Beyond being one of the most storied and respected brands in the world, GE has also garnered quite a reputation amongst marketers as a leader in content marketing. Their content marketing practices have always been ahead of the times and GE has pushed the boundaries of how to reposition their brand and reach new audiences at scale. Known for such incredible programs as GE Reports, the brand has recently entered into a new space with a twist that many weren’t expecting with their podcast “The Message.” We had the opportunity to meet with Andy Goldberg, GE’s Chief Creative Officer, to discuss how the idea came about, the creative process, metrics for success and what is next for The Message.
Q: Outside of The Message, what is your favorite podcast?
A: Bill Simmons.
Q: Walk me through how The Message podcast was proposed. Was it the Grid folk that believed in podcasting and pitched it? What were the levels of approval it had to go through to get made?
A: The Message was originally conceived by GE’s in-house media agency The Grid (made up of agencies Giant Spoon and OMD). GE wanted to make entertainment inspired by our real science and decided to make a fake popular-science series called “Cyphercast,” about cryptographers investigating mysterious alien transmissions. The Message came together with the help of The Grid, GE’s longstanding ad agency BBDO New York, podcast network Panoply, and playwright Mac Rogers.
Q: When most brands have podcasts proposed to them, their question is “why should we do it?” And “what’s the ROI?” And “how does it help our business?” Did you guys have to answer those questions?
A: Sure, we thought about these things, but as a brand, we commit to fearless experimentation, so not being able to answer any one question wouldn’t have been enough to stop us. Creating a podcast is something we’d discussed for a long time, but we wanted to make sure it would be distinctly GE. We knew we weren’t going to advertise on someone else’s show and lose the opportunity to do our kind of storytelling. GE has a long history of content creation, dating back to the 1950s and General Electric Theater with Ronald Reagan, so inventing The Message was an exciting way to be of-the-moment, but also follow a tradition of being fundamentally different in how we share who we are as a company.
Q: Are you telling me there was no pushback from anywhere in the building about keeping the branding footprint so light?
A: We had consensus early on that this wouldn’t work if it felt inauthentic or like one big ad. We were very deliberate in limiting how and where we showed up, and the thing that makes it great is that it doesn’t feel branded—like our TV show Breakthrough. Even though this is our creative content coming to life, it’s not like there’s a GE ad interrupting the middle of the story. We wanted to develop a narrative story from GE that wasn’t about GE.
Q: But GE built landing pages and other things related to The Message that offered the opportunity to learn more about the brand, right?
A: The landing pages didn’t feature much information on GE, but instead, focused on the fictional elements of the podcast that could help make The Message feel real to listeners, like the LinkedIn page of the main character.
Q: Creativity by committee is almost a guaranteed path to the least compelling common denominator. Was The Message done by committee? How much say did the writer have? BBDO have? GE have? Panoply have?
A: We worked closely with The Grid on how we’d go about creating a podcast, and BBDO really led the charge on what the storyline could be. That’s where they engaged Panoply as experts in the space in terms of production and how to build out a podcast. At the end of the day, we could’ve done a 40-minute, one-episode thing. But when we sat down with BBDO, we really figured out how it could be a series and amazing storyline.
Q: What are the latest download numbers for the podcast?
A: Three million downloads and counting and we reached #1 on iTunes.
Q: When you say it hit #1 on the iTunes podcast charts, was that in a specific category or top podcast episodes or top podcast overall?
A: The Message reached #1 for top podcasts overall in the U.S. It charted in the top 10 in four countries – America, Canada, Australia and Britain.
Q: You’re not going to tell me the launch and subsequent success were 100% organic, right? What did you guys do to lay the PR and publicity groundwork, jockey to get featured or be the editor picks on podcast platforms, etc.?
A: GE worked with our PR agency of record, Small Girls PR, in the weeks leading up to the launch of The Message to land feature stories in top-tier press and tell the story of how GE is reinventing modern storytelling through a branded podcast.
Q: What were the main things working with Panoply taught you with regards to how to make and launch a successful podcast?
A: Keep the episodes short in length to make them digestible. Ensure the story has builds to it – leave cliffhangers. Know the audience needs to build some of the pieces on their own, and every detail of the production in audio is important.
Q: Why do you think most brands are skipping over the spoken word format and thinking/talking mostly about video…which is more expensive and more time consuming to make?
A: Video is still a powerful tool when it’s done well and shared thoughtfully to the right audiences. Creating video probably feels more tried-and-tested for many brands. On the flip side, podcasts are growing in popularity, but many marketers still don’t know how to create this particular type of content it in a way that conveys their ethos while prioritizing the experience of the listener.
Q: Buying ads in someone else’s existing successful podcast, or launching one by the brand…what are the pluses and minuses of each?
A: There’s a lot more work involved in creating your own, but more rewarding in terms of impact, subscribers, kudos, press, etc.
Q: GE, you may have noticed, is a really large organization with the resources to do the various brand content formats and projects you’ve done. What would you say to smaller brands who feel continuing to NOT have a podcast is a great option?
A: What works for one brand may not work for another. Focus on figuring out who you want to connect with, figure out where they already are, and then create conversations to connect within that space. That’s what has worked for us.
Mike Stiles is the proprietor of Brand Content Studios.