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“A new dimension to our brand”: How BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine achieved 1M podcast downloads

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BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine achieved a major milestone last month when its podcast was downloaded more than 1 million times. In some ways, the feat is nothing remarkable – Joe Rogan’s 1169 episode with Elon Musk garnered 50M downloads alone – but for a specialist publishing brand to launch a podcast and seventeen months later reach the 1M milestone is an impressive achievement.

Produced by the editorial team behind BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine and, the ‘Growing Greener’ podcast was launched in November 2020 – here’s the trailer – and features a mix of Gardeners’ World Magazine contributors and British horticultural experts such as Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh, Adam Frost, and Mark Lane.

The podcast’s success is in no small measure linked to a renewed interest in gardening and horticulture spurred by the Covid pandemic lockdowns. This has been reflected in the podcast’s most popular episodes, with health and wellbeing, sustainability, wildlife gardening and homegrown food topping the ratings.

The resurgence in interest in gardening has also been mirrored in the podcast’s audience profile, which whilst pegged at an average age of 53 years has attracted an increasingly younger listenership of people in their twenties and thirties. Crucially, the podcast has also expanded the awareness and popularity of the BBC’s Gardener’s World brand with 40% of listeners originating from overseas. 

A successful podcast formula

Esther Kezia Thorpe, Co-Founder of Media Voices and the Publisher Podcast Awards, is not surprised by the success of the podcast, citing the fact that the Gardeners’ World brand is licensed to a pioneering UK publisher – Immediate Media – as a key element in the brand’s success.

Having watched Immediate Media’s podcast strategy evolve and mature, I’m not surprised the team has managed to reach this milestone in such a short amount of time. The publisher has seen huge success with other established podcasts such as History Extra, and is now taking those learnings and applying them to its other brands, helped by a well-oiled centralized production team.

Esther Kezia Thorpe, Co-Founder of Media Voices and the Publisher Podcast Awards

Kezia Thorpe makes a well-founded point – History Extra podcast, launched in 2007, has been a standout success for Immediate Media generating over 4 million listens a month. It is now a seven-figure brand with revenue generated primarily through programmatic and direct advertising.

If you have a successful podcast, the demand is there from the advertising perspective. Within the History Extra podcast, we have a very strong direct sold sponsorship line, complemented by some network sales of aggregated audio advertising that is building this business that’s on the trajectory to hit a run rate of over seven figures a year.

Duncan Tickell, Chief Revenue Officer, Immediate Media, speaking to Media Voices

Duncan Tickell, Chief Revenue Officer for Immediate Media, adds that History Extra, which has been in existence for fifteen years – an eternity in podcast terms – has given Immediate Media a rock-solid foundation in how to successfully grow a podcast. Speaking to Media Voices, he states that content consistency is key, “We found that the amount of content that you put out makes a big difference. Through testing and learning, we’ve arrived at what we think is the optimal level for History Extra, which is four episodes a week. Now, we go on that journey with our other brands, which is to work out what formats work, what type of content works.”

A centralized podcast resource

Whilst Gardeners’ World podcast is nowhere near History Extra in terms of podcast frequency – it has so far produced just 40 episodes in total spanning three series – its success has been partly built off the back of the learnings from History Extra. Key to this is a centralized podcast resource that every Immediate Media brand can tap into.

Speaking to WNIP, Lucy Hall, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Editor, says, ” All recordings are made by the magazine content team, as themes often link to current print content, while the digital promotions are built by the web content team. (However) we draw on the expertise of the central Immediate Media podcast department (a team of 3), to ensure production quality is of high broadcast quality, as befits a BBC licensed title.”

Decisions on guests and themes are made collectively by the team as part of the overall brand content strategy, driven by audience research, search volumes and data analytics.

Lucy Hall, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Editor

Hall also disclosed what platforms were working best for Gardeners’ World podcast, citing Apple as the clear winner with 71% of total downloads, followed by Spotify at 13% with Google Podcasts coming in at a mere 3%.

Podcasts are promoted via the podcast platforms – Acast and, notably, in Apple’s New & Noteworthy, which drove huge awareness last spring-summer as the podcast was launching. We also promote via our own channels – through social media, email newsletters, in-magazine promotions and on the website home page.

Lucy Hall, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Editor

Learnings for other publishers

Hall comments that if she could go through the process again, she’d take the plunge quicker and launch sooner, “We wasted several months trying to develop an overly complicated magazine format. KISS principles apply – a simpler format means a quicker turnaround time, so just put it out, test and learn.”

Keep it simple – test audience appetite with a short series (10-12 episodes) using content and guests that reflect the brand, because your core audience will be the first to sample what you put out. A series approach doesn’t over-commit you at first, and gives you an opportunity to repromote each series.

Lucy Hall, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Editor

As regards other advice, Halls adds that leveraging the Apple platform is vital, “Pour energy into trying to secure Apple promotion, in their New & Noteworthy, and make a punchy graphic that gives standout.”

Put the podcast content through the same decision-making as every other strand, to ensure consistency and quality across all your formats. Make time to edit the content – just as you do other formats – because while you want to keep it natural, no one wants to hear self-indulgent presenting.

Lucy Hall, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Editor

Hall also says that investing in good podcasting equipment is key, “Invest in good recording kit and use it consistently – not just your laptop or smartphone microphone – as podcast audiences are awash with options so why would they listen to low-quality audio, however good the content.”

Finally, Hall adds that there is “no normal anymore” and advises other publishers to test out what works for them best, “Test out different timings – received wisdom was 20-minute episodes to suit commuter timescales but our highest listen-throughs have been on episodes over 40 minutes.”

Our primary podcast aim was engagement and reach – which we’ve achieved. Our related promotions will pull in subscribers over time because the more our audience spends time in our company, on whatever format, the more likely it is they’ll subscribe – and stay with us.

Lucy Hall, BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine Editor