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How to plan your podcast

In this article, podcasting expert and early adopter Gilly Smith covers the four key areas you need to consider when writing a proposal for your podcast, which will help focus your mind and take your podcast from idea to reality.

The title

In an ocean of podcasts, you’ll need a title to grab your listener; to make them laugh, if that’s what you want them to do; to tell them to listen up, if that’s what it’s about for you. Do your research. Have a look at the podcast page on your iTunes app (go to ‘store’ and select ‘podcast’ on the drop-down menu) or scroll through your podcast app, noticing which ones you chose because of the title alone. The chances are that you subscribed through word of mouth, but if you didn’t, was the title memorable enough to remember? I’m listening to The Teacher’s Pet at the moment, a suggestion given by friends during a discussion of the best true crime series for a road trip. I traded The Missing Cryptoqueen and Fake Heiress for The Teacher’s Pet and a couple of others whose names I don’t remember. The story of an Australian football star and PE teacher whose affair with his sixteen-year-old student led to the disappearance of his wife in the eighties sounded like just the binge listen I needed for the long drive ahead on our weekend away. The Teacher’s Pet. I could see it. What are the odds it makes it to Netflix? I’m three episodes in and I haven’t even packed yet.

It was a no-brainer to call Borough Market’s podcast The Borough Market Podcast and delicious. magazine’s podcast the delicious. podcast, yet when I took the latter over after only four episodes, it was called dish. Unfortunately, this is also the name of the Sunday Times food magazine. It had to go, and as we were only just off the starting blocks, we changed the logo and the title and no one really noticed. It would have been a different story if we hadn’t spotted the error quite so quickly.

Happily, a title can be changed easily enough in the settings of your podcast host and the altered RSS information will be reflected in iTunes automatically. When I chose Cooking the Books as the title for my latest food books podcast, I thought I could get away with the fact that there was another podcast with the same title because it was hosted by a New Zealand chef – until I started to list it manually with all the other directories. I found that there were at least four other podcasts around the world with the same title. I popped into the settings on my podcast host, Acast Open, and within seconds I had changed it to Cooking the Books with Gilly Smith. Acast sorted the rest automatically.

The logo

Like a good title, an arresting logo can make all the difference in an overcrowded marketplace. If you haven’t got a celebrity name attached to your podcast, all you’re aiming to do at this stage is to grab attention. Once your listeners have subscribed, each episode will pop into the feed on their podcast app automatically, but if they don’t and they’re trying to remember your title to tell their mates, a quick search through their recent listens on their podcast app could find it. Unless, that is, your logo looks like all the others.

Business podcasts may want to reflect their brand in their logo and require the use of a graphic designer, but for most hobbyists it’s a fun challenge although it may incur a cost. I spent £75 on a freelance designer to work on the Cooking the Books logo and shared her drafts with my Facebook community who voted on their favourites. My brief was the title and subtitle, Cooking the Books: Where food is the story. I told her that it was about food in books and books about food, that it was for people who liked food and books. I wanted my name on it, it had to follow the podcasting guidelines of being clearly visible when shrunk to a tiny thumbnail and it needed to be delivered as a 1400px x 1400px to 3000px x 3000px square jpeg. Apple Podcasts require artwork to be delivered at a 72 dpi resolution JPEG or PNG format using RGB colour space. Beyond that, I left it to her.

The summary

This is what Chris Hogg calls ‘the sip pitch’. While some call it ‘the elevator pitch’, Chris points out that no one really pitches anyone in a lift, whereas plenty of partygoers get the opportunity to answer the question, ‘What’s your podcast about?’ while their interrogator and potential listener takes a sip of their drink. Chris answers, ‘It’s a drum ’n’ bass comedy musical about eating disorders.’ no one walks away after that.

Have a browse through your favourite podcasts’ summaries. Our podcast pioneers have nailed it:

  • Table Manners: ‘Jessie Ware hosts a podcast about food, family, and the beautiful art of having a chat, direct from her very own dinner table. With a little bit of help from her chef extraordinaire mum Lennie, each week guests from the worlds of music, culture and politics drop by for a bite and a bit of a natter. Oversharing guaranteed.’
  • The Log Books: ‘Stories from Britain’s LGBT+ history and conversations about being queer today.’
  • The Missing Cryptoqueen: ‘Dr Ruja Ignatova persuaded millions to join her financial revolution. Then she disappeared. Why? Jamie Bartlett presents a story of greed, deceit and herd madness.’
  • Have You Heard George’s Podcast?: ‘The award-winning and critically-acclaimed podcast from George the Poet delivers a fresh take on inner city life through a mix of storytelling, music and fiction.’
  • The Old Songs Podcast: The Old Songs Podcast explores the stories behind traditional songs – where they came from, who sang them, how they’ve changed and where they’re going.’
  • And mine? ‘Cooking the Books is for people who love to read about food. Season 1 is about food which explores plot, motivation and characterisation, while Season 2 features all your favourite food writers from Gill Meller, Olia Hercules and William Sitwell among many, many more. Gilly Smith (the podcast, Leon’s How to Eat to Save the Planet) finds what’s cooking in the minds of our literary stars.’

So, what’s yours? The summary form won’t prod you to think any more deeply when you upload your podcast, but while you’re planning, it’s useful to imagine how you would sell it. What makes it unique? What will people learn? What does it achieve? List five points, if only to sharpen your marketing tools. You’ll need them later.

The market

Who is your target audience? Before you start to think about your social media campaign, considering your target audience is crucial. Where and who is your community? If you’re a hobbyist (Star Trek, birding, folk songs . . .) where do other fans hang out? How can you reach them?

For me, it’s all about food, from food writers and chefs to campaigners and producers. I hope that my Facebook and Instagram (less so, Twitter, but only as a personal preference) reflects my hobbyist enthusiasm and my journalistic integrity and knowledge.

Who do I represent? I represent food lovers who care about where food comes from and its stories, about animal welfare and its connection with saving the planet, about taking time to appreciate the culture and politics of food. What do I stand for? I stand for integrity, creativity, imagination, solutions, community, energy. What conversations do I want to start? How can we change the way we eat to save the planet? What conversations do I want to be part of? How we can change the way we eat to save the planet.