Anyone who’s listened to The Beancast knows it’s one of the best marketing podcasts around. The topics are topical. The guests know their stuff. The conversation stays lively. But if you think that Joseph Jaffe, Len Kendall, C.C. Chapman, or Angela Natividad perform so well on the show simply because they’re smart, or well-read, think again. A big part of it has to do with host Bob Knorpp who works his tail off to research each week’s subjects, prepare his guests and map out the conversation.
I’ve now had the privilege of doing the show twice and am booked again for May 2. (I eagerly accept Bob’s invitations the moment he offers them.) Having admired Bob’swork ethic and commitment to the show, I thought it might be useful to hear his thoughts on producing a great podcast. Here they are.
C_U: You clearly don’t leave anything to chance with your podcast. Do you map out the conversation you want to happen in your mind?
Bob: Although my topic outlines are very planned out, I’m less concerned about having a road map than having a safety net. Early on I realized that not every panel is equal in its ability to take a conversation and run with it. Some people need to be led to the subject. So I outline a potential conversation thread that gets things started.
Another thing I’ve realized from the show is that it’s always good to have the first question on a subject directed to a particular individual, and to have that person prepared to receive the question. Doing the show via Skype removes people from all visual cues. So time and again I would throw a question out and have dead silence as everyone waited for the next person to speak. That’s why my notes now include a specifically directed question at the start of every topic.
Now having said all of this, I still prefer the conversation to get to places I never intended. So while each topic is scripted with a potential scenario, as host I always listen and try to remain ready to jump off script and follow a new thread. After all, this show is about illuminating the thinking of the thought-leaders who participate, not just illuminating my own opinions.
C_U: How much time does it take you to prepare: identify subjects, gather content and links, and brief participants?
Bob: I usually spend about four to five hours pulling together the notes for each episode and getting my guests up to speed. To some that might seem like a lot, but it doesn’t seem all that long to me (considering the volume of stories I have to plow through) and it’s probably as much fun as doing the show. I’ve always been a person who loves puzzles; so reviewing the week’s stories to look for patterns and over-arching subjects is a lot like a game for me. I love to identify the twist that no one has talked about yet and then run it by the panel.
Over all, I probably spend about 10-12 hours on the show each week, not counting the promoting I do all week long. It’s a bit more than what’s done for the average podcast — from what I hear — which is probably why so many folks single me out for staying on topic and having a quality program. But the time is necessary to pull off the particular format I’ve chosen. I’m basically running the second-half of Meet the Press for the ad world. (You know, the part where all the pundits come on and knock the newsmakers from the first part of the show.) That requires me to be prepared.
C_U: The amount of information you consume in a week just to stay topical and be prepared is remarkable. Any secrets? Do you have an easy system? RSS reader, specific pubs?
Bob: My number-one, go-to resource for news is the Direct Marketing Association’s 3-D email blast. It’s the best aggregator of all things advertising and marketing that I’ve come across. I just love how many news sources it plows through and the diversity of its articles. It’s free to DMA members, but also can be bought as a paid subscription.
After that I rely on my daily news blasts from Ad Age (I’ve tried numerous times to subscribe to the AdWeek blasts, but they’ve never worked for me) and I use the Mac News Reader “Times” to aggregate a selection of journal and blogging resources via RSS. I find the composite look I get from these sources to be enough to feed me the perspective I need for the show. They also reveal how narrow and non-illuminating any single-source of news has become these days.
As for just a few of my specific go-to blogs, I love AdPulp (we share cross-sponsorship right now, but I’d say it anyway), Thought Gadgets (Ben is brilliant), Make the Logo Bigger (Bill covers ad culture as much as the ads themselves), Adscam (George is foul-mouthed, but on-target) and the3six5 (Len’s project of having a different blogger every day for a year is amazing).
C_U: What makes for a great participant on the podcast?
Bob: My best guests are the ones who come on with lots of opinions and are looking to enjoy themselves. There’s something about a person who loves to debate without an axe to grind that I find completely refreshing.
The blogging and journalism worlds are rife with exactly this kind of person, so it’s no surprise that I’ve turned mainly to those who are expressing themselves regularly via a blog, column, podcast or online video program. I also look for people doing a good job of expressing themselves via the social spaces. Social media postings give me a good idea of how a person interacts with others and how they express themselves on issues in a debate. I particularly like evaluating people through Twitter, because if a person can regularly express themselves well in 140 characters I know they’ll probably have the ability to be succinct and clever on the show as well.
And, of course, it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge that I also look for people with a following of their own. I’m constantly looking for ways to build audience for the show, and one of the surest ways to do this is to have a new guest promote an appearance to his own audience. But I try not to make this last point a rule. I think the show is at it’s freshest when opinions come from a wide perspective. That’s why Al Gadbut from AcquireWeb, who has no blog and is not on Twitter, is just as important to my show as say Bill Green or Joe Jaffe who are everywhere online.
C_U: How important is the mix of people?
Bob: Chemistry is hugely important and probably my hardest tasks to manage. I’ve had shows where everyone is a favorite guest of mine, and still the show feels flat because the chemistry wasn’t right among the participants.
This is one of the reasons why I’ve settled on some recurring regulars whom I try to weave into most of the shows. I know I could put Bill Green or Angela Natividad on any show and I’m assured of success. They bring the chemistry with them and they are good at inspiring conversation. The same is true with guests like George Parker, Joe Jaffe or Peter Shankman who are all forces of nature and can really stir things up when they come on the show.
My goal is to make every guest who appears on The BeanCast look good. Some people have complained I don’t mix up the show roster enough and the same voices come on again and again. But it’s clear to me that finding a good guest mix is essential, and the only way to give a new guest a good chance of success is to pair them with a known quantity.
C_U: What could other podcasters learn from you? Any secrets as to how one can assure the content is good?
Bob: I’d love to say that preparation and hard work are the keys to success in podcasting, but that’s simply not true. Not all formats are created equal. For instance, I sit in as a guest host on the Video Game Outsiders podcast once in a while and that’s largely 2 hours of rambling discussion. And still their audience numbers dwarf mine by a factor of 10.
So I’d say a good podcast comes down to love, consistency and sound quality. Love what you’re talking about and people will be attracted to it over time. Do it regularly, because people won’t commit to you if you don’t commit to them. And make it sound good, because no one will suffer bad audio. And that last point goes for video shows as well, by the way. People will suffer through the worst home video on YouTube as long as the audio is good, but the converse is not true. It’s totally worth springing for a condenser mic and maybe a sound board.
C_U: We’ll cover the basics last. How long have you been doing this? How many episodes so far? What do you feel that you really get out of it for your own growth and development.
Bob: I’ve been doing the show for almost two years and will have logged 89 episodes after this evening’s episode. I also have a best-of program called Fast Takes, for those who don’t feel they have time for the hour-long regular program. Fast Takes offers short clips from previous BeanCast episodes. It’s been going on for about a year and I’ve logged 36 of those.
I get far too much from the program to let it go now. I speak, teach and consult on the power of content engagement strategies in social media. I believe in it. And now I’m living proof of it. Building an audience and earning their trust can take a lot of time and effort, but the result is I learn and grow from the content I’m producing, I gain unprecedented respect and connections within my industry (I most likely would have never had a chance to meet and hang out with someone like Edward Boches without the show), and I’m proving to my current and potential clients the power of my thinking through my actions rather than just trotting out stale case studies of what I did 10 years ago for someone else.
The show and my blog have become my stamp of credibility. That’s branding in its truest form.
Photo by: Duchamp