BBC Creative's Head of Audio joins our specialist podcast team

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Introducing Fresh Air’s new Head of Content

With the booming demand for brand-funded podcasts, Fresh Air Production has appointed Michaela Hallam as its new Head of Content. Michaela will join Fresh Air on November 18th from her current role as Creative Head of Audio at the BBC’s in-house agency, BBC Creative.

Fresh Air specialises in creating podcast series for brands, and has seen a four-fold increase in demand over 2019. It recently entered a long-term partnership with podcast strategists 4DC, moving into offices in East London to take advantage of the rapidly expanding market.

During her time at the BBC, Michaela has led numerous high profile and award-winning  audio projects. She’s developed audio identities for brands like BBC Sounds and BBC Music, and overseen the audio campaigns for key BBC properties including Line of Duty, Blue Planet, Fleabag, Killing Eve, Doctor Who, CBeebies, Strictly Come Dancing, Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK, Top Gear and The Olympic Games. Michaela has also acted in a consultancy role as the corporation develops its presence in the voice and smart speaker sector.

Founder Neil Cowling said: “I couldn’t be more delighted to bring Michaela’s experience and passion into the business. With such rapid growth in the medium and the volume of work coming our way, her love of creative audio as a marketing tool fits the business perfectly. We’re working with huge brands who need serious audio expertise as they launch into podcasting, and that’s what Michaela brings in spades.”

Michaela commented:

“With recent studies showing that podcasts are outperforming both TV and radio ads on benchmarks including engagement, emotional intensity and memory encoding around brand mentions*, this is a truly exciting time to join a company already achieving huge success in this sector.

I can’t wait to marry my experience and passion for creating great audio content with delivering on the business objectives of some brilliant brands.”

Fresh Air Production is one of the UK’s leading producers of podcasts for brands. It aims to take the production values of national broadcast radio and apply them to branded podcast content. Its work includes:

“The Beauty Podcast with Sali Hughes” for Avon

“The Energy Podcast” for Shell

“The Reality Tea” for BBC Sounds

“Speaking with Shadows” for English Heritage

“The Case Files” for Slater & Gordon

“Insurance Tomorrow” for Allianz

“Inside Exams” for AQA

“Ahead of the Field” for NFU Mutual

“Reflections: Art, Life & Love” for National Galleries of Scotland

To find out more, go to, email or call 0870 1417117

Fresh Air Production. 12-14 Berry Street. London EC1V 0AU

*Credit: Audio: Activated, a new study from BBC Global News’s branded content division – and carried out across four continents by neuroscience researchers at Neuro-Insight. It researches the minds of audio listeners to discover the unique benefits of this space for brands.

"We'd like to speak to teachers" - Anouszka's AQA Assignment

Anouszka Tate has been producing “Inside Exams” for AQA. And she’s loved it…

I’ve interviewed merciless politicians, broken devastating news to the nation, and edited audio with panicked hands as it was going out live. Then I was told my next project would be to create a podcast that desperately time-poor teachers would choose to spend time listening to. Plus, it would be powered by an exam board that – by their own admission – said teachers are incredibly cynical about. I wondered if producing Inside Exams might just be my biggest professional challenge yet.

 As it turns out, the AQA team have been a joy to work with – not just because they’re genuinely great fun people, but because they’re brave. It takes courage to acknowledge your perceived weaknesses and tackle them head on. In public. On a podcast that’ll live forever.

 They’re aware that teachers can feel frustrated by an apparent lack of transparency. So, we begin the podcast with a question direct from a teacher in their classroom. We’re not letting them dodge questions they’d rather not answer. On research calls and in the studio, AQA have given us permission to probe them, play devil’s advocate, pry out the information they hadn’t dreamt of letting leave the four walls of their offices before. This is what will ultimately be most helpful for the listener.

 Teachers and students alike imagine intimidating examiners plotting their next press release in a mysterious fortress. Instead, we’ve found delightful people, vehemently passionate about their work. Although each interview with an AQA staff member is only 15 minutes on the podcast, we spend a good hour getting to know each other in the studio. It’s worth investing that little bit of extra time to make sure the personalities shine through any initial nerves.

 Fundamentally, podcasting as a medium has already done a lot of the work for us. Intimate and conversational by nature, it’s more human than most, but we made a point of extracting the most interesting little nuggets of information: ‘…yes but how does it feel when this happens?’ ‘What thoughts are racing through your head at that point?’ A podcast like this craves the personal anecdotes that might feel normal to AQA staff, but are new and hugely insightful for teachers.

 Crucially, Inside Exams is from the perspective of the teacher listening. Presenter Craig Barton is a maths teacher / social media influencer / Louis Theroux of education extraordinaire. He’s well-loved and respected by his colleagues and followers. Teachers otherwise sceptical about how fruitful a time-consuming jaunt to AQA HQ might be are more likely to come along for the ride because they implicitly trust Craig’s judgement.

 The second chat of the podcast sees Craig talking to a fellow teacher. Another brave decision from the brand behind the show – they have even less control over messaging here. Ultimately, the risk pays off though. Hearing friendly voices swapping tips and sharing similar struggles is extremely reassuring for the teacher listener. Simply by association, AQA – that slightly scary exam board – have made them feel that way.

 Inside Exams is a brilliant example of how branded podcasts can simultaneously satisfy commercial clients and captivate listeners. AQA appreciate that in order to best serve their customers, they don’t always have to just toe the party line. The age-old cliché says that people won’t remember what you said, but how you made them feel. By creating a podcast, AQA are making frazzled teachers feel supported, entertained, and valued. That’s what they’ll remember when they unplug their headphones and start their first lesson of the day.

