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In our 2021#SmallBusinessRedefined series, RBC featured the story of Quill – a podcast production agency that was capitalizing on a medium that had quickly turned from “emerging” to “exploding.” At the time, Founder and CEO Fatima Zaidi was poised to seize increasing opportunities and was making plans to both expand her business and move the industry forward.
In light of Small Business Month RBC recently caught up with Zaidi to hear how she steered her business through the lingering aftermath of the pandemic and navigated an ever-changing market. Did Quill grow as planned? Did COVID present barriers or opportunities? How did the explosion of the podcast industry affect Quill’s offering?
Q: Can you give an overview of Quill today compared to our discussion in 2021? How is business going?
Zaidi: Since the last RBC feature, we’ve grown our team from 15 employees to 21. We’ve expanded our product, production, and marketing department while also building a sales department throughout 2023. We’re also planning on growing our tech team even further before the end of the year.
For Quill, we’ve continued to build our credibility and reputation within the podcast industry and we’re now looking to extend our name into more broad content marketing discussions. With these updates, we have begun offering podcast marketing and audience growth as its own service whereas previously, we only provided turn-key production. We did this to expand our offering to brands that may have production teams in-house but still need agency-level expertise when it comes to growing and analyzing the performance of a branded podcast.
The biggest change to our offering was launching CoHost, a brand new proprietary podcast hosting, analytics, and audience insights platform. I saw a gap in the podcast industry, marketers and brands didn’t know who was listening to their podcasts and how it was affecting areas like brand perception, engagement, and ROI. The answer to these questions would enable brands to better reach their goals by understanding the needs of their listeners. CoHost solves for that. With CoHost users can see the age, gender, location, household, income, hobbies, lifestyle, family members, and social media habits of their listeners, along with a variety of other insights to uncover the ROI on your podcast.
Q: How did you survive and thrive post-COVID?
Zaidi: There was definitely an audio boom during COVID. Brands were flocking towards content mediums that could adapt to a remote setting and podcasts were more than able to do that. We saw brands transferring their event or video production budgets in podcasts for this reason.
We were curious to see how brands would act as the world began to recover from COVID-19. What we saw was that storytelling and connecting with consumers were more important than ever. It feels like there was a shift – as consumers, we didn’t want to be blatantly advertised to anymore. Instead, we wanted to build a relationship with the brands we buy from and know that they align with our values.
Because of this shift, podcasts have continued to thrive after COVID. They’re a leading medium when it comes to connecting with audiences for their ability to almost humanize the brand, since authenticity is at the core of many of the shows we see being produced. Podcasts are a great medium for every stage of the funnel and we’re excited to continue to see how the industry moves forward.
Q: What levers are you using to grow your business, in addition to expanding with Co-Host?
Zaidi: We’ve leveraged some funding through grants such as the CanExport program but overall, our business is powered by the sales of our agency services and CoHost. Along with the launch of Co-Host, we decided to split off a podcast marketing and audience growth branch in our agency. Previously, clients would only get our marketing services when they were full-service package customers but now, brands can leverage our expertise and services in marketing as a separate package.
Q: As the podcasting industry continues to evolve, how has Quill evolved with it?
Zaidi: The podcast industry is growing. Nearly 14 million Canadians have listened to a podcast and there are over five million podcasts globally with over 70 million episodes between them. That’s a lot of content. With this growth, we’ve really emphasized not only creating standout content for our clients but also understanding how to get that content in front of the right target audience. This is where our podcast marketing and audience growth focus comes in.
In a State of Podcast Agencies Report created by CoHost, we found that the top constraint podcast agencies were experiencing when it came to the success of their clients’ podcasts was audience growth. Understanding how to effectively and efficiently grow a podcast isn’t an easy task, especially in a landscape that’s busy with content. For every client we work with, we build custom growth plans so everyone knows how we’re going to hit objectives and goals.
But I’d also like to add that a big piece of our growth strategies is analytics. We don’t want to just hit any audience’s ears, we want to hit the target audience’s ears. Otherwise, the podcast likely won’t make an impact on the brand. That’s why our latest features on CoHost, such as Advanced Audience Demographics and B2B Analytics, have become a gamechanger for any brand or agency that’s creating a podcast.
Q. Looking back, what words of wisdom would you have told yourself or something you wish you had done two years ago? <<or lesson learned>>
Zaidi: I’m beyond grateful for the path our two companies have taken. But if I were to look back, I’d tell myself to always come back to the consumer. By leading with what our clients at Quill or users at CoHost truly need, we can solve their challenges faster and more efficiently. Right now, this is our philosophy. Every decision we make is deeply rooted in customer research. But at the beginning months of CoHost, we were backed by user research but also led with our own opinions which caused some pivots.
Q. What’s next for Quill?
Zaidi: For Quill, we’re excited to hit the ground running with custom podcast marketing and audience growth packages for brands. We also have new client shows launching this year across industries like pharmaceuticals, healthcare, hospitality, and the non-profit sector that our entire team is looking forward to.
For CoHost, we just announced the launch of our analytics prefix. It uses a URL prepend that’s added to the enclosure URL in an RSS feed, which allows users to access some of the data I mentioned earlier without having to use CoHost as their hosting provider. Brands, agencies, and creators can integrate this prefix with their existing hosting platform, giving them the data-driven insights they need without the hassle of migration. We also plan on releasing more iterations of this prefix in 2024 with additional data and new metrics that the industry has never seen before.
All in all, our team is heads down and working hard to push the industry forward. Or as we always say, make *audio* waves.
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