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Marketing Showrunners

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By: Molly Donovan on November 9th, 2020

Is Your Podcast Launch Plan Setting You Up for Long-Term Success?

When I think about some of the busiest times of my career, I think about launches.

Website launches. Campaign launches. Podcast launches. Launch parties! Late nights spent cramming for one big event on one pivotal day. 

Launches feel good. All that work breeds excitement, pride, and traffic spikes — which lead to a commensurate spike in a marketer’s serotonin. 

But what happens once that spike subsides? On a project’s growth curve, the launch lift happens — and then growth tends to flatten out again. The mere fact of launching doesn’t create high-value moments with customers. And as showrunners, that needs to be what we care about most. 

A New Way to Think About Launching Podcasts

I think we’ve been thinking about things in the wrong way. We overemphasize the idea of that one central event: the launch. Instead, we need to think more strategically about the events surrounding the launch. We need to prioritize what happens both before and after the launch more than the launch itself. 

It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently as months — years, really — of hard work and campaigning culminated in a launch of sorts on Election Day (er, Election Week?). This past week has felt both tense and exciting. I won’t forget how I’ve spent my time over the past six days (read: obsessively refreshing multiple news sources while trying and failing to be productive). I won’t forget where I was when the networks called the race, and I won’t forget how the headline looked in the New York Times on Sunday morning. 

This “launch” week was important, and it was meaningful. But it would never have happened without all the hard work that preceded it — and it won’t mean anything without the hard work that is sure to follow. Election Day is an exciting time — but it’s nowhere near as important as a presidency. 

We marketers should think about that as we obsess over the launches of our shows. We should remember that the launch is a quick moment in time, but our work is about consistently earning our audiences’ attention and trust over time. 

So when you’re thinking about your launch plan, don’t begin and end with launch day. Instead, you’d do far better to think about building your communication plan in three phases, the shortest of which is the launch itself.

Phase 1: Raise Anticipation

Why do marketers build stuff in secret?

Think about launching a successful restaurant. It certainly helps on opening night to have a line that stretches around the corner. That doesn’t just happen if the restaurant is constructed in secret. 

Successful restaurateurs build hype. They put “coming soon” signs in their windows. They’re profiled in local newspapers. They release their menus online. By the time opening night has arrived, they have a string of customers already excited to try their food.

Marketers don’t do that. We guard our projects jealously and arrive with our fully-fledged new project on launch day, hoping our audience will be excited by its novelty, without having done the necessary work to build hype for our show. 

Even the best shows only preview what they do slightly early by releasing a trailer or a teaser episode. That’s definitely a good thing to do — but it’s not nearly enough. 

Instead of teasing the podcast with a one-off product, we should be constantly and consistently declaring our intent and exploring the ideas we’ll include as part of the show. The important part here is the exploration. When showrunners evangelize the ideas themselves — when they don’t just promise what their forthcoming show will do — they get people psyched about the premise of the show itself. 

Your pre-launch plan can’t boil down to: “a show is coming.” If that’s your strategy, then only a small handful of existing fans will be excited about it. Instead, focus on the problem. Say: here’s what’s broken, and here’s how we’re going to fix it. Identify the mountain you want to scale, then start scaling it with your audience. 

For example: before MSR founder Jay Acunzo launched his podcast Unthinkable, he wrote an article titled “How to Work in Marketing When You’re Bothered by Suck.” It was a rallying cry for marketers who feel the way Jay felt — for marketers who were creators at heart, and who were internally fired up to do good work and create excellent content. In that post, Jay sent up a flare to the people who would become Unthinkable’s superfans. He made a declaration, then he rallied them around the idea that he would then explore with the show. 

You can do that too. Write a declarative, rally-cry post. If you already have a show, record a rally-cry episode. Take to Twitter and rally the troops with your tweets. Build anticipation with strongly worded, strongly opinionated points of view. In that way, you’ll be able to collect the people who are passionate about what you’re passionate about before you launch the show. 

Phase 2: Launch

When you’re raising anticipation, what’s your ultimate goal? Stop trying to surprise people with punchy, click-baity launches. Instead, smooth the edges between the work you’re currently doing and the show. Do some of your research publicly. Become known for a certain theme, then launch the show you need to cement yourself in the minds of your target audience. Move from creating one-off pieces to creating a cohesive show. 

You can start with a bunch of conversations and lightly orient your brand around the theme for a time. The people who are paying attention are curious and excited about those themes. You can prepare them for your launch only if you first sufficiently raise their anticipation. 

And then: launch. Do all the things you typically do for launch days. You’ve built anticipation. You have an intrigued audience. Delight them on the day itself, with a comprehensive social media campaign, jazzy artwork, a mega-watt interviewee on your show. But even as you breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve done it, remember that you’re not done. The launch will mean nothing if it causes a quick spike that just as quickly subsides. Instead, you need to focus on maintaining the interest and curiosity that attracted your listeners in the first place — and growing your relationship with them.

Phase 3: Grow

Once you’ve built momentum around the ideas that inspire your show, you can look at growth in a new way. It’s no longer just about telling as many people as possible that your show exists, and that they should listen to it. Instead, it’s about evangelizing the mission behind the show. 

Your goal in the growth phase is to evangelize the content of your show just as much as you evangelize the show itself. Your goal is for listeners to publicly associate you with the ideas centered within your show. You want to own those ideas to unite with your name and firmly implant in people’s minds, so when they think about the problem you’re trying to solve and the ideas that are central to the journey you’re on, they think of you

When we say grow, we too often think about owning the audience. You don’t own the audience. You might own the email list, but you don’t own the people who correspond with those addresses. 

What you can own, though, is an idea in their minds, so that when they interact with the idea — even elsewhere — they think of you. 

For example, HubSpot became famous for defining the term “inbound marketing.” That’s now a well-understood concept widely used by marketers across industries. Because HubSpot was the first to define the term, they own it — now, whenever anyone uses the term “inbound marketing,” HubSpot receives a kind of mental royalty, because so many people still associate the concept with the company. 

That’s what the growth stage is all about: evangelizing the ideas that are the very reason your show exists. You’ve rallied people around your cause. You’ve found true believers. You’ve used the excitement of something new, but you’ve also understood that novelty only lasts so long. Now, as you grow, you’re starting to evangelize those ideas. 

A Launch Plan for the Long Term

It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if we could go on acting like the actual launch of our show was the most important part of showrunning. But as is so often the case with marketing (and, er, with almost everything), easier and better don’t typically collide. 

The real work — the meaningful work, the fun work — of being a showrunner is reaching that mountain peak with your audience. That doesn’t happen on one day or in one episode. It’s a journey you’ll take together over time. 

As you prepare to launch your show, prepare for that journey. Set yourself up for success by getting your listeners excited about the ideas your show will present long before they ever listen to the show itself. And then, once you’ve launched, keep running up that mountain with them.


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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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