Podcasting and garbage trucks

Sorry, couldn’t think of a good headline for this post. But this was what I was thinking about during my run this morning: podcasting.

I have an iPod, but I don’t use it much. I never run and listen to music. I figure that the chances of me getting hit by a garbage truck at 5 a.m. while running in the dark most days is pretty good. And if I’m going to check out of the Hotel Ohio, I would prefer not to do it while humming along to Gretchen Wilson singing Politically Uncorrect.

Actually, I got the iPod with the idea that I would listen to podcasts while driving to Kent State. But even on a bad day I’m only in the car for about 45 minutes. Some of the podcasts on public relations and communication topics are just getting warmed up by then. At best, most are just recordings of talking heads – but unlike TV, you can’t even see the heads.

Saying that, I’m not being critical of those who are producing podcasts. Someone needs to be out front on this; I’m obviously not the one.

And maybe it’s just me. So I asked the students in my PR Tactics class how many of them listened to audio podcasts (as opposed to episodes of Lost, etc.). Nary a hand shot up in the affirmative. Did they download and listen to music? Yep. But listening to 90 (OK, maybe 60) minutes worth of crisis communications strategies doesn’t appear to be high on the charts as yet.

At that point I figured that podcasts were pretty much like AM radio: Good to have when you can’t get any other reception but not much value otherwise.

Then yesterday I read an article on AdAge.com, Marketers and Content Providers Tune in to Podcasting’s Potential. The article raises a number of excellent points about advertising and reaching new audiences, but it also focuses on content.

And content here – as elsewhere – is king.

I’m not an expert on Web 2.0 (or most anything else for that matter). But I know enough to recognize that even with all the new technology people – listeners, readers, friends sitting talking at a local bar – still want interesting, engaging and informative content. And they aren’t going to invest a minute’s worth of time – let alone an hour’s – if that expectation isn’t met.

I didn’t originate this saying, but I use it a lot in class: What’s in it for me? From the standpoint of strategically using podcasts as an effective public relations tactic, I don’t believe we have answered that question as yet. Maybe we will.

But it’s going to rely on content that is professionally produced. Anyone remember the early days of industrial video? I do. After a while just showing a poor-quality video in a dimly lit lunchroom wasn’t good enough. Today there are media outlets – such as NPR – that are producing excellent podcasts: interesting, engaging and professionally done. Something tells me most organizations don’t have the resources to match this kind of professionalism. And I would swallow hard if I had to approve the cost of producing a professionally done podcast – without knowing how effective it is going to be.

At some point we’re going to have to take a critical look at podcasting – and blogging? – and ask if the results warrant the time, effort and expense. I still don’t see a lot of discussion of this topic of how to evaluate the effectiveness of the so-called new media. I expect that will happen as clients/organizations are encouraged to spend more money on these tactics.

Still for everyone out there pushing Web 2.0 without considering effectiveness and results, I’m sure what I said was not politically correct. Gretchen Wilson anyone?


2 responses to “Podcasting and garbage trucks

  1. To your comment:

    “I still don’t see a lot of discussion of this topic of how to evaluate the effectiveness of the so-called new media.”

    Hang around the b-sphere a bit longer, Rob, and you’ll find plenty of discussion on this topic. What you won’t find is plenty of answers. For a while there, it was considered heresy to ask about ROI in social media. It’s a conversation. It’s qualitative. Don’t you “get it”?

    Yeah, but tell it to my CEO.

    You may not be an expert in Web 2.0, my friend, by you know a whole lot more than most of us about what will fly in the C-Suites. You’ve been there.

    Also, you are dead on with your podcast discussion. I believe one reason more folks don’t use Todd Defren’s very innovative social media news release is that it costs a small fortune to produce — at a professional level — the audio and the visual components.

    Technology may give us all the tools to produce the materials, but it doesn’t give us the talent to make them good.

  2. Bill,

    You’re absolutely correct about qualitative evaluation and measurement. At various times at my career at BFGoodrich I reported to the company’s chief legal officer, senior human resourses manager and at times directly to the CEO. For me — and us as a management team — that worked well because I had complete access to the CEO. All I had to do was call or stop by his office. Then at one point I reported to the company’s chief financial officer. He was a brillant executive and a strong supporter of communications. But when you told him you did something that had the potential to reach 500,000 people (pick the number) he would smile and say that’s nice, but how many did you actually reach. After a few of those conversations, I tried real hard to have a specific answer.


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