Brand-funded Podcasts - Bloody Hard Work

‘Publishers are getting serious about podcast revenue’ – Digiday

‘Podcasts are brilliant for anyone who loves radio, but hates all that annoying “Quality control”’ – Jimmy Carr.

There are two ways of brands getting on board with podcasts.

1.     Advertise around an existing successful podcast with an established audience.

2.     Create your own original podcast series.

Option 1 is by far the easiest. All you do is divert a portion of your existing advertising budget into podcasting. You can choose your category, make your ad, write your sponsorship, and bingo! You hear it at the start of, say, The Guardian’s podcast or David Tennant’s new chart-busting show. You’re in the podcasting arena, and riding the wave of this popular channel by speaking to someone else’s established audience.

Option 2 is really hard work. It involves much more investment of time, thought, energy, research and effort. It means making podcasting an integrated part of your comms armory, coordinating with your content team, and bringing in the brand specialists. It’s a tough ask to create something perfect for your niche audience that achieves your objectives whilst properly engaging them for twenty minutes, rather than just sounding like a long advert.

You’ll probably have to work with an external production team, get them to truly understand your goals, and trust their expertise to create something perfect. It needs as much quality control as anything else that reflects your brand, but how does your brand even sound in audio? Without any visual assets to keep them on track! You have rounds of feedback and re-edits, requiring stakeholders to listen to, and sign off, episodes that might be up to 30 minutes long – much more hassle than the two-minute videos they’re used to.

Then, once it’s made, it’s a long game to watch that audience grow gradually, encouraging them to build a habit of listening to something from a brand they were previously ambivalent towards. A celebrity presenter is a shortcut to the iTunes charts, but how do you measure whether they’re worth it? An initial investment of, say, six episodes might seem like a fair way to dip your toe in, but will that build enough of a case-study? What frequency should you have? Weekly? Fortnightly? Once a month is too spaced out, so perhaps some bonus content will help to fill those gaps. But then you’ve got to think about what will be exciting and useful beyond the main episodes.

On top of that, the data is nowhere near as granular as social media. You have to use qualitative and anecdotal feedback, and trust your marketing instincts that what you produce is both engaging and useful to the audience, as well as for the long term benefit of the brand. You have to put significant budget into promoting the series, using social, PR, CRM and, yes, advertising around other podcasts to spread the word. Only this way will your podcast avoid disappearing into the millions of other podcasts being produced every day.

It’s bloody hard work.

And that’s why Option 2 is so much fun, and so rewarding, for everyone involved.

Podcasts: The New Arseholes?

‘You know the old saying, “Opinions are like arseholes, everybody’s got one.”? Well, podcasts are the new arseholes.’

So goes the best line from this excellent but scary Kitty Flanagan sketch. “Excellent” in the sense that it’s funny, and scary in that it neatly captures one of the main worries I’ve had about the medium for some time now.

So what’s the problem, and how do we change the game?

The democratisation of speech audio that podcasting brings is of course one of its main strengths –anyone can do it – whilst also being one of its Achilles’ heels – anyone can do it. Any celebrity who feels the world needs to hear more from them, any stand-up comedian who’s bored during daylight hours, any well-meaning hobbyist with first-world insights to share, and any pair of blokes who think they’re always the most fascinating people in the pub can get on their iphone in a reverberant room and knock out a podcast.

As with arseholes, most of these podcasts are really only of interest to their owners, and best kept private. [Note: that’s the end of the arsehole analogies*].

A constant stream of series involving two men talking to each other for a bit too long is not the future for a vibrant medium. Even if it's not a true reflection, the perception of delusional presenters and no quality filter is dangerous. However, now more than ever we have the chance to change this.

In some ways it will simply sort itself out. As with youtube, the delusional ones will carry on talking to themselves for free whilst the rest of us who know what we’re doing, with something to say, actual production skills, and hard-earned knowledge of how to build an audience will create a critical mass that takes the medium into the mainstream. But we can be, and have to be, more proactive than that.

Production really matters. One of the many astonishing things about Rachael Bland, aside from how much she was evidently loved by so many people, is that her national impact was largely achieved via a podcast. She combined the freedoms of the medium and, crucially, her own skills from 20 years as a radio broadcaster. Here we had a professional journalist with boundaries relaxed, a topic that grabbed you by the throat and a properly structured programme with planning, running orders, and an editor’s oversight. In the immediate aftermath of her death, this seem like a trite point, but Rachael didn’t accidentally make a great podcast, she produced a great programme. I hope she was proud of that.

The same is true of the corporate podcast work that my company, Fresh Air, makes for brands like The National Trust, Allianz Insurance and Deloitte. The audience might be niche, but in applying the rules of broadcast to podcasting and doing more than just a lazy message from the Chairman, we’re imparting useful information to a valuable audience in a professionally curated and crafted manner. This helps build perception of a quality medium with the podcast’s listeners and for those companies who commission us to make it.

As for the mass market, as this wonderful article from Tom Webster says, podcasts are a very long way from being mainstream yet, even in the US. His point is that Netflix’s breakthrough came through investment in must-see content. No matter what relative podcast successes we can point to, nobody in my local pub (the Hop Inn, Swindon) is talking about them yet. The next level demands something extraordinary.

