Podcast specialist Sebastian Rusk on how to avoid podcast fade and use the platform to build your brand

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast. 

In May, around 5,000 new podcasts have been registered on Buzzsprout. Podcast specialist Sebastian Rusk joined me in an episode of The UnNoticed Podcast and talked about how people should start their own podcast — and more importantly — how to keep it going.

Image from LinkedIn

Know Your Why

For Sebastian, the number one thing you have to do is to know why you’re starting a podcast. As with a lot of other things, like business and life decisions, you have to be clear with your why. When you find the authentic space of your why — which could be the story you want to tell, the value you want to bring to the world, or the message you want to communicate — it’s going to impact your listeners for the better.

Next would be making sure that you’re in line with your level of commitment: Are you willing to do the work that needs to be done to launch the show, continue to produce the show, and grow the show? These three components have to work simultaneously, or you’re inevitably going to be headed to the podcast graveyard.

Having 5,600 new podcasts on Buzzsprout is excellent. But you have to wait a month or two because statistics will tell that the average show doesn’t make it past seven to nine episodes. Last year, there are roughly a million podcasts on Apple Podcasts. By the end of the year, the figure was down to around 850,000. So there were 150,000 shows that went into the “pod fade.”

Sebastian is in the business of helping people start a podcast and get to the finish line. The biggest challenge that he’s encountered over the past five years is figuring out how to get somebody to continue and stay committed to what they originally did. Therefore, he and his team are very careful when identifying shows that they want to potentially launch. They make sure that their clients understand both the mico and macro work involved in podcasting.

Screengrab from Podcast Launch Lab

Who Should Do A Podcast

You may ask: Is there a type of personality that’s more suited to launch a podcast?

Sebastian has a background as a master of ceremonies (MC) and his father was a radio disc jockey (DJ) for 30 years. This gives him an edge in things involving audio and entertainment, like doing a podcast. But according to him, if podcasting is something that you want to try, you should definitely do it. You shouldn’t let anybody stand in the way of you being able to do that. 

While he did grow up in a radio station, Sebastian shares that he was never excited about it. He never had any desire to follow in his footsteps. His dad would only drag him there on weekends, helping him cut tracks for the ads that he’d go sell to local businesses in exchange for a McDonald’s Happy Meal. 

However, a friend (upon hearing the story) told him a few months back that genes are indeed powerful. Sometimes, what you don’t realise is that a part of your upbringing or of what you’re exposed to could end up being a component of what you’ll end up pursuing. 

Sebastian said that what he wanted was to find his place in the social media world. When he started his first company in 2010, he realised that he knew more about social media than the average people. That was the first advantage that he had, although he really had no idea how his company was going to make money. 

After five years, he decided to pivot while staying in the digital marketing space — and that’s when he ventured into podcasting. He successfully turned it into a business that bridges the gap between “I don’t know” to “I know a guy who knows and he’s taught me, and now I do know.” It just happened that he grew up in a radio station. 

Focusing on What’s Possible

Through his business Podcast Launch Lab, he helps people get their podcast up and running. 

However, not all people do podcasting full-time. It’s something that only complements a part of their lives. There are also cases wherein people would give 100% to podcasting only to find that they’re not getting listenership and revenue. 

Image from Unsplash

To help you not lose heart and even scale over time, Sebastian advises focusing on what’s possible on the other side of getting your show launched and sticking with it. If you start today, you’re going to be glad this time next year that you did.

Look at it as if you’re becoming a media company or a brand starting a podcast or a YouTube channel: You are creating content on a platform that you can control. If it was 20 years ago and someone offered you a spot on a local radio station where you can talk about your business on Tuesday mornings for an hour, you wouldn’t sleep about it — you would talk to a friend about it; you wouldn’t procrastinate; you might even say yes, jump off the cliff, and figure out a parachute on the way down.

In truth, nothing has changed in 20 years, except the fact that it’s easier to produce audio content. You don’t have to go anywhere or get anybody’s permission. You make up the rules, you create the content and you can talk about anything you want — including your business.

Whatever the case is, Sebastian notes that you can figure out a way to justify having this additional platform. And you can dissect podcasts into micro-content for your community. This is not just to create more content for them but to allow you to promote and advertise the show and its episodes.

There’s never been an easier time to start a podcast and become a media company than today. It does sound crazy if you have an insurance office with a podcast studio. But it can serve as a platform to interview people doing really cool things. You can end up converting that business into something based on the content that’s being created and the people who are actually consuming it. And to think that you can actually monetise your podcast, efforts can really pay for themselves. It’s only 2021 and the whole podcasting landscape still has possibilities to offer. 

Planning Podcast Content

One of the challenges of podcasting is planning out content. This is why Sebastian recommends not going out alone.

Sitting there and killing dead air by yourself because you think you’re an expert is a bad strategy. You can sprinkle in micro episodes that are five to 10-minute long of something that you’re passionate about or something that fits within the context of the content you’re creating. However, the majority of your episodes should be interview-based. You should be connecting with people who are smarter and cooler than you — those who’ve done more things and are more successful than you. You can actually serve those people by putting them in the spotlight and benefit from the process because you’re the one hosting the conversation and creating the content.

Never go, “What am I going to talk about in this podcast episode?” Because what you’re going to talk about is whatever it is that your guest does, how cool they are, and how they got to where they’re currently at. There is no lack of information on a complete stranger that you don’t know, or on someone that you do know by want to know more about. 

Screengrab from YouTube

What Sebastian experienced in his YouTube channel was less than a pleasurable experience. However, the reward was worth it, knowing that YouTube is compensating you every time you put a new piece of content there. He worked at it for 16 months before he finally got into the Creator Program. Now that he’s already built the channel, every content he puts up is being monetised. There are also now people calling him saying that they’ve watched his videos and asking for help on how to start a podcast. These components are information enough for Sebastian to consider that his YouTube channel was well worth the time he invested — even though it’s less than a pleasurable thing for him. 

