AB Thinks  →  6th September 2019

Launching The Internal Comms Podcast

Season two of The Internal Comms Podcast kicked off this month with the ‘IC Doctor’ himself, Kevin Ruck. The break between seasons gave me a chance to reflect on the experience of launching a podcast – a journey full of surprises.

For me, the show is a natural extension of From Cascade to ConversationUnlocking the Collective Wisdom of your Workforce, the book I wrote in 2014. This is a manifesto for how internal communication can and should be inside our organisations.

During the research phase I had fascinating discussions and debates with academics and practitioners. But the final book is, by its very nature, an archetypical exercise in one-way communication. What if I bring such conversations to life and share them (almost) in real-time?

The answer lay in a fortnightly podcast show. This would mean returning to my journalistic roots. I would research a leading figure from the world of communication, devise a set of (hopefully) probing questions and would sit together, without a time constraint or pre-set agenda, and let the conversation guide us.

Of course, in my imagination I would sound like Kirsty Young or Martha Kearney – a winning combination of warmth and intelligence that would captivate audiences and entice my interviewees to reveal their innermost thoughts and brightest ideas.

In reality, I was gravely disappointed by the sound of my recorded voice. I tried altering my tone and tempo, but to no avail. I still sounded too… well, like me. I endeavoured to record a trailer for the show, deleting each attempt in turn, finally discovering I sounded passable by imagining I was speaking directly to one close friend. A tactic I use to this day.

By far my biggest surprise has been the size of our audience. On paper it appeared to add up – podcasts are booming in the UK. According to Ofcom, the number of weekly podcast listeners has doubled in five years and now stands at 6 million adults each week.

And yet, our research across Apple and Android platforms revealed no regular, UK-based shows dedicated to internal communication. In the USA, there is a plethora of well-established shows, such as Chuck Gose’s ICology and Internal Comms Procast. Plus, others – not least For Immediate Release by Shel Holtz – that incorporate news about our discipline.

While the research looked promising, IC is still a young, discrete communication discipline and AB had little additional time or resources to promote the show. Our audience would have to grow organically – if it grew at all. So, we set ourselves realistic expectations. Perhaps 500 people would download episode one. That was around half of my Twitter and LinkedIn following at the time – a stretching but achievable target.

Imagine our astonishment then, when on the day episode one was released, an eagle-eyed colleague spotted it entering the iTunes business podcast charts. For the rest of that day, the show rose steadily up the charts. It finished at number 9, making it into iTunes’ New & Noteworthy section.

The next surprise was the breadth of our audience. To date, the show has been downloaded in 50 countries worldwide. While English-speaking countries head the list, we have reached audiences in the Philippines, Mexico, Guam and Saudi Arabia.

But metrics can be beguiling. While thousands of downloads sound impressive, I would rather make a meaningful contribution to a small group than an instantly forgettable impact on a larger one. So, I read every comment and suggestion from listeners with care. I ask each one I meet how we can improve the show. After all, I’m learning as I go.

I cut my teeth interviewing the very gracious and thoughtful Rachel Miller. This remains one of my favourite episodes for the sheer openness and honesty of our conversation. Henry Normal almost moved me to tears. Bruce Daisey, Russell Grossman and Stephen Waddington kept me on my toes. Jenni Field was her brilliant self – direct, clear-sighted and sharp. While Mark Davies was warm, charming and candid about his role as Communications Director of the biggest retailer on the UK high street.

Every interview taught me something new. Now, we are planning an equally diverse but note-worthy range of guests for season two. If you would like to make a suggestion, please email the show.

The Internal Comms Podcast is driven by personal curiosity – what makes for better workplace communication? How can the IC profession continue to make a lasting, valuable contribution to the organisations they serve? These are intriguing, ever green questions, not least because although common principles apply, there is no one right answer. Organisations are as unique and fascinating as the individuals they employ.

As Season one came to an end, the Institute of Internal Communication nominated the show in its ‘Game Changer’ category in this year’s Awards of Excellence. If you have any feedback on the show – do get in touch –we’d love to hear your views.