By Lina Prestwood, producer of the FT's "Culture Call' podcast

Anyone can make a podcast - but with 900,000 series and 30 million episodes available on Apple as I type how do you make a good branded one, one that will actually cut through? After years of working in both television docs and on award-winning branded content in both video and audio, here are some brief thoughts, questions and tips for brands to consider before pressing record.

  1. A podcast is not your field of dreams; just because you build it doesn’t mean they’ll come - in a cacophonous market where discoverability is the main challenge your podcast has to really give the audience something they can’t get anywhere else. What is your brand’s superpower to exploit? Once you have established that, figure out what you want your podcast to achieve and how you will super-serve your audience (for, indeed, you must)  in order to hit that target.

  2. Clarify your proposition again and again and again until you can articulate it in one sentence. It will inform EVERYTHING you do from top to bottom whether it’s booking guests, writing questions, choosing music and marketing your work.  Think about at least one format point that gives you, your guests and your listeners a guiding principle for the conversation. From Desert Island Discs to Reply All to TED Radio Hour all have clear format points and a clarity of editorial focus that their audience know and love. Be specific, be niche - that will win you fans in podcast land.

  3. Create a clear sonic identity for your series and treat it with the care that you would any other part of your branding -- think of your favourite podcasts and chances are you will be able to hear them clearly in your head. (Hopefully it goes without saying that you need to ensure your podcast’s tech is up to the job, and that you need to edit your podcast properly -  inarticulate ramblings and unsatisfying tangents can occur in even the most intelligent of conversations, no doubt, but lose them or lose your audience). While we are here: cough up a few hundred quid for your own theme music and some stings exclusive to your brand and treat your producer to access to a music library - it doesn’t have to be expensive. Check out Epidemic, for example.

  4. Whether it’s Serial, Jessie Ware’s Table Manners or The Guardian’s Today in Focus, all good podcasts  - i.e. the ones you genuinely look forward to updating in your feed and happily share -  are, at their core, entertaining stories and so get a producer who values editorial pre-production as much as technical production. By researching your guests and putting genuine thought into your discussion and scripts ahead of time you are respecting your contributors and your listeners - and your host will come off as an absolute star; the women I work with at the FT on Culture Call are brilliant interviewers as a result of the remarkable journalistic integrity they bring to the table. Culture Call is an extension of the FT brand - it’s hosted by two FT editors and brings listeners behind the scenes every now and then but ultimately our listeners stay for the fact that they have two smart as hell hosts talking to the people who are pushing culture forward.

  5. Before you start, ring-fence your branding clearly - will you mention it once at the top and leave it? Half way through? Or even just in the artwork and not at all in the audio? However heavily or lightly your brand features please don’t try and subtly drop it in ninja style - podcast audiences readily understand that brands pay for great content but won’t take kindly to feeling like they’re being tricked into listening to an advert.

Lina Prestwood is a former documentaries commissioning editor at Channel 4 and executive producer at Virtue where she was responsible for the branded content of brands such as Mazda and Lexus, including the viral film First Flight for Vodafone (which won a couple of Cannes Lions and a Lovie and was watched over 4m times on YouTube). Her audio documentaries about Fathers and Sons for Mr. Porter took gold for Best Branded and Podcast of the Year at the British Podcast Awards in 2017 and she currently produces Culture Call for the FT.

Listen to Lina's podcast by clicking the image below.

Fanclub favs. Books

As parents will know, it's World Book Day, today. To celebrate, rather than coming into work dressed as our favourite character, we've decided to share some of our favourite reads with you. Enjoy.

Amy Hall: 'When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit', by Judith Kerr

I have always been a voracious reader and as a child I got absolutely lost in books, so it’s impossible to pick one all-time favourite. But one book that has always stayed with me and that I read over and over again as a child was When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr.

I think most people have encountered and been touched by one or more of Judith Kerr’s beautiful stories at some point in their lives and I am so enjoying reading all of the Mog series to my two young girls. But Pink Rabbit was just so enchanting to me. It’s frightening (especially knowing as I did that it’s based on Kerr’s own life), thrilling and emotional and takes place before the start of the second world war so the tension is palpable. Quite a big theme for a 6-year-old (which is when I first read it) but so sensitively handled. The rest of the trilogy is no less brilliant.

Fabian Castellani: 'Utopia for Realists', by Rutger Bregman

I can safely say that this work from Rutger Bregman gave me a little glimmer of hope for our world. It’s a huge claim, but once you’ve read this, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.

