How One of Marketing’s Best Podcast Hosts Differentiates an Expert Interview Show
One of the first things you might notice while listening to Kerry O’Shea Gorgone’s audio is her laugh. The host of MarketingProfs’ weekly Marketing Smarts podcast has a vivacious energy and the booming laugh to go with it. When listening to her speak, she just sounds fun. She the kind of person with whom you immediately want to grab a beer and hang out.
But lots of people are fun. There are plenty of people with whom I’d be happy to grab beers and talk about life. (Too many, probably. It’s one of my favorite things. So on that note, if you want to grab a beer and talk about life sometime, tweet at me).
What’s so fascinating about Kerry is that when you listen to her podcasts, either Marketing Smarts or her newer side project, Punch Out With Katie and Kerry, you can tell you’re clearly dealing with someone who knows a lot about marketing. Her work is educational and informative, and yet still, somehow, fun. Many try to walk that fine line between professional and personal. Few succeed. Yet Kerry makes it seem effortless. How?
The Making of a Marketing Showrunner
Kerry is a former lawyer and college professor. Years ago, she began interspersing some content marketing into her time spent as a lawyer, creating videos and updating the website design for her firms. (This was back before websites were a given necessity–a time I can barely fathom, millennial that I am.) To this day, Kerry still gives speeches on marketing and social media law, though her professional passion projects are her two podcasts, the aforementioned Marketing Smarts and Punch Out. The former is the official podcast of MarketingProfs, in which she interviews influential marketers, while the latter is co-hosted with pal Katie Robbert. For that show, they again interview marketing luminaries, but with a twist: They talk about … everything other than marketing. They spend the entire show discussing their hobbies, their quirks, the weird things that make their brains light up. (It’s essentially my dream podcast — talking to inspirational people about what makes them strange — and I highly recommend a listen.)
So how did a lawyer-turned-professor-turned-social media savant get into podcasting?
“I keep coming back to creative pursuits,” Kerry told me. “When you’re in law, obviously you have to be expressive, and you have to be persuasive, but you don’t necessarily want to be too creative, because it’s bad, right? Start making things up, you’re going to get in trouble.”
To fill creative cravings, plenty of people take up some sort of hobby. Maybe it’s playing a musical instrument, sketching, or knitting. Wood carving. Sandpainting. Whatever floats your I Need To Make a Thing boat.
For Kerry, it was making a pregnancy podcast just for fun. She figured it was the best of both worlds — a project that had a natural end time (the birth of her baby), so she could dive in and explore her creative impulse without having to commit to it as a much longer project. Fast forward four years, and she was still making the podcast about the weird stuff her kids got into, until she figured they were getting old enough and it was time to quit.
But once that podcast bug bit Kerry, it didn’t want to let go. So when MarketingProfs’ Chief Content Officer Ann Handley asked her to take over Marketing Smarts six years ago, Kerry’s decision was a no brainer. It looked like fun.
Speaking of keeping it fun (without the cheap gimmicks), Kerry feels most people interviewing industry experts hold back on their natural curiosity about the people, preferring instead to use each guest as an avatar for a certain marketing topic. It turns out, if you just focused more on the people, you’d never run out of interesting things to explore.
“There’s as many things to talk about as there are individual marketers, so I don’t really have a problem with that. If anything, I have a problem with, oh my God, another automation person. I need to figure out a new [automation] angle. But there’s no shortage of people to talk about everything there is under the sun. I really love it.”
How to Differentiate When Your Guests Appear Everywhere
The marketers Kerry interviews are well-known. They have well-curated About pages on their personal and corporate sites, extensive LinkedIn profiles, and of course, they’ve appeared on dozens of similar expert interview-style podcasts before. Why should she ask them questions that a quick Google search could tell her readers? Conversations with any guest is much more interesting and informative when she stops focusing 100% on the techniques and advice and starts to focus her creative powers on getting guests to open up as humans.
As such, part of Kerry’s approach is to put the expected questions and basic topics on hold periodically and instead ask about the real, human stuff–stuff other interviewers might not have thought to approach these influential marketers about. Are they into rock climbing? Sculpting? Underwater basket weaving? How do they apply the lessons they learn underwater basket weaving (hey man, you never know) into their professional life? Getting a sense of someone’s whole human picture makes them more approachable and generates more honest, thoughtful answers than the typical canned replies when Kerry does eventually ask about marketing tactics.
