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Just don’t mention running

The Women’s Running podcast is an excellent example of a publisher podcast. Its secret? Not talking about running…

By James Evelegh

Just don’t mention running
Esther (on the left) and Holly.

The Women’s Running podcast was launched, like many others, during lockdown. Three years on, as editor and co-presenter Esther Newman told Peter Houston at The Publishing Show in March, it’s the jewel in the running title’s crown.

But it wasn’t immediately so. It was very much steady as she goes in the early days, until the podcast changed direction about a year and half ago and rapidly starting adding listeners. Since changing direction, its listenership has doubled, from 20k to 40k downloads a month.

The secret of their new-found success was, it would seem, going out of their way not to talk about running.

The podcast had started off playing it pretty straight – building each episode around training tips and interviews with well-known runners.

The challenge they found was that they soon ran out of interviewees, it was hard to get the chemistry right and, whisper it, lots of elite women runners are actually quite boring. Women runners come in all shapes and sizes and the older they get and the less elite they are, the more interesting they become.

What listeners want is a sense of community and togetherness, and also to be entertained. When they’re out running and listening to a podcast, they want to feel they have a “friend in their ear”.

As these thoughts were beginning to dawn on the team, the title’s digital editor Holly Taylor happened to be in training for a half marathon. One episode, she sat down as a guest with Esther to talk about it and they immediately hit it off. They had found that all-important and highly elusive ingredient – chemistry.

The fortnightly interview-based format went out the window and the weekly natter-at-the-kitchen-table approach began. Each episode is essentially a warm, entertaining and engaging chinwag between the two of them; they chat about this, that and the other – what they did over the weekend, their plans for the week ahead, who they’ve met and what they’ve done, interlaced with anecdotes and observations about life and the world around them.

Sometimes, they even talk about running. I tuned into the first twenty minutes of the 12 April episode and I don’t recall much about running but maybe that came later. What it did have was a discussion about the amount of caffeine the various coffee shops put in their cups of coffee and Holly telling us about meeting and then desperately trying to avoid a Walter Mitty character who had trapped her and her companions on a 5-hour cross-channel ferry trip.

Such chemistry is podcast gold. It’s hard to plan for, almost impossible to engineer but, if you’re lucky enough to stumble across it – do everything you can to keep it.

You can catch James Evelegh’s regular column in the InPubWeekly newsletter, which you can register to receive here.