Developing a Premise for Your Internal Podcast with Marketing Showrunners’ Jay Acunzo
Lindsay Tjepkema: Many brands focus heavily on creating content for their audiences outside the business, their external audiences of buyers, customers, prospects, but what about your internal audience, your own team? Quite often, these audiences are looked at differently. We think about engaging and serving our external audiences with content that will entertain them and educate them, and then all too often, we settle for simply communicating at or circulating information with our internal audiences. Thankfully, there's a remedy, and it's called an internal podcast. I'm Lindsay Tjepkema, CEO and co- founder of Casted, the first and only marketing platform built around brand podcasts, and this is our podcast. Welcome to this three- part mini series here on the Casted podcast about a type of show that should definitely be on your radar if it's not already there: internal podcasts. I'm talking to a couple of people who I recently had the pleasure of joining in an article in Forbes about internal shows. We're digging deeper into this series into each of their perspectives and getting you more insights about what these shows are and why an internal podcast could be a great asset to your business. Today, I am talking with our friend Jay Acunzo. As I hope you already know, Jay is the expert in creating your audience's favorite show. He knows all about how to craft and deliver the episodes that they will love and engage with all the way to the end. In fact, he has a workshop on it, which you should check out if you haven't yet. The content that keeps them coming back is what Jay is a pro at, and he and I talk a lot about shows, typically the external variety, but with this series being all about internal podcasts, this is your opportunity to hear what Jay has to say about what, if anything, is different about creating a show for your internal audience.
Jay Acunzo: Hey. I'm Jay Acunzo. I'm the founder of Marketing Showrunners. We teach makers and marketers how to find and share their voice and make a difference through the shows they create.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Sounds great, and you're all about helping people create their audience's favorite show.
Jay Acunzo: Favorite show. That's our take is the most important goal you can have his favorite, which doesn't mean great. It means personal. My favorite basketball team is the New York Knicks. Oh, boy. They are also the worst team. No, really, think about that. The worst thing in the cohort is my favorite example, my favorite thing. Being favorite is about being personal. When you're personal, you're irreplaceable. That's the role we want to play with our audiences.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Love it. You and I talk a lot. We talk a lot in podcasts like this. We talk a lot kind of behind the scenes. We typically talk about podcasting. Surprise, surprise. But often, when we're talking, whether it's to each other or to others, often, it's about external podcasts, about public- facing podcast, about a brand podcast that they're putting on as part of their content strategy that they're using to appeal to and engage with their outside audiences. But today we are going to talk about internal podcasts. Let's talk about how that's different, how that's the same as an external podcast.
Jay Acunzo: When you invited me to come on the show and talk about this, I was really thinking about what is different, and I don't think there is anything that is different. I think if you approach it that way, you'll actually succeed at a higher rate. There's some implied things or assumptions that we're making, and we're like, " Those are the differences between an internal and external podcast." For example, some marketers think, " Well, when I'm an externally facing podcaster, I can build this thing for infinite growth to infinite people, but with a podcast internally, we only have however many employees, and that's it." Well, you should operate the same way externally and think about the smallest, most passionate group of true believers who can become super fans for your brand, and then evangelize the show to grow through word of mouth. It's the same principle. We make another assumption, which is that because they work for us, they will automatically listen. I think maybe in some cases, that's actually working against you. It's like a parent trying to tell you to do something. You have to create this show like any other show. You have to develop the premise, develop the format, and have great talent. That's all a show is: premise plus format plus talent, the reason people listen, the wrap around the show, the thing you're trying to explore and how you explore it, that's the premise. You have to say something that matters. Then you go inside the content. Can you get people to the end of the episode? Do they actually want to invest time with you? That's where the format has to be developed. Then the person who's embodying all that, the person who's delivering it, the place, the trust that's flowing is the host, the talent, or maybe the producer editing it if you don't have a host, if it's just sound bites from around your company, for example. If you focus on those three things, I don't care if you're building an external show or an internal show, you can make a good show. Principles are the same.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah. Absolutely. When you think about an internal show, quite often, sometimes it's the same team, sometimes it's the same people that run the external shows, but sometimes it's a completely different department. Sometimes, HR owns it or product owns it or the executive, the CEO owns it or hosts it. In what ways should someone be coming at it who maybe this isn't their jam, this isn't something that they're doing all day every day? How is it different in that way?