And that’s where talent really matters. The way to get to the next level of podcasting’s evolution is to cut through the distinction between podcast stars and REAL stars. Don’t get me wrong, I love Adam Buxton as much as the next person, but he’s not going to change the game, and the Hop Inn regulars haven’t heard of him.

In the US, Spotify have signed up Amy Schumer for her own series. That’s more bloody like it. The moment that a proper British A-lister creates a podcast as their main project, not as a side-hustle, and, to be brutal about it, is paid six figures for it, will be the moment we see the dial move. The podcast purists might think it’s rather vulgar, but the halo effect will help everyone, and if you want to carry on making podcasts as a hobby for 40 listeners in Shoreditch, no one will stop you.

How do we do this? Teamwork matters. The industry is full of wonderful producers with great presenter contacts and barnstorming ideas, but who often either a) lack the full production facilities, structure and resources to make an epic programme; or perhaps more crucially b) lack the knowledge or brand/agency contacts that will take these ideas to the commercial market, convince a brand to buy the package and get the whole thing funded. The independent audio sector needs to stop sinking time into making free speculative projects on the off-chance that ad revenue that might eventually pay for it, and work together to create credible offerings for the big boys and girls with the big money.

At Fresh Air, we’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, and we want to lead the charge. We think we have a plan, and, without being too grand, we think we can change the game. That idea you had in the shower but wouldn’t know how to get off the ground? We can make that huge. That chat you had with an agent but couldn’t get the money for? We want to work with you to make it happen. The time is right, and the conversations we’re having have never been more encouraging.

So production, talent, and teamwork. If you have those, get in touch and let’s create genre-defining stand-out content that’s more “shining star” than “chocolate starfish”.

*apart from the final line.

Time for UK Podcasting to Grow Up

Since the start of 2018, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in the attitude of brands and companies towards podcasts, which leaves me in no doubt that the UK is entering a new phase in the evolution of the medium.

Like all other audio content producers, my company, Fresh Air, has spent the last few years trying to work out how to make money out of podcasts. We've stared enviously across the Atlantic, and wondered whether our market will follow suit. Now we're starting to see real progress.

The shift is simple but dramatic. Businesses are approaching us about making them a podcast. I’m no longer cold-calling and hoping that I can pitch to a half-interested marketing manager about a new medium with no solid numbers. On the contrary, we’re getting calls every week from marketeers who love podcasts, see the opportunity, and want us to help them capitalise on it. What’s more, we're able to present them with pricing models that work and case studies that prove the concept. That’s why I’ve decided it’s an opportunity that’s too good to miss out on, and that the level of demand requires all my time, my attention, and a serious dose of Fresh Air's ambition.

That’s not to say that the UK market is yet anywhere near the USA in terms of monetising the product. At last week’s British Podcast awards, the vast majority of those attending were essentially home-podcasters, making content speculatively for free, or virtually free, in the hope that one day it might pay out. I chatted with a producer who works on one of the most talked-about British podcasts who still isn’t being paid after over 30 episodes. There’s nothing wrong with a wonderfully rewarding hobby, and we can all point to examples where this has eventually led to a decent income, but usually it doesn’t. The fact that it’s still the dominant model isn't good for the medium or for the rest of us in the industry.

Frankly, it’s time for the UK podcast production market to grow up. Acast is doing a great job at leading the conversations and banging the drum with agencies and brands, but Fresh Air wants to lead the way from the production side in creating ambitious combined creative and media models that produce the very highest quality of content for businesses and brands to get behind.

British producers often find the idea of working for brands a bit “dirty”, as if there’s a inevitable trade-off between finding sponsor money and creating wonderful programmes. That’s patently not true, and we need to have enough confidence to go out and prove it.

Fresh Air is working with the best producers in the country (and recruiting more), putting proposals together for multi-national brands, and unashamedly asking for budgets that allow us to pay those producers properly to create their best possible work.

We’re working with brands who want to target a niche audience. We’ve got one in production aimed at insurance brokers and another for those interested in post-Brexit customs rules. As I said, niche. But for those brands, it’s worth paying proper money to deliver information to those key customers in engaging and useful ways.

At the same time, other brands want a mass audience, or to target a significant section of the population such as small business owners. That’s about creating genuinely entertaining and appealing podcasts that embody the brand values and deliver the messages by association, rather than the business necessarily being the focus of the content. But they get it – that’s where the value is. They want the listener to think “That podcast was great, it enriched my commute, and I’m grateful to the brand for bringing it to me”. If they’ve learnt something along the way, had expert advice, or had their brand awareness raised, then so much the better.

We’re used to that in TV now. High quality dramas are funded by brands, and are no less wonderful for that. We know there’s product placement, but it doesn’t take away from our enjoyment of the content. The brand benefits from the halo effect of half an hour well spent, and now they’re understanding that podcasting can do the same. It’s NOT dirty.

The client might start off with an idea of what they think will work, and our job is to make it better – to add our expertise to their brief and work with them to make content that’s truly worthy of the listener’s time. Development can take weeks or months (normally weeks if we’re honest), but good clients understand that it’s worth getting right. Budgets can start off modest for a studio discussion, but we don’t want to just do those. We want location recordings, days of research, innovative recording techniques, and a high profile presenter armed with a huge social following. All that demands good money, and it’s worth it.

I should say that I don’t think we’ve found the perfect model yet. Right now there’s largely:

  • Make a really good podcast, build an audience, and hope it gets big enough to attract advertising and sponsors;
  • Work with a brand who’ll pay for the production, and hopefully a bit more for promotion on top.

