Using podcasts to drive subs

Last year, The Telegraph grew its podcast listenership 126%, one of the reasons its podcast team has been nominated for a host of awards. Meg Carter talks to Telegraph Podcast Editor Theodora Louloudis about their strategy.

By Meg Carter

Using podcasts to drive subs

Before Covid-19, podcasts’ main appeal lay in the ease with which they could be consumed on the go. During the pandemic, however, the format’s intimacy – creating a powerful platform to engage, inform and reassure – came into its own. Which is why at The Telegraph – which, back in 2008, was the first UK national paper to launch a daily podcast – attention now is on podcasting’s potential to build a sense of community.

It’s all part of a longer-term goal to eventually use podcasts to drive subscriptions, Telegraph Podcast Editor Theodora Louloudis explains.

“We see podcasts as a way to bring journalism to life in new ways, often for a new audience a little younger than our print readers. And for a growing number of people, our podcasts are their first involvement with the Telegraph brand,” she says.

“People engage with podcasts in a different way – podcasts are more intimate, more conversational. So, we engage not just via the podcast itself but also via email and on Twitter to build a closer connection and interaction between listeners and podcast content.”

The hope is simple: that enabling a wider array of people to get to know Telegraph journalists more intimately will prompt more people to subscribe to access more.

Theodora Louloudis: “It’s all about deepening engagement.”

She continues: “Like everyone else, we are grappling with the technology, which is not quite there yet for plugging our subscribers into our podcasting apps (instead, would-be subscribers must sign up via the website).

“We do now offer podcast listeners subscription deals with trackable links. When it comes to quantifying the effectiveness of this as a subscriptions-driver, it is still early days. But as technology advances further, this will come.”

Despite its long track record in podcasting, The Telegraph’s interest took off relatively recently – in 2017, with the setting up of a dedicated podcasts department – as the world started to take this form of audio journalism more seriously.

Since then, its portfolio of podcasts has grown from strength to strength, attracting growing audiences and awards nominations.

Two of its podcasts – ‘Bed of Lies by Cara McGoogan’ and ‘Coronavirus: The Latest’ – were shortlisted for News Podcast of the Year at The Society of Editors Press Awards 2020 taking placed on March 31. Meanwhile, its team members and titles have been shortlisted in six categories for The Publisher Podcast Awards to be announced in April.

It’s all part of a longer-term goal to eventually use podcasts to drive subscriptions.

Podcast growth

In 2020, The Telegraph’s podcasting listeners grew by 126% year-on-year.

The Telegraph’s podcasting editorial strategy is not much different from print, Louloudis explains. “We know the topics people are interested in, and who they would like to hear from,” she says.

“Then it’s about which of our journalists will connect with the listeners. Many of the paper’s columnists now host Telegraph podcasts and value podcasting as an opportunity to connect more closely with their audience by showing off more of their personality.”

Louloudis adds: “We are always looking for shows that fit in with our wider offering. If a show has a really good place on our website, that enables us present that show really well – running a campaign around it, for example, or a series of long reads in which we can embed it; that’s a major plus.”

There is also now a growing emphasis on longer form audio documentary content – such as ‘Crossfire’, a six-episode investigation into UK links to the Trump-Russia scandal, and ‘Bed of Lies’ about the scandal involving women deceived into relationships with undercover police officers – when appropriate.

“Audio is unique,” Louloudis believes, “because of the length and detail you can go into when a story is big enough.”

Telegraph podcasts are currently available, un-paywalled, to its subscribers and non-subscribers alike.

Even so, by early 2020, it had begun running some subscriber events – being the audience for ‘Chopper’s Politics’, its weekly live Westminster show, for example. Then live audience participation was halted by Covid-19.

Now, however, the team are experimenting with bonus content for subscribers. Next, the plan is to create subscription-only podcasts – but only when the technology catches up with its ambitions.

For now, then, focus is on community-building. This means having the right content and creating the right platform for writers to be themselves and engage more intimately. And some important lessons were learned through the intense activity of the past 12 months.

One is the power of snappy, reactive content, such as ‘Coronavirus: The Latest’, a daily coronavirus podcast developed and launched at the start of the pandemic in just a matter of days and which ran every day until November.

Another is the importance of creating non-news content to meet people’s other needs.

“Beyond news, we put a lot of effort into finding innovative ways to support people during the crisis and because it is such an intimate medium – and podcast listening is a pretty solitary activity – this worked very well,” Louloudis says.

‘Bryony Gordon’s Mad World’, in which the columnist returned in a new series of shows to address lockdown-related mental health issues, is a case in point – as was its armchair travel podcast ‘Postcards’.

Also, an important lesson has been the benefit of “reacting in innovative ways” – as the team did with ‘Planet Normal’, a lockdown baby conceived then launched in lockdown remotely. Its co-presenters and producer, she says, are yet to sit in a studio together.

“One aim for 2021 is to make more podcasts and more long-format content. Expanding our interaction with our audiences – getting live shows up and running again, for example – will also be important,” she adds.

“It’s all about deepening engagement with, and widening the understanding of and increasing access to the Telegraph brand.”

This interview featured in the 11 March edition of our weekly e-newsletter, InPubWeekly, which you can register to receive here.