Jay Acunzo: Well, I think that a lot of marketers struggle with this too. I would say if you are listening or you are making an internal podcast and you're not a marketer, take solace the fact that a lot of us are still figuring this out. That's why Marketing Showrunners exists. If everybody knew how to do this brilliantly and everybody connected around it already, we wouldn't exist. I think the most important place to start is your premise out of those three things I mentioned before, and the premise is effectively a way for you to build a show beyond just FYIs, beyond just we're talking to Lindsay because Lindsay works in this department, and wouldn't it be great, oh, shucks, if we heard from everybody around our company and now we're a team? That's a nice idea, but it's just not how people work. They need a reason to listen. What's in it for me? When we develop a show in our workshops with all these marketers who are trying to build shows externally for their brands, we start with the premise, and we ask a simple question, which is what are you frustrated by, what do you want to fix, what do you want to make better in the world, in your industry, or in this case, in your company, or maybe it's the different ways people inside your company are living up to the external mission. But there's something about this premise development that alludes a lot of people because what they do is they start with simply what topics or what guests. That's so far from a real premise that causes people to subscribe. You're not giving people real motivation to do so. When I say motivation to subscribe, by the way, I don't mean motivation to click a button and add a podcast to your feed.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Smash that like button.
Jay Acunzo: No. That's a byproduct. The people hit the button when they subscribe in the traditional meaning of the word, they subscribe to your ideas, they subscribe to this journey you're on to explore something more deeply. They subscribe to why you're doing what you're doing. This is all marketing 101, branding 101. Even marketers get this wrong internally. It becomes even more important because we're more at risk of a lazy premise, which is just talking to lots of people around our company. Woo- hoo. Nobody cares. Sorry. Nice idea.
Lindsay Tjepkema: It's true.
Jay Acunzo: You need more rigor around that premise.
Lindsay Tjepkema: It's true. Quite often, podcasts in general, content in general gets created from that standpoint like you just said around here's a topic, here's an opportunity to produce content, here's something to talk about, here's someone willing to talk, here's someone whose voice, for whatever reason, we feel like we need to amplify, not because our audience is, one, clear at all, or two, wants to hear it. I think that podcasts in particular are... There's a danger in creating a podcast to serve everyone. There's not enough identification of who it's for or why you're doing it. To your point, internal podcasts, there's this risk of it let's have it be about product updates and also company news and also company culture and also to introduce new starters and also to talk about upcoming holidays. To do all the things for all the people, and then if it's for everyone, it's for no one. That way, it's very much like an external podcast and even more important that you identify that very, very defined audience of who it's for and why you're doing it.
Jay Acunzo: Right. Now, I think about external shows. We can start there as good examples. Let's just talk about a very new show. Actually, a company right in your backyard, Lindsay, is Lessonly. Software company. They sell learning and development tools. They help teams like sales and support learn how to do their jobs and get better at their jobs. They're all about doing better work. They've written a book. Their CEO Max Yoder's written a book about doing better work called Do Better Work. They have a platform. They have a set of values that support this one pithy idea of doing better work. Those values are what they use to market the company externally and try to find people that are value- aligned with them, that the brand story resonates with them because that's great marketing and great sales. Those values also influence how they work internally. You shouldn't have a bunch of values that sound nice and you're supposed to use them to promote the brand externally and then a different set that you write on a wall somewhere or you preach or you put on a slide somewhere but it doesn't affect your internal operations. Your company values should affect everything you do internally and externally. Lessonly decides to launch a show externally about the value of practice. They're talking to world- class not success stories, world- class practicers, like an Olympic athlete. Yeah, I'm sure they'll touch on her track career and going to the Olympics, but they're going to spend way more time on the practice of it all because one of their values is about doing good practice or the value of practice to do good work. Their product, oh, by the way, is a place where people practice to do their jobs. Now, they could flip that internally. They could say, " We all want to be better at our jobs here at Lessonly as a team, so we're launching a show. It's going to be about the value of practice and how people have great practice habits." It works both ways. I think the only real difference for this example is internally Lessonly can build community using different things than externally because internally people listening are in on the joke. They know certain characters because they know the CEO, maybe the executives, et cetera. They have certain languages they use. They have certain conference rooms they can refer to. The runners, the jokes, the insider feel runs deeper when it's your team than when it's external because then you're going to broader themes like your industry niche, for example. It's the same show. It's just that you have sneaky advantages to build community around that show internally, and you still need to do that.