There are two more I want us to crack this year:

  • Come up with a wonderful, never before done, genre-defining idea that costs BIG money, and partner with a huge brand to buy a whole package around it. I want to show that podcasts can create, and get funding for, audio projects on a level of budget and ambition that the BBC and most other commissioners couldn’t dream of doing. (We very nearly pulled this off recently by the way).
  • Something else. Something that truly shakes up the medium, combining great content and media through a sustainable and replicable model that we’ve probably not yet worked out.

So this is where Fresh Air is looking to play, and intending to lead the way. We can be as creative in monetising our content as we are in making it. I don't want to be jealous of podcasters in the States. I want to learnt from them, be inspired by them, and then eventually I want them to be jealous of us. There won’t be just one model, and of course there’s room for everyone, speculative hobbyists included, which is what makes it such fun. However, the shift we’ve seen this year and this window of time presents an opportunity for us as UK audio creators to grow up, get confident, and shape how we want to achieve our goal: To make work we’re proud of, for the money it’s worth.

I Come From The Future

Back in 2000, Michael Hill, Tony Moorey, Ali Rusted and I worked together to launch the new DAB station ‘BBC 5Live SportsPlus’ - now BBC 5Live Sports Extra. The total listening audience was, at a rough guess, around 4*.

We were blazing a trail, but with a bloody long run-up. We’d punt out for texts, not because we had a hot topic to discuss, but in the same way that you might nervously shout into a newly discovered cave - to find out whether there was anybody there.

Around that time, I would amuse myself in John Lewis or Curry's and asking the Sales Assistant whether they had any ‘digital radios’.

Inevitably, the confused person would ask me to repeat the question, think for a moment (Curry’s staff take a little longer over that) and then point me in the direction of a standard AM/FM radio, but with a digital display. Oh how I laughed. Internally.

I would then give a self-satisfied grin, like a massively patronising Marty McFly, in the knowledge that I was already living in a future that they were still too naive (or insufficiently well trained) to see. I'd then say ‘Don’t worry about it’ and walk away. 

So today in John Lewis, I took this photo. Still a bit tragic, admittedly, but done in the spirit of a happy enthusiast rather than a smug knob.

The audio & speaker department has more shoppers and floor space than TVs and tablets put together. There’s an enormous range of affordable (albeit garishly coloured) DAB radios. Alexa and Sonos are the sexiest tech brands in the store. As for headphones, people are spending incredible (and often, lets be honest, acoustically unjustified) cash.

We’ve won the future. Listening to stuff is, and always will be, wonderful. It’s fun to spend good money on, and a great gift. On Christmas morning, there’ll be more people with more ways of listening than ever before. 

As audio producers, our job is to continually seize the moment and make sure the content is as exciting, innovative and extraordinary as the technology. And, happily, we are. We’re creating work, dreaming up approaches and developing ideas that give me the same feeling I had back in 2000. Brilliant, hugely ambitious podcast concepts, dynamic creative and voice interaction techniques that will again change how everyone thinks about, and uses, audio - listeners, platforms and advertisers.

Once again, I know what’s coming. I love it, and I can’t wait for everyone else to love it too. I just promise not to be quite such a knob about it this time.

*Now 1.2 Million.

Radio? Seriously?

‘Radio? Seriously? I hear press is the next big thing too!’

LinkedIn provides many fascinating insights into what others think of what you do. This particular comment was made by a man who works in ‘paid search’ - an industry that didn’t exist 20 years ago, and therefore provides him with the self-aggrandising feeling that a) he works at the cutting edge of something, and b) any other media that’s been around for longer must be dying.

I’m a big fan of paid search. It’s brought much great content my way. It’s an effective and precise method for finding what I want.

I’m also a big fan of cutlery. It’s brought much great food my way. It’s an effective and precise method for putting it into my mouth.

However, my emotional connection is still very much with the content/food, rather than the search/cutlery. This fact doesn’t seem to have changed, even when I was introduced to the phenomenal modern concept of the ‘Spork’.

Great radio advertising creates messages that fit perfectly with the food, not the fork. Get the perfect tone, voice, and script, place it in the right show or daypart, and you can leverage the listener’s profound love of their favourite radio station for your brand. 

So, news for you, my LinkedIn contact of a contact. Radio’s not the next big thing. It’s the thing. It’s humour, it’s news, it’s music, it’s live, it’s changing, and it’s loved by a non-diminishing 90% of population. Hooking into that is a lot of fun.

That won’t change in the next ten years.

But paid search will. It will become screenless, as you use your voice to search and your ears to gather the information from your Amazon Echo or Google Home.

If only there was a blueprint for a method of delivering information in a perfectly judged / entertaining / informative manner using audio alone.

Oh, perhaps radio is the next big thing after all.

Podcasting: Apple's New Analytics

Last week Apple announced they would be launching podcast analytics, their new reporting tool for podcast providers.

The news came at their Worldwide Developer Conference, where business and engineering managers announced improvements to the interface and user experience on the iOS11 update, along with a few best practice guidelines. 

The great news is that it's what audience-focussed podcast creators have longed for since the dawn of the medium.

The announcement at the end of the session was met with applause which, frankly, felt understated given the implications this has for our fledgling industry.



