Puffin Books likes to consider itself a company that can meet its audience where they’re at. Over the pandemic, the children’s book publishing company noticed that its main competitors were mostly entertainment outlets, as opposed to fellow book publishers, and that more parents and families were listening to podcasts as a form of audio entertainment.
With that in mind, Puffin decided to launch its own branded podcast in 2021, titled Mission Imagination, which features actor and comedian Babatúndé Aléshé interviewing a number of admired children’s books authors, including Humza Arshad, author the Little Badman books, author of the Lottie Books series Katie Kirby, and many more.
Formulating a partnership
“One thing that I think really attracted us about the idea of doing something within the audio space was the fact that you can be extremely imaginative in that area and our brand line is ‘stories to spark your imagination’,” says Puffin brand marketing manager Sarah Maclean. “We have so many cool authors and books that are truly entertaining, and we just wanted to see whether we could bring this to life in an audio form that people can download, whether they're on holiday, at home playing, or doing household chores.”
Maclean told PodPod that the brand’s main goal and objective for the podcast was to increase its brand awareness, rather than necessarily aiming to get new customers. Although the company was able to track downloads as its main metric, it had to accept early on that it wasn’t able to assess how many of them converted to book buyers.
“We knew that lots of our audiences already do listen to podcasts so I think it was another way for them to connect with the brand,” says Maclean, “but also to open up the brand to new audiences, who may not usually pick up a physical book and read, to interact with us in that way.”
In June 2021, a month ahead of the first season’s launch, Puffin decided to partner with podcast production and promotion company Mags Creative on a marketing campaign to help increase awareness around the podcast. At that point, Mags Creative had already started to establish a footprint in the kids’ audio space, following the launch of its original series The Good Stuff with award-winning podcaster Deborah James and her two children Eloise and Hugo in April 2020.
“We felt that partnering with Puffin would just be a really huge opportunity for us to basically engage with young listeners at the earliest stage,” said Mags Creative head of marketing Alisha Dandridge. “Producing [The Good Stuff] supported our ambition to be in the kids and family podcast space.”
After the first season, the partnership was expanded to include production duties, with Mags Creative overseeing the creation of the second season. This, coupled with the company’s promotional strategy, resulted in an increase of 44% to downloads for season two, compared to season one.
Highlights and key takeaways
The promotional strategy was built on press coverage in outlets like The School Run and PodBible, guest hosting slots, cross promotion with shout-outs on podcasts with a large following, and wider extended partnerships with podcasts including trailer swaps and social promotion. The strategy also incorporated paid advertising to expedite the growth of the new series.
Highlights from the campaign over the past few years included a guest appearance from Aléshé on prime time UK TV show Sunday Brunch to promote season two of the podcast, and appearances on a number of chart-topping podcasts such as Parenting Hell with Rob Beckett and Josh Widdicombe, Dope Black Dads, Fun Kids’ Book Worms, and more.
“I think it's obviously a very beneficial form of promotion on both sides, and it's something that we've always been really keen to do…. If you're targeting the same audience as another podcast, why not help each other out?” says Maclean. “As long as your subject matter doesn't clash, your listeners are already there.”
Dandridge also notes that cross promotion is a great tactic for independent podcasters that are struggling to get their name out there and don’t necessarily have the budget or resources to pay for advertising.
“I think it's kind of easy reaching out to podcasts that have a similar audience to you and basically proposing a collaboration,” said Dandridge. “I think the way to do that is to pull together a really concise top line email which showcases the benefits of collaborating with your show and you could have a really similar audience or you might have had a really high profile guest on your show - make it as easy as possible for that other show to say yes.”
The importance of building a long-term relationship
According to Maclean, both companies understood early on where their separate skills lay, with Puffin handling the talent side, determining which authors would come onto the podcast and what books would resonate with the target audience, and Mags Creative taking the reins across production and promotion.
“I think one of the main benefits to this partnership is how equal it feels and how beneficial on both sides It feels,” Maclean says. “I think it felt really equal and it felt very like everyone is very respectful of the person's expertise, and we're always in constant contact throughout every development of the project.”
The project earned Mags Creative and Puffin a Gold award for Best Commercial Partnership at this year’s ARIAs and this success was the result of the long-term relationship that the two companies have maintained. This kind of creative collaboration is essential to Mags Creative’s overall strategy, with Puffin being one of its biggest clients alongside brands like Red Bull and Meta. Dandridge notes that fostering a long-term relationship with brands is key to a productive podcast promotional strategy, as you have time to build trust with the brand.
Although Puffin does not plan to work on any new podcasts any time soon, Maclean says it is going to continue its partnership with Mags Creative with future seasons of Mission Imagination. The next season is not yet in production but the company is currently looking at finding the types of authors it would like to feature in the podcast in future episodes.
“In a long-term partnership, you both have a mutual interest to ensure the podcast is successful so I think that's definitely beneficial, because you’re working towards the same objective and you want to create the most impactful and successful strategy and content around that,” says Dandridge.
“We have worked with Puffin for two years now and that includes both producing and promoting the podcast, including bonus episodes, so I think that within itself is just really telling that this is a really, really successful partnership, and we just want to continue to do more of that as the years go on.”