Back in February I attended the launch of the International Broadcasting Trust’s Podcasts: where next? report. They reported a huge year on year growth in podcast listeners. Since then lockdown has driven another podcast boom with some platform reporting a 125% increase in downloads. Even Michelle Obama got in on the act this week launching her new offering! For our final post before the summer break I asked Danny Ratnaike and Gareth Bracken from Alzheimer’s Society a few questions about their podcast.
Why did you decide to set up your podcast?
People with dementia, whose condition meant they were finding it harder to read our magazine articles, asked us about listening to them instead. We told them about the CD of each full issue, produced by RNIB, and thought, ‘Job done.’ Only it wasn’t – they came back to say that, though the CDs were really clear, they’d expected something more relaxed or radio-style. They most wanted to hear the main article from each magazine. This is an in-depth interview with a person who has dementia, discussing their life and, most importantly, their experiences of living with the condition.
At first, we simply read out and recorded a shortened version of the article. With more listener feedback, we added things like a recap halfway through and established the right pace and length. This worked OK, but it was hard to invest it with the incredible emotions present in people’s stories.
Everything changed when we started recording our interviews and editing this material into a podcast. Listeners now hear the person with dementia speak for themselves, interacting with us and sometimes a family member or friend too.
How easy was it to translate stories that were for paper to audio?
We’ve gone from creating an audio version of magazine articles to producing episodes that draw on the same material, but which often have a different structure and even angle, based on what works best in audio. This has meant spending more time planning, scripting and editing, all relying on more input from our already busy but ever helpful Audio Visual team. It’s been a challenge, but the great results have meant we’re determined to develop it further.
Do you plan magazine content differently now you know you’ll be recording the podcast too?
We definitely have the podcast in mind when we’re selecting our main magazine feature. I’m not sure it’s ever made us go with a different story, as our main criteria would be broadly the same for both print and podcast – a person who has an interesting story to tell and is willing and able to tell it.
But we do always consider how a story will work as a podcast and any opportunities to feature other voices, ambient sounds or additional material. This has included some brilliant audio, including old recordings of the person playing in bands when they were younger.
What mistakes did you make when you first started and what would you suggest others do to avoid them?
Underestimating the simple power of hearing someone tell their own story in their own voice (which sounds so obvious now). If it’s not possible to base a whole podcast on this, at least include the person’s own voice as much as you can. Also, not recognising just how different audio is. Things that could be cheesy or annoying in print, like raising a question near the start that only gets answered at the end, may actually be satisfying in audio. The natural rhythms of someone’s speech might not come across so easily on the page, not to any great length anyway. However, this not only adds to what people experience in audio, it can also set an episode’s whole tone and structure – work the medium to its fullest.
How do you promote it?
So far, not as much as we’d like! We share links on social and in emails, though we’ve had to hone our language – for people who aren’t already seeking out ‘podcasts’, asking people to ‘listen to’ or ‘hear’ someone’s story can work better. We’re currently looking at combining audio clips with photos and graphics for short videos that we’ll share on social.
What has been the response from your audiences?
We’re still to make the most of analytics, but we’re getting good listening figures that clearly include many people who’ve subscribed to the podcast through an app. We’re also getting great comments back from people about how interesting and useful they’ve found the podcasts, but we want to learn a lot more about our listeners to help steer future development.
Do you have any plans for developing the podcast?
We need to make sure it’s on all the right platforms – for example, we get fed through to iTunes and most podcast apps, but not yet Spotify. We also want to see how we can produce more content on limited capacities and budgets, which could include drawing on other material we’re already collecting, but not using as fully as we might elsewhere.
Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia together magazine produces six podcasts a year – listen at alzheimers.org.uk/podcast