In this episode, Buddy Scalera speaks to Chris Conner, the producer of the Life Sciences Marketing Radio podcast to learn more about audio and podcasting in pharmaceutical marketing.
Buddy Scalera: Today I have a very special guest, almost a meta guest. In fact, I’ve appeared on this guy’s talk show podcast and had a great time and learned a lot and continue to listen to his podcast and then as I’ve been listening more and more, I’ve realized he would make a great guest. So Please, give a warm Rx Digital Marketing welcome to Chris Conner of the Life Sciences Radio Podcast. Chris, welcome to the show.
Chris Conner: Hey thanks for having me, Buddy. I’m looking forward to this.
Buddy: So, Chris, I am a listener of your show. I learn a lot from it and the “a-ha” hit me that you’d be a great guest. Can you first explain what Life Sciences Radio is to the Rx Digital Marketing Podcast listeners?
Chris Conner: Sure. So, it’s – just to be clear – it’s Life Science Marketing Radio, and that really tells you sort of who my audience is. So, my audience are people marketing and sometimes selling products to biotech, pharmaceutical companies, and academic researchers in the life sciences, so a lot of capital equipment for researching, and then also reagents and supplies and even CRO’s, for example.
Buddy: So, what do you cover on your show? You’ve got some 83 episodes, including one with me on it. Talk to me about what listeners would find on the Life Science Marketing Podcast.
Chris Conner: Yeah, anything mostly that would be useful to the people in my audience. So mostly it’s around marketing strategies and tactics. So often I will have independent consultants come on and talk about a certain area of their expertise. Sometimes it’s a VP of Marketing at a large company like ThermoScientific or Waters and they’ll talk about their overall strategy, where they see trends and so on. And then sometimes they go outside of marketing and think, for example, if I’m a marketing manager, how do I build a team? So once in a while we get into those sort of personnel issues, like how do you make your whole team successful, motivate them, and you get the right skill sets together. But mostly it’s about marketing strategy and tactics.
Buddy: One of the angles though that, Chris, that you’ve taken recently and you’ve had a guest on that triggered me to want to talk with you about this, and I think my audience would be greatly interested in this topic, which is the move toward audio. You have called this the golden age of audio. Podcasting, I should say. I am curious about what you’ve seen in trends in audio, particularly in life sciences and in pharmaceutical?
Chris Conner: So, I stole that golden age of audio from Alex Blumberg of Gimlet and, but it really is happening. So, I’ll tell you the trend that I’ve seen. Three years ago, as a consultant working on the content strategy for a company I suggested a podcast. I was nearly kicked out of the building because they just weren’t ready for it at that point. And then in the last year, particularly the last 6 to 8 months I have noticed that people are starting to recognize that podcast consumption is growing. They find themselves listening to podcasts and wondering how they can get one started. So, I was fortunate recently to run into, find, discover Paul Broman of Illumina through LinkedIn and he runs podcasts for Illumina so this is the first life science company I think that is putting out a podcast as a brand. I also see it from Chemical and Engineering News. They’re putting out a podcast. A lot of scientific associations are putting out podcasts. When I look through the pharma environment, I have found at least one pharma marketing podcast, I don’t think it’s being produced anymore, but it went for 250 episodes, which is pretty significant. And I see a lot on the business side of pharma and biotech where maybe investors and scientists are talking to each other but I don’t see a lot of brands talking to their customers yet and I think there’s still a huge opportunity there.
Buddy: Yeah because we see this a lot in regular consumer packaged goods and other brands. If the traditional trend is correct, that is that pharma is a few years behind in certain digital technology, we could be looking at the beginning of quite a few podcasts getting ramped up. Do you see that as a potential trend?
Chris Conner: I certainly see it as a trend. So, podcast listenership is growing and you want to know how much, you could look up the Edison research, they call it the Infinite Dial survey that they do every year. It turns out that this year’s survey is coming out this afternoon. So, I don’t know what the numbers are right now, but a year ago 1 in 6 people had listened to a podcast in the last week and the people who do listen are highly engaged. They listen to a lot of podcasts every week and so the audience may not be as large as it could be, for example, a newsletter, but the people that spend time with you essentially talking into their ears or telling stories to them are super highly engaged.
Buddy: Now Chris you had noted that audio is an intimate media. Why is so intimate, because we’re shooting it directly into people’s ears, because we’re getting them while they’re in the car during a time when they can’t do anything else? Can you just unpack audio as a media channel, and the benefits of it?