How to Get Other People on Your Show

If you’ve got a show with almost no audience, how do you get someone on it?

For Sebastian, there’s a little bit of luck and persistence involved in that process. If you’re connected with somebody of notoriety and you’ve met in an event, you’ll have some sort of rapport built without having a point of contact just to get the conversation initiated (which takes a significant amount of time). Just like how it went with Gary Vaynerchuck, whom he met through different interactions. The first time was when they met in 2011 when he had a signing event for a book that he released. Sebastian got the chance to sit down with him for about an hour. The second time was in a green room of an event where Gary Vee served as the speaker and Sebastian was the MC. Another instance was when Gary Vee had his own event in Miami and Sebastian had the opportunity to spend the whole day with him and his team. That relationship grew, but behind that were a lot of tweets, emails, and connecting with his assistants.

Sebastian experienced the same thing with Marie Forleo, who’s another rockstar in the marketing space. During an event, she was three hotel rooms down from him. She’s an attendee while he was an MC. They met in the elevator and Sebastian took the opportunity to ask her to be on the podcast. Two months later, he was able to get her on the show.

These are just some examples of how some notable individuals in the digital space aren’t easily accessible. However, you’ve got to work the angle as you get it. When you’re reaching out to someone — whether it’s an A-lister or a B-lister — you have to figure out what’s in it for them to take the time to be on your show. Take note that they’re getting requests upon requests, so forget about what’s in it for you. 

Remember that in podcasting, it’s going to be a very one-sided situation and that there’s going to be a lot of asking and falling on deaf ears before something actually happens. And as mentioned, Sebastian believes that it’s a mix of luck and persistence that could get people of notoriety on your show. Apart from that, it’s also being in places such as Clubhouse, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

How to Monetise your Podcast

Sebastian doesn’t depend on his audience to monetise his show. If you start right out of the gates, you can monetise your show right out of the gates. 

Of course, it’s great to have people download your show and continue to grow the community — that is a goal of the show. If you want to monetise the podcast, however, you should also aim to have an interesting conversation with interesting people who are doing cool stuff and creating content but don’t have a podcast. Before or after the show, you can talk to these people and offer your services to help them start a podcast.

Image from Amazon

This strategy of interviewing people who can potentially be your clients is part of Sebastian’s book (he wrote a whole chapter about it). It’s about being able to identify your ideal client. In fact, a lot of the shows that they launch are for sales reps, insurance reps, and people who have a business that they’re continuing to grow. And these are people who don’t just want to be recognised in their existing community but also to be able to connect with new people. 

If you’re trying to sell employee benefits to a company, you’re trying to get hold of the CEO and you’re cold-calling this person every day. That CEO would have a gatekeeper that takes pride in making sure that you never reach the CEO. However, if you’re telling that you want to interview the CEO, it becomes a whole different conversation. Now you’re talking about ego, edification, publicity, and additional exposure. If you’re smart about that and you understand the ability to be able to embrace social selling through content, that’s a winner winner, chicken dinner all day long.

You can also productively prospect. If you’re going after these CEOs, you’d want to sell stuff too while you’re going after them to get them on your show. Help them, interview them about the biggest struggles that they have, answer questions in real-time, and provide value to them. This way, you’d make them sound awesome while also helping them solve some issues. After that, you can expand the conversation and introduce solutions that you think will be fit for exactly what your guest has got going.

On Uploading Your Podcast on YouTube

Though he considers it a less favourable opinion, Sebastian doesn’t suggest uploading podcast episodes on YouTube. By producing a podcast and throwing a video component, you are doubling the amount of work that you have.

If you think for a minute that you’re going to take the archive video of your podcast on Zoom and publish it on YouTube and pray that it gets traction, you’re being grossly negligent. The reality is that people come to YouTube to be entertained or to get their questions answered. If you can nail both, you’re really doing a great job. But usually, it’s one or the other. And these are the components that you have to look at.

If you simply post a podcast episode on YouTube with no strategy (e.g., you’re uploading your whole 45-minute interview when YouTube videos are ideally between five to 20 minutes), it won’t work. If you have a video team and the resources to produce videos, go for it by all means. Make sure that all hands are on deck to capture the video component of your podcast. Figure out a strategic, SEO-friendly title. Build other content around it. Have your team create a thumbnail that relates to the topic. Make sure that all components of YouTube production are being done with the actual video component of the podcast. 

Not all people have Justin Bieber’s luck (a video of him playing the guitar got uploaded on YouTube and the rest was history). I lot of people look up to Joe Rogan and other celebrities and people of notoriety who have podcasts. But take note that these people have a video company: They have a studio and an entire team to produce everything. Their job is to show up and be the talent of the show. 

Image from Unsplash

What the average person should focus on is getting really good at creating and recording podcast episodes, and interviewing people. And then if you want to introduce a video component, take the archive video and chop it up into small bits of content (i.e., micro-videos that are 30 to 60-second long with two or three keywords in the title that pique people’s interest). 

With this, you get to have a piece of content. You’re also creating a call to action inviting your audience to listen to the actual episode. You can create two to five micro-content out of a 20 or 30-minute episode, and you can post it throughout the week before a new episode drops. You can check out YouTube Shorts, which allows you to upload one to two-minute videos that are short yet impactful.

You can reach out to Sebastian on LinkedIn where he spends most of his time. He’s also on Instagram. If you want to start a podcast and you don’t know where to start — or if you gave a podcast that’s not going in the direction you thought it would — he’d love to have a conversation with you. 

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.


Cover image by Sandra Tenschert on Unsplash.