How do you create a tactical advice show that goes deeper than similar competitors? Make the guest forget they’re on a tactical advice show.
But besides her ability to ease guests into opening up a bit more than usual, Kerry keeps things fresh for herself by finding small ways to shift and change her show that won’t confuse listeners.
“I’ve experimented in little pieces, so I don’t change that much at once. I wouldn’t be like, ‘Guess what, everybody? We’re going to talk about hobbies now!’ I’ve experimented with getting sponsors to do a little interview segment. A one to two-minute interview thing that I can drop in that relates to the topic somehow that I’m discussing with the regular guest. Instead of a scripted spot, or a mention or something, I’ll put that in.”
Say for instance that Kerry’s sponsor is an email software vendor. Instead of just pitching their email software and why you need it, Kerry will talk with them about some email strategies so that listeners are more likely to trust the vendor’s expertise–because they actually hear their expertise.
When a dedicated, regular audience is used to something from you, it can be surprisingly jarring to change that, like pulling the rug out from under them. Some of the most profound change comes from what appears to be little wrinkles on the surface. Changing your opener slightly, for example. Adding another voice.
Releasing a podcast episode with a new host without slowly introducing them might be jarring and uncomfortable for many listeners, but shifting subtle things in your work is actually a great way to keep yourself and your audience engaged and interested over time. After all, what’s a show if not an exercise in constant, little ways of reinventing over time?
How To Build Rapport Without Hours Of Their Time
Of course, crucial to getting guests to open up and say something more real, or at least different and deeper than the typical interview on which they appear, is the need to build rapport with the guest. To make this as organic as possible, Kerry recommends setting up a pre-interview chat with one’s guests.
“If at all possible, I talk to people beforehand. It’s not always possible, but it makes the conversation more productive more quickly,” she said. “Building rapport will take, say, two minutes, three minutes of talking about things that probably won’t make it into the final cut. You don’t necessarily want to waste that interview time, so if you can get them to agree to a 10-minute prep call, it really makes a difference in how quickly you can get to it in the main interview.”
Kerry was a natural at that skill from the beginning and has found that, especially with Punch Out, she’s able to get to the root of the entire human being, not just the marketer persona that her guests are known for.
“[The Punch Out interviews] help us to see people as whole. You’re seeing a very narrow sliver of a person when they present on stage. It’s dazzling, it’s amazing, and they’re accomplished and brilliant and all of that. But there’s so much more to them than that.”
Kerry feels that, with any collection of industry experts and pseudo-celebrities, there’s a disconnect between them and those who might listen to her show. She has to bridge that gap to create a successful interview. She says that her shows are her attempts to create a sort of marketing “Stars: They’re Just Like Us,” while also providing a counterbalance to the oft-extreme hustle culture of the industry.
“These people are accomplished, and they work hard, clearly. They’re all over the world speaking and all this other stuff, but they still take time to sit on the lake with this kid that they mentor, like Mark Schaefer does, or to collect books at little book shops like Keith Jennings does, or to collect vintage typewriters like Ann Handley does. They make time to decompress and sort of fill that soul space.”
Kerry has this ability to break down a public personality to be more relatable, and we as listeners end up learning more as a result. We’re more likely to heed their advice and feel connected to them if we see a bit of ourselves in them, instead of what looks like a LinkedIn-perfect shell of a person.
Are you an SEO expert who is also an amateur botanist and has 25 different houseplants in your living room? To me, that signals that you’re also a caring, meticulous person, and I’m more interested in hearing your approach to SEO. (I’ll also want to ask you how the heck you keep those plants alive, since I can barely maintain a cactus for more than a few months.)
“It’s about opening yourself up [as a podcast guest] and being a little more vulnerable and letting people see the weird, quirky, nerdy things that you do when you’re not doing your main job. Even opening up just a tiny bit, and laughing at a joke, or making a joke, or talking about some crazy thing that happened while you were doing your marketing research. That stuff makes you relatable, and it makes you memorable.”
Want a deeper connection with your audience? Let them in more. Give them an insight into your process, discuss the things that didn’t work and how they lead you to the things you’re pitching now that do work. Both you and your listeners (or viewers) will feel more fulfilled by this partnership in the long run and create a stronger sense of what a showrunner/audience bond should look like. Chances are, it’s also going to be a lot more fun.