Chris Conner: Yeah, so you hit a couple of the… so it starts with a smartphone. Now it’s easy for people to get that content. They don’t have to go looking for it. If you find a podcast you like you can subscribe and each new episode will be pushed to your phone automatically. So you get in the car, you say what’s up, I hit my podcast app, oh, there’s a thing I want to listen to, click, done. The second thing you mentioned is we’re listening when we’re not going to be interrupted, we’re on a bike ride. I listen while I’m hiking. So there’s that benefit, but the real benefit is the empathy you get. There’s something special about listening in on a conversation like you and I are having right now and I think the way the human brain works is you kind of fill in the pictures around it. You don’t need to be looking at a video and you feel like you’re there and you feel like you make a personal connection with the speakers on the podcast, and I’ve experienced this personally. I’ve gone to trade shows or conferences and people recognize me from my Twitter profile and go “hey, Chris, you do that podcast.” It’s shocking. My audience isn’t that big, but they feel like they know you already and I feel the same way when I meet the people who produce the podcasts I listen to. So it’s very, there’s that connection that I think people are really hungry for right now. I mean you could look at your Twitter feed all day and take in a lot of information, but it’s not the same thing as listening to someone speak and you feel like it’s directly to you.
Buddy: Yeah and I feel like it’s, in our industry, a way for you to communicate complex stories that require a little bit of time, and by that, I mean your average podcast might last as long as a commute and here at Rx Digital Marketing, you know we started off at about 90 minutes. We got it down to about 60 minutes, but we read that statistically that the average American commute is between 30 and 45 minutes, so now we’re starting to customize our audio programs specifically to appeal to the people who are in the car and want to consume one podcast on one topic in the duration of their commute. Are you experiencing a similar observation?
Chris Conner: Well I’ve heard that statistic. I try to keep my podcast right in that window as well. And I’ll tell you just on the other end of it, I love it when I go out for a hike and I pick a podcast and I start it at the beginning and it ends right when I get back to my car. It just, I don’t want to have to stop it and then pick it up again, so I think making it self-contained within one drive is ideal. And so it makes complete sense to, but as you say, delivering 30 minutes of content is something that few people will sit down at a screen and read long form content for 30 minutes, but they’ll happily listen on their drive.
Buddy: When we think about some of the recommendations that we typically see for YouTube videos, even branded videos. You know brand teams are trying to keep it ideally under 10 minutes for any video engagement. Obviously shorter seems to play better on YouTube because of the, you know, the physical experience, the way we’re sitting upright staring at a screen versus your audio podcast which, as you noted, you’re hiking when you’re doing it, I’m driving in the car while I’m doing it. There’s really not too much else to do and it is a great way to be enriched while doing something else. And I feel like that’s one of the great benefits of what I’m seeing with this golden age of podcasts.
Chris Conner: Absolutely and as you mentioned, it takes – engaging as video can be, and there’s certainly a place for it – in that episode that you listened to with Paul Bromann from Illumina, they started their podcast because they were spending a lot of money creating videos and finding out that people were just dropping off early. And according to their data, and he didn’t tell me specifically what it was, but that people are listening to their podcasts all the way through. So, for a smaller investment, you get a longer amount of engagement from the audience.
Buddy: Chris, I’m so glad you talked about because that’s one of the topics I wanted to discuss with you. You’re a consultant in audio, right, that’s the service that you currently provide. We’ll get into your background, but currently that’s one of the services that you provide as a content strategist, right, like audio strategy?
Chris Conner: Absolutely. Yep.
Buddy: So we will get into your background a little bit because I think your career path is very interesting and relevant. What I’d like you to address though right now is that question cost. You know, video can be cheap or free, depending on how you do it, but even the most expensive audio production can still be relatively affordable. I mean we’re not talking about major investments. We’re talking about comparably modest investments. What should people know about investing in audio and the cost, because people might be thinking I’d like to try this. Can you address some of that because I know that this is what you do as a consultant.
Chris Conner: Sure. So let’s look at this way. The microphone that you’re using and the microphone that I’m using if we put them together wouldn’t buy me a plane ticket to come out and do this face to face with you in front of a camera.
Chris Conner: Right? So I’m sure each of them under $100 for microphones and you know I have a scissor arm boom and a pop filter, so the physical materials needed to produce are inexpensive. Then there’s the added bonus that I don’t need to go see you. We don’t need to be together to do this, so many podcasts can be produced remotely and even if they’re not remote, I can fit all the gear I would need to interview you face to face in a backpack that’s my carry-on when I fly somewhere and help someone out. And then I guess, you know, I bought a portable recorder. I could record on my laptop, but I bought a nicer little mixer recorder that you could get for a few hundred dollars. Mine happened to be a higher end one for $600 and I love the sound quality, and that’s it. For the physical equipment that you need to produce it and then the next expense is really editing time. So either you’re doing that yourself, but I imagine a lot of people, some people will be technically oriented and enjoy doing that, but really there’s probably something better you could do with your time, so handing that off to someone else still relatively inexpensive. I’m comparing it to, honestly as when I was a marcom manager at a life sciences company, we would pay more to have a writer produce like a four-page document than I would charge you to produce a 30-minute episode of your podcast.
