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Interview: Anya Grundmann at Podcast Movement

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anya_no_bars_vignette_lowAnya Grundmann is the Vice President of Programming and Audience Development at NPR, leading the network’s programming center in creating and acquiring high quality content, as well as engaging and growing both its public and digital radios’ audiences.

In addition to program acquisition, evaluation, and developments, she also oversees NPR’s weekly quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me“, and manages NPR’s Worldwide Service and the network’s channel on Sirius XM Satellite Radio.

We decided to interview Anya to get an inside look at her work at the programming center, hoping to learn how to create high-quality and successful audio from the very best. Moreover, we’re sure that her vast knowledge of the podcasting field will be useful to whoever is reading this interview.

In this past year, podcasting has been experiencing a new era of hype and popularity. The average age of listeners has decreased, and tons of new independent podcasts were launched. How do you work in order to reach new, young, and digital audiences?

First, a lot of our shows are really popular with people across platforms and age groups — there are as many people under 34 engaging with public media as over 55 — so we work hard to make sure great public radio content is available everywhere people are listening: radio, car dashboards, audio aggregators, wearables, mobile apps, Facebook, Snapchat, you name it.

We are also, of course, developing new programming that unleashes our journalism, storytelling and talent in fresh new ways, from the deep dive, take-you-there Embedded podcast hosted by Kelly McEvers, to the conversational round tables like NPR Politics and Code Switch, to the finely wrought original storytelling of Invisibilia. Next year we’ll be developing a whole new set of shows that take us to new places.

Thirdly, we are creating deeper experiences around storytelling and journalism, starting with NPR One. The app gives us access to a new audience, who might not be traditional radio listeners. We have incorporated podcasts into the story flow and people can subscribe to their favorites from NPR, member stations and independent publishers. It’s a tremendously popular feature: Fifty percent of listening in NPR One is now devoted to podcasts and we’re learning a lot from that about how people engage and what they like, information we’ll be able to share with producers.

We’ve also been scaling up events around our podcasts, and building opportunities for podcast and audio fans to share their passion for the stories and shows with each other. I can’t wait to participate in our first-ever national listening party. It’ll be around the launch of Invisibilia, season 2 — with at least a hundred simultaneous parties taking place at public radio stations and in peoples’ living rooms. Another example of the potential of this kind of audience engagement is the Tiny Desk Contest, with more than 40,000 people participating from all fifty states. We want to connect people to each other, and to the shows and public radio stations that are driving the incredible popularity of this golden age of audio.

Speaking of audience engagement and development, what’s your advice for the professional podcaster who will be at the Podcast Movement? What could they do in order to grow their audience?

Think about the audience first. Every successful podcast is built on someone’s distinctive vision, and the understanding that the audience expects what you’re doing to be worth their time. If someone is going to spend time with you, what’s in it for them? In any podcast category, there are the standouts that are funnier, go deeper, offer better information, or simply connect better. Also, I’d advise that they take time to learn their craft and talk to as many people as possible, be curious and passionate about finding the stories that haven’t been told and telling them in a new way.

How has sponsorships from companies like Mailchimp and Squarespace affected podcasting? What kind of long-term effects do you see these kinds of collaborations having? 

Direct-response companies like Mailchimp and Squarespace were the pioneers in testing out podcast sponsorship. They’ve done a fantastic job supporting the growth of this medium and proven the powerful impact podcast sponsorship can have on brand awareness and visibility. It’s a more flexible platform for sponsorship and allows a different type of play between a podcast, a brand and listeners. Our How to Do Everything hosts do a great job with this – developing fun spots with their sponsors and their audience in mind.

As the podcasting industry has grown and podcast listening has become more mainstream, larger companies have taken an interest in the medium as well. We’ve seen this increased interest first-hand at NPR. Sponsors who have been with us in the broadcast space are starting to experiment with podcasts as well, and vice versa. This investment will likely continue fueling more shows and more listeners, which is exciting for makers in every genre.

Since 2013, NPR has increased its podcast sponsorship revenue tenfold and has attracted Fortune 100 companies to podcasting like General Motors, AT&T, Wells  Fargo and Target.

How are public radio podcasts different from independent podcasts? What are the strengths of each?

When someone chooses to watch something on Netflix, they’re likely not aware of who helped or how it was produced. They’ve heard it was good, and want to check it out. The same is true for podcasts. They’re either compelling or they aren’t. That said, every producer brings their brand and expertise to the work. One of NPR’s big strengths is that we have the largest, most powerful audio journalism operation in America. Many of our podcasts will be rooted in journalistic enterprise — some of our work will be raw and deep and difficult, some of it will hopefully inspire you to look at the world in new ways, and some of it will be just plain fun. Stay tuned!

Well, thank you, Anya, for sharing your invaluable point of view about podcasting, storytelling, and audience engagement with us. We believe you’ve given our readers enough inspiration to get started on a certainly soon-to-be successful podcast.

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If you want to learn more about podcasting, come to the Podcast Movement and check out Anya’s session. You can also come and meet us at our booth in the Exhibition Hall. Until then, if you have thoughts or feedback about this post, please let us know through the comment section below.

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