The new analytics tool, which is still in development, will allow providers to see how much podcast episodes are played, and for how long, when listened to on the Apple podcast platform. Apple's Global Head of Podcasts and Internet Radio, James O. Boggs, was mindful to note the reporting tool still aimed to respect the privacy of users, with analytics not tied to individual user IDs but based on aggregate data.

Privacy and security is a mainstay of Apple products and services. They claim never to "monetise the information you store on your iphone and icloud" and so perhaps this genuinely is the reason they've been reticent to release podcast usage data until now. Noble as this mission statement is, it's pretty crucial to the value of their brand too, so you can understand why they've not been in a rush to sell out.

Those of us working in commercial content however, are elated at the news that we will soon be able to report back properly to the clients who are already taking a leap of faith by investing in branded content. Apple still provides the most-listened to platform for podcasts, so being able to report on how much our audience is listening and which parts of the episode are most interesting is essential to the business model. Whilst the dearth of data thus far has inspired many hosting platforms to develop their own user data tools, the opportunity to contrast episode performance and specific content as well as territory and subscribers on Apple is an unrivalled boon. Moreover, as content creators, it is frankly irresponsible not to consider and explore the sorts of people who are consuming your product. So the chance to react to data from the world's primary podcast platform arrives not a minute too soon

On top of that, the news makes the basic pitch for commercially-funded content a whole lot more attractive! Whilst perhaps this isn't their motivation in releasing the data, Apple predict a 20% growth in their podcast business this year, and with a thousand new shows submitted each week, the medium is booming. The revisions to the app in iOS 11 will allow creators to categorise their programmes and series as standalone episodes or narrative storytelling categories; or group content into seasons so that new subscribers can download chunks to their library at a time.



Mr Boggs also mentioned the current business models for a financially successful podcast as including 3 tenets; ads and sponsorship being the primary and most common. He said: "host-read ads in particular are successful and profitable". In addition, Boggs didn't dismiss listener donations and community support as a means to funding this content. But the third model he noted was upsell. This is potentially where the podcast industry has the opportunity to seriously evolve, and is undoubtedly a strong driving force in the development of a reporting platform for Apple podcasters.

Simply put, upsell is the idea that the podcast audience can convert to customers in the sale of products related to the content they're listening to.



The announcement is furthermore exciting because of the podcast audience’s integrity. We know that podcast listeners are educated, intelligent, curious and affluent. They choose to engage with branded content if and when it is of a calibre they can find on broadcast radio, film or written editorial. Its advantage over these rival or complementary mediums is convenience and ease of use.

It's smart that Apple have put the work in to make the user experience more inviting for time-poor but discerning listeners. Asking people to interact with any media is all about minimising the steps they need to take to achieve this. By bringing the interface more in line with their existing Music app, Apple are going for a familiar, unified look to their listening material. Most people listen to podcasts whilst doing other things, so if they're able to just hit a button and follow a familiar mechanical process for part of that, such as easily accessing their recent downloads, then surely those are extra points for getting your content into more people's ears.

Boggs nodded to the independent podcast networks producing content in partnership with Apple and pointed out the household names and brands that were getting them "excited about episode content that entertains, informs and inspires". He returned during the speech to take guests through some best practise guidelines for producing podcast content, touching on everything from cover art to competition and metadata. Interestingly, he took a moment to acknowledge the importance of quality in audio productions. Whilst he acknowledged that not all podcasters had access to the world-class studios that set the pros apart, there was of course a little plug for the iPhone's in-built mics and custom tech.

We eagerly await more news on the next phase of development for Apple's reporting tools, and indeed will be racing to bring you our verdict the iOS11 application updates. If there's one thing that's clear, it's that Apple aren't rushing this stuff and perhaps having the confidence to prioritise quality over speed is a little example we content creators can take inspiration from as we approach an exciting new era.

You can watch the full speech here

British Podcast Awards

We don’t go on about it much, but you might know that we’ve been flying the podcast flag for a while. And so, we were delighted to attend the very FIRST British Podcast Awards last week! There were fifteen categories – from true crime to sports – judged by the very best in radio and podcast reviewing (Helen Zaltzman, Miranda Sawyer etc).

...and our very own National Trust Gardens was nominated for TWO!!!!

The do itself was excellent. There were around 300 people there and lots of mini quiche (also excellent but I burnt my mouth). Most interesting was the diversity of ages, and types of people in the room. This wasn’t your average showbizzy gig, this was a community of passionate, creative people who were thrilled to be there celebrating their own and each other’s work. Hey you doomsayers, podcasts ain’t goin anywhere.

Winners included The Cinemile (Best New) – a couple who go to the cinema each week, and review the film on their mile home –  to BBC World Service’s The Inquiry (Best Current Affairs), to The Beef and Dairy Network Podcast (Best Comedy). There’s room for everyone in the podcasting and that was wonderful to see.

Anyway, I urge you to have a flick through the rest of the winners and add them to your commute playlist. Also… we got a bronze in Best Branded Content. So all round thumbs up.

Brands and the Podcast Revolution

We've all lived through more digital revolutions than we can remember. Today, around 71% of UK adults own a smartphone, and we're free to go about our lives snapping photos and videos, uploading them with accompanying punchy captions in seconds. In fairly recent memory, digital cameras were a novelty, the internet was a sort of weird, dial-up underworld, social media was MySpace, and Apps and filters were something different altogether.

There's a rough pattern to the evolution of this consumer tech:

First comes the innovation, then the early-adopting consumers and investors, then better tech, then the mainstream users and creators, then a mainstream race to cash in, then naturally the hike in overall standards.