Buddy: Yeah those are great points. Chris, I think you’re right because I started off using the free software to edit. I think it’s called Audacity. It’s open source. And then I switched over to Adobe Creative Cloud just because I wanted to have all the other applications for other activities that I’m doing but it’s relatively easy to edit audio. I mean once you get the hang of the fact that you’re just clipping and moving a timeline, it was very easier. And then I didn’t have to worry about titles and lighting. Right now I’m not dressed as you might expect. I’m wearing a prom gown.
Chris Conner: Hahaha.
Buddy: I don’t know what you’re wearing. I would imagine something similar.
Chris Conner: Well you didn’t tell me we were going out, but… [laughs] Yeah I’m dressed casually, and as you say Audacity free open source software – honestly, I used that for the first two years of my podcast and it worked great. It’s very easy, it’s free, and editing audio is not quite, but I tell people often, you know, if we’re speaking and you need to say something, again, no problem, because I can edit it out as easy as cutting and pasting a Word document. It really is that simple and then I’ve also moved to Adobe Audition because it’s got a few more bells and whistles and lets me take out noise, unwanted noises a little more easily, but other, you could totally get by, I did get by for a long time with Audition and so yeah, the software is ridiculously cheap as well. I mean what you’re paying for editing is people’s time because the editing does take time and a little bit of skill if you really want to sound sweet.
Buddy: So Chris, and I think that’s getting closer to where you occupy a solution. How you provide a solution, I should say. That is, somebody can start on their own, certainly, but perhaps a life sciences or pharmaceutical company might appreciate somebody who specializes in getting started and doing it right. So, you know your average brand manager, content strategist, or almost anybody, social media strategist could experiment and do a proof of concept. Where would you come in and what would you do as a consultant, because I think that doing it for free as an experiment is one thing, but then really taking it to the distribution channels might require some additional expertise. How would you support a pharmaceutical or a life sciences company?
Chris Conner: Exactly. So the first thing I would do is take some of my content strategy experience and help them think about exactly what is the audience we want to reach, what is the behavior we want to change, the interaction, what do we want to get out of the whole thing, really. And there’s lots of different formats you could use and lots of different goals you could try to accomplish through your podcast, so that’s the basics right there. Of course, helping them get set up with their equipment so that they’re comfortable recording because you don’t want me to have to be there every time you record, and then, taking it from there and into the production and the promotion side of it. So on the production side I would make sure that the editing gets taken care of, that you get a beautiful sound file back as well as, and I’ll tell you this is what it takes me the most time of putting a podcast out is writing up the show notes, so condensing what’s in the audio into something that goes on a page that will sell somebody on the idea of this is an episode you should listen to and then even turning the transcript into a long form blog post that you can also use, and that’s the other benefit that we didn’t really talk about, when you create an audio interview like this, you can create a transcript also very inexpensively and either post it directly or pull out highlights and then once you’ve done numerous interviews, some of those will have touched on topics within a theme and you can bundle quotes from each of those into a new article. So it’s a content generating machine when you start talking to experts or patients or whoever on a regular basis. You start finding stories within stories. And then the last step after repurposing your content or getting that blog post is promoting it through all the other channels so people find you and start listening.
Buddy: Yeah I think, Chris, what you articulated is one of the parts of the learning journey that we had to do here at Rx Digital Marketing where we were, we just bootstrapped everything, figured everything out, researched our microphones, had to figure out iTunes submissions and Stitcher submissions.
Chris Conner: Oh yeah? [chuckles]
Buddy: Like we used Amazon Web Services, you know, to serve our audio. I would, had I known that you existed, I would have called you because it took, it was a fun journey, but it took an inordinate amount of learning, you know, just because we were literally learning a new medium so we ran down a lot of, you know, dead ends until we figured out our software and our hardware and all those different things. So, you know, I was going to say if I work at a pharma company I would hire you. I do work at a pharma company. I’m going to be, yeah, I wish you were there to help us cut through all the things we had to learn because part of what we were doing was learning for the company as well, so we used podcasts as an internal tool at our company. It’s not publicly broadcast and available through all channels. We use an internal channel but I think, back to you, I think the ability to be guided by someone who has experience to say here’s what you want to do, it cuts down on the learning and I think that’s probably the big reason why you bring any consultant in, right?
