Reflections on Season 1 of the Public Procurement Podcast

Season 1 of the Public Procurement Podcast wrapped up earlier this month, so now is the time to reflect on the experience. In one year I since getting the go ahead, the website went up and so did 20 interesting interviews with (mostly) early career researchers in public procurement. Here are my learning points:

1. Interview preparation is key

I have plenty of experience running interview podcasts, but sometimes it is important to look back to the basics to get them right. Of the 20 PPP interviews I know which ones are my favourites and they all have something in common: those are the ones I put in an extra effort to know the interviewer well in advance, especially what he/she wrote about. This is not news for me: I remember feeling the same 5 years ago with ShowcasePT and before that with my Ph.D. Bottom line: good prep leads to good interviews.

2. The more focused the better

Interview prep also helps in making the interview tighter and more focused, something particularly important when the chat is lasting only 20 or 30 minutes. The more focused the discussion, the better the outcome.

For each interview I discussed with the interviewee in advance the general questions/topics we would explore in the talk. Sometimes that worked really well, sometimes we just veered into the woods. But that is important as I do not like to set interviews in rails and prefer a degree of free flowing which occurs naturally in a conversation.

3. Evergreen content leads to good audience numbers

I am huge fan of "evergreen" content, ie interviews where the content is not time sensitive like news interviews. The PPP follows this strategy on purpose, with only a limited number of interviews being a little bit more time sensitive. For the most part, the interviews will still be relevant in 2-3 years down the line and that is a good thing. Anyone coming across the podcast or the website in the meanwhile will benefit from content which is as relevant as when it was published.

To add value to the content I decided from the start to have transcripts, something different from my previous podcast forays. I picked up this idea from someone who does interview podcasts much better than myself and is using transcripts for ages: Andrew Warner from Mixergy. He explained to me once that lightly edited transcripts add value as with the same content you are providing something extra and enlarging the audience by reaching people who would not listen to the podcast in the first place. I think he's right and the transcript text surely helps Google index my content and raise the search profile of the PPP website.

So what about those numbers? Well, we're now up to 670 regular listeners (monthly hits on the podcast RSS feed) and the usual weekly number is around 250-300. Individual visits to the website are also quite good: 400/month in the last 3 months and an average of 208 since launch. Frankly, numbers are much higher than originally anticipated. Not bad for a niche product.

4. Always use the right equipment and on the right conditions

It really helps to use the right equipment to record a podcast. All interviews were done via Skype. My usual set up is a Rode Podcaster, connected to my trusty 2009 Mac Pro with the recording done via Audio Hijack. I do not do anything fancy to my room other than having a sound absorber of sorts and closing the window blinds to minimise reverb. The audio is always recorded in separate tracks so that the audio editor can mix/edit as appropriate. 

I was out and about for two interviews and had to record with a travel mic on my Linux laptop. It worked ok, but the sound quality on my end was not as good as in all other interviews. Plus, speaking to pillows sitting on a shelf to absorb ambient noise is not really fun.

5. Getting the right team on board really helps

I was very lucky with everyone involved in the podcast's production. Amy did an awesome logo and Cody did a great job in setting up the website on Squarespace. On the day to day running of the podcast Richard Pennington (audio editor) and Adele Herson (transcriber) were always on the ball making sure their bit was done on time and professionally. As for the last two I have to confess hating editing my own podcasts in the past and transcribing my PhD interviews. Having them on board released my time to more profitable activities and mental bandwidth for what I really like to do: talk with people about interesting topics.

What's next?

I would like to run a second season of the podcast, probably with a broader set of interviewees than season 1. There are a lot of people involved in procurement which are not early career researchers which would be great to interview: more senior academics, practitioners, policy makers, service providers and procurement professionals. There is a lot to talk about in procurement.

Now if only I could find someone to replace the kind support of the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award for Season 2...