Lindsay Tjepkema: How do you suggest toeing that line between assuming that everyone's in on the joke and maybe it's too much of a niche, too much of an inside joke, and especially if you have multiple offices, for example. How do you toe the line between making everybody feel in on things and sharing those common threads that you have because you're all in on the joke versus going too far? How do you gauge that and ensure that you're not too far one way or the other?
Jay Acunzo: Yeah, I mean, that's on the host. That's on the talent or the producer, again, if there is no host. They have to be a ravenous devourer of all these things. Externally, it's industry content and community events and meetups. They have to participate. Internally, same deal. They have to be one of those folks that where we all back in the office post- pandemic they'd be waltzing around like the mayor of the place. They just know everybody, know everything. They're in on the joke. Look, you're doing a lot of little things inside of a big project like a show where once in a while you might have a joke or two that doesn't land or an inside idea that people don't understand, but the ones that do hit, you'll get regurgitated back to you. Those go on the T- shirt, those go into the company slides internally if we're talking internal pods only. I think at the end of the day, it comes back to taste and awareness, and the way you get those things, especially when you're talking about brand- driven values or brand- driven show internally or externally, again, same deal, this is about participation, not promotion. If the internal corporate communications team doesn't feel like they're part of the community internally, if they're lobbying out the show from on high, from mothership corporate, and they're not actually part of the ground floor, they're not actually part of the team that, " Who are these people? I don't know. They're in that office somewhere," if this is from some brand internally like an internal agency with a name on it, it's not going to work. It's same deal externally too. Marketing is about participation, not promotion because, otherwise, if you're not participating in that community, how do you expect to serve them? I keep saying community, but I want people listening if they're thinking about their own company to use the same ideals of community development. It's just your employees or your teammates instead of prospects and customers.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Yeah, because, absolutely, just because someone works there doesn't mean that they feel like they're part of that community and doesn't mean-
Jay Acunzo: Right. The most-
Lindsay Tjepkema: ...that they're going to listen in.
Jay Acunzo: ... dangerous assumption is that.You nailed it.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Just like we talk a lot about choosing a host in external podcasts, same thing goes for internal podcasts. It's not necessarily the CEO or the CMO or the head of product or what advice do you have for choosing a host when it comes to an internal podcast.
Jay Acunzo: I think you kind of... In any creative project, I feel like there are certain things that immediately are clear to you, and you use those as these anchors in your process to build around. An example from like my world doing narrative- style documentary style episodes in the past, those are messy things to make, and sometimes, the intro would be super clear. It's like I have a clever story or analogy, or I would see someone else's show, my storytelling hero, Anthony Bourdain. I can think of this one episode of my podcast where I watched him go somewhere in the Western United States with Southwest, and his voice took a back seat to the music. It was very evocative of this broad landscape. I was like, " I kind of want to do that in my next episode. I'll take a backseat as the narrator and use more music." It's like something as small as that or as big as we know who the host is or what premise is, some things starts to provide clarity, and then you make other decisions based on what's clear. In the case of an internal show, you might think, " We're going to have an executive host it. That's already known for any reason." I hope it's not because it's the executive's idea and they won't take no for an answer because they're going to be probably a little bit more difficult to work with, but let's say you know who the host is. Now, what you're doing is you're inaudible creating a show that operates like Iron Man's suit around Tony Stark. Tony Stark is not actually Iron Man until he steps into the suit. He's not worthy of going off into the world and doing much good and helping people until he has an apparatus built specifically to bring out the best in him and give him new skills. That's what show development should do. You're developing a premise and a style and a format to your show that your host can step into and be better. I don't think there's any gospel. Pick a premise first. Then find the host because sometimes that's not reality. Sometimes the host leads.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Makes sense. What do you feel like a team needs to know? This might even be the same exact advice that you would give for an external podcast, but if anything's different, what do you think a team needs to know and to think about as they approach getting started with an internal show?
