The Power of Podcasting – Interview with Jack Sweeney

Backbone Media's Paul Salvaggio discusses the power of podcasting with marketing thought leader Jack Sweeney in this audio blog post. More and more of Backbone's clients are launching podcasts to boost thought leader visibility among other things so this is a highly relevant topic for content marketers.

Paul: Okay, today I want to welcome Jack Sweeney. He's the Managing Director and podcast host of Middle Market Executive and he currently has two podcasts. One is the Middle Market Thought Leader podcast and the other is the CFO Thought Leader podcast. He was recently named a Top 50 Influencer in new business podcasts.
Jack: Very well. Very well, Paul. Thanks for having me.
Paul: My pleasure. Let's get right into it, Jack. I really want to dive into the power of podcasting and how you have seen successes with podcasting. But first, to set the stage, tell us briefly about Middle Market.
Jack: Happy to, happy to. Middle Market Executive is a content platform designed to help marketers reach middle market business leaders. Our goal is to become the leader in on-demand audio for the middle market C-suite. Kind of a lofty goal, but that's what we're shooting at.As for the middle market, these are businesses between $10 million and $1 billion in revenue. There are quite a few of them today. There's something like 200,000 middle market companies that comprise the US middle market anyway. According to the National Center for the Middle Market, they encompass something like 44.5 million jobs and generate more than $10 trillion in combined revenue every year, so they're pretty significant to the economy but very often overlooked. They get overlooked. A lot of the executives that get interviewed by the mainstream press business pages are often from large enterprise players. This is a set of companies that are very influential. They're growing very quickly. They have sort of innate dynamics within and different priorities sometimes from larger businesses, so they're important to pay attention to. You asked about CFO Thought Leader? That, of course, was our first podcast that we launched roughly about a year ago. Interestingly I would argue today that CFO Thought Leader is playing an important role for finance leaders out there who are seeking to demonstrate that they can be thought leaders. Now, in the world of business there's a major theme in the ranks of financial executives that there's a changing role of the CFO. In fact it is changing, it's changing very quickly and it's becoming a much more collaborative role where the finance leadership and the finance team has to collaborate across the enterprise and help grow the business. Now, you can't talk, you can't articulate the ideas, you can't grow the business.
Paul: That's a key point, too, right? You mentioned thought leader, and some say that it's an overused term. I see a thought leader simply as subject matter expert in your company. Its someone who can add value to the brand simply by communicating a story about their experiences or know how. So how would you describe a thought leader?
Jack: Right. Well, a thought leader is very clearly that person in your company who's capable of bringing ideas forward and advancing them outward in a thoughtful and engaging fashion. They're able to capture people's attention using ideas and articulating strategies that can be propelled by those ideas. In my mind, that's a thought leader.Sometimes companies have to search around and find the guy who can do it. So often they're trying to position the CEO or the CFO or remember the C-suite who's got the gift. Not everybody does. Companies can sit down and try to create their thought leadership. Some succeed better than others. Anyway, at any given time, usually you know who the thought leader is in your company.
Paul: I agree. It's someone that's comfortable either speaking or writing and can really keep someone's attention over a long period of time by telling a solid story. You mentioned storytelling quite a bit on your website. Tell me about the power of the spoken word and why you got into podcasting.
Jack: Yeah, very interesting. When you mentioned storytelling, that is very clearly the type of podcast we are seeking to produce. I say "seeking"; we don't always succeed, but we try to bring stories out of business executives. Not only that, we're trying to bring them out of finance executives, which can be pretty challenging.You might be aware of a podcast called "Entrepreneur on Fire" where John Lee Dumas, he interviews entrepreneurs and at the very start he says, "Are you ready to ignite?" What he means by that, "Are you ready to ignite?" are you ready to bring your passion, are you ready to bring your stories and share them with my audience.Well, it's interesting because I don't think finance executives necessarily ignite and that's one of the challenges, I think, in the sector that we're in. However, given who they are, and these are highly successful executives, clearly. These are very intelligent people who came up through the accounting ranks, very numerically savvy. So you've got these extraordinary, well-trained individuals who haven't always had communication skills as a high priority. So along the way, and we do do a prep call where we discuss the questions first. Why? Because we want them to think about the question and possibly come forward with a story. Let's face it, we're not all so gifted where we can, at the drop of a hat, come up with a wonderful story -- a beginning, middle, end -- that delivers a message.Yeah, I find it very interesting. One of the things that I think is surprising to some of the people we interview is I continually emphasize that we're creating a piece of content about them but what we're really creating is a piece of content optimized to help them connect with others.
Paul: And that's a great point.
Jack: They have to understand the difference, and there is a difference. Coming from the journalistic ranks, I will tell you this is not necessarily pure journalism. We're not trying to tell their story. I'm trying to create a piece of content that can really help them connect and be engaging. It might not tell all the warts and all facts about an individual, and there's a difference.
Paul: Yeah, I agree. One of the things that we did, Jack, back in the summer, was we spoke to over 35 top marketing thought leaders, and an overarching theme was to learn to tell a story either written or over a podcast, and the elements of the story need to be such that it doesn't talk about your product or your service. The hero of the story needs to be the target audience themselves where you can invoke some emotion in them, and based on that you're going to create engaging content. Can you touch on that a little bit?
Jack: Yeah, I think you're dead on. I think if you're creating something where they can relate to, you need to create that story. Tell that story where they suddenly feel that they're standing beside you, that they're on the same playing field as you so they can really relate to the challenge that you might be discussing and the notion that you're going to give them some insight into how to tackle it or how you overcame that obstacle. That's worth gold to them and the more you make it feels as if, "Hey, this person has experienced something similar to me," they're going to be glued.
Paul: Exactly, and there's going to be an emotional connection. Talk to me a little bit about podcasting, the power of podcasting and the spoken word and the popularity that it's now experiencing. I'll give you an example. I see people at the gym listening to a podcast. I cut my lawn listening to a podcast. It's a channel where you can do other things in this busy world, but still listen and learn, so give me your thoughts on that.
Jack: Yeah, I do. I believe we're part of a land rush right now. For those of us who are part of it, there's little question there's a ground swell among consumers of audio content, and listening habits are changing quickly and we're one of the -- keep with my metaphor -- early homesteaders out here. I feel as though we're sinking some roots down, but the fact is that we can all take our own little personal listening inventory here. Every time I hop in a car now, if I know the trip is going to be 30 minutes, I'm trying to make sure I have my iPhone sync so I can listen to a podcast and make good use of the time.
Paul: Sure.
Jack: Two years ago I wasn't doing that. I wasn't listening to podcasts. I don't have a commute necessarily, a long commute anymore. I once did take the train into Manhattan everyday an hour. Well, I can tell you, I can't imagine anybody haven't begun listening to podcasts who have a commute like that. It's just a perfect environment.
Paul: It's funny you should say that. I was going to interrupt you and say my commute is an hour and 15 minutes and my family rolls their eyes. They say, "How can you do that?" I said, "Man, I look forward to it because I can catch my ebooks, my audio books, a podcast. It's just a great escape and the time flies.
Jack: It really does, and once you've got the habit, and is news to me, I've got the habit. I said two years ago, it was probably only a year ago that I began really getting into a pattern trying to discover those times where I could be listening to podcasts and enjoying that fact that I found certain parts of my day where I could.
Paul: It's very interesting because, not that I uncovered the data, it was always there but I recently read data that 25% of audio listening is podcasting. A big portion is radio and FM and AM radio, but podcasting is growing and there's a few reasons for that. You mentioned automobiles. Another one is smartphones. But another reason podcasts are becoming more and more popular, I read, is because of the qualities and characteristics of the podcast listener. They become more engaged, they're loyal, they listen to a podcast an average of maybe five to six times a week and they listen throughout, so it's not like they're listening to the first five minutes. In terms of customer loyalty, that's the perfect ingredient of someone that you want to capture, so I think that's another key reason why people are delving into this space.
Jack: I'd agree and we're getting more of variety. The quality's improving. We're all trying to step it up with our best practices, so it's certainly an interesting time to see how things evolve. We keep on hearing about new radio talent that is trying to move over with their content. I think we're going to see sort of where we are. We're sort of in a niche, middle market businesses we've got.
Paul: That's right.
Jack: While other business podcasts may be moving in for the moment, we feel like, "Hey, this is great. We've got our niche. Let's stay here, stick to our knitting. Let's continue to figure out ways to get more of the C-suite executives listening to us."
Paul: That's right, and what a great phrase ... A land rush. That's what I feel as well. My final question to you, Jack, is what advice would you give to a B2B company considering launching a podcast or tapping into their busy thought leader to, say, participate in a podcast. Any key words of wisdom for them?

