Inside the ad industry’s growing obsession with podcasts

Dozens of ad execs and agencies are podcasting—here’s why
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photos: Edelman, IPG Media Lab, Mekanism

· 5 min read

Influencers are doing it. Brands are doing it. Publishers are doing it. So, of course, agencies are doing it, too.

Say hello to the agency podcast:

  • Edelman has The TrustMakers, a podcast about how institutions can build trust with stakeholders, as well as Authentic 365, run by members of its DE&I team.
  • IPG Media Lab has Floor 9, a pod about the intersection of tech and culture.
  • Independent agency Mekanism recently started Soul & Science, led by co-founder and CEO Jason Harris, which features discussions with CMOs and other execs.
  • Creative consultancy Digital Surgeons produces Forward Obsessed, hosted by co-founders Pete Sena and David Salinas, who interview “business leaders and entrepreneurs.”
  • MediaLink chairman and CEO Michael Kassan hosts a show called Good Company, where he’s had guests ranging from Reese Witherspoon to CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter.

The list goes on. Agencies have different reasons for investing in podcasts, but these shows can often serve as a marketing tool, helping them get in front of potential clients, build their own brands, or even show off their own podcasting chops.

Big reputation

While agencies we spoke with aren’t exactly expecting an influx of RFPs as a result of their podcast efforts alone, some are podcasting to build their reputations.

Mekanism’s Harris and Jeff Mard, SVP of growth at Digital Surgeons, both said it would be a “nice byproduct” if their podcasts ever brought in new clients, but that’s not a primary goal.

Harris said he sees Soul & Science as a way to “promote our positioning” as an agency, and as a tool for networking with other CEOs and CMOs by inviting them on the show.

The podcast began in March and only has 10 episodes so far, but has already booked some high-profile guests, like OkCupid Global CMO Melissa Hobley, Foot Locker Global CMO Jed Berger, Indeed CMO Jessica Jensen, and General Electric CMO Linda Boff. Some guests have been clients, but the podcast will focus on ones who aren’t.

Harris said the company plans on checking in on the podcast’s audience growth quarterly, with the goal of eventually reaching about 10,000 downloads per episode.

Mard said Digital Surgeons “came up with the podcast as a way for us to connect with both people in our network that we’ve done business with, but more importantly, people that may not know us because we’re a small company.”

“We have to get our name out there,” he explained.

Practice what you preach

Edelman started experimenting with its first podcast, Trust Cast, in January 2021, Kelsey Rohwer, SVP of external affairs for US brand, who helped spearhead the agency’s podcast efforts, told us over email.

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Edelman was looking for a way to create more content around its Trust Barometer, its annual survey on “trust and credibility.” After about a year, the team realized that clients were tuning in and giving feedback, said Kate Meissner, EVP and head of US external affairs, who worked with Rohwer to kickstart the project, in an email. “I have one client who I know listens to every episode,” she said.

According to Meissner, creating a podcast made it easier for Edelman to educate and advise clients on their own original content, including podcasts.

“It was allowing us to have different, deeper conversations, particularly with clients who are entering this space of owning their own content or owning their own podcast,” Meissner told Marketing Brew. “We’re able to say, ‘We did it ourselves, and here are some of the things that we’ve learned about it.’”

Often, the team behind Edelman’s podcasts is pulled into meetings with clients who are curious about the medium, and has advised them on everything from overarching strategy to what equipment to use, Meissner said.

This January, Edelman debuted The TrustMakers, a revamped version of Trust Cast, in partnership with Advertising Week and the Edelman Trust Institute, its in-house think tank. The first episode, an interview between Edelman CEO Richard Edelman and Antonio Lucio, 5S Diversity principal and founder, saw listenership increase to 33 times the average audience of Trust Cast, and the team is starting to get pitches for guests on the show, Meissner said.

Edelman has a third podcast in the works called A Touch of Truth, hosted by Cooper, set to go live this summer.

Similarly, IPG Media Lab found that Floor 9 helped it “showcase the power of a podcast” while pitching clients on the idea of adding podcasts to their media plans, said Chad Stoller, managing director of the Lab.

It was an early entrant in the agency podcast space, creating Floor 9 in 2017 in order to “be able to provide information in a single, distilled format,” to IPG agencies, Stoller told us.

“We’ve had conversations about strategically using it for a new business, but we try not to make it very transactional because nobody wants their agency to be that way,” Stoller said. “It’s there to serve our industry, and frankly, it helps our credibility.”

Correction 5/12/22: The first version of this article said the first episode of Trust Makers featured an interview between Edelman Global Chief Brand Officer Jackie Cooper and Washington Post columnist Taylor Lorenz. It has been updated to reflect that the first episode featured an interview between Edelman CEO Richard Edelman and Antonio Lucio, 5S Diversity principal and founder.

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