Jay Acunzo: What's the point of a show? It's to develop trust and love. You're going deeper in a world trending more shallow. It's this trust accelerant you're throwing into other activities that you do. In marketing parlance, you straighten the funnel because people really trust you. It's like you're trying to talk about your brand, but nobody cares about your brand, but your friends don't need an A/ B tested email. They'll just open your email because it's from you. That's how we're making the relationship feel when we launch a show. Lindsay, you're brilliant at always saying, " Seek first to connect, not convert." I totally agree with that stance. It's the same internally. It's a vehicle for trust and love. There's four main challenges to doing that, and you have to think through all four. They don't sound like what microphone or distribution channel. These challenges you'll meet if you're brand new to show running happen in order as well. The first is say something that matters. Spoiler alert: As we've talked about, it's not going to be FYIs from around the business. It's not going to be just updates. Put it in a newsletter. Why would I listen to 45 minutes with no scanning capability to updates about the company? Put that in an email or an internal wiki. What does the show good for? It's this relationship developer. First, say something that matters, the premise development. Then get people to the end. As a showrunner, you should be paranoid people will bail at all times. It's a linear experience. Once they hit play, make sure they don't hit stop. The golden rule of audio, get them to the end. Construct an experience that they're immersed in, not just meandering talking. You have say something that matters. Get them to the end. The third thing: Deepen the audience relationship. You should be doing audience development, talking to people who listen. Why are you listening? Why aren't you listening? What are you struggling with? What are you curious about? What are you already doing to satiate those concerns? You should be acting like a product manager, quite frankly, who knows the audience you're trying to build for intimately, then comes back to the team doing the building and is like, " Guys, I know exactly what we have to do now," because we have the vision for what we can make, the audience we're trying to serve, in this case, employees, know what's plaguing them. They don't know what's possible. We're not going to listen to their proposals for our show because they're not the talent, but we are going to listen to their pain, to their problems, to their questions, and we'll solve it in a way we uniquely know how to do so. That's the third challenge, deepen the audience relationship. Then fourth and final is avoid stagnation. Even the most successful show, two, three, four, five times of the listener tuning in, if it's the same exact idea, same exact format, same exact thing every time, it eventually grows stale. You need to reinvent the show, which then lets you keep saying something that matters. You have this virtuous cycle of say something that matters, get them to the end, deepen the relationship, and avoid stagnation.
Lindsay Tjepkema: What, if anything... and we started out by saying maybe there's nothing that's different about an internal show, an external show. Can you think of anything that is different? Anything at all?
