Podcasts are a hugely expanding market, with more than 700,000 podcasts available through a variety of different platforms. Given how saturated the field is, the big question is: what can you do to make your podcast stand out and get commissioned?

A panel at the London Podcast Festival (14 September 2019) made up commissioning editors from the BBC and Podfront set out what they look for in pitches.

Formulate your thoughts

Often, people fall at the first hurdle by not having clear vision for the podcast, explained BBC producer Louise Kattenhorn.

"At the point of pitching, I really need something that is fully-formed in your mind, which gives us a really firm base for us to work creatively on it," she said.

Ruth Fitzsimons, managing director at Podfront UK, also said that commissioners always question whether an idea can sustain itself for several episodes. Otherwise, it could be better suited as a feature.

Three checkpoints

For Jason Phipps, commissioning editor for podcasts at the BBC, there are key three ingredients to a good podcast: a strong issue or topic, a solid format and great hosts to bring the discussion to life.

The last one is especially important to be intentional about, as having just you and your friends with no clear reason why can be a big stumbling block for listeners. The same applies to podcasts fully centred around one specific person or a big name.

Fitzsimons explained this can be particularly problematic if they pull out of the show. Instead, develop a strong enough format that it would suit a variety of potential hosts.

Do your homework

Podcasts are often made with a specific audience in mind, and conveying who that audience is to commissioning editors is crucial. But no matter how good your podcast may be, it has to be a good fit for the company you are pitching to. 

Taking time to research the brand and seeing how your podcast can fit within that will prevent time being lost on both sides, Fitzsimons said.

"They are most likely to commission something that connects in some way to their audience, because they can take their audiences and introduce them to your new show."

Nail the pitch

When it comes to the pitch itself, you need a ready-to-go elevator pitch of what your podcast is and what makes it unique.

"It’s basic journalism - who, what, where and why," Fitzsimons said.

"If you have not given a clear idea of that, I can’t do anything with it, because we get a lot of pitches sent to us."

Know your numbers

Commssioning editors also need to know what they are buying into and the level of investment needed. To make an informed decision here, they need to know how many episodes you have in mind.

"If you have a sense of its measure, we might actually come in and say it’s much bigger than you think," said Phipps.

Develop a following first

Whilst commissioning brings with it greater support and more ability to expand, you can expect the subject of sharing of intellectual property rights to be on the table.

If that is something you would be unwilling to do, the panel suggested growing your podcast organically and then taking it to a company once it has reached a big enough size. But your podcast would need to be fetching at least 10,000 listens to be considered, Fitzsimons explained.

"If you are the talent and you’re happy to do it, then you can build it to a certain point and bring it to someone. If your talent wants to be paid, you may need to get commissioned by someone in order to get them on board."

Find out how to use live podcasts to drive audience engagement at Newsrewired on 27 November at Reuters, London. Head to newsrewired.com for the full agenda and tickets

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