ICology: Podcasting for internal communications

ICology ep #28, Doug Magditch with AT&T

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When I speak at events, I always close with talking about the ICology podcast. At this year's PRSA Connect event in Dallas, I asked the audience if anyone was using podcasting for internal communications. One hand shot up. 

Doug Magditch is the lead internal communications consultant at AT&T and is the host of the "Life at AT&T" podcast. Doug has a background in broadcasting so jumping to podcasting wasn't a huge leap. But in this episode, he lays out a simple plan for how any communicator can use a podcast to help tell employee stories. 

And that's what the Life at AT&T podcast is all about. It's about the daily life of AT&T employees around the world. I hope you enjoy. 

As always, you can subscribe to ICology on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, reviews are always appreciated. 


Full Transcript

Chuck: This is ICology. It's a podcast dedicated to interesting people doing interesting things in the world of internal communications. And have you ever thought of creating a podcast for internal comps? If so, you wanna listen to Doug Magditch from AT&T. And yes, I recognize this is a podcast episode about a podcast. If internal comms is your passion then this is your podcast, listen in.
 
Hello I'm your host Chuck Gose, thank you for listening to this episode of ICology. And today we're talking about podcasting, and podcasting is on the rise. As you're listening to this, you're part of that listening surge, and thank you for that. I did some research, though, to find out how much podcast is actually increasing and if there's still room for growth in podcasting. So let's dig into some numbers here that I found.

So according to the Pew Research Center, 21% of Americans, so 1 in 5, listen to a podcast on a weekly basis. You might not think that sounds like much, but it's nearly double from 2013, just a few years ago. Half of those listeners are between the ages of 12 to 34, pretty good target market there. Podcast listeners tend to be gender neutral, though a little slightly leaning toward male, but pretty close to 50/50.

Ialso did learn the more money you make, the more likely you are to listen to a podcast, so there's some little socioeconomics in play there. And when people listen, they listen to an average of three to six shows a week. And this makes sense given some feedback I've received about ICology that a lot of people tend to listen to podcasts on their commute.
 
And now, here's where the room for growth comes in though, only half of Americans are even familiar with the term podcasting. Now, you're never probably gonna get 100%, but if you think of only half are familiar with it and then 21% total listens, so you really are talking about a number around probably 40% of those who are even familiar with it.

But why podcasts for internal comms? And podcasting for internal comms is something I've heard whispers of this in the past, companies using audio to share news. And a past guest, Paul Barton, and I remember years and years ago talking about doing this for Hawaiian Airlines. But why do a podcast? Well, I guess it probably points to my own reason for starting ICology. I say it's a unique way to tell stories, it allows you a chance to go deeper into topics. And we know the value of storytelling and what it brings to internal communications.

And it was while I was talking about my podcast in an event that today's guest raised his hand and mentioned he's doing these for internal communications. So I want to welcome to the show Doug Magditch. He is the lead internal communications consultant at AT&T and the host of the podcast of Life at AT&T. Doug, welcome to ICology.
 
Doug: Thank you, Chuck. That's such a good introduction. And I love your tag line of interesting people doing interesting things in employee communications, I feel like that's...I mean, internal communications. I feel like that's a high bar to live up to, and knowing some of your past guests I really appreciate you being interested in talking about what we're doing at AT&T, and having me on. So thanks for the time.
 
Chuck: And I do wanna share with people, this was a PRSA Connect event where you raised your hand there in Dallas where you're located, and you had mentioned you did this, I had not heard of it. Immediately on the flight home I listened to about three episodes on the flight. Got hooked, became fascinated by it, and that's when I reached out to you about being on the show. So let's start going through some of the questions here I have ready for you. Why a podcast? And so what was your inspiration? What did you hope to accomplish by launching Life at AT&T?
 
Doug: So part of our priority this year, part of our focus this year in global media at AT&T is building a beloved brand and part of that is humanizing the brands at AT&T. So that's part of the focus, the backgrounds, and the inspiration for doing a podcast. I sit on a team in employee communication at AT&T called the Social Engagement Team, and that team is kind of a brainchild of my boss. So allow me to do a little brown-nosing here, but Nolan Carleton, my boss, did a really fantastic job with the program we have called Social Circle which is a program designed to encourage employees at AT&T to share news about AT&T on their social networks, and help them build a brand for themselves externally.

And due to the success of that program, Nolan kind of went to the drawing board and built out a larger idea of what we could do to encourage more social engagement with our employees and through our employees. And so part of that larger plan was to do a podcast.
 
