Walter Isaacson Is Getting Into Podcasting With a Series About Technology

Documenting industries going through digital transformations

Walter Isaacson is giving audio storytelling a spin for Dell Technologies.
Dell Technologies

Publishing, entertainment and hospitality are a handful of industries going through massive technological changes, but behind every change is a story about the people responsible for making it happen.

That’s the premise of Dell Technologies’ new six-part podcast series called Trailblazers, which launches today. Working with Vancouver-based branded podcast company Pacific Content, the series is hosted by journalist Walter Isaacson, who is known within the tech world for writing the eponymous biography of Steve Jobs in 2011. In Trailblazers, Isaacson tells the stories and history behind technology’s impact on business.

Dell

“I’ve written about a lot of digital technologies that have been disrupted, but I hadn’t realized how many fields ranging from photography to cinema have gone through disruptions in the past century,” Isaacson told Adweek. “People write these books about seven steps to being an innovator or 12 secrets to be a disruptor, but the real way to understand innovation is through the people who have actually done it. In this case, it’s not just some how-to podcast—it’s storytelling. It’s narrative. It’s history.”

Trailblazers tackles the entertainment industry in the first 30-minute episode with the story of studio executive and talent agent Lew Wasserman.

While Isaacson’s claim to fame is books and written journalism, Trailblazers is the first time he has experimented with podcasting.

“Sometimes, when you’re creating websites, you’re letting people hop and link all over the place, but a podcast, like a book, basically sits somebody down and says, ‘Let me tell you a story,'” Isaacson said.

Chris Boyce, co-owner and principal at Pacific Content, described the series as a mix of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast and Isaacson’s 2014 book The Innovators, which is about the contributions Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Larry Page and others made to the history of computer technology.

“When you dig into those industries, what you find is amazing stories of people in companies that were at the center of that change,” Boyce said.

For instance, one episode focuses on iconic photography brand Kodak and its struggle to embrace digital photographic technology that ultimately led to the company filing for bankruptcy in 2012. “It’s moments like that—what it was like to present this idea to executives who couldn’t see the potential of that invention and how it was going to transform the industry—that bring the concepts of technological change to life,” Boyce said.

Episodes of Trailblazers will roll out every two weeks. In addition to entertainment and photography, newspapers, fast food, video games and hospitality are the other topics the podcast will explore.

Isaacson isn’t the only journalist dabbling in podcasting. Malcolm Gladwell made the switch from text to audio, as has TV anchor Katie Couric.

“Trailblazers is an interesting motif for the podcasting industry, too, because kind of like the golden age of TV where a lot of creators are doing interesting stuff, it’s happening the same way for audio right now,” said Steve Pratt, principal of Pacific Content. “Podcasting is such an intimate medium. It is more casual and conversational than a lot of other mediums and to have Walter in your ear telling you really, really good stories [has] a lot of high production value.”

The podcast is a way to subtly pitch the 1-year-old Dell Technologies, an umbrella company for seven brands including Dell, Dell EMC and VMware.

“Our customers and the people that we’re trying to reach are challenged in working through the fast, ever-growing, ever-changing world of digital and how it’s transforming industries and their business,” explained Liz Matthews, senior vp, global brand and creative at Dell. “We want this content to be in service of our customers or our potential customers.”

Unlike other sponsored podcasts, Dell Technologies’ doesn’t include ad breaks, and it doesn’t make a hard sell for any specific product. Isaacson mentions that Dell is behind the series during the first couple of minutes, and another call to action at the end prompts users to go to the brand’s website.

In conjunction with the podcast, Dell Technologies has launched a new section of its website called Perspectives, with content geared toward business leaders and chief information officers. The brand is also running retargeted digital ads and media within NPR podcasts to promote the show.

“More and more progressive brands are realizing that you really have to create relationships with people by doing stuff they love, and that means making awesome programming that’s not directly about us,” Pacific Content’s Pratt said. “A lot of these brands are thinking like media companies and building their own audiences.”