Jay Acunzo: I think people around you will be harder to deal with than an external show because they are the audience and they're creating for the audience. I think if you're making an external show, you're able to say, " Look, I'm a content creator. I've been blogging a while. Now we're making a show, so I have this access to the audience that maybe people around me with opinions don't." Internally, everybody has opinions for what the show should be. It's an exciting project. It's got a lot of surface area. In some corporate cultures, that's just the way people operate, too many cooks in the kitchen. You have that element where everyone's got opinions, and also, they think it's for them because they're like, " I work for this company. This is what I'd want to see." But here's the difference. The them you're talking to is everybody who's not actually making the show. As soon as you make something, it's like putting it on the counter when you're shipping a dish from the back of the restaurant to the front. As soon as you put it up there, it goes through this transformation where it's no longer for you. It's for them. You're trying to find the Venn diagram overlap, but it's really difficult to let your ego make those decisions. You have to eat some humble pie and say, " Actually, I don't know what's best for the team even though I work here, even though maybe I'm on the team or a part of this department." I think that's the big difference is you don't have that protective ability to say, " I did a lot of audience research externally for years and years doing this job, and now, I'm going to translate that for this new project," and people go, " Yeah, you're right, because it's going out of our company. We want you the marketer to represent the business while externally. That's why you're here." Everybody talks to employees, everybody talks to each other, so you're going to have more opinions, I think, in some places. I think the same principles apply to overcome that challenge. Go do actual audience development, go talk to people, have coffee meetings, informal chats. Don't talk about ideas for your show. Talk about what's going on in their work, what they're frustrated by at the business, what they're curious about, how are they living out the values that the brand has or aren't they. Maybe they have no idea what it means to practice their work a la Lessonly. Well, okay, if you were going to write the bestselling book on practice inside of an organization, go develop your show as if it's the vehicle for doing that research. This happens to be for your employees instead of externally, but great, you could possibly flip this externally someday. That's my take. There's really no difference. Treat it like an external show. Just be aware you have to do rigorous audience research of your own team to protect you against the fact that lots of people will have lots of ideas because they think it's for them in a way that they wouldn't if you're a content creator for your external audience.
Lindsay Tjepkema: For you, are there any scenarios where you think a company is best suited for an internal podcast or should not do an internal podcast, and how would you approach someone that says, " Should I do one?" What do you think?
Jay Acunzo: Yeah. It's funny because I run an organization teaching people to make shows, not single episodes, but I think the answer here is to make a single episode, to bring a show to pilot. If you have this conviction, and I think it should be based on conviction, not consensus, that your internal team, your internal communication does need a show or in the case of Casted and other organizations, some partner, in your case, your investors, they need a show, create one episode. Don't say, " We're going to do 10. We're going to do infinite." Just create a pilot because you're going to learn a lot about what it takes to make something great, and you can make a better, more informed decision based on your specific situation, not my generalities on this stereo microphone. Then secondly, you'll also have feedback from your audience. You'll also actually be able to pressure test these things and aerate your ideas and your project publicly, or in this case, the public is outside of your own team but still inside your org. There is no absolute answer. There's nothing you're exactly looking for upfront to qualify you to make an internal podcast. Create a pilot, and then proceed if you still have conviction. I think this is what we need to get away from, period, externally or internally, is this attempt to industrialize creativity. We're not going to print the same thing over and over with predictability. We don't have everything we need to justify acting. We have to act to figure it out what we need, to act to find our answers. That's what creativity is. It's just repetition and reinvention and the dichotomy or the interplay, rather, between those two things. Put in a rep. If you think you should keep going, reinvent it, put it in another rep, reinvent it over and over again, or put it in a rep and then kill it. Those are your options.
Lindsay Tjepkema: And ask your audience. I mean, it's been a constant that you said throughout this conversation, and you've talked about it lots before, which is stay close to your audience and ask about it.
Jay Acunzo: Our work as creators of anything should be more like a gift than a promotion. We should say, " Hey, we know this about or you've told us this. Remember when... " If this is for your partner, you're like, " Hey, remember we went on that trip and we saw that thing and we have this inside joke," or, " You keep telling me you're really frustrated by this thing in our house? Here's this gift that shows I'm listening." That's what the show should be. It's like, " We understand you deeply and what you're going through, and here's this gift to make something better to address that concern or problem." It's not 20 different gifts for the 2020 holiday season for dads. That's an impersonal, generalized approach to gift giving. Same deal here. There's not going to be some panacea silver bullet general answer to save all. There's only specifics, and so you only can decide, " Are we going to put in a rep, and reevaluate or is just taking one step even too much for us?" If it is, no problem. Just don't do it.