Chris Conner: Right, I mean if you’re a brand manager or marketing manager, you’ve got plenty of other things to think about. And many of them, and I’ve met a few of them, are let’s say techno geeks and they would love to get into the nuts and bolts of how all this stuff works but that’s not really where your value to your company is.
Chris Conner: And so why not just hand that off and I’m so glad you mentioned, you know, I skipped over the hosting and the how do you get the thing on to iTunes and Stitcher and everywhere else it needs to be. There’s just a lot of little pieces that need to be taken care of and they aren’t difficult, but they do take time.
Buddy: Yeah, anything that you have to do, it took us time to figure out social media and it took us time to figure out websites, and it’s all learnable. It’s all out there. There’s no secret that you can’t find on YouTube, but I think, I think brand managers do have to focus. Even content strategists have to focus on what’s the strategy, what do you want to accomplish, and then, you know, maybe bring someone in to figure out the buts and bolts. So, I see the value to that, but that transitions me to exactly where I wanted to go with the last part of this interview with you. Your background is not like my background. You know we work at similar companies. You worked at Thermo Fisher on the client side. You worked on the agency side. You’ve been a consultant, but you have a pretty rich background in high sciences. You have a B.A. in molecular biology and an M.S. in genetics. How important has that content knowledge been to you bringing this to your clients and having a richer more interesting conversation with some of your guests?
Chris Conner: Sure. Well, I think what’s it done for me is I speak the language and most of my clients have been, you know, people selling to scientists. So I know what scientists care about. I have enough of a background, even though it was a while ago, to be able to understand the technologies and what they’re trying to do and what they’re learning so everything they’re talking about doesn’t take me long to figure out “ok here’s what’s going on and here’s what’s valuable to their customers” because I’ve worked at the bench. I know what the frustrations are working in a bench and what’s important to me. So I immediately understand from the client’s point of view what they’re trying to get across, so that’s been the biggest, I’d say value, of the scientific background I’ve had.
Buddy: But then Chris, you know, bringing it back home for me now, there’s a brand manager who is more like me. My background is copywriting, journalism, you know, I’m a storyteller. I write for pharma and for comics, but I’m not a scientist. How would you counsel me if I were your client wanting to create a type of life sciences audio podcast? Would you recommend that I do it because I have experience or would you recommend that there was someone else who had a more scientific background? How would you counsel me – give me some free advice here.
Chris Conner: If I understand your question correctly, for example, if you’re a brand manager and you don’t have the science background, I’m going to come at it from a different angle. What I see as the value of podcasting is this, going back to the empathy and building a community. So this is coming from the later part of my career where I’ve been watching content strategists like yourself and others and seeing the power of the communities that can be built through many kinds of content. And so I listened yesterday to your beautiful podcast with Jeanne Barnett of CysticFibrosis.com and it was fantastic how she was way ahead of all of us it seems like when she started this thing so long ago, building an online community and I’m thinking on top of that, if you had a podcast, you would capture the most engaged individuals in that community and then you could drive them and their new friends into an online community where you could learn more about them and if I’m a brand manager now I’m looking at all their conversations to understand, again, back to the empathy, what their real struggles are beyond their symptoms or whatever. What’s their day-to-day life like if you have this long-term condition and what are the little things we don’t even think about but are a big deal right in their face.
Buddy: It sounds like there’s no easy answer, right? There’s no sort of pat answer where you go obviously you got a scientist or obviously you get somebody who is an informed interviewer. It sounds like you have to figure out who’s the right voice on the microphone and what the right format is, right? Our formats, both of us do an interview format but we’ve heard a lot of, you know, solo speakers or just two collaborators talking on podcasts, right? You could with, in a lot of different ways, right?
Chris Conner: Absolutely, so yeah, if that’s your question, so the interview seems to be the most natural kind of a go-to format. I mean that’s how I chose it. I decided people would get tired of reading my opinion in a blog. There’s a lot of other smart people that they would love to hear from, and I wanted them to hear my voice.
Chris Conner: So I went in that direction. There is narrative storytelling, which I’ve actually just started a new podcast in that format. It’s unrelated specifically to life sciences, but the first episode, coincidentally, was about a woman with Cystic Fibrosis who has had a double lung transplant and has been very successful and her story is amazing. There is two people just talking, so Two Docs Talk is a podcast I would recommend that your audience listen to as an example of two experts having a conversation around different topics that are relevant and building an audience. Yesterday I discovered the Mayo Clinic puts out something called The Mayo Minute and it is a one-minute health tip.
