In January 2017, after several months of planning, fundraising, and connecting wires, Preservation Maryland launched our newest project: a weekly podcast called PreserveCast. While it may be recorded in Maryland, the podcast is national in its content, interviews, and reach.
In Print, Online, and Now On Air
Preservation Maryland made the strategic decision to launch our own podcast as a component of a broader content-driven communications strategy. Having revived an abandoned print newsletter in 2015, we were already heavily invested in print as well as online communication tools, but the jump to professionally produced audio communications was a leap for our 86-year-old organization.
We had a few reasons for pursuing this relatively new medium. First and foremost, there has been explosive growth in the number of podcast listeners in recent years. Since 2008 the percentage of Americans listening to podcasts on a monthly basis skyrocketed from just below 9 percent to nearly 17 percent. Worldwide there are more than 1 billion podcast subscribers, which makes the marketplace anything but niche.
In Maryland, the numbers make even more sense. On-demand content is a valuable resource and outlet for commuters—and Maryland drivers know a commute. Maryland consistently ranks as one of the worst states in the nation for commuting, with the average driving commute clocking in at 32 minutes and the average public transit commute taking more than 48 minutes. Drivers and rail commuters are desperate for diversions, and podcasting has been a smash hit among this audience.
Finally, as with most organizations, Preservation Maryland is focused on the future and diligently working to make sure that we remain financially secure and supported by a broad and diverse base from around the state. Simply put, we need to engage with younger Marylanders and convince them that our work is relevant to their lives. While podcast listeners are demographically diverse, the medium remains target rich for millennials and the much-sought-after 24–35 age bracket. From an analytical standpoint, the podcast seemed like an obvious next step for Preservation Maryland.
Going from “it’s a great idea” to “we’re live” was roughly a year-long process. It started with fundraising—with dollars coming from the National Center for Preservation Training and Technology through a partnership with Maryland’s Anacostia Trails Heritage Area. Additional support came from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as well as from private and corporate donors. We spent approximately $5,000 on audio equipment in order to achieve the highest quality possible. For example, analog microphones were selected over the cheaper, easier-to-use digital microphones due in large part to the rich, melodious tone that only an analog mic can produce. And the balance of the funds we raised helped defray the cost of hiring a part-time audio producer to schedule guests and edit the recordings in post-production, removing “uhh” and “umm” moments.
During the planning period, the Preservation Maryland team settled on the show’s style: year one has featured an in-depth conversation with experts in various aspects of preservation technology. The team also produced the show’s intro and recorded taglines, voiceovers, and advertisements for institutional and corporate sponsors. We created an aggressive 52-episode production schedule and circulated a guest list among friends and colleagues. Then, in early December, the microphones went live, and PreserveCast transitioned from idea to reality.
Progress to Date
Fortunately, digital distribution methods provide great opportunities for in-depth analysis of both the quantities and qualities of people who are downloading content. Unlike with printed materials, we know how many listeners have downloaded PreserveCast, and often we even know a little bit about them—mostly their location and age range.
In the first six months, PreserveCast has been downloaded roughly 3,000 times. Although we are always striving for greater reach, the current download numbers indicate that our new show is averaging 500 listeners per month—which, when compared to many other mediums, is a decent audience. But, as with all things in marketing and communications, one year’s worth of data is likely not enough to measure the value of a program. Fortunately, Preservation Maryland plans to continue producing the podcast, so we will soon be able to evaluate the return on our investment.
Anecdotally, the podcast is beginning to create a buzz locally and beyond, with supporters and decision-makers alike. Conversion from listeners to supporters has been tricky, but we have thus far avoided making any robust “asks” so as not to alienate or drive away new listeners. Ultimately, our goal isn’t just to raise dollars, but to facilitate important conversations, to establish relevancy with a younger demographic, and to build a new platform for highlighting the work of state and local colleagues in the trenches of preservation around the nation.
You can find PreserveCast at www.preservecast.org or download it through iTunes, GooglePlay, or wherever you enjoy your podcasts.
Nicholas Redding is the executive director of Preservation Maryland.
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