So technically it's her brainchild that we were gonna do a podcast at AT&T. Luckily, I sit in an organization that's really into trying new things and trying, experimenting. And so I was given the task of trying to create a podcast, and I just kind of been big podcast listener, a big fan of the NPR podcast, Radiolab, and so I just really tried to design the podcast off of that.

So the way our podcast...the way I describe our podcast is that it's a behind the scenes look within what it's like to be an AT&T employee of various roles across the company. So I try to do a wide range of roles and really try to personalize what it's like to be an AT&T employee for both employees internally who might not know what other employees do on their day-to-day, and then also people externally who might be interested in working for AT&T.
 
Chuck: And I know Gasp, this is surprising, but here's another example where it's okay for internal comms' activities and content to go external, right?
 
Doug: Yeah, so that was a big part of how we're dividing us from the get-go. Yeah, I like that. We were looking at some of our internal systems here and looking at ways that we might be able to share a podcast internally with our tools, and it looked like what we had wasn't gonna be as mobile-friendly maybe as some of the external tools available like SoundCloud, which is where I host podcasts. And so we made sure to kind of create a strong partnership with the HR organization, the staffing and recruiting team to...so that they could use it as a recruiting tool as well as we could use it as an internal tool for employees.

So that's kind of the way we look at it, is the podcast is a way for employees to learn about what other employees are doing, but also for our recruiting team to use it as a tool to give people outside the company an example of what it's like to work at AT&T, in a kind of more candid, honest, real conversation.
 
Chuck: And I'm really glad to hear of that strategy, that it's not just used internally, but there is this added benefit because I can imagine if I were a job candidate considering AT&T, knew about the podcast or an episode was shared with me and I listened, it would really shed some light and perspective on what it would be like to work at AT&T and a variety of different jobs.
 
Doug: Definitely is a goal, yeah, for sure.
 
Chuck: And that sort of leads on to my next question. So this is a very interview style, like you're...in the life of, I know one of the episodes I listened to, you're like out on the job with a lineman, one you talked about somebody who works more on the event side with AT&T. How do you find guests for the show?
 
Doug: Yeah, so we have in our employee communications team here at AT&T, we have around 45 people that sit on the team, and so they represent all different organizations. And maybe that's sounds like an awful lot for people in employee communications, but keep in mind that we represent 208,000 employees at AT&T. And so communicating to them is a pretty big task. But so I really rely on the folks that represent different parts of the company through employee communications so we have what we call our big three business units. Which is our entertainment group, which includes U-verse, DirecTV, all the entertainment offerings that AT&T has, as well as our mobility organization, our consumer mobility organization, so if you have an AT&T phone or a phone with AT&T servers then that sits in that group. 
 
Then we have our business solutions and international organization, and then out AT&T technology and operations organizations so like all the networks off of. And so we have teams that represent those three or we have a team that represents HR and I just try to keep an open line of communication with all those folks in employee communications just to be...if they stumble on somebody who has a job that they think would be interesting, lend itself to good audio which is the big part of podcasting.
 
I can interview somebody who sits at the desk all day, but it's not gonna be probably as engaging as somebody who's out in the field, like you mentioned a technician, sure that we did. Since I've launched this I am six episodes in now...well, I'm five episodes in, the sixth one will take in July. And I'm starting to get some suggestion too from listeners which has been great to have that feedback, direct feedback.
 
Chuck: And I noticed a recent one you did toward the end of June was around Pride Month where you interviewed an employee. And I'm curious is there...are you beginning to form a bit of an editorial calendar? Do you think you're gonna try to mirror [SP] whether it's sort of the cultural or social calendar or things that are going in AT&T where you can begin to see...be very timely in your topics?
 
Doug: And yeah, that's something that I've really started to develop as I've gone through this. If you look with that most recent episode, at the beginning of the show I said we were gonna do a show on mobility retail employee, but instead we decided to do something at LGBT Pride Month because AT&T is big supporter of diversity, and that's really important to our company, the importance of diversity. I have gotten a little more strategic as I'm kind of building out what shows are coming up next. I'm actually sitting on five recorded shows right now that I still need to go back and transcribe and edit. So I've got a little bit on my offer right now.
 
Chuck: Well, and going back to when you talked about this being used as a recruiting tool, that's the very first thought that I had when I heard the episode you did for Pride Month. Because I could imagine, I was like, "That would resonate not only loudly within that community within AT&T, but also globally if there's any candidates, anybody's that's part of that recruiting process to hear that. That would have to certainly open their eyes and make them more aware of what a welcoming company and community that AT&T is."
 
