Thoughts on launching a podcast for foundation and non-profit communicators from Let’s Hear It! co-hosts Eric Brown and Kirk Brown (no relation).
During mid-2016, Kirk – the “Tom Sawyer” of Let’s Hear It! fame – managed to track Eric – whom we will not call Huck – down at the Social Study café in San Francisco’s Fillmore district. Kirk, the ideas guy, had a crazy thought – why don’t we start a podcast? Eric, the pragmatist, was skeptical that they had the time or energy to make it work and wasn’t sure that anyone would listen. Nevertheless, he succumbed to Kirk’s midwestern enthusiasm and agreed to give it a go.
After another year of conversation, months wrestling with audio gear and refining our approach, and our first tentative e-mails reaching out to possible guests, Let’s Hear It! got off the ground. The premise was reasonably simple: Let’s talk to professional communicators and professionals who think about non-profit and foundation communications. We’d explore their craft, learn what makes them tick, and allow our field to benefit from their experience.
The timing felt appropriate. The universe of social change communicators has exploded over the past few years, far too fast for anybody to keep up. So why not tap Eric’s contacts from his life at the Hewlett Foundation and his association with the Communications Network (and Kirk’s capacity to convince Eric to exploit same) to launch a podcast aimed at making that growing world a little bit smaller and more accessible? Podcasts have become massively popular, so why not use the intimacy of the tool to help expose communicators to each other’s work?
We hoped to get a few episodes out and see what happened. So far, so good (we think). After our eleventh episode, we’ve learned a lot. Here are just a few lessons almost six months in:
1) Producing a podcast is fun!
We must start here. For months now we have had the chance to connect with amazing people and hear their stories. Our guests have been unbelievably generous and talking with (and about) them is so much fun. If you’re reading this and you haven’t done it yet, you might consider starting your own podcast (or write a book, or shoot a movie, or whatever). Get your voice out there in whatever way you can.
2) Producing a podcast is (hard) work.
Because nature demands balance, creating something that reaches a reasonable level of professionalism takes work, and a surprising amount of it at that. We schedule guests, do homework and research for each conversation, schedule our time to discuss each interview (after listening to it and taking notes as we go), and then produce the final piece. In addition, we’ve been active on Twitter (@letshearitcast), launched a website (www.letshearitcast.com), and have tracked down sponsors (thank you, Knight! Thank you, Lumina! And now, thank you, Heinz!). They help defray our costs a bit, but more than that, their sponsorship is a priceless endorsement for the project.
3) This community is worth hearing from.
Our guests have been so interesting. They’ve talked about democratizing communications, adopting a communications mindset, using communications to advance the missions of their organizations, and lots more. They have been unflappably candid about the challenges facing our field and how they address them. This is really their show.
4) Making connections across our field is imperative.
We’ve heard from people across the country and around the world (no joke – we have had listeners from 49 countries and we just got a very nice note from someone in New Zealand) about how much they appreciate the interviews. We think we have an idea about why. In a world that is vast and growing rapidly, we have too few opportunities to gather around the proverbial campfire to share our stories. Just like the day it all began at the Social Study, Let’s Hear It! is offering one of those meeting places, and a diverse array of folks appear to appreciate it.
5) Our personal stories are nuanced and inform our work in nuanced ways.
The journeys that people take into the world of professional social change communications are every bit as varied as the work that greets them when they arrive. Let’s Hear It! has given more people a chance to hear those stories. Our guests’ various paths provide some of the most inspiring and compelling parts of our conversations, and we are grateful to have the chance to record and share them.
6) Communications and strategy challenges abound.
We have yet to meet the guest who can tell us that they or we (as a field) have nailed this. We certainly weren’t expecting that, but in a field that continues to rapidly progress, this work still requires tending and, at times, mending. We know how much these conversations have helped us better think about strategy and we hope you agree.
7) We don’t analyze our guests. Kind of.
We often talk about how we don’t analyze our guests… but it’s hard not to mention the wide range of skills and expertise they bring to their work. They are often working within complicated organizations and campaigns as they try to wrestle with really challenging problems. Our guests give us visibility into those dynamics each episode, and our conversations try to help our listeners to navigate the maze of considerations that factor into smart communications strategy.
8) Thousands of downloads – who knew?
We never planned to be This American Life, but we were surprised and delighted that so many of you are listening on a regular basis. There is clearly an interest in this topic, and we’re thrilled that you’re out there.
9) We’re still learning.
We made the decision at the outset that we weren’t going to let perfect be the enemy of the good. Wow, was that the right choice. Our strategy was to get started and learn along the way about how to do this, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re working hard to learn how to ask good questions, point the microphone in the right direction, and everything in between. Thanks for your patience and your feedback as we continue to try to produce the perfect episode.
10) Our guests are filled with hope and optimism. So are we.
It’s the enduring cliché of the day – we live in challenging times. We often ask our guests what gives them hope, and they invariably say something that makes us feel just a bit better. Obviously, our guests themselves are a tremendous reason to hope. People beyond counting wake up every day aiming to make the world a little bit better. Kirk and Eric are just happy that we can do our part to give those folks a chance to share those stories with others so we can all do our jobs just a bit better. So, thanks for listening!
Eric and Kirk
Now, back to the show!