Jack: Absolutely. You want to make content that connects with other individuals, other people out there. You should be thinking about how to create good content that connects. Traditional thought leadership where you developed it in-house, it was always thinking perhaps sometimes a little too hard about how to wrap our strategy around a particular idea. I think with podcasting you need to be a little more freewheeling. You want to latch onto good ideas. Now, if you're creating this in-house, your people are going to be part of it. If they're interviewing, it gives you an opportunity to really reach out to other individuals in your company's orbit.If you want to do it all in-house and interview your own executives, I think you're missing a huge opportunity to connect with others and build momentum around ideas together. Think of this podcast, every time you send an invite to a potential interviewee, you're going to make a connection at the end. That content is going to have value to that individual to market for you.There's a huge strategy, as we know, of commingling content. That means the podcast that you produce is also going to be distributed by whoever you interview. That's a really neat dynamic. Again, think of it as this orbit that you're constantly saying, "Okay, who can we reach out to? Who's business is somewhat aligned with ours?" Of course you want to be picking up on interesting people, people who can articulate ideas.Paul: Exactly.Jack: Circling back to what we were talking about, who's the thought leader in your company? You're going to be trying to find those people in other companies because they are the ones who bring the passion.

Paul: Agreed. I feel another key success factor is not only finding that thought leader that can tell a story, but also the person in the company or a freelancer that is comfortable being the podcast host.  You need someone that is a strong subject matter expert and who can communicate as a host.  That's a key component to being successful.

Jack: I agree, and there's an art to that. Let's face it, there's a lot of timing, not stepping on it, and we know this is tough.

Paul: I'm still trying to manage it.

Jack: Yeah, and among the ranks, the finance executives, I still haven't mastered it yet either, but we're getting better anyway.

Paul: Well, I want to thank you for your time. I'm going to ask you in a moment where people can find you, but I just want to let everyone know that you're a Top 50 Influencer in New Business Podcasts,  Jack Sweeney. Jack, if someone wants to learn more, where can they find you?

Jack: Well, you'll find us either at or or of course on iTunes. Subscribe any time.

Paul: Fantastic.

Jack: Thanks so much, Paul. We enjoyed this. This was fun.

Paul: I agree. Let's do this again soon.

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