Chris Conner: If I had a long-term condition, even if it’s not an ongoing podcast, if you created a library of podcasts that people could listen to that would give them daily tips about things that would improve their health, for example, if you had diabetes, little things to think about, little reminders. The Mayo Minute I listened to yesterday it turns out if you think you’re protecting your young child by going down the slide with them, you’re not. Most of the injuries occur at the bottom of the slide as the parent is holding on to the child. I didn’t know that, but…
Buddy: [laughs] Right.
Chris Conner: If you’re a new parent, and new parents are another possible community, or parents of children with different illnesses that they’re trying to deal with. There’s a whole audience there. There’s so many opportunities.
Buddy: So I think that that’s a great observation and one that comes from experience, right, like you even noted that you, Flip Turns is your swimming podcast, right, that’s the one that you, flip turns, right?
Chris Conner: Yep.
Buddy: So, I think it’s really important and I’m sure you would agree that you learn from doing, right, you know…
Chris Conner: Oh yeah.
Buddy: Yeah right, you could theorize about your podcast or your website or your social media campaign for weeks, months and years and sometimes you just have to get started, right?
Chris Conner: That is the most important thing is to get started. I’ll tell you when I’m working on Flip Turns and even on Life Science Marketing Radio, you know, I’ll do an interview or I’ll put out an episode or I’m thinking about a new episode before I put it out and I go I’m not sure this is going to be the best one but you know, I make it the best it can be and then I think alright, what did I learn from that? You know, did I ask the right questions. Whatever it is but you just, you get better by doing. You’re not going to read up and figure how to make a great podcast.
Buddy: Yeah and I think that’s probably, you know, where you probably listen to your earliest podcasts and, you know, see the improvement to your current ones.
Chris Conner: Oh absolutely, yeah. And I hear that from many content producers. They always look back at their early blog posts or whatever. If I looked at my blog posts now I would [laughs] honestly, I’ve taken some of them down because they just don’t reflect my thinking currently. But yeah, but you, when you’re starting out, your audience is small. Comedians do this, right? They have to practice their material. No one who’s a famous comedian didn’t bomb at the beginning. They survive it, right? You’re not going to destroy your brand by putting out an “ok” podcast. It’s just going to get better and better.
Buddy: So that’s a great way to transition to the homestretch, Chris. What one or two tips would you give to pharmaceutical or life sciences marketers who are thinking about utilizing audio content, not just podcast, but audio content in general, to enhance their marketing communications with their target customers?
Chris Conner: First, I would investigate what the potential audience is and what the trends are in podcast listening. See if you think that this growing, what I believe is a growing wave of podcast listenership and look at some of your audience from, and particularly if you’re looking for younger people because it does skew a little bit young, whether there’s a potential audience for you there. And also, but on the other side, don’t forget to look at it like I mentioned, as a content-generating tool. So recording audio that can be used whether as a podcast or internally like you say for educating people within your own company or within a community, and then taking those conversations and getting a transcript and using that as source material for more in-depth content or content in other formats. Take a look at that and see if the small expense of doing the audio recording and production makes sense in terms of what you think you can get out of the ROI. But I think you’ll be surprised because the benefits go way beyond what you might first think.
Buddy: That’s great, Chris, and I can’t think of a better place to leave than there, but can you tell my listeners where they can find your content, where they can find you, and where you’ll be either speaking or appearing next?
Chris Conner: Yes, so the best place to find me is my website, which is https://lifesciencemarketingradio.com/. On Twitter, I’m @Words2wow, and I’m on LinkedIn if you look up Chris Conner and life science, you will certainly find me.
Buddy: And what key words would they have to search on Apple iTunes and Stitcher Radio to find and start subscribing?
Chris Conner: If you, probably science marketing would be enough but certainly life science marketing would get you there, or life science radio. I think that either one of those, I would pop up for you.
Buddy: Will you be making any appearances at any conferences where people can meet you and shake your hand?
Chris Conner: Currently I’m going to Bioprocess International West next month. I think I’m going on the 22nd. but I’m not speaking there. I’m just going to be wandering the exhibit hall, but I would love to meet people. And then I will be, in October, at the Association of Commercial Professionals Life Sciences Meeting in South San Francisco. If you go to ACP-LS.org, you can find out more about that meeting.
Buddy: Well that’s great. Chris Conner from Life Science Marketing Radio, thank you so much for joining me today.
Chris Conner: Thank you, Buddy. It’s been big fun.
Buddy: And to all of my Rx Digital Marketing listeners, I hope you found this as fulfilling and interesting as I did and I hope you download and start to subscribe to Chris’s podcast because it really is smart stuff. It’s enriching and truly, truly motivating. Look forward to seeing you at one of the conferences, Chris.