Doug: Yeah, and I think it's important to do. I mean, when we talk about diversity communication, we don't want to necessarily say in every episode where we're representing somebody that might be considered a minority group, "Hey, we're very diverse and this is a diverse show and were representing diversity," but to represent those employees and show what they're doing in their day-to-day, and that everybody does have opportunities at AT&T. I had a good conversation with our diversity leaders as I was kind of coming up with the ideas for the podcast and what shows we'd be doing. And they really emphasized the importance of not saying, "Diversity is diverse just like being..." I don't know. You see what I'm saying?
 
Chuck: Well, when you have north of 200,000 employees, you're going to have to embrace diversity. I mean, it's that larger bit of your own little microcosm of society. I just thought it was great to be able to react to a very timely topic, but then also showcase an employee who, if I remember correctly, on the episode even acknowledged that his job wasn't necessarily the most exciting, but it was more around his experience there at AT&T. Doug, you've published some, you've got some on the hopper, you had mentioned that you used SoundCloud as your hosting tool.

I know that was something when I launched ICology, there's sort of this whole logistical setup to doing a podcast, it's not just simply hitting record and then it shows up automatically. You get all these things in place and do some editing. So why don't you talk to people about what are some of the tools you use to create the podcast, and also would you say about how much time you spend on each episode?
 
Doug: Like I said, I try to really emulate the NPR podcast that I like so much, so my show is pretty heavily edited. And I say heavily edited, that makes it sound like I'm editing every other word or so, whatnot, but I wanna really keep it fast paced and keep it moving so I do spend a good amount of time in the editing process. But I guess, just to talk about first of the equipment. We got, on the front-end wanted to make sure that the sound quality was really good, and just the quality of the overall production was really good. So we bought a microphone, it's like, I don't know, around $300 or so for a Shure microphone. And then I've been able to use some of my other equipment that we have for video production here at AT&T. So I have a log mic and then a good recording, a good recorder, a mobile recorder that work really well. The good thing is for editing it's free so I use GarageBand on a Mac, so there was no investment there which is good. So generally, I'd spend about half a day, half a work day on doing the interview and then following them around. And then on the editing side, I always make sure to do a full transcript of the entire interview to make sure I didn't miss anything.
 
And then I kind of...the way I work it is I kind of put it together like a puzzle. I pull out, I highlight or star the best sound bites from the interview, the ones that really stood out to me, and then I try to build the show around those sound bites. Because every now and then in an interview there is something that just really stands out and that's kind of the star piece of the interview that you wanna put in there. And then I'll build a storyline with a little bit of script for my copy, the sound of them actually doing their job kind of interspersed in there and to try to kind of walk you through as a listener what it's like to do that job. Try to go into everyone with big open eyes and really keep my reactions, some of mine because they would have to be similar reactions that listeners would have as they're listening into the show.
 
When I was first putting together the idea of a podcast and where we're gonna go with it, I started listening to a podcast out there called The Podcast Dude with this guy Aaron Dowd on Seanwes Network. And got a lot of really good tips on production and editing and all that, so that was, I would say, really helpful on the front-end. I'd never...I mean, to be honest with you, I've never done a podcast before, but I came to AT&T about two and a half years ago from local TV news, but I have a broadcast background that I worked as a videographer and a reporter at a few local stations around the country. And so I was able to kind of pull in that editing experience that I had from working on TV, which has been very, very helpful to be able to lean on that. As you know, when you're watching something like a podcast, the learning curve could be pretty steep, but it was good to be able to lean on that kind of background.
 
But yeah, so then...and then for posting we use SoundCloud. And then the great thing, and you've probably experienced this too, is it's so easy to get your podcast listed in all the different podcasting apps. Once you host, you can pull a feed out of your podcast and submit that. From the front-end a really big, big piece of that. We wanted it to be accessible, we wanted it to be easy for people to listen. I mean, I listen to podcasts like when I'm running or cleaning the house. It's kind of a different communications tool, but we wanted to make it really easy for people to be able to tune in.
 
Chuck: And now, as I mentioned at the very beginning, I thought that it was very interesting when it said that only half of Americans are even familiar with the term podcast.
 
Doug: I've never heard that.
 
Chuck: Did you have to do any education around people saying, "Well, this is a podcast, this is what it is, this is how you subscribe" I mean, how did you get the word out, and how did you educate people on it?
 
