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Podcasting Pays Off

Reaching out to the iPod generation with web audio shows can add revenue for AV pros.

CAL MAZZARA, national salesperson at Full Compass, a Middleton, WI-based pro AV gear reseller and systems integrator, says he's seen the future of pro AV promotion, and right smack dab in the middle of things is podcasting. “There's an entire audience out there on the Web looking for products and services that doesn't want a high-pressure sales pitch,” Mazzara says, creator of “GearCast,” an audio podcast by Full Compass that's part infotainment and part marketing pitch. “They want something that feels more grassroots, more relaxed — something's that's both informative and entertaining. And with podcasting, we're able to give them that.”

If you have a teenager or college student in your life, you probably know that podcasts are little Web-based audio programs — usually 15 to 30 minutes long — that you can download and copy onto a tiny digital audio player such as an iPod or a similar device. Of course, while web audio is nothing new, the charm of podcasts — and the buzz they're increasingly generating — is rooted in their portability and ease-of-use.

Subscribing to an ongoing podcast show like GearCast is no tougher than visiting the GearCast site once, and clicking on a “subscribe” icon. From there, all you need to do is keep your iPod plugged into your PC, and the podcast subscribing service will automatically download the latest show to your device.

Essentially, it's like TiVo for audio programming, according to David A. Fish, CEO of iMakeNews, an e-communications service provider that has seen a rapid rise in the number of firms seeking to reach out to clients and customers with podcasts. “It gives people the freedom to choose when, where, and how they want to listen,” he says. “They can play a podcast while they do other work on their computers. Or they can download it to a portable MP3 player and listen to it at their convenience.”

As most music industry watchers know, it was that kind of novelty and convenience that has enabled the Apple iPod to take the world by storm — a formula that's working for Full Compass as well. Its GearCast podcast, which features “the latest news and expert advice on all things pro audio, video, AV, and lighting equipment,” now sports 25 episodes and counting, and is averaging 300 downloads a day, Mazzara says. And plans are in the works to beef up the production with some video.

Overall, Mazzara says that Full Compass sees the slickly produced — yet deliberately down-home —marketing creation as a way to increase brand recognition, as well as a way to clarify its image in the eyes of customers as a reseller and systems integrator that knows its stuff.

But he also adds that the easily digestible audio nuggets have brought home some quantifiable results. “I don't know how many times I've been on the phone with a customer who's asking about a particular product, and I've said, “Hey, we've done a podcast on that, go ahead and give it a listen — I'll wait while you download it. Almost every time, when they come back on the phone, they'll make the purchase.”

Plus, Mazzara says using a podcast to get your operation on the Web's radar has a way of leading to free, wider exposure. “We still couldn't believe it when Episode Four of GearCast wound up as a choice pick on Adam Curry's “Podfinder” podcast — one of the most popular podcast critique shows on the Web,” Mazzara says. As PR professionals would say, it was the kind of exposure — and affirmation of a business' credibility — that money can't buy.

Still another quantifiable result of podcasts is better search engine rankings. The reason? Generally speaking, search engines are programmed to give higher ratings to websites that post new information regularly — and post information that's considered to be of great value to the web community at large. “Podcasts are also great places to dispel myths about a product, or to take the time to explain a product that's sometimes difficult to understand,” Mazzara adds.

Besides businesses like Full Compass and the marketing muscle at Apple, there are also a few other forces fueling widespread proliferation of the medium. The New York Times, for example, is now offering top stories of the day in podcast form. MTV has followed suit, serving up daily audio and video podcasts featuring music and related news. And all of the major broadcast TV networks and cable news networks, as well as PBS, have been offering podcasts of many of their shows for months.

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