But who thought the next revolution would be in audio? I wouldn't have put money on it, until now.



There are some 22.3 million people who listen to online audio in the UK, from on-demand music services to online radio and podcasts. 19% of those people listen exclusively online (even more so for younger demographics)

Now, 12 short human years (a ripe old age in digital terms) after it first appeared, the podcast has come of age commercially. And it's going to be powerful.

Imagine a digital marketing tool that rivals the depth of engagement and intimacy of reading a book and has all the convenience of an on-demand, multi-platform entertainment, but without the big production price tag.

This beautiful and simple media has blossomed quite organically from the timeless spoken word. Moreover, from storytelling and conversation. Yet it's different from traditional and even current radio. Radio has long been smart to brands that are built around listener lifestyles and demographics, choosing the commercial partners who are most appropriate to this, but within the confines of a broadcast platform. Podcasts, on the other hand, whilst still able to place content integrity first, can be brought to you directly by these companies, making those same companies no longer mere partners in delivering something a listener can be passionate about, but the providers of it.  All this adds up to increased intimacy with the host brand and - if it's a good product - all the good feelings the listener associates with the programme.



To state what is increasingly obvious to brands exploring podcasting - and I say brands, because this is still, predominantly a marketing exercise - the benefits of providing podcast content is that it allows them to build key strategic messages into an entertainment context. When Fresh Air Production worked with the National Trust to pilot their new podcast project last year, we took this simple commercial radio principle into how we designed our programmes, seeking out interviews and on-site stories that allowed our presenter to weave in little known facts about the Trust's wider remit, in a natural context.

The other benefit is the in-depth engagement that podcasts bring. Podcasts provide the panacea to a life of incessant motion and dwindling down time, particularly for metropolitan audiences. Engagement is hooked mainly around the narrative, storytelling format. Audiobooks may have long fed this busy audience's need for information or knowledge, but now they are seeking entertainment, amusement, exhilaration, relaxation and escape through a personal experience that mimics a social one. This is surely something that Audible are very aware of as they work to launch their 'Channels' programme platform in the UK. Through podcasts, we're able to engage in the conversations, stories, memories and emotions of others privately, without censorship. The average listening duration for podcasts is around 17-20 minutes, which allows people to fit listening in whilst they're relaxing or doing something like commuting, exercising or cooking; it's a way of supersizing their time by learning new stuff, or making tasks more enjoyable. That's long enough to plant some really strong emotive messages about your brand or product in the hearts and memories of a listener, provided you do it in the right way. Compare the cost of that 20 minute engagement to the cost for 18 seconds of dwell-time on a web page or video, and this is interesting indeed.



But podcasting as a commercial venture doesn't just have to be a brand or product-selling exercise. A recent brief Fresh Air Production took from the UK Houses of Parliament was to engage more people with the basics of how Parliament is run. With the help of presenter Meera Syal, we created a 6-part series that not only did the job and blasted into the iTunes top ten in its second week, but also became a useful learning resource for the public and new staff alike, helping them explore a brand new audience on this channel. I would argue that a company or organisation's podcast audience is not the same as its web audience, or social media audience. Granted, podcast consumers live in a digital space, so anything that helps them explore this in one finger tap is a coup for cross-promotional marketing, but in another sense, this is an entirely unique audience that we are only just starting to understand.

Another asset is the versatility of the medium. There's no standard format for a podcast, beyond what will be most appealing to your target listener. You can curate a fictional drama with your product at the heart of it, as GE did with 'The Message', a nail-biting story of a an "alien" coded message, or you can create indirectly related content, as ASOS did with smart, inspirational businesswomen in 'My Big Idea', or as fashion brand Mr Porter has done with their award-winning, candid series of brave and smart conversations 'Fathers and Sons'. Or, of course, you can stick to your core subjects, like a National Trust podcast about gardens, and develop your core existing audience's perceptions through that. Some hosting platforms are experimenting with hyperlinked images in situ for podcasts. Imagine hearing a URL mentioned on your listening device - a link to donate to a charity perhaps - and at the very moment you were moved by a story, it was possible to tap the image on your phone and go directly to the donation webpage. 



But the confusion I am surprised to meet in many a conversation with new clients is this: In spite of the fact that content is now the driver for a thriving, multi-million dollar industry, the idea of creating something that doesn't directly and explicitly tell people your brand does "X", can be hard to sell-in. The challenge is that many of them are still looking for a direct response. They want to walk away with a number or a measurable action to quantify their investment, and so the challenge for podcast creators or production companies is to either change this point of view, or promise to deliver these numbers.

The funny thing is that commercial radio programming has been doing this for years! I'm not talking about ads or even sponsorship - I'm talking about integrated programming: client messages woven into entertaining content that people will engage with, enjoy listening to and react to. Clients will pay a premium for this over promotions and sponsorships too. Of course, they do have numbers to back it all up, but RAJAR aside, the soft sell is that radio brands have an emotional closeness and trust with their audience that a brand can piggy-back on. Surely this power is only more pronounced in the personal, self-curated entertainment podcast audiences search out?

And this is the other big change we're starting to see in podcasting. In spite of all that lovely, soft brand messaging and emotive power, investors still want cold, hard data.



iTunes don't release their data to just anyone (although they're about to get better at this), but the hunger for this information has driven a wealth of innovation with apps, services and hosting platforms springing up all over the place, offering insights on demographics, listening behaviour, numbers and interests. Surveys are another old-fashioned but powerful way to find out what your most engaged listeners are like.