Doug: Yeah, and that's something that we're still working on. On the front-end I put together a pretty thorough communications plan. We have our internal internet site called AT&T Insider, and we did a story on the AT&T Insider, communicated about it through digital signage. We have some internal newscast that we included it in. And so that was, number one, getting the name out of what the Life at AT&T podcast, but then also kind of explaining to folks how easy it is to listen to a podcast and how to subscribe to a podcast, things like that. I would say that that's still under way. I mean, we just launched back in February. Well, the very first day of March, I think, is when the first one went out. Have we tried to spread the word, try to also spread the word about how to subscribe. But yeah, that's a really interesting point.
 
Chuck: You've mentioned that you're not starting to get recommendations from employees or feedback from employees what has the response been about the podcast, a Life at AT&T podcast?
 
Doug: I will say it's been awesome. I mean, it's been so cool to see the reactions of folks because we didn't know how...what kind of response we would get. We just, like I said, we were all about trying something new. I mean, in my first episode you heard me talk to my, I called her my boss' boss' boss, but she's the head of employee communications and she's really set up an environment here on our team where we are open to trying new things and we're allowed to kind of experiment. And I think that's so important, and it's a great environment for work in, frankly. From frontline employees to leadership it's been very positive, the reaction. I mean, I guess most folks aren't gonna reach out and say, "Hey, I hated your podcast."
 
Chuck: Oh, you never know, it could happen.
 
Doug: Yeah, it's true, it could happen. Please don't do that if you're listening. I mean, I'll take any constructive feedback. Anyway, no, I mean, it has been super positive. And I think the thing that people really respond to is the production value of the podcast because we put a lot of time and effort into making sure that it's a well-produced show. And then the style. I mean, we have a lot of different communication channels and vehicles here.

Like I mentioned our intranet site, I mentioned we have the newscast. But a podcast just...it kind of stands out in a niche, in a different sort of communications vehicle because of its longer form. We're trying to get really laid-back, honest conversations from people, but we're able to fit more in there. We don't want it to be too long, but it's...so it's different and people have said, they liked that it's so real. And that's exactly what I'm going for, so it's so nice to hear that feedback from folks.
 
Chuck: Earlier you'd used the term heavily edited, and I, as a listener, I know exactly what you mean by that. And I think that's sort of a piece of advice for others that you've taken this approach, you wanna follow a certain model and a certain style, but it doesn't mean that everybody else does. So if you listen to Life at AT&T and you think, "Oh, this sounds so great, so professional. I could never duplicate it." You don't necessarily have to. Do what fits your style, do what fits your company, and then you'll get better over time. That's what I've hopefully found out. Now, I think, we're in the 20s episodes in, that if you do get more...
 
Doug: It's amazing how fast you can get in, get through, and get to so many episodes, right? I'm just amazed that we're about to put out our sixth episode. I feel like we just launched. But I'm nowhere near youo.
 
Chuck: You'll be there before you know it.
 
Doug: Yeah, I hope so. Generally, what I'll do is I do an interview with somebody that's maybe a 30 minute or so interview, sometimes not that long, 20 to 30 minutes, and then I'll kind of job channel them, just put a microphone on them, and hopefully that's something that you could tell in the shows, just the sound of the person actually doing their job is really important to this because we wanna give somebody a behind the scenes look.
 
Chuck: Just started, you said you launched in March. So it's still early on, but I think that you've had some amazing success here earlier in the process. Where would you like to take the podcast in the future, where do you see the future of Life at AT&T becoming?
 
Doug: Yeah, I wanna really stick with the format for one, I know that that's not necessarily forward thinking, but I wanna keep it to where it's, really a polished product. Going forward, I mentioned that we're kind of building out more of an editorial calendar, I wanna see more episodes fitting in with timely events that are going on or timely marketing strategies or campaigns that AT&T might be doing, and then really just align in closely with our strategy and our priorities at the company.
 
Chuck: Well, I think it's a great example of how internal communicators can align themselves and work closely with their external counterparts, and make sure that they're speaking the same language, and publishing around the same time, and echoing the same statements. So I think it's another great example of how internal and external can work together.
 
Doug: I think that is something that's been important for us. I mean, we're not always gonna say the exact same words that as a news release or something like that. But we wanna make sure that we are aligned just on the strategic messaging and the top line messaging because if we're talking about something internally in a certain way, our employees could potentially be talking about that externally in the same way. So we wanna make sure that in all of our channels, including the podcast, that we're representing the company and speaking to those important points.
 
Chuck: Now, going back in particular to your role at AT&T, given how much time you spend doing the podcast, I'm sure there are other responsibilities and channels that you're a part of. So with the listeners, why don't you just sort of share a little bit about what your day-to-day comms activities are?
 
