Meet Viacom's New Fan Club and the 'It' Company Behind the Current Podcast Phenomenon | V by Viacom

Creativity

Meet Viacom’s New Fan Club and the ‘It’ Company Behind the Current Podcast Phenomenon

Brands are delving into podcasting at an exponential rate in an effort to connect with fans in new and creative ways.

May 15, 2017

Every day on my way to and from work, you can find me, my headphones, and the nine podcasts I consume weekly locked in a passionate one-way conversation. According to Edison research, I’m not alone—the average podcast listener is consuming at least six shows a week. Podcasting began to hit the mainstream with the introduction of Apple’s podcast app in 2005, but people really began to take notice with Serial (a 2014 series from NPR’s This American Life), when it became the fastest podcast in iTunes’ history to reach 5 million downloads and streams. In subsequent years, podcasting has continued to grow, with an estimated 67 million Americans listening to podcasts monthly. And where audiences go, brands are sure to follow.

To date, brands and publishers have already gone far beyond leveraging shows for 30-second midroll ads—they’ve delved headfirst into content creation. Big names like eBay, GE, and Morgan Stanley have all launched podcasts, recognizing the opportunity to express their brand values and connect with consumers within a new medium. But all podcasts are not created equal. To make a successful show, you need partners familiar with the space and attuned to great storytelling. This is why Max Linsky and Jenna Weiss-Berman formed Pineapple Street Media in 2016.

With a client list that includes Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, The New York Times, Google, Wieden + Kennedy, Linsky and Weiss-Berman are long-time podcasting and radio veterans with a shared passion for unique narratives.

While Linsky is the co-founder and co-host of Longform, a show now in it’s fifth season (in which he interviews people like Ira Glass, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Terry Gross), Weiss-Berman has more than a decade of experience in public radio, including NPR’s StoryCorps and BuzzFeed (where she created their podcast division and hit shows like Another Round and Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour). The duo and co-founders ultimately joined forces after seeing the growing demand in the marketplace and the need to fully support and assist clients in creating dynamic podcasts that pushed the limits of creativity.

Jenna and Max, co-founders of Pineapple Street Media, on location while taping an upcoming episode of “Fan Club” on sneaker culture and its fans.

When Viacom decided to create a podcast six months ago, Pineapple Street Media immediately came to mind. And following many hours of scripting, taping, editing, and celebrity wrangling, Fan Club, a podcast about why we love what we love was born. Ahead of our series premiere on May 16, I sat down with Linsky and Weiss-Berman to discuss why so many brands are looking to create podcasts, what makes a show good, and how they see the space evolving.

What Doesn’t Work in Podcasts? Answer: A Lengthy Ode to Your Mission Statement

There’s something about the singular experience of listening to a podcast that’s both private and familiar—hosts feel like friends we’ve yet to meet. And I’m not alone in this observation. As Linsky explains, “The connection you can have with a [podcast] listener is more intimate and lasting than almost anything else you can consume on your phone. People are willing to spend 20, 30, even 40 uninterrupted minutes with you, and in the media world today, that’s just unheard of.” The opportunity to create this connection with listeners is a no-brainer, but many brands make missteps when concepting shows. “There’s only so much bandwidth people have to listen to things,” he explains. “You need to be appealing and solve a problem for a significant number of people, not make it about your mission statement or a keynote presentation, and it has to be native to the medium.” Ultimately, the idea is to give people a reason to listen by giving them something interesting to listen to.

The other big mistake? Going for quantity over quality. From Weiss-Berman’s perspective, a lot of clients try to stretch themselves too thin, producing too many shows at once. “We try to tell clients it’s much better to put your resources into [one show] then use that feed to build another one.”

Creating Fan Club

When we decided to make Fan Club, we kept it to a succinct six-episode series. This format is in line with a larger trend toward shorter, punchier content, says Weiss-Berman. “People are really into short series and seasonal shows. People knew that Missing Richard Simmons was going to be six episodes. Thinking about getting into six seasons of something, or an every-week kind of thing, can be too much of a commitment.”

Once Viacom had a format nailed down, we focused on the premise: a show about fandom. Putting fans first is a cornerstone of Viacom’s strategy and something everyone at the company deeply believes in. Linsky and Weiss-Berman were both integral in shaping that direction, encouraging us to build a larger conversation exploring what it meant to be a fan on a more intimate level. As Weiss-Berman explains, “Fandom is obviously related to marketing. We’re all fans of something—it was a concept we could get behind.”

Pre-production meeting with Pineapple team. From left: our producer, Ann Hepperman, myself, Jenna, Max and our host, Ross Martin.

 The Effort Behind Sounding Effortless

The past six months have included a lot of preparation, studio time, and lessons in flexibility. As Pineapple Street Media continues to grow, Linsky and Weiss-Berman have continued to take a hands-on approach with their clients, providing a hyper level of involvement from beginning to end. “There’s a lot of pre-production work,” Linsky confesses. “It’s not like TV. It may sound effortless, but it takes a tremendous amount of effort to make it come off that way.”

One of their biggest challenges is tempering their clients’ desire for instant success. “People want to have immediate massive audiences. Podcasts grow very slowly. It’s definitely a word-of-mouth kind of thing,” says Weiss-Berman.

Word-of-mouth marketing is the best indication that you’ve created something that’s resonating; it means there’s a product so good people feel the need to share it. That’s the entire premise behind the Fan Club podcast—to show how fandoms are built and made and why they’re so important to the audiences they inspire every day.

You can subscribe to Fan Club now through iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, or listen on the V podcast page.