Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
6 mins read

Why turning newsletters into podcasts and podcasts into newsletters is a great strategy for publishers

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Three reasons: continue building an existing brand; utilise basic SEO tactics of repackaging and republishing; give more reasons to the audience for content consumption and deepening a relationship

During the pandemic, many news publishers were reconsidering their own content offers and even the biggest ones realised that it makes sense to build bundles. Now, I don’t mean bundles in the traditional sense of strapping many subscriptions together. I mean content bundles built around an established brand that is working.

That’s how CNN’s 5 Things morning newsletter became a podcast and also expanded into a TV segment on the morning show. Then there is The Washington Post’s The 7, which also started as a newsletter that was also made into audio with text-to-speech technology and later became a full fledged podcast with its own production and voice.

Both stories touched on an important thing – the two publishers found a strong sub brand and used it to expand into other forms. At first sight it sounds almost too easy, and a question quickly comes to mind: why don’t all publishers, big or small, do the same with their popular podcasts or newsletters?

To be honest, the reasons for not doing it more broadly escape me, but I see more publishers expanding their sub brands into more formats, albeit it is usually one sub brand that gets this treatment.

One rationale I can think of is that even though it is just a little bit extra work to expand from newsletter to podcast or vice versa, it is still extra work and there isn’t simply anyone who could do it.

My usual response to this is “stop doing something else you are doing and is not working”. Of course, that is only if you see more potential with expanding an existing intellectual property (IP), meaning the sub brand.

(Why I): Build on existing IP and make the most out of it

I think that looking at this problem from the point of view of an IP helps. Imagine you put money, manpower, energy and thought into building a newsletter. It drives subscriptions, helps to retain readers and subscribers and keeps growing. All signs of a good IP.

If you were a Hollywood executive with a successful IP in their hands, you would be thinking of new seasons, a movie, theme park, merch and licensing. The same kind of thinking should apply here as well.

Newsletters are great because you can track them nicely and see actionable data immediately (i.e. did the newsletter subscriber become a paying subscriber?).

Even though with podcasts publishers don’t get the same clear funnel view of listeners, expanding a newsletter into a podcast is nowadays logical, and research tells us they drive loyalty by building a habit.

Consider this – the more habit building touchpoints there are between a publisher or an outlet and a subscriber, the longer he or she stays subscribed. If it is a reader or listener, being subscribed to the newsletter and podcast at the same time makes them more likely to become a paying subscriber.

And this is not just me writing it now; NY Times CEOs think the same. Mark Thompson talked about it in his exit interview at an IPI conference. Meredith Kopit Levien doubled down on it in an interview with Ben Thompson of Stratechery.

(Why II): Repackaging and republishing

Another reason to look at your current content offering and audit existing podcasts and newsletters to see where you can spin up companion formats is a basic good practice I learned from SEO experts.

Any SEO specialist I met or worked with always mentioned republishing. Sure, they meant in a little bit different way of updating “old but gold” content that drives traffic to drive even more.

What I mean is taking a newsletter or a podcast, repackaging it into a different format and republishing it (I list some best practices below).

There are several ways you can go about this.

The basic approach if you have a popular newsletter is creating a 1:1 audio version of it (either read by the author or using a text-to-speech tool). You can then publish the audio as a podcast and start building a following for it as well.

Speaking of, you can do the same with audio versions of your articles on a smaller website – bundle them together and offer a simple podcast experience (I will talk about why in the next section).

Another approach is thinking of the podcast to newsletter as an extension. The content is not the same, but you use the sub brand name of the product to reinforce it. Let’s say you write a weekly overview newsletter, but want to go further with the podcast – so it is an interview show, and you use the newsletter to drive listeners and offer readers extra audio content.

(Why III): Audience-centric format extension

Giving audiences a choice to listen when they want and read when they are in a hurry is simply following the audience needs framework. Also, who doesn’t like to have more options when it comes to content consumption.

Anyway, even though this might seem like repeating the arguments I already mentioned, it is just to reinforce how useful it can be to have an audio version of your newsletter or have a companion newsletter to your podcast.

Five years ago, I started a technology news podcast with a colleague, and about two years later we introduced a companion newsletter. The reason to start the newsletter came mainly from audience needs: there are so many tech topics in a week that we never got to everything, and we have almost always left the studio with a few prepared topics we didn’t get to discuss, so the audience never heard them.

So we decided to write everything down in a newsletter, even the topics we got to cover. The incentive to subscribe also to the newsletter was twofold – to get the extra content that wasn’t mentioned in the podcast and to have access to the links, images, memes or videos mentioned on the show.

It worked – one third of the audience also subscribes to the newsletter, and these two features are repeatedly mentioned by them as the main reasons they get it weekly in their inboxes.

Best practices for promoting a podcast in a newsletter

Links are fine for promoting a podcast in a newsletter, but in order to really convey that there is also audio involved, a more visual cue is advised.

The very lowkey approach is a simple headphones icon or emoji and a prompt to listen to the audio version that is either a link to the website or a smart link that takes the reader straight to the podcasting apps.

A more visual approach would mean adding an audio player. Substack for example supports Spotify audio player embeds and also visualises it in the newsletter.

You can do something similar either built-in to the newsletter generator or simply take a screenshot of the audio player you use on the website, add it as an image and link to the online version of the newsletter (or use a smart link).

A good practice would be to always include the podcast promotion at the same spot in the newsletter – either in the beginning or the end (although I would suggest doing it in the beginning).

You can of course start promoting the companion podcast straight after someone subscribes to the newsletter – either by mentioning the podcast on the thank you page or having the promotion as a part of the new newsletter subscriber onboarding journey.

Best practices for promoting a newsletter on a podcast

Promoting a newsletter on a podcast is undoubtedly a harder task because with podcasts your audience is usually doing something else and doesn’t have access to a keyboard straight away.

The single best idea is to include a link to the newsletter in each podcast episode description. Then, when you mention the newsletter in the show, you can direct the audience to find the signup link in the show notes.

Another alternative is to create a short link which is not complicated and possibly memorable and simple enough. You can mention the short link directly on the show.

Many podcasters also promote their newsletter on the podcast homepage. The key to successfully promoting the newsletter on the podcast is giving listeners the right incentives to want to subscribe to the newsletter (e.g. reading listener questions you got as a reply to the newsletter) and consistently promoting the newsletter in each podcast.

David Tvrdon

This piece was originally published in The Fix and is re-published with permission.