City of Visalia launches podcast, Visalia on Air
Perspective from Alison Mackey, APR, Communications Manager for the City of Visalia

By Jackie Tran, Communications Analyst, City of Monrovia

Located in the heart of California’s Central Valley, the City of Visalia is situated between two large media markets, but center to none. As media organizations across the state and nation reduced staff and coverage, it was important for the City of Visalia to look at innovative ways to provide accurate, community-driven news and information to residents in an innovative and virtual way. 

Launching its podcast entitled, Visalia On Air, the City had been engaging with residents in a variety of virtual ways for several years so entering the podcast arena came naturally. The Visalia On Air podcast is a monthly show that aims to serve residents of Visalia while also being a tool for information, tourism, and the recruitment and retention of professionals and those new to the area. The City kicked off with their first episode in October 2019, and as Visalia is often referred to as the “Jewel of the Valley,” the podcast was used to showcase what sets the community apart from others.

Allison Mackey, APR, communications manager for the City of Visalia, shares her insights on launching a podcast. 

Pros and cons of a podcast 

One of the pros of our selected platform was that podcasts were really starting to take off locally but had yet (and still have yet) to become wide spread as far as locally produced shows go. We were able to gain inspiration from the locally produced “Paper Trail Podcast” and worked with a local professional who had recently opened a podcast studio that we contracted with for services. Being on the ground floor of podcasts locally, we were able to tap into listeners who were looking for local content that hadn’t previously existed.

A con of the podcast platform for us included limits we placed on ourselves, one of which was a monthly episode schedule. We couldn’t always include breaking news or details of a project that we knew would be coming before the next episode. The monthly schedule forces us to be deliberate with content choices ensuring that it was not only topical, but that the interview portion could stand alone as more evergreen content.

Engagement goals and program successes

When launching the Visalia On Air podcast, our engagement goals included things as simple as getting those first few downloads and having the buy-in of guests who were willing to provide their time on this new venture. We were originally granted a six-month run for the podcast and knew that we needed to create a dynamic product that would allow us to expand and be “renewed” for another set of episodes. When we launched our first episode, within a month we had 112 unique downloads. When we hit our one year anniversary, we were getting over 1,000 downloads per month and had reached 20,000 unique downloads total. 

Beyond the numbers, a program success was a few months in when we started hearing community conversation around the podcast and having people contact us to be considered as guests, asking how they could get on the show and who did our booking and producing. Our biggest program success was being able to present strong enough downloads and social engagement to show that the podcast had become a valuable tool for us in virtual engagement and within our City’s communication plan. Thanks to these successes, staff was given the greenlight to officially add the Visalia On Air podcast as a permanent addition to our City’s marketing and public relations efforts.

Top three lessons learned

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. My Visalia On Air co-host worked on another successful podcast that focused on the event venue industry but we were new to building a podcast from scratch. Through a lot of research, we built our plan of how we would approach the project but reaching out to others who had launched their own podcasts was immensely helpful. Time and time again we found that others were willing to offer their insight, lessons learned and tips and tricks.

Stick to your schedule. While one episode per month seems like an easy goal, it was at times difficult to pull all the pieces together to meet our own deadlines. Once you begin airing a podcast, you’ll want to stay on schedule or risk losing listeners. Don’t be fearful of not being ambitious enough. Quality over quantity and sticking to a reliable routine will contribute to your success in the end. Biggest tip here, if at all possible, batch your episodes! You can always record new intros/outros if needed.

It will take time to build your audience. In the wise words of Mr. White, “Now – if the crowd doesn’t go wild for you, don’t worry about it. They will tomorrow!” Many segments of our community are still warming up to virtual engagement, particularly the idea of podcasts. While we saw our show’s audience grow, it took time for us to reach steady download numbers and saw numbers dip from time to time depending on the topic of the episode. If you’re a smash right out of the gate, great! But be prepared that it will take time to find your groove and build your audience.

Unfortunately, due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year, Visalia On Air is now on hiatus. As we eagerly await its return, you can find episodes of Visalia On Air on Stitcher, Google Play Music, Apple Podcast and Spotify. 

If you’re interested in learning more about starting a podcast, a recording of the Podcasting 101: How To Tips and Tricks to Get Your Agency’s Podcast Up and Running webinar is available on the CAPIO website for viewing.

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