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Podcasts have made multi-millionaires out of the likes of Joe Rogan and Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, but not everyone gets into it for the money and fame (at least initially).
A podcast is basically a series of audio episodes, each focused on a particular topic or theme. The modern and technologically savvy community equivalent of the ham radio, podcasters and listeners collide in hoards on Spotify and iTunes, among other platforms, to share opinions on everything from sports, to politics and everything in between.
FreightWorks, a 100-plus truck, hazmat, high-security and temperature-controlled freight hauler based in Rutherfordton, N.C., debuted a podcast last September – just one more podcast trying to stand out in an ocean of more than 2 million worldwide.
"We started this by acknowledging among ourselves that none of us were podcast experts, but we had a strong conviction that telling the story of professional drivers and reinforcing for a broad marketplace of people that would have specific interest in trucking and logistics – and beyond that, folks that are drivers have been drivers, drivers, families – reinforcing the professional nature of what they do, the fact that they have unique stories and the fact that the three-and-a-half million-plus drivers in America represent a broad tapestry of colorful stories," said Butch Maltby FreightWorks communications director and host of Life by the Mile. "We went into this saying, 'we don't want this just to be a FreightWorks infomercial.'"
The bi-weekly series is now up to 77 episodes. It went on a break following season 1 in February and kicked off season 2 at the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in March, where the production team recorded 18 episodes.
Not just another infomercial
Maltby said the podcasts are purposely absent of recruiting pitches that tout FreightWorks' home time and driver pay, rather its focus is on news and events that affect the industry as a whole, telling the stories of the men and women who keep it moving, and the people trucking touches along the way.
"The supply chain stories that became national news only reinforced what people in the industry have known for a long time," Maltby said, "which is a penetrating look into the obvious – our economy is so dependent on people suiting up and showing up every day and getting in the truck and 24/7 traversing the ribbon arteries of highway."
Yet, even while the podcasts don't focus on FreightWorks, Maltby said there are corporate benefits, even if they are accidental.
"We can't prove this quantitatively but, intuitively, we believe that it's having some impact on recruitment because the anecdotal evidence comes through new drivers who say, 'I watched a couple-three episodes before I filled out an application' or, 'It helped me better understand what the company was all about,'" Maltby said. "So, it doesn't have the discipline of direct response marketing that would say this channel resulted in X number of inquiries that resulted in Y number of applications, but we're starting to see anecdotal evidence that it helps there."
Maltby added the company will soon start tracking the podcasts' impact on retention, "with a belief that everybody's got a story, and when you give them the opportunity to tell their story it's a deposit in the equity bank that on hard days, or hard weeks, or hard months, they'll remember that they were featured here," he said. "It's not been set up with all the pre-launch analytics that a regular broadcast platform would be, but we are assembling more and more data and intuitively believe that telling the story helps our FreightWorks brand. It helps support recruitment efforts. It helps create better internal communication, and it's opening up some strategic relationships for us. We're industry focused more than unilaterally focused and believe that the residual benefit of that will be seen on a number of fronts: recruitment, retention, current employee morale and getting the FreightWorks name out there."
The number of podcasts downloads vary across all the platforms but Jordan Kidd, FreightWorks' director of business intelligence, marketing & IT, said the range falls between several hundred to over 1,000, including YouTube views. However, it's not all about building a sprawling reach. It's more about becoming a resource, and the audience will follow.
"We're motivated to see it grow, just not just because of the numbers, but because of the impact," Maltby said. "A lot of the things that might be used to get clicks or initial views aren't things that are part of our culture. The goal is to see measured growth with committed subscribers. And we went into MATS and we added 400 [subscribers] there."
Going all-in on quality
Last year, the company built a podcast studio adjacent to its sprawling driver's lounge where it produces Life By The Mile. Being adjacent to the lounge presents Maltby with opportunities to have impromptu discussions with drivers and "it's put me in the river of understanding a driver mindset," he added, "and that's been really helpful."
Kidd, who also is the producer for Life by the Mile, said he's long had a passion for photography and videography, adding the company invested in excess of $100,000 into a studio and equipment that he said "wouldn't hold a candle against mainstream cable channels studios, but for a trucking company, I would have to say it's probably more advanced than what you'd expect."
"Essentially it's a warehouse and cross dock facility," Kidd added. "We just took part of the warehouse space and built a studio inside of it."
When the equipment isn't in use for external communications like Life by the Mile, it's deployed for internal communication, producing native content for FreightWorks and internal broadcasts. "We want this studio to stay," Maltby added.
Being busy isn't likely to be difficult. Maltby said the company is seeking to grow its offerings and is currently looking into the development of a faith-based show, adding the company has already registered the name Faith by the Mile.
"We're really trying to create a more formal multi-channel integrated marketing effort," he said, "and we see the podcast as being an important tool in the toolbox."
Kidd and Maltby expect Life by the Mile to take its next break – between season 2 and 3 – following episode 100, which at the current publication cadence would be around September.
Maltby noted that while the company wasn't actively in the market for sponsorship, they were in the process of sketching out a business plan that would bring one on board, taking the podcast from a function of branding and marketing to viable diversified revenue stream.
"If there was an entity that had compatible mission, vision and values – where there was clearly a win-win – that's certainly the kind of conversation that we would expect to get into at some point," he said. "We've wanted to have enough content and enough direction so that a conversation like that would be fruitful, and somebody could catch the vision of growing with us."
"And I think we're right on the doorstep," Kidd added.