Research into podcast listeners is swallowed up like water in a drought. We know these audiences are intelligent, curious and well-educated. They don't want information that's crammed into their ears en-masse, but curate their own playlists and, I would suggest, seek out an emotional experience that they will remember, as well as new information they can share. They're self-educating, generally a little more affluent and predominantly (although by no means exclusively) aged between 18 and 34. A large percentage of them get to make decisions in their business too, which makes this a very exciting arena for products and services to explore commercial partnerships in.

But we don't yet win podcast business from brands by proclaiming that almost every smartphone owner has the option to listen. Lifestyle habits and preferences like this develop organically over time, as long as the experience gets easier and more strongly represented in the cultural zeitgeist.  Nor do we trade off the fact that nearly 5 million people (calculated from midas stats) regularly listen to podcasts in the UK. We are asked for the number of people who download these programmes, or the number of people who listen. It is a digital tool. Marketers prefer to be able to measure how old those people are, where they live, perhaps their income, work, social or family background.  Sadly, information that isn't readily volunteered in this liberal new medium.



This is where the rise of programmatic advertising aligns with the podcasting story, and although podcast platforms tell us little about the socio-economic status of their listeners, they can give us a strong idea about the mutual interests and passion points of their consumers in the selection of programmes they choose to listen to.  Where the likes of Contently have found solutions by collecting 'story' content, repackaging and serving it to multiple diverse and localised audiences, brands themselves, sitting on small goldmines of first-class content, seem reluctant to release their property into the new and unexplored platform of podcasting. The ones that do so may well win big.

So in short, I think there are very exciting things to come from podcasting, very soon, and the brands who are exploring this now are placing themselves streets ahead of the flock that will follow.

So how best to prepare? It may feel premature to think about what comes next, when the struggle to make cash and data out of this has barely begun in earnest, but my bet is that the next era will be that of a more discerning ear.



Podcasting is a beautiful, liberal platform which harnesses new technology and easy software to put content creation in the hands of the public at relatively low cost. Most mobile phones have an in-built microphone after all. But what previous content platform explosions have taught us is that a quality product and finish will also speak volumes about the company that's paying for it. So whilst self-styled podcast producers and tech whizzes are falling over themselves to make things quickly, Fresh Air's plan is to be concentrating hard on doing what we've always done: providing premium, well-targeted content of the highest standard, lovingly-crafted mixes and detailed, immersive soundscapes, all recorded on the best kit we can get, as per our radio broadcast training and backgrounds.

From a content perspective, the BBC were early pioneers of the podcast, of course, their main selling point being that their content is second to none in quality, creativity and innovation. The mistake would be to compromise this standard with weak commercial integration. In 2010, when changes to the OFCOM codes around undue prominence led to a sudden mad panic for some commercial radio stations to sell everything from their bread and butter to grandma's knickers, what the industry quickly learned was that this very bread and butter was one of highest value assets their businesses possessed. "Just because we can, doesn't mean we will" was the unofficial mantra of the Global Commercial Programming department at the time, a company that has continued to increase its reach and share of UK listening audiences with a strong brand ethic and nose for well-aligned partnerships - plus a healthy eye for its audiences.

In this way, Apple may have led the charge to put technology in the hands of many once again, but radio has paved the way for consumer expectations.  It is radio standards, principles and talent that will win biggest when brands stop asking if podcasts can work for them and start asking how well

We Made a Podcast for Parliament

“Parliament Explained” is the first podcast by the UK Parliament, and part of their ongoing efforts to demystify what happens in the centuries-old House of Commons and House of Lords.

The task of explaining how government takes decisions, how members of the public can change the law, or why you should care about politics can a daunting one. Podcasting is the perfect medium to reach people who are looking to expand their knowledge, and so the series of six episodes uses case studies and interviews with Parliament staff to offer an in-depth understanding of the institutions. It’s all narrated by leading actress and comedian Meera Syal.

Branded podcasts are growing very rapidly in the UK, and Fresh Air Production, part of the Radioworks Group, is one of the companies leading the way in helping organisations to make the most of audio content. Neil Cowling, Creative Director of Fresh Air, said:

“Podcasting is a medium that more and more brands are using to tell engaging long-form stories, and land strategic messages that can’t be communicated through standard advertising. We’re hugely proud to be working with The Houses of Parliament, and it’s a testament to the growth and quality of the medium that such a supposedly stuffy institution is commissioning their own podcast series.”


“Parliament Explained” is available on iTunes here

Live Podcasts at the Edinburgh Fringe

Patrice, Mark, Steve and Laura!

Patrice, Mark, Steve and Laura!

Last weekend our lovely Assistant Producer Laura popped off to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to showcase some of the podcasts we’d been making for Here’s what she had to say….

Possibly my favourite place in the world, I was buzzing for haggis, comedy, theatre, and of course doing live recordings of our best podcasts!

The first – Mark Dolan’s VIP Lounge sees comedian, broadcaster, and all round LOVELY guy Mark Dolan interview the most eclectic, fascinating, and… kinda strange people that might live next door to you. In our case, VIP stands for very interesting person. To explain it a little better – for our Edinburgh show (in front of a 100 strong, super giggly audience) Mark met a man who injects himself with SNAKE VENOM (he’s 49, looks about 30, and his blood is now going to be used to make anti-venom!), and a lady who eats… well.. she eats brick. Apparently she preferred the sandier variety of the two brick pieces I had handmade for her earlier that week.

