Four key takeaways from the Podcast Growth Summit

The top insights from PodPod’s annual conference

Podcast listening in the UK is steadily increasing year on year, with data from Edison Podcast Metrics UK showing that 28% of the population listens to podcasts weekly. It’s a medium that’s unlike any other, with unmatched engagement and fantastic creative potential, with a huge amount of room to grow. 

The podcast advertising sector is the fastest-growing area in digital advertising too, according to the IAB UK, and more and more brands are exploring the medium to help reach their desired audiences, and they’re looking to podcasters to help them do it. 

However, Launching a new podcast is just the first step, and growth in podcasting can be challenging. Whether you’re looking to attract more listeners, bring in more advertising or level up your own creative skills, working out the strategy that’s going to be right for you isn’t always straightforward. 

That’s why we brought together some of the brightest minds in podcasting to share their insights into how to address these challenges for the Podcast Growth Summit 2023. Held last week at the Barbican Centre in London, the one-day conference saw innovators in the podcast space from organisations such as Acast, YouTube, Diary Of A CEO, Castbox and more sharing their insights on the best ways to scale your podcast.

Go back to basics

One of the key themes that emerged from the sessions was the importance of adhering to long-established principles of success in marketing and media. When trying to attract new listeners to your show, for example, Carver PR’s head of podcasts Becca Newson emphasised the importance of focusing your efforts on the places where you’re most likely to find people with similar interests.

“If you're a podcast which is Gen Z,” she said, “then leaning into those platforms that you know people are on like TikTok, Instagram - those are a bit more relevant to you. Put your efforts into those.”

“I think that if you are someone who is trying to target an older audience, don't think you necessarily need to put all of your time and effort into nailing TikTok, and then getting very little response and results back.”

While many podcasters often focus on digital marketing tactics to grow their audience, the world of PR can also offer some useful approaches. Even independent podcasters who don’t have the benefit of a dedicated PR or comms professional to assist them can still make use of these. 

At its core, PR is about working with journalists or influencers to obtain greater publicity for a project, and this can be as easy as identifying key figures in your chosen field and forming relationships with them. Newson advised creators to build and maintain media lists that they can reach out to whenever they have notable news such as particularly interesting guests or new seasons.

“Because we are PRs, we've got our databases, we've got our media lists and all of that,” she said. “If you are an indie, a really easy way to do that is to literally go on the author page on whatever outlet you're on. A lot of the time, journalists have their emails in their Twitter bios as well.” 

“Freelance journalists often will have their own website where they've got either a contact box or an email as well. I think those are all really, really good points.”

Try new things

Alongside a focus on the fundamentals, however, podcasters should also be willing to indulge in experimentation, and to make use of new features as they’re released by platforms. As an example, Podcast Discovery co-founder Matt Deegan highlighted iOS 17’s new tweaks to highlight episode artwork in Apple Podcasts, giving creators another way to stand out and to further cement their podcast’s branding. 

Similarly, if that branding isn’t working, it can be changed. A podcast’s font, colour scheme, artwork and even name can all be changed at will, if it’s better-suited to your current goals or approach. As Deegan pointed out, current listeners are already onboard, so it’s more productive to consider the needs of a prospective audience.

“You've got to think about how many listeners have I got today, and how many listeners am I intending to have? So let's say you have a thousand listeners, and you're like, well actually, I need to get to five thousand. You probably spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about the existing thousand, and not enough time worrying about the four thousand you need.” 

“Sometimes you think, Oh, a name change, what will that mean to all the listeners? Well, you're after four times as many coming in. So they're the ones to concentrate about. So if it's important for them that you change, you should probably change your name.”

AI is your friend

In the name of experimentation, many podcasts have started to explore the use of AI as part of their workflows; Deegan highlighted the way he uses AI to improve his episode descriptions based on transcripts, and Stripped Media founder Kobi Omenaka talked about the role that AI-powered tool PodNotes has played in speeding up his own workflows.

“I use a tool called PodNotes to help me make show notes,” he said. “I just upload the file once it's completed, and it makes show notes, it makes a transcription, it gives you a tweet thread which you can use or not. It's a super amazing thing - I can't believe it exists - and that's taken five hours of my week down to half an hour.”

While many speakers mentioned the usefulness of these back-end tools, as well as examples like Descript and Otter, for making editing easier, some brands are even starting to experiment with using AI in a more public-facing way - as Which? senior audio producer Rob Lilley revealed.

“We got AI to present one of our podcasts a couple of months ago, and terrifyingly, it went quite well,” he explained. “We'd been experimenting with a load of different AI platforms. Some, obviously, they don't sound authentic at all… But there's a platform that we used called Eleven Labs. And they are terrifyingly good.”

“In August, we got the AI to record an episode - so they just read the article as they would expect a human person to have done previously. But we didn't tell the listeners it was AI until the very end of the episode.” 

Find what works for you

The consistent thread running through the event, however, was that podcasters shouldn’t feel pressured to adopt a particular strategy just because others are finding success with it. In fact, there was a diverse range of attitudes and approaches on display - both from the speakers and from the audience’s questions - and creators were advised to take the time to identify what works best for them.

For example, there are a range of approaches that can be taken with monetisation, not all of which involve securing mass download numbers or committing to producing large amounts of bonus content. Acast’s chief communications and brand officer Lizzy Pollot advised smaller podcasters to pursue direct sponsorships with independent businesses in their field as a more approachable way to bring in revenue, while Valentina Kaledina - director of sales and business development for Castbox and board member for The Podcast Academy - advises podcasters to use the resources that they already have to fuel subscription plans.

“This can work for hardcore fans, and what I see production companies are releasing [is] a lot of raw tapes,” she said. “So it's good because you already have raw tapes from the interviews, and also some in-depth analysis and practical tips.” 

A particularly key example of this came in the form of video; as YouTube’s head of UK news and podcasts partnerships Sandy Wilheim explained, although many podcasters have enthusiastically adopted highly-produced video content to augment their audio, there are a significant amount who have expanded their content to YouTube without investing in fully filmed visuals.

“You can be on camera, off camera, you can have a full video podcast, or you can have it just in batches,” she said; “there's a lot of things that can work and it's a matter of really trying and reiterating along the way.”