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How to Pitch a Podcast

Q&A with Christopher Intagliata, senior producer at Science Friday

October 16, 2018
 
 

Both the landscape of the media and the media relations field keep on evolving. As communications professionals, we need to keep up with the latest types of media as they become popular and widely used to better expand the reach of our pitches. Take podcasts, for example; while many of us listen to scores of podcasts, the best way to pitch one that can help share the expertise of your faculty is not exactly clear.

That’s why I enlisted the help of Christopher Intagliata, senior producer at Science Friday. Intagliata is responsible for helping to choose and shape stories for the popular podcast and radio show Science Friday, distributed by WNYC Studios. He discussed with me what’s different about pitching a podcast, how to prep your professors for podcasts and even shared some his favorite podcasts. 

What are the main differences between pitching a podcast versus traditional media such as a radio show, newspaper, or online publication?

I think the most important thing is to know who you're pitching to and what they tend to cover. You'll find conversational, talk-show-style shows in both the radio and the podcast world, just as you'll find documentary-style longform journalism in both worlds. I think more important than format is knowing what type of show you're pitching to. Also, check to see if they've already covered a topic, and how whatever you're pitching might push that conversation or narrative further.  

How far in advance do you pick topics for Science Friday or Undiscovered?  What kinds of topics do you like to cover for Science Friday and also for Undiscovered?

Science Friday typically picks topics anywhere from a week to a month in advance. Undiscovered generally gets started much earlier, perhaps a year out from when the finished episode might air. Both shows cover a wide range of science-related topics—everything from human-robot interactions to invasive species and medical technology.

One big difference to be aware of, as my Undiscovered colleague Annie Minoff recently explained: Science Friday does a lot of segments about topics, i.e., "What's the future of renewable energy in the U.S.?" while Undiscovered requires not just topics but a story within that topic, for example, "Jan is a farmer in Texas who decided it would be more profitable to stop raising cattle and install wind turbines instead. But as solar gets cheaper and cheaper, her livelihood may be on the line—and her story says something bigger about the future of renewables in this country." See the difference? 

Do you have any suggestions for professors preparing for a podcast interview? Any insight into the process? Are there pre-interviews? 

We generally conduct pre-interviews for both radio and podcast formats to get a sense of the territory we'll want to cover with a source. Here are some tips for professors: 

  • Avoid field-specific jargon. Find other ways to explain it.
  • Analogies are very helpful and help the listener connect.
  • If you had to distill your latest paper into three or four bullet points, what would they be? You could use those to frame the conversation.
  • Don't be afraid to have fun. Think more dinner table conversation rather than congressional hearing. 

Does a professor or a communications team need access to certain audio equipment or technology? 

It's always great when campuses have radio studios, for either live or taped connections. Failing that, Science Friday has been using more and more Skype connections on the air—they tend to sound quite good when coupled with a good pair of headphones or a headset, in a quiet, non-echoey room. Universities concerned about the overhead of maintaining telecoms lines might consider building a studio with a nice microphone and connecting it to the internet instead. There are increasingly more options for connecting over IP. Finally, many smartphones have pretty decent microphones built in. Use the ‘voice memos’ app or something else to tape yourself if someone's interviewing you over the phone, then email them the file. The audio in the finished story will probably sound a lot better than phone quality.

Any tips for promoting podcasts on social media? Is it any different from promoting traditional media?

Our digital team makes sure to have a unique social voice or tone for both the Undiscovered and the Science Friday accounts on social media—and that unique voice is not a clone of the host(s) of the program. It makes the account more fun and memorable, and allows the program hosts to do their own thing on social media.The official accounts, @scifri or @undiscoveredpod, can always retweet the hosts if they want to get a bit of the host's personality into the feed. 

What can PR professionals do to encourage the campus community, alumni community and other stakeholders to check out podcasts?​ 

PR professionals might do well to seek out podcasts relevant to their campus community's research interests, and recommend those. I already know a lot of scientists who listen to Science Friday. A lot of my friends who work in financial fields get a kick out of Planet Money. I think finding a podcast that caters to someone's interests is the simplest first step.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to PR professionals pitching Science Friday or Undiscovered?

Know your audience. Look at recent archives. Look at what producers of the show are tweeting about too, as guidance for what they might be interested in hearing about. They usually have as much of a say in what makes it on air as the host of the program.

What’s your favorite podcast?  

I've been binging on Dr. Death (even though it makes me squirm). I find The Pitch to be a really entertaining, almost TV-like experience. I regularly listen to The Daily from The New York Times for news. When I'm looking to learn something new and be entertained, I always switch on Every Little Thing (from Science Friday alum Flora Lichtman). 

Follow him on Twitter at @cintagliata.

Cristal Steuer is a senior strategist at TVP Communications.

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