The following day, we did a live Q&A with Dom Joly of Trigger Happy fame. We had sent him on a wild and wacky travel podcast around the USA exploring some of the stranger American tourist activities. We showed the best photos and videos on a big screen (including some of him alligator wrestling. As you do. And high as a kite on a Colorado cannabis tour) as he talked us through what he got up to. Uncensored and hilarious in true Dom Joly fashion.

It was a wonderful weekend, everyone laughed a LOT, and I also got my pork roll with apple sauce and lots and lots of haggis.

Keep checking back here or on Twitter for more updates on Mark Dolan’s VIP Lounge and Dom Joly’s Big American Vacation to be released exclusively on later this year!

AP Laura goes to RadioDays Europe

RadioDays is the foremost international radio conference.  It’s held annually over two days in different European cities and this year the RadioDays ‘Next Gen’ programme gave 6 young radio professionals the chance to experience Paris 2016 first hand, share ideas, and develop their future careers.

To be a ‘Next Gen’ you had to make a 60 second video.  We brainstormed what might make a winner and…. after munching lots of croissants between (and during!) takes…. came up with this!

The very next week I was packed off to Paris to attend lectures on topics from podcasting, to breakfast show secrets, and to ‘programmatic advertising’ (who knew!) The ‘Next Gen’ got to hobnob with the very best radio producers, engineers, and presenters from around the world – from Oz to Berlin –  at the fancy gala on the second night. I had some amazing conversations, and was able to relay some of it at our very own ‘Next Gen - What Caught My Eye’ lecture on the last day (which we had a pretty decent turn out to too!)

A fantastic couple of days; I came back to London with a brain and notepad super full, and LOTS to report to my team! Vive la radio!

Live Podcast at the Comedy Store

We’ve been working alongside on a brand new show called “Thrash It Out”.

Thrash It Out is a live mix of comedy and topical debate, which will be hosted by Dom Joly, best known as the star of Trigger Happy TV.

So if you like the idea of settling a serious argument, whilst laughing hysterically then we have some VIP priority seating available for friends of The RadioWorks Group.

Tickets are free, and the show takes place at The Comedy Store next Saturday 14th November at 2pm.

For more information about the event and to book your free ticket click the link below:


Don’t forget to Let us know once you’ve booked so that we can put the best seats aside.

Digital Audio - The Headphone Generation

In the last fortnight, two completely separate conferences - Radiodays Europe in Milan and Advertising Week Europe in London - have spent a serious amount of time talking about Digital Audio Advertising. To those of us who spent endless hours in 2004/2005 wondering whether this podcasting thing was ever going to take off, this is a huge relief.

Finally, this digital audio dimension is in a position to be properly monetised. It has the scale (17 millions people listen to digital audio every week in the UK) and thanks to innovations like DAX it has the relevant technology to make it easier and more accessible to advertisers. The potential is there to target listeners by age, gender, location etc and serve up audiences in ways that have never been previously possible through one-to-many broadcast radio.

So what does this mean for creative?

Thankfully, other people have done all the technical thinking behind this exciting evolution of the space, but for creative audio producers like us there are hugely exciting possibilities. RWS of Germany have carried out a fascinating study into "The Headphone Generation" - the audience who listen to audio through smartphones, regardless of the source of that audio - and what comes across most strongly is the increased intimacy of the user experience.

We've always known that radio listening is a one-to-one activity, but that's even more true when you've gone to the effort to download specific content to hear alone on your headphones.

It means that, no matter how smart the metrics are that allow you to target a digital audio listener, if a lazy agency then serves them up the same low-rent "TV without the pictures" radio ad they've produced for commercial radio they'll do far more harm than good. Creatives have to understand the context of their message more than ever, and allow the listener insight to drive higher quality, more personalised ads.

Get it right, and you'll create perfect matches between brands and content - See Mailchimp and "Serial" - that reflect the enjoyment and engagement of the listening experience onto the advertiser. Get it wrong, and the audience will feel you've invaded their space and pooed in their ears.

Working with the BBC, we've been doing this for years - building solus messages in a ultra-sensitive context where tonal fit is everything. It's about witty, intellegent writing, smart sound design, understanding the related content, and believing that your audience are listening intently rather than needing to be shouted at across the hairdresser's.

Now it's time to take that respect and love of audio into the digital space and make it work to the both the listener's and advertiser's advantage, with a new premium genre of commercial audio advertising.

Can you tell we're excited? Is it obvious?

Eastenders - Scary Radio

One of the joys of producing work for the BBC is that we get to work on really huge national campaigns that everyone hears about.

One of the other joys is that just occassionally you get the time and the freedom to really experiment.

It's rare that those things happen at the same time though, and so the Eastenders "Who Killed Lucy" campaign has been really wonderful to work on.

With the TV treatments in Easter 2014 and February 2015 being so completely visual, we had carte blanche to interpret the concepts in audio. For many people that's a nightmare, but when you think in sound all the time it's perfect.

Our tools were a great track (Don't Waste My Time - Krept & Konan), some instantly recognisable voices, and a list of creepy death and murder-related words. Plus we had airtime on the UK's biggest radio stations.

The three parts of the campaign are obviously sonically and conceptually related, but without being repetitive.

And we got to use Ian's caff as our office for the day. Bonus.

Eastenders Trails - April 2014 - BiancaIanDenise

Eastenders Trails - February 2015 - Version 1Version 2