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copylab interview with lgim content manager mark chappelIn case you missed it, podcasts are booming. In an environment where marketers are engaged in a constant scramble for consumers’ attention, podcasts tick some king-sized boxes: in the UK, almost 6 million people listen to podcasts every week, of whom three quarters want to “learn new things” and more than 90%, once they’ve downloaded a podcast, listen to the entire episode.

Little wonder that asset managers are getting involved.

As co-producer of the LGIM Talks podcast, Mark Chappel, senior content manager at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), has capitalised on this boom. Since its launch last year, LGIM Talks – an investment management podcast targeted at an investment professional audience – has developed a loyal and growing following thanks largely to Mark’s commitment to variety, insight and superb quality.

In a recent interview with Copylab, Chappel shared what he’s learned during the creation and rise of one of the UK’s leading asset-management podcasts.

 

Q: How did you get to where you are today?

A: I started in the industry at M&G knowing quite literally nothing about asset management. I joined a fantastic investment marketing team who very quickly taught me what a fund was and how we market it. How do we talk about it? And how to communicate our products in different ways to different audiences – for instance, what should be a fund update and what should be a Bond Vigilantes post?

Then I moved to LGIM two years ago to take on a bit more of a broader content role. I’d class myself as bit of an extreme podcast listener – about 17 hours of listening per week spread across my commute, at my desk, doing the dishes, basically all the time! It’s definitely the way I love to have content delivered to me and yet as an industry I feel we are still that bit too much into “here’s a 3000-word white paper in PDF format and that’s it…” When I moved to LGIM, I was determined to develop ideas for investment professionals across a wider set of media.

 

Q: What was the process to start your own podcast?

A: It was our shared love of podcasts that led to the initial idea of LGIM Talks for me and my now co-producer. We were aware that other asset managers had launched podcasts but their episodes were often sporadically posted or, even worse, were just the audio stripped out of their video content and therefore filled with confusing references to charts you couldn’t see! We saw there was a gap for a thoughtfully designed and regular podcast for our audience, but we still needed to make the case internally that this was a medium worth pursuing. We spent months working through what the podcast strategy would be, the editing process, where the content would come from and what makes successful audio content as compared to traditional written articles.

A crucial element in selling our podcast internally was that this is a truly different way for potential clients to consume our content. For example, if a target audience are out on the road a lot, our written content has to fit into an already tight timeframe of available attention. Instead, they might be much more receptive to an in-depth audio conversation on economic policy or portfolio strategy while they’re driving to their next client meeting.

 

Q: For most of your guests, this will presumably be the first time they’ve done a podcast. Do you need to prepare them much?

A: Writing for traditional long-form articles and writing for audio are two very different skills and that often comes as quite a shock to first-time guests. There are loads of words we each use in our writing which we’d never use in normal speech. My three most key pointers are to create bullet point plans (no scripts), to tell the audience stories rather than data points, and to only focus on what you’re most enthusiastic about. Enthusiasm is absolutely crucial because it, or the lack of it, comes across so clearly in audio.

The best kind of episode comes across as if it’s a campfire tale or really interesting anecdote. You can’t just jump to the conclusion and say something like “rates will be lower for longer”, or “changing demographics will have a major impact on investors’ portfolios” and leave it at that! You need to start off with setting the scene and then take the audience through, point by point, why it matters to investors, the nuances and counterpoints, and then finish with the key takeaways of your research.

 

Q: Podcasts are obviously very different from written content. Do you employ very different methods for judging the success of your podcasts?

A: Podcast metrics are difficult for content marketing because they’re so often dependent on what the platforms such as Spotify or Apple choose to share. Also, as an investment-professional-only podcast, we’re never going to see immense listener figures that compete with the truly big-name broad-market podcasts. But that’s why we’ve focused on more than just the number of downloads per episode and look at firstly, whether they click through from an episode’s show notes to website content, and secondly, how much of an episode do people listen to on average.

