Producer Download: Sam Cocker

S:E Creative Studio’s client and talent director on creating a smash-hit branded podcast

Branded podcasts can sometimes be hit or miss, but with the right format, hosts, ideas, and producer, they can be a runaway success. Waitrose’s Dish podcast is an example of the latter, with its format of bringing hilarious weekly dinner parties to an audio world, hosted by broadcaster Nick Grimshaw and Michelin star chef and restaurateur Angela Hartnett. The podcast has featured big names as guests, including Chris Evans, Nish Kumar, Alison Hammond, and many more. 

Sam Cocker, S:E Creative Studio client and talent director, has been involved in this project from the very beginning, working closely with clients and talents to deliver campaigns on time and on budget, and she loves a challenging production. We asked Cocker about her behind-the-scenes insights on producing podcasts at this scale, the key to creating a successful podcast, and what aspiring podcast hosts should know. 

How many podcasts do you work on?

Currently just the one - Dish for Waitrose - but it’s a beast, involving cameras, kitchens, clients and so much more. 

How many podcasts do you listen to per week?

I listen to a few - but not loads. I still enjoy Parenting Hell because it’s so relatable - I have four-year-old twins, so I definitely feel Rob and Josh’s pain! I also love My Therapist Ghosted Me, because Vogue and Joanne’s relationship is so strong (and funny). 

The News Agents is obligatory listening too - I’d love them to come on Dish soon! I would love to say something different to everyone else - but there’s a reason these are some of the most popular podcasts around.

What's your podcast app of choice?

I prefer to use Spotify, primarily because I find the interface more user-friendly than Apple Podcasts.

What are your three items of essential podcast equipment?

You need to have great talent , combined with a great producer. They’re like two conductors working together to draw the best out of guests or interviewees. Both must work together on the research, the questions and the story arc to ensure the producer has plenty of meat on the bones, and the luxury of having the best bits to make the cut. I appreciate that podcasting is accessible to all, but it is an absolute prerequisite that the output and content is strong. That is aided by broadcast talent understanding how to speak to the audience, with a discerning producer managing a tight edit of quality audio. 

My third essential item is a sound recordist. I appreciate we’re in a really fortunate position to be able to afford this luxury, but for me it is key to being able to hold a listener’s attention. Ultimately, badly recorded audio is distracting no matter how engaging the content or conversation is. For me, high-quality audio output is crucial. 

How long does the average podcast take to turn around?

Dish takes a while. S:E Creative Studio records five episodes over two days, and then the editor has a couple of days before sending over a first draft for producer feedback. Once it’s refined, the wider team listens, and then the Waitrose team. Then it gets mixed - so from record to final ep we can manage in a week. 

But that doesn’t take into account the guest booking, research and recipe selection process - which is dependent on feedback from the guest, Angela and Waitrose - or the production of the social clips that we produce alongside each episode.

What does your role involve on a day-to-day basis?

My role is varied depending on the project I’m working on. For Dish specifically, I manage client comms as well as all the talent conversations. I liaise with our guest bookers daily about potential guests. I work closely with the producers to identify suitable recipes from Waitrose for all of our guests. I listen to the first or second round edit of the podcast before it goes to Waitrose. I feed back on the social video assets, liaise with the studio about our bookings, oversee the shopping of all the produce and goody bag gifts for each record day.

What's one thing that you wish every podcast host knew?

That it’s a myth that podcasting is a low quality medium compared to radio. While I want it to be accessible for homegrown, independent talent, there is no longer any excuse for poor quality audio records or badly edited content that isn’t produced and refined to broadcast levels.

The competition is fierce, so you can’t afford to put out anything less than the best you can. If something doesn’t sound good enough, hold it back and hone your skills before you release. The test and learn process is important, but the process evolves and you need to make good, better.

What makes a good episode?

A great episode of Dish has funnies, food and great vibes. When Angela cooks a pasta dish from scratch we know we’re onto a winner. Who could resist a Michelin star chef cooking their favourite meal for them? The appreciation for the mountains of food served by Angela speaks volumes. 

Nick is inherently really funny and very quick with gags, so we have a lot of laughs (as you would if you went to a friend’s house for dinner). So it’s a combination of elements that make the crew buzz, and we all feel the energy and response from our guests. It’s incredibly rewarding - and a bit emotional, because food can evoke strong feelings and reactions in our guests. 

How did you get into the podcast industry?

I did a media studies degree at university and started working in radio before podcasts existed. I worked with a range of brands who were excited by the opportunities podcasts afforded them beyond commercial radio, so I worked with brands like Audi, Motorola and Johnnie Walker to develop and produce podcasts before audiences understood what they were and before streaming platforms supported them - yes, I am that old!

More recently, S:E Creative Studio has produced podcasts for Penguin, NCS and now Waitrose, alongside the social content we create for the BRIT Awards, BBC Sounds and brands such as Swarovski, Extra, & Coca-Cola.

What's the last podcast you listened to?

Dish, of course! Even though I’m in the studio for the records, I really enjoy listening to the final edit and mix, because it is different to being in the studio during the recording.