Podcasting – Desktop Radio

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Remember when desktop publishing was the next big thing? (Of course not, you’d have to be my age and remember when certain rock formations were born.) But it was. And for ad guys like myself it was a time of promise and uncertainty. On the one hand, we had the opportunity to design and produce slick, print-ready layouts with copy and images in place. On the other hand, so did our clients. We faced the real possibly of seeing ad creative and collateral literature – one of the most profitable parts of the business – go in-house with our clients. Furthermore, our design production staff was becoming obsolete. We had people who created waxed-in keylines and hand-drawn illustrations; some had never taken a class in computer design, much less had a computer instead of a drawing board. We had to re-tool, recruit and re-train. This, while the local design college was asking us where they could find qualified computer design faculty. It was all that new.

These things have a way of shaking out. The first wave of clients who trained their clerical staff in desktop publishing was a disaster. Design is a talent more than a skill. Techies could move and shape images and words on a page, but it didn’t mean they could effectively communicate through a coherent design. They began damaging brands that took decades to create. Each new catalog, brochure and piece of stationery created a revised corporate image. Nothing was integrated… or very professional.

While early client desktop publishing floundered (although corporate bulletin boards started looking better), the ad industry’s talent pool was increasing. Schools started teaching computer design to real designers and agencies such as mine starting scooping up the graduates, while re-outfitting our graphic departments with networked Mac’s and the early Quark and Photoshop software.

Podcasting seems to be experiencing the same shake-out. The technology arrived with the digital revolution. Radio, video and sound production made the painful transformation from tape to digital output during the 1990’s. I recall producing a radio commercial in a sound studio one week and the engineer edited tape with a razorblade. I returned the following week and the same engineer was editing on a Mac.

Today, the exciting new media of podcasting has all those same desktop publishing elements and more. Like desktop publishing, affordable equipment and software has placed quality sound production within reach of anyone with $500 and a little time. The online medium and services such as i-Tunes made distribution nearly instantaneous. Personal and corporate websites warehouse and market the inventory. And thanks to the digital revolution, the learning curve was very, very short. “Oh yeah, we did that in high school.”

But some of the same early desktop publishing problems remain. Creating an entertaining, compelling and effective audio broadcast is a talent first, a skill second. And not everyone sees it as such. Just listen to what’s out there.

There are millions of recent high school grads who can use recording and editing equipment as easily as they program their iPod. Few can script and direct natural-sounding dialogue geared toward a preselected audience, then weave that message through thoughtful audio design with music and effects into a product that will attract listeners and create buzz favorable to its sponsor. Fewer still know how to maximize the impact of their work through solid online optimization and public relations support. And but a handful appear focused on promoting and protecting their established brand. Heck, where’s the fun in that?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s some good stuff out there – we’ll be looking at what goes into a good podcast in our June Online Marketing Brief – it’s what you have to wade through to get there that has me scratching.

Bottom line, keep your ears open. There’s a lot more that can be done with podcasting if you or your clients are willing to approach this as a professional. Podcasts should entertain, inform and promote. It’s not a “pick two” proposition. Or so this fossil thinks.

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