How researchers get heard
Abstract lines

Why You Must Both Experiment & Minimize Risk

Let’s say you have a new white paper or book coming out and you want to expand the audience for it beyond your usual people.

Even though people keep saying podcasts are dying, you’ve done a little research and you know they’re not — so you decide podcasts should be part of your outreach strategy. But podcasts take a lot of time to prep for, and being on the wrong ones can be a disaster or at least a waste of time. So: Which ones?

Start with a list of criteria. What qualities would a podcast have that would make it ideal for your messages? The list might look something like this:

Thematic match

  • Relevance of podcast themes to your/your organization’s themes.
    • Match between the podcast’s known audiences and the audiences you want to target (do your key audiences know about it and/or the hosts?)
    • Odds (between 0-100%) that you’ll be able to talk about what you want to talk about on the podcast.

Distribution/branding match

  • Twitter followers of podcast (as a rough gauge of interest and distribution potential )
    • Twitter followers of host and/or sponsoring organization
    • Frequency of podcast drops/recency of last drop (are they active and consistent?)
    • Distribution of podcast (is it on all directories?)
    • Professionalism of podcast (does it sound good? is it confrontational or respectful?)

As you research individual podcasts to pitch, list them in a spreadsheet and create columns for each of these categories. Sort by Twitter followers first, then look for the the top ones that also check off most or all of the rest of the boxes. You’ll quickly be able to identify the top 4-6 podcasts to pitch and — as important — justify holding off on pitching the rest. And you can also use the list to vet podcast guesting requests that come to you out of the blue.

The above is basic translation of strategic communications into tactics. Creating a criteria list minimizes the risk that you’re wasting your time engaging with any single outreach target, because the list forces you to decide and act in line with a minimum or at least defensible level of “strategic,” both in terms of match between your aims and the target’s aims and between your ambitions for a bigger audience and the ability of the target to help more people.

But what if you want to attempt a tactic for which you can’t gauge the strategic ROI? (Starting a Substack newsletter, let’s say.) For which the outreach is necessarily a risk of your time and resources?

I recently wrote a one-page strategic brief for a client interested in moving the bulk of their outreach energies from Twitter to Substack. The move has gone well so far — but the brief is filled with hypotheticals (and, frankly, the move still is). The brief assumes writing on Substack regularly will eventually activate a number of the network effects Substack can be really good at — increased exposure of the client and their ideas to grass-top audiences, to media and to Substack’s own stable of writer-influencers, to name a few. And the client’s Substack will be the first of its kind topically. But there is no guarantee it will work. It’s best approached as an experiment that you commit to and invest in — commit for the minimum amount of time necessary to generate market signals of success or failure, and invest the necessary amount of creativity and outreach slog necessary to fuel.

Every public expert has risks to minimize and experiments whose risks they have to embrace because the payoff could be handsome. That’s why it’s best to have a portfolio of strategic outreach and experiments — to diversify your strategic outreach, and not to just wait for the next paper to form a communications plan, or to say “I just tweet.”