Lindsay Tjepkema: It's taking one step if one step feels like too much.
Jay Acunzo: Imagine what it'll take to do a show.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Exactly.
Jay Acunzo: That's the thing. The point of a show isn't launching a show. It's sustaining it. If you can't even launch it, you can't even get to pilot... which, by the way, doesn't need to come with fanfare. It can be private and quiet to a few. If you can't even do that, imagine what's going to happen when you actually do the real work, the real task, which is sustaining the show for the long haul.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Because it's not about who comes. It's about who stays.
Jay Acunzo: That's right. I love saying that.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Well, awesome. Any parting words for anyone who you think might be considering an internal podcast or even possibly who already has one and is thinking about how to make it better?
Jay Acunzo: Almost to an individual brand, I don't know enough to single out the individuals behind the show, nor would I if I knew their names, but almost an individual brand when I find that someone is doing an internal podcast, they do miss the premise. They're not really saying anything that matters deeply. They assume they are, but they're not. There's nothing that really holds the show together. It's the internal podcast. That's the name of it. Really, really spend time on developing a premise that people would care to explore over time because it does wonders for your show. It helps people self- select. They're like, " Oh, my gosh. Yes. This is totally for me," but it also helps them anticipate what's to come so it keeps them around. They join and stay, which is a magical combination when you do a serialized project and want to earn trust and love and disseminate information and build a community. They self- select into it and stick around. That's going to happen if you spend actual time on your premise. There's a probably more like an essay than a guide that we created called an End- to- End Premise Development Guide, something like that.
Lindsay Tjepkema: So good.
Jay Acunzo: But that to me is the easiest way to do that. It's just four different little heuristics you can try in a row to get to a premise. Go to marketingshowrunners. com, search for" premise guide," and it's free, no form fill. It's just an article. You can walk through that if you need a little bit more of a clear direction to do this, but I would say that's the message, develop your premise.
Lindsay Tjepkema: That is such a good guide. We'll make sure that it's linked to in the show notes because it is so helpful because it's very in depth as far as what to do. It walks you through every step. Absolutely applies to internal podcasts as much as it does to external.
Jay Acunzo: Look, I want to end by saying there's a think- for- yourself clause on all of this. I am so close to all this. I make things maybe sound a little bit better than most I hope because I'm supposed to teach this for a living, but if you just have conviction and you don't want to go through this process, just try stuff. Honestly, that to me is the real message. We're agonizing over making all these choices, and it's like building up and building up, the stakes get higher, and the stakes get... Calm down. Take a breath. Do you want to do an internal podcast? Yes. Do you think people want it? Yes. Okay. Just try stuff. If it doesn't work, no problem. You learn, and you get new skills. Try stuff. That's the punchline.
Lindsay Tjepkema: Absolutely. I love it. Go try stuff. When you keep in mind who it's for and just why you're doing it, as you're trying stuff, it's going to be that much more effective. It just will be. Well, thank you, Jay. I appreciate you being here as always, and again, check out the show notes for more resources for how to execute a lot of what Jay just talked about. Thank you for being here.
Jay Acunzo: Thanks, Lindsay.
Lindsay Tjepkema: That's our show. Thanks for listening. For more from today's guest, visit casted. us to subscribe and to receive our show as it's published along with other exclusive content each and every week.
Today’s conversation is with Jay Acunzo, Founder of Marketing Showrunners. Jay Acunzo helps companies produce their own shows, and is the final episode of our three-part miniseries about internal podcasting. Throughout his career, Jay has believed in creating content that keeps listeners coming back whether it be an internal or external podcast. For Jay, the most important aspect of creating a show is developing the premise. He thinks the biggest challenge of creating an internal podcast is producing for an audience when you are the audience. Jay believes internal podcasts can develop trust and build community within a company if the show is focused on participation, not promotion. Hear about how to develop the premise of your internal podcast and create a show that will keep listeners coming back each week in today's conversation.