Doug: My background, like I mentioned earlier, is in TV news. And I kind of got hired on because of that which was awesome. I was ready to get a more structured job, and so working in cooperate America has been wonderful. At AT&T have a few internal newscast. One's called Around the Globe, because all over the globe, and that's our kind of...I think of it like the national news at AT&T. So we're all the big stories going around the globe. And then we have for our big three business units, we have a couple of...or we have three newscasts that are specifically designed for those business units.
 
So I help launch and post an internal newscast called Business Feed for our business solutions organization. I had a great team supporting me on that, but stuff that helped me...helped me look a lot smarter than I am. For the social engagement team I help lead our program called Social Circle, but I mentioned before it's our program to encourage employees to share AT&T news on their social networks. And then under the social engagement team we have a number of other programs that we're kind of...we're kind of like a startup company inside of a big company.
 
We're trying a bunch of different things, the podcast being one of those, but we're also working on launching an employee influence program. So that's just to internally to encourage employees to spread strategic messaging through their personal networks. So my whole team, we support a number of different programs that kind of straddles the lines between internal and external, and are all designed to encourage more social engagement for our employees.
 
Chuck: Well, and as I've seen internal communications evolve over time, some of the best internal communicators are people who have come from whether it be a television background or a newspaper background, because you're bringing not only a sophistication to the process, but also the ability to tell stories in a very timely and entertaining manner for people. So I'm sure that's some of the value you bring to AT&T as well as other large companies who are bringing in sort of these former journalists who are now become using their skills they developed for the external world and bringing them for the internal world.
 
Doug: I mean, that's not just me, there are so many people in our team that came from a journalism background. And our VP, Pat, who, again, was in our first...the first episode of Life at AT&T the podcast. Really, when seen she took over employee communications, really kind of decided that we wanna operate like a newsroom, and it's been so neat to see...we have just so many talented, skilled people in our employee communications team. And a lot of them come from a either a newspaper or a broadcast backgrounds. And to see...I mean, I just joined two and a half years ago, but to see the shift in the past three to four years knowing where the team came from. We were very focused, I guess trying to be a digital brand or internet site. Very focused on that, and then we've expanded to do more video, it's been a big focus with the team, and to do more timely and strategic communications through all of our channels.
 
Chuck: And if people have...they think, "I need to do this podcasting thing," or, "I wanna talk to Doug more about what he's doing," how should people get in touch with you if they have any more questions?
 
Doug: Yeah, so I'm on Twitter and LinkedIn. Doug Magditch, it's @DougMagditch on Twitter, and then LinkedIn which you just search for Doug Magditch. Feel free to reach out to me on either one of those. The easiest thing probably to remember is my email address for the podcast, which all these emails go straight to me, is life@att.com. I was, by the way, amazed that that email address was available.
 
Chuck: That's pretty good, I'm glad you got that, that's pretty amazing.
 
Doug: It worked out so well. But so life@att.com is probably the easiest way to get in touch with me or the easiest thing to remember. So if there's anybody out there who's doing a podcast for internal communications, I would love to pick your brain and hear of it. There's a guy at General Mills who, I hope, doesn't mind me mentioning his name, but Kevin Hunt, he runs a podcast called A Taste of General Mills. And I talked to him as I was putting together the idea of doing the podcast for AT&T. It was really just interesting to hear the way he is doing podcasting, and it's maybe a little different than what we're doing, but to just pick his brain was so helpful going into this. So if anybody has any questions, I'd love to talk to you about it.
 
Chuck: Well, Doug, I want to thank you for being a guest on ICology, taking the time for this interview, and sharing your thoughts. And there was something you said when you were talking about going through the editing, reading the transcriptions, and there's these sort of little starred moments and aha moments that you pull out of it. And I'm pretty sure you probably rarely know that those are going to happen, and I think that's really the great thing about any time you can have these conversation with employees, you're gonna find out things that no one else would or even think is interesting, but others will. And so I think that's a great feature of talking to employees, being able to publish their thoughts, their ideas, their activities, and then you said basically sharing them with the world.
 
You can find the Life at AT&T podcast on iTunes, like Doug said, or wherever you get your podcasts, just search for Life at AT&T. Please follow ICology on Twitter @LearnICology to pick up show announcements, as well as other internal comms news. If you're not already a subscriber, you can listen to ICology also on these same platforms, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you hear, those reviews are always helpful, they mean a lot and they matter. If internal communications is your passion, ICology is your podcast. Thanks for listening in.