The 5 Secrets to Starting a New Podcast

Adweek's Podcast of the Year judges share their insights

a young woman records a podcast into a microphone
Launching a podcast requires a mix of strong strategic planning and the willingness to move quickly without trying to be perfect. Getty Images
Headshot of David Griner

We at Adweek recently announced our new Podcast of the Year Awards, celebrating audio excellence across 20 categories. Since we’ve assembled an incredible lineup of judges, all with direct podcasting experience, we wanted to take this time while submissions are open (that is, before we flood them with shows to judge) to hit them up for some advice.

First we posed the question all of us with a podcast get asked most often: What should you know before launching a show?

Our jurors’ responses covered a wide range of advice, but they boiled down to five key lessons that every aspiring podcaster should keep in mind:

1. Make sure you’re offering something new

“There are so many podcasts out there. What are you going to do to make yours stand out? Yes, equipment and production matter, but you need to figure out what your story is and how you’re interesting to more than just your friends, your coworkers and your mom.”
—Scott Monty, CEO of Scott Monty Strategies and co-host of I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere 

“We’re all thirsty for an unquenchable amount of content, but the ether is overflowing with mundane stories. Bring a unique point of view on a topic you’re an expert in, and you’ll be off to a good start.”
—Deb Archambault, executive producer, McCann New York

“You need a story. A hook. Anyone can ‘make’ a podcast. It’s not about the tech or the people involved. It’s about exploring the world around us and being part of that world. Find your lane—then own that lane. And inform us all.”
—Brad Burke, evp of integrated media strategy, Weber Shandwick

“I think the one thing someone should know before starting a podcast is to look at the landscape as it is at the moment. Am I offering anything different than the thousands of other podcasts out there? Use that knowledge to make something unique. Also get dope podcast art!”
—Josh Rios, video and podcast producer/editor, Adweek

2. Have a strategy, not just a theme

“There are many things I’ve learned along the way while starting and running my podcast, Work in Progress. The most important question you want to ask yourself is ‘What am I trying to accomplish with this podcast?’ To some, that could be a full-time job as a content creator; to others it could be a way to direct inbound traffic to your business. Knowing the overarching goal of your podcast helps to determine who you may want to have on as a guest and the overall format of the show.”
—Tiffany Parra, host, Work in Progress

“Know the audience you’re trying to reach. Don’t worry about whether they’ll tune in; just ensure you know who they are.”
—Chris Ariens, director of visuals and podcast producer, Adweek

“I firmly believe you need to know why you want to start a podcast before you actually start one. And that ‘why’ needs to be your guiding light and the foundation of your podcast. I know ‘starting’ one seems simple to do: recording software and a microphone. However, just because you create one, that does not mean people will flock to listen. Real stats for you: If your podcast episode gets more than 136 downloads within 30 days of its release, you are in the top 50% of podcasts. If your podcast episode gets more than 1,100 downloads within 30 days of its release, you are in the top 20% of podcasts. If your podcast gets more than 3,200 downloads within 30 days of its release, you are in the top 10% of podcasts. (Source: The Feed, Episode 145.) Start with your why. Be passionate about your why and go from there.”
—Taylor Bradford, creator and host, Boss Girl Creative

“I think the first thing is knowing your audience and who you’re speaking to on your broadcast. Does your messaging resonate with that community? Are you hitting all of the key points on your episodes to speak to that audience?”
—Rashidi Hendrix, founder and CEO, Metallic Entertainment

3. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll improve

“If you want to start a podcast, don’t make things more complicated than you need them to be. It can be as simple as pulling out your laptop, getting a mic and pressing record. It’s about telling the stories that are on your heart and sharing them with the people who need to hear it.”
—Kai Deveraux Lawson, co-host, Mixed Company Podcast

“Your first episode won’t be the best—and it shouldn’t be. It’s OK for your pilot to have some ‘umms’ and ‘likes’ in there. Don’t obsess on being perfect from the get-go. If you’re starting out a podcast, chances are you’re doing everything: hosting, recording, editing, emailing, etc. By all means, polish your content, but don’t edit out the authentic you off of it.”
Julian Gamboa, marketing and social media manager, Adweek

“You are going to hate the sound of your own voice when you first start recording. It’s inevitable. But remember that we’re always overly critical of ourselves, and, as long as you feel good about what you’re saying, the ‘how’ you say it will come naturally.”
Heide Palermo, director of Adweek’s Inside the Brand

4. Be patient. It’s a slow burn

“Growing a dedicated podcast audience from scratch takes time. Make sure the idea is something you really believe in and will stay dedicated to even if the numbers aren’t where you wanted/expected them to be.”
—Nick Gardner, Adweek video producer/editor and host of the Gen ZEOs Podcast

“If it’s your first time producing a podcast, whatever you’ve estimated for the time it will take to create—double or triple it. When you start to piece together all the elements required for a killer podcast such as creating an episode format, sourcing guests, creating artwork for promo materials, writing a loose episode running order or script, setting up promotional posts, organizing podcast distribution, recording the podcast, editing the podcast, publishing the podcast and more, the time soon mounts up. After a few episodes, you soon get into a rhythm and quickly become more efficient. You then can reduce the time it takes dramatically. Just make sure to give yourself that time at the start to do yourself proud and produce an epic first season of your podcast.”
—Matt Navarra, social media consultant and host of Geekout With Matt Navarra

5. Listen and adapt

“You’re not going to be awesome overnight. It takes time to find your voice, to discover and grow your audience, and, most importantly, to listen to that audience and find the best ways to connect with them. With each episode, you’ll grow, and, as long as you’re tuned into what works best for your listeners, you’ll continue to improve.”
Edward Bowser, founder and editor, Soul in Stereo

“Leave space for your listeners to help shape the podcast, balancing consistency with flexibility and transparency. If you try to master-plan everything before you launch, you’ll miss out on important input from the people you’re trying to serve. Test, play, learn and invite your audience to be part of building the podcast.”
—Natalie Kim, founder and podcast host, We Are Next

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."