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Senior Account Manager

I really do wonder if charities are missing a trick with podcasts

There was a time when podcasts were consuming a significant percentage of my waking hours. More recently I’ve found the sheer amount of content available slightly overwhelming and it’s been harder to keep up even with my favourites. But that has more to do with having a one-year-old baby in my life than any waning interest in the medium itself.

In fact, new dads aside, the general listenership continues to rise. According to ACast, 44% of the UK population has listened to a podcast. They also report that 80% of listeners hear the whole show – which indicates a high level of engagement and a captive audience.

Which leads me to wonder, are charities making the most of this digital/audio hybrid channel, both from a content and direct response perspective?

In terms of content, I’m aware of several charities who have dipped their toe in the water. Usually this has been with engaging subject matter relating to their cause – either aimed at providing advice and support, or more topical information. Amnesty, Maggie’s, Greenpeace, MQ and the Mental Health Foundation come to mind. But I’m struggling to find many who have gone beyond this initial toe dipping. Of course it’s always a hard sell for a charity to commit time to something if initial listener numbers don’t take off. And inevitably a big part of the challenge will be to cut through the clutter, with so much audio content being available. But there’s enough evidence to suggest it could well be worth the effort.

UNHCR are one of charities who I believe are really using this channel effectively in terms of storytelling. They have a number of different podcasts, all of which take the listener to the heart of their cause. And most importantly from a strategic perspective, they are all showing refugees as human beings, with the aim of bridging the gap between listener and beneficiary. I’d definitely recommend the Awake at Night series. Podcasts like this are great assets to share with existing supporters, potentially adding value to the relationship they have with you. They can also be an effective way to educate a new audience on the problem you are trying to solve. Assuming, that is, that enough time and resource is allocated to drive listenership.

Then we get into the subject of paid advertising. Again, according to ACast, 76% of podcast listeners saying that they followed up on a sponsored ad they’ve heard on a podcast, we’re seeing more and more of the bigger commercial outfits jumping on board. So I wonder if charities are missing a trick by not testing podcasts for fundraising or lead generation. I can only think of ever hearing a couple of fundraising led adverts or sponsorships and those were WaterAid using the Adam Buxton podcast and Save the Children promoting Christmas jumpers at work.

Perhaps charities are viewing podcasts in the same light as radio, a channel which no longer tends to stack up from a straight fundraising perspective. However, the benefits of podcast far outweigh radio (as well as having obvious cost advantages over video). Clearly the ability to target those that are more likely to have affinity to your cause by selecting podcasts based on the listener identity is one. But, I think the most important factor is the ability to craft your message and align it to the content – more akin to native advertising – giving it context. There are some great examples of this in the commercial sector, one I recall hearing was MailChimp’s sponsorship of the ever-popular Serial podcast, where the ad at the start of each episode had a style that cleverly and amusingly nodded to public radio style reportage of Serial and similar shows from This American Life.

For most of the main commercial players in podcast advertising, value exchange seems to come in the form of discount codes. As with all fundraising, charities would need to identify what the right value proposition is to drive someone from audio onto their website, either to donate or opt in, and then consider how they will measure the success. It’s something we will be looking at with a couple of our clients over the coming months.

As we move into an ever more peer to peer, networked world – will the demand for podcasts still rise? Ultimately podcasting is a one to many medium, and although the listener might feel ‘close’ to the podcaster, in reality, they lack the means to answer back.

That said, it is hard to ignore their popularity amongst commuters, evening meal makers and content hungry consumers. For now, the general attraction of podcasts – showcasing voices and perspectives that mainstream platforms don’t host – very much still stands. That’s why I think it will remain a popular medium for some time to come.