The way our society is structured isn’t conducive to living our best lives, but many of us don’t understand what we can change or are told that the solutions we have aren’t suitable by everyone from business owners to politicians. Rutger argues very convincingly for Universal basic income, a 15-hour working week and open borders, as well as presenting solutions for homelessness. And these aren’t just simple ‘oh let’s try this’ ideas; they’re fully researched concepts that have actual studies to back them up (including a study by charity Broadway to tackle homelessness in the City of London by simply giving homeless people grants).

It will honestly open your eyes as to how we can create a ‘utopia’ aka the lives we truly deserve, whilst still in-keeping with the notion of capitalism we’ve come to accept as ‘normal’.

Hannah Kalyan: "21 Lessons for the 21st Century", by Yuval Noah Harari

If you’re looking for an easy-read or a feel-good story, this is not the book for you. But, what Yuval does provide is refreshing clarity on the todays most debated and complex issues, something that can feel incredibly rare in a world dominated by fake news and click-bait headlines.

While you might need Alexa to help you define a couple words (or every other word in my case!), it is a must read for the new generations who have the tricky job of navigating the moral and political implications of biotechnology to human irrelevant in the face of Big Data algorithms.

Emilee Senchyna: "The Outsiders", by S.E Hinton

I have to admit, I am not a big reader… Nothing against books, I just have a short attention span - so any book I am going to read needs to entice me within the first chapter.

Thinking back to the books I have read, 'The Outsiders' by S.E Hinton has always had a special place in my heart. The story follows a young Ponyboy Curtis as he details the conflict between two rival gangs divided by their socioeconomic status: the working-class ‘Greasers’ and the upper-class ‘Socs’. I started out by watching the film and maybe it was the hunky 80’s star-studded cast that got my attention – but after watching, I was hooked. After finishing the novel in record time, I was then one of those people who now claimed, ‘the book is better than the movie’.

Lucky for me the year after I read the book – it was chosen as the novel study for English class, so you could say I was an expert in all things Greasers and Socs. Till this day, I can recite monologs from Ponyboy and still shed a tear up when Jonny passes away (sorry for the spoiler). For a long time, I even wanted to get ‘stay gold’ tattooed on me, and who knows maybe I still will.

Adrian Ma: "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 

I’ve always enjoyed ‘magical realism’ since reading Louis de Berniere’s (of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ fame) Latin American Trilogy as a teenager. In a world where science rules, it’s comforting to escape to a place where mysticism and greater forces play with the fate of the story’s characters. It’s a place where in a post-rational (or ‘Post-Truth) world, we may once again find ourselves.

To me, there are three books that really stand out in this genre, Isabelle Allende’s ‘House of Spirits’, a beautiful tale that follows four generations in Chile in which characters have paranormal powers, Salman Rushie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’, a tale about a generation of Indian children - born on the hour of India’s independence - who develop supernatural talents, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One ‘Hundred Years of Solitude’. Of these, Marquez’s story about the fictional town of Macondo, which transforms from a place of magic, to one that, after generations of contact with the modern world, falls into a ruin is my selection for this year. This story paints a powerful cautionary tale for the world in which we live today, where we’re discovering the true cost of economic progress to our natural environment.

Emily Barnes: "On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous", by Ocean Vuong

Given my indecisiveness, I don’t think I could pick a favourite book of all time. But a book that I read recently which I really loved was “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous" by Ocean Vuong. The author is actually also a poet, and the structure of the novel reads like a poetry collection. It’s about a gay immigrant boy in the US, written as a letter to his illiterate mother; compelling and honest on the complicated relationship between a mother and son. I really loved it and it was like nothing I had read before.


Welcome to the team The Chemistry Group

One of the books that has most influenced me is called “From Good To Great” by Jim Collins, in which he studied the traits of high performing companies. Chapter Three is titled, “Who… Then What”. The basic premise of this is that “good-to-great leaders” begin transformation by finding the right people, then figuring what to do with them. In other words, the right talent in the right roles is the engine of high-perfoming companies, over and above anything else. It’s something I absolutely believe in.

So too, does our latest client The Chemistry Group. It believes that everyone should have the opportunity to be brilliant at work. And it has the behavioural and data scientists, and technology to help match people to roles by predicting their performance with stunning accuracy.

They liked us, too. Roger Philby, CEO at The Chemistry Group, commented, “Fanclub really impressed us as an agency that shares both our business values and ambition to help everyone thrive at work. Fanclub was able to demonstrate its expertise with a clear strategy to convey a compelling narrative and build our position as a trusted talent strategy partner to today’s top business leaders”.

Good chemistry, you might say. Onwards to great work, then.