For instance, if huge numbers of people are downloading a particular episode but only listening to 20% of it, that means we’ve got a great title and a maybe great description, but the conversation was either uninspiring or not what they’d thought they’d signed up for. This is why we spend a large amount of time on episode preparation, editing and overall quality control – you only get so many chances before the listener associates the brand with boring content. I have a tendency to see every week’s episode in ‘sink-or-swim’ binary terms because audio is such a personal medium, and if you lose the listener, you likely lose them forever.

 

Q: LGIM Talks is essentially an interview from beginning to end. Why did you decide on that format?

A: We wanted to really set this apart from, say, educational voiceover content or 60-second expert videos. While those are great if you want a very quick view, my aim was always to go big and to get into the weeds: long-form content for those who’d rather listen to it discussed than read it about in article format. We’d much rather cover a niche subject well than try to cover every aspect too broadly. That’s why our episode planning process is so important: each one has a key message, a defined structure, and is relevant to our audience. What we’ve avoided is having to say yes to everyone who might want to come onto the podcast but doesn’t have a strong enough topic to discuss.

We are also very clear to guests that our podcast is not about promoting specific funds. There’s a fine line to tread with podcasts created by companies so that they don’t feel like a thinly veiled promotion. The last thing anyone would listen to is LGIM people interviewing LGIM experts pushing LGIM products!

 

Q: How do you come up with subjects for your podcast?

A: Because we’ve designed the podcast to fit into our whole content marketing strategy, rather than as a standalone tactic, we like to base our episodes on either something that’s already been created internally, whether that’s a blog or a longer piece of research for example, or a key external guest who would appeal to our audience. Finding that balance of proprietary research and industry interviews is key to finding episodes that resonate.

I also think it differs quite a bit from the traditional ‘investment writing model’. There you can have even the most basic of content ideas from the internal experts which you can then develop into successful writing. But for audio, we have to assess not just whether the content is right but also if this is the right presenter for this medium. How confident or enthusiastic are they? Quite literally, do they sound engaging?

 

Q: What are the biggest difficulties you have had with the podcast?

A: The biggest difficulty is that the podcast has been kind of an extra project for much of the past year so that meant fitting in the episode planning, editing, synopsis writing, social promotions and recording alongside all of the investment writing we were each already doing. All credit to my amazing co-producer, Holly McNulty, who put in place a comprehensive and structured process that has made the whole experience seamless.

 

Q: What has been your favourite episode so far?

A: That’s a really tricky one to answer – I tend to think whatever episode I last edited is the greatest one to date because it’s only then when I’m happy with it! Of our industry interviews, we recorded an episode at the studios in the London Stock Exchange with Square Mile’s Richard Romer-Lee, which was a fascinating dive into what advisers and wealth managers are really concerned about right now and what we need to be doing as an industry to manage end-clients’ expectations about risk and returns.

Of our proprietary research, it would be China: The Consumption Powerhouse, where we interviewed a global economist and our equities analyst for Asia on Chinese growth expectations, their massive consumer base and what that all means for investors. It’s a 38-minute episode that really doesn’t feel like 38 minutes. We touched on everything from the macro to the micro, and from the political socio-historical point of view.

 

Q: Where do you see your podcast and the future for podcasts?

A: I think that podcasting as a medium is mainstream enough that more asset managers will launch podcasts of their own. Not only that but those who already have podcasts will go back to them to make them look and feel more like how podcasts should sound. We’ve already seen this in 2019 with a number of competitors putting some really great episodes out there. But, as we’ve learned, it’s not a medium to be taken lightly – it really needs focus to ensure that your content works for audio and that there’s a process in place that can ensure regular delivery of high-quality content.

My focus is on further developing LGIM Talks to make sure we continue to stand out – we’re looking at new guests, new promotion strategies and new tweaks to the episode format. If we’re going to be serious about creating investment content on demand, it needs to be worth demanding.