great show and think, “Of course that brand got buy-in–a no-brainer! Who wouldn’t want to back this product?”

The Shorty-Award winning podcast Command Line Heroes by Red Hat is one of those shows. The kind that warrants a “Duh, who wouldn’t back that show?” response. Currently entering its fourth season, Command Line Heroes is all about the programmers and developers who transform technology. It’s engaging, informative, and unique — some of the spiciest ingredients that make up a tasty branded podcast. 

It’s also a stellar example of a highly-produced show that clearly makes good use of its funding. It’s expertly edited, features Saron Yitbarek (who is not a Red Hat employee, but is an influencer in the programming community and has a wonderful speaking voice to boot) as a host, and has an exciting, driven plot and purpose.

When anyone comes to us as showrunners and asks for examples of great branded podcasts, Command Line Heroes has to be on that list. It’s a wonderful example of a show that speaks to topics the company’s audience cares about — coding and development — without explicitly pushing Red Hat’s product.

How exactly did the showrunning team at Red Hat gather the buy-in it needed for such an excellent product? 

They began by tying the show to an initiative that was already in motion — a brilliant idea, since execs had already bought into a larger product marketing plan. It was thus much harder for them to say no to the idea of a stellar show related to this same concept.

The showrunners approached another internal marketing team whose existing campaign had already been greenlit. The showrunners first made a mini-case to that team, explaining how the podcast they envisioned could help with that initiative.

The senior leader of that team already had budget to distribute and corporate leadership had already signed off on both the message and the campaign. This new podcast could then receive some of that initial investment from a project already approved, embraced, and in motion. 

Rather than start from scratch and make the case for a brand-new strategy, which would require squeezing budget away from others (what marketing author Andrew Davis calls “slicing the marketing pizza”), the showrunning team secured initial budget that was already earmarked in support of an existing initiative. Pizza for everyone!

We spoke with Laura Hamlyn, Senior Director of the Global Content Team at Red Hat, to uncover more details of how the company got the layers of executive buy-in it needed to produce a show like Command Line Heroes, which not only grabs attention — but holds it. 

Thinking ahead: Tying your show to an existing conversation

Red Hat had an idea. It seems almost revolutionary in its clarity, but the Red Hat team didn’t just think, “We need to make a show for the sake of making a show.” Instead, it started with thoughtful conversations and internal discussions.

As audience members, we only engage with the best, final version of a product. It’s easy to assume that is the only version of the show that ever existed. The smoothness of a final product can lull us into forgetting the steps and setbacks that came into play along the way.

Allowing ideas to marinate can mean the difference between losing funding over a half-baked idea and proving how strong and fruitful your concept is.

“When we think about a theme, we certainly want to focus on things that Red Hat not only cares about, but is good at. We shouldn’t be talking about things we don’t really know anything about, because that’s kind of disingenuous, and it doesn’t make any sense from a brand perspective,” Laura explained. When pitching to your executive team, don’t just pitch the idea for any show. Do what Red Hat did: start with the stuff you know best, then analyze what your audiences are already saying, and figure out how you can fill in the gaps. 

“Social media is a really good place to mine for information, and to look at what the people who are leaders in the industry are talking about. So when you think about Saron and her peers, what are they interested in? Say programming languages for example, we look at those languages and we start to ask people [within] Red Hat. We’ve got a lot of really smart people who work at Red Hat, and their day jobs might be doing [one thing], but then we pull them into the editorial, which they love, because it gives them something that’s related to their job, but isn’t their job, to talk about. We really mine for stories within Red Hat, and then that sends us back out again [when we know what else to look for].”

When you start with topics that are actually interesting to the people you want to pay attention to your show, that helps you make the case. Chances are, they’re the same topics that will interest your execs.

Idea before medium

As shows are (with good reason) becoming increasingly popular, it makes sense that companies might want to make a show just for the sake of making a show, because making a show is the thing to do. But in talking to plenty of marketers involved in show creation lately, we’ve learned one major underlying theme: The best shows come from great ideas. The shows that succeed were born of a strong idea first. The medium by which to convey that idea came second.

So how does Red Hat come up with consistently strong ideas?

“We meet with our podcast agency, Pacific Content, and we do an ideation session that lasts for four or five days. We come in with ideas for a season, we hash out what that looks like, we use their expertise on what makes a good podcast, and we’ve done a little bit of research just to see their interest in these themes,” Laura said.

“Then, once we get those first weeks out of the gate, we go back, and we say, ‘Okay, this is what the season looks like, let’s have a meeting with our internal experts to hash these ideas out.’ We literally put them in a spreadsheet and say okay, JavaScript, everybody talk about JavaScript, and everybody sort of makes notes in the spreadsheet about JavaScript. Who do you know who has a story about this? What books have you read? What stories should we tell? What impact does it have on the industry? 

And so that will take another week or so, and then we go into the idea docs and we’ll look at how can we write this up in a story form. We have a template for that, and that takes a couple of weeks. So we’re talking two or three months of planning, and that usually takes place in tandem with the release of the previous season.”

Command Line Heroes thus comes from weeks of marinating the ideas that first spark a flame within the Red Hat team, not just a desire to jump aboard the latest marketing trend ship.

“One of the smartest decisions we made is not to start out by talking about the medium. We talked more about the idea,” Laura so expertly said. 

Here, tattoo this on your chest with me: Idea first. Medium later.

Your show will automatically be more interesting than the droves of shows that exist just because someone on a marketing team thought they should make one.

“One of the smartest decisions we made is not to start out by talking about the medium. We talked more about the idea.”

Listen to your audience

Red Hat conducted a listening tour of their customers, so they already had audience validation that could reassure their execs. Once their initial idea to dive into these conversations about people on the frontlines of development was secure and ready to go, they asked themselves:

“Is there a place where we might be able to fill a gap? And yes, it was in technology podcasting. We had product team buy-in that sort of trickled up into executive leadership in product marketing. You don’t just need people internally. Even just a few people buying into it, but you need your customers to tell you that this is an interesting story. That’s one lever that you can pull to say, ‘You know what? Let’s do a low-cost engagement. Let’s go to our events, where our customers already are and have already paid to be and let’s do interviews with our customers asking them questions related to a topic that we think might make a good show, and let’s see if they are actually interested in it.’”

Red Hat made sure to engage their audience in storytelling over “comics and coffee” events, in which a caricature artist drew participants that told their stories over coffee. The storytellers started posting their drawings on social media — everyone was proud of and excited about the product. And that’s the kind of organic, community-bred marketing you can’t manufacture.

A problem that can impede the huge effort put into shows is when brands treat their shows like side projects. Shows cannot become appendages without purpose. 

When you pitch your show to your execs, be prepared to address their fears and concerns head-on. Laura recommended keeping these questions in mind:

“What is our biggest fear if this doesn’t work? Or, if you don’t want to do this, what’s the better idea? Don’t close yourself up to a medium or a concept. Be open to listening to stakeholders. And I really think we all get back down to talking to people, connecting to people.”

Beginning with a strong idea and consulting audience members before the team even approached its execs set Red Hat up for success, which made it easier to continue to justify the show internally.

At the heart of your show should be a common goal that you, your audience, and your executives are stoked about — furthering the conversation and deepening knowledge about whatever your initial driving idea was. Soak that in, then make your show.


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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