In Praise of the Story Arc

Most of what we all do is the day to day. It’s somewhat repetitive. But often it’s the consistency that your listeners/customers/users buy into. If someone likes your politics podcast and then one day it’s all about Love Island, they would be a bit shocked. Similarly with radio shows, benchmarks in a breakfast show are essential as people arrange their routine around your features. It’s mad when you think about it. But it’s the consistency that bends the listener to your will. If a family know to be in the car on the way to school when you do the Secret Sound, you can’t keep moving it around.

However, saying all that, mixing things up a little is never a bad thing. Providing there’s context for it. You can break the rules to mix things up if you understand the rules and why they are there. If you know about your listener, care about how they use you and provide all the right context, there’s nothing to stop you doing new, fun and special things.

The UK’s Radio 1 had recently gone off-plan and done something special, a stunt with their breakfast DJ, Greg James. The station sent Greg off to Brighton on Monday 18th July and stole his breakfast show off him. The only way he could win it back was to find 20 jigsaw pieces that would form the Radio 1 logo. They were hidden around the UK and listeners had to find them and transport them to Brighton. It took them six days to complete it.

Greg remained ‘on’ the breakfast show as a guest across the week (Scott Mills and Chris Stark took over) and the jigsaw piece discovery ran across daytimes each day.

Radio 1 partly choose this week as they understand their listeners – as for many it’s the start of the school holidays. This means a decent chunk of their audience’s schedule shifts, and that they’re around to potentially listen more and join in. Radio 1 has also changed quite a bit of their schedule recently with lots of new people. This was a good opportunity to introduce them through the different challenges.

Throughout the week the main structure of the radio station stayed the same. Mostly the same people, on at the same time, doing their regular things. But that was overlayed with a story that listeners could follow along with.

The producer, Chris Sawyer, who designed much of it, explains their planning in a recent tweet thread.

What I like about it is that there was a story arc. They knew mostly what would happen over the week, with key moments planned out, but it also had enough ‘give’ to allow some surprises (to everyone) along the way.

The other great story arc over the past couple of weeks is that of the Lionesses. As a football tournament it has a natural story – how far will they go, but layered on top was that the fact this was the England Women’s team playing against the well-worn storyline of the country’s decades long failure to take home a trophy – until now. The end point is a match against long-time rivals Germany, that goes to extra time – and when we would usually fail at likely penalties, the team instead won! Extra time on the arc was the great invaded press-conference and a Trafalgar Square finish.

For me the key media thing with any good story arc, is that it needs to reinforce your core brand. Radio 1’s puzzle leaned into the presenters, the listeners and doing a fun thing together (which is much of their programming). The Euros success clearly delivered on the brand they wanted it to be, and has obviously done a great job of rounding out a number of years of building for the Women’s Team.

Over in politics-land the Conservative Leadership battle is a great example of zero forethought in building a compelling narrative and storyline for the candidates (or the party).

The inevitable defenestration of Boris Johnson still seemed to leave challengers a little on the hoof, even when they had registered their domain names and made their videos in the previous months.

The clash of the competitors instantly meant any benefits their history had, or ‘successes’ of the previous administration were immediately trashed. The ‘blue on blue’ action left somewhat bruised competitors. The Labour Party’s video using their own words to demonstrate how bad a job the Tories had done over 12 years is telling:

Down to the final two, they now have six weeks of time that is unlikely to have any pre-planned moments. The hustings process is repetitive and the competitors will continue to clash. At the same time they have to target their policies at a small sub-demographic (old, white, mostly male Conservative party members) that’s not representative of the country, or the people they need to keep on board (red wall folk).

It’s like most political campaigns that you see in America, where Republicans go hard right to win a primary and then rush to the centre to try and win over their local area. The trouble for Liz and Rishi is the victor will have strongly positioned themselves in a place that’s harder to win a General Election.

Fundamentally they are not thinking about their core audience. Their ‘doing something different’ (campaigning etc) doesn’t re-enforce their brand values, it drags away from it. Non-political centrists who didn’t mind Rishi now get ten weeks of him as a hard-right figure. All the work he put into his previous brand, signatures on social media and all that, has been superseded by being off-message for over two months.

If Liz Truss wins, at the next election, all the Labour party comms will be her own words saying that the government (that she was one of the longest serving ministers in) had done a bad job of loads of things.

All of which is a long way of saying how consistency is essential to build audiences, and if you break away from that, it’s got to be true to your brand and your listeners.

Podcast Fun

It’s been a busy time at Podcast Awards HQ. The British Podcast Awards was a huge success, crowning lots of brilliant winners, including the BBC World Service’s Dear Daughter as Podcast of the Year. Idris Elba even turned up!

Over in Ireland, we announced the nominees for the inaugural Irish Podcast Awards. Again, a great list of shows to check out if you want to freshen up your podcatcher. Tickets are now on sale for the ceremony on Friday 16th September in Dublin.

AND, we’re now firmly into Australian Podcast Awards planning. I know there are lots of Australian followers here, if you want to get involved or your company fancies partnering, get in touch by hitting reply and we’ll tell you more.

Spotify’s Rowan Collinson speaking at Grow

The day before the British Podcast Awards we held a new conference event – Grow. It brought together about 200 people looking to grow their podcast with loads of great speakers from Apple, Acast, Audiboom, Spotify as well as production companies and entrepreneurs. It was a great day.

If you missed it, the next big conference is going to be Podcast Day 24. On October 4th there will be in-person events in Sydney, London and New York. As part of your ticket you’ll also get access to videos of all of the sessions worldwide.

The Coronacast session from Podcast Day 24 in Australia, last year.

We did the first Podcast Day 24 last year and it was an amazing bunch of speakers and sessions. We’ve announced a few of the speakers, with lots more great people to announce.

We’re expecting most of it to sell out, but you can grab an earlybird ticket for the next two weeks. If you want to know what’s happening in podcasting in your territory, and around the world, you need to come along. You’ll save £100 if you buy your ticket now.

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Why story planning is essential for success

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