Anatomy of a Promo – Part 1 of 3: Why Promos?
One unique thing about The SAFTAcast is “the promo” – a one-to-two minute vignette that ideally tells listeners who the next guest is going to be.
These promos are unique in that no other podcast I know of – writing or otherwise – has them. Mini-episodes are common, though. Gilbert Godfried’s podcast, for example, releases a full length show every weekend, but also puts out a half-length one mid-week. And Citizen Lit, our kind-of/sort-of “sibling,” alternates between full and mini-episodes.
But no one routinely drops a two-minute “commercial” for their own show.
The SAFTAcast promos were born out of necessity. When Sundress prepared to launch the show in 2014, one of the important questions was the release schedule. We settled on a bi-weekly program, but that raised the question of what to do on the “off” weeks. In order for anything to thrive on the internet, a site has to pump out regular content and be consistent. In other words, we couldn’t afford to lose listeners for half the year by having no content.
Enter the promo. When I worked in college radio, the station was obligated to play at least one promo every hour. These promos could be for any campus or community non-profit group or event, and they could take any form/be any style as long as crucial information was there (who, what, when, where, etc).
It made sense, then, to alternate our show with an advertisement for its next episode. We could put out content every week, and listeners/subscribers could keep up on the show’s guests or programming changes such as hiatuses.
Originally, the promos were going to have a single template: I would tell the listener who was on the next show, mention a couple of topics we discuss, and remind the audience to come back in one week. And the music bed would be an edited cut of Jonathan Coulton’s “Dance, Soterios Johnson, Dance.”
But just before we launched the show, I had a brain flash.
Sundress had given me complete creative control of the podcast and so I abandoned the “cookie cutter” promo idea before the first episode. Instead, I decided each promo would be its own entity and give the listener something different every week. (Which creates even more of a listener hook when you think about it. “What’s the promo going to be this week? What’s Scott C doing now?”)
So far, each promo has followed that “be original” rule. But there are some additional, internal regulations I have for them:
- The promo must reference the show. Ideally it mentions the next guest and some topics, but the words “the SAFTAcast” must appear somewhere in the piece.
- It can’t be too long. Target range is one-to-three minutes. Promos are meant to be short.
- It can’t be offensive toward any person or group. Self-deprecating humor is fine, though.
- Like the show, the promo should not tread into sex, politics, or religion. It can use stylistic elements of these, such as the “Bible Time with Rev. Scott C” or the candidate speech in “It’s a Wonderful Scott C,” but the promo does not condone or condemn anyone for their personal beliefs.
- Most importantly: no matter how weird or strange the premise, if the promo idea doesn’t entertain or amuse me, it’s not worth it. If I don’t giggle when thinking it up, it won’t get made.
These guidelines have served me well and help make the promos one of the most fun elements of The SAFTAcast. In the next part, on Thursday, I’ll delve deeper into the creation of a specific one, showing how it came about, from conception to execution.