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Up until early 2020, podcasting was on the rise but still in its infancy. Last year it exploded in popularity – over 11 million Canadian adults listened to podcasts with 900,000 active podcasts and 4,000 new shows appearing every week. Quill founder, Fatima Zaidi, saw the opportunities that were quickly emerging out of the circumstances the world found itself in, recognizing that brands needed to find new ways to connect with customers – and fast.
Quill has become a global production agency and most recently, a podcast marketing and audience growth tool for podcasters. Working with Fortune 500 companies, large brands, financial institutions and national retailers, Quill helps launch podcasts from the ground up via their full-service podcast production team and savvy marketing.
“Our goal is to make podcasts more accessible to all by making sure podcasters can easily get the help they need to bring their show to life,” says Zaidi in a recent conversation.
Listen to her conversation with Tony Chapman in the RBC Small Business Matters podcast series:
The power of podcasting and the payoff of specializing
Prior to Quill, Zaidi ran an agency for many years, creating podcasts as part of a broader offering. Last year, her decision to specialize was met with some skepticism, given the risks of narrowly focusing on just one medium. But Zaidi had confidence in the trajectory and resilience of podcasting. “It is the only medium where you can be actively engaged in another activity,” she says. “You can’t be driving to work and watching a Netflix show. You can’t be walking a dog and reading an article. No matter what you’re doing, you can be listening to a podcast.”
She also recognizes the power of the audience that’s most tuned in to podcasts. “Millennial professionals are the typical podcast audience. They’re looking for ways to multi-task during their busy lives and like to learn through listening. What better way than audio content to take care of two things at once?” she says. And given the desire for brands to reach this audience, they are keen to produce high-quality, engaging content and/or advertise within a podcast.
“Podcasts are such an intimate format, there’s truly no other marketing medium out there that can engage a user for that amount of time, that consistently and is that convenient. This is just one of the many reasons why podcasting is a powerful tool for brands,” says Quill’s Head of Marketing, Alison Osborne.
Even as the pandemic hit, Quill quickly adapted clients to a remote recording option. They realized that the transition to remote recordings provided clients more convenience with scheduling, travelling, connecting with guests from all around the world, and if done right, can be even more intimate. The platform that Quill implemented allows all guests to join a recording session from their browser all the while their team can still act as the technical producers by controlling volume, levels, and recording times.
As such, Zaidi’s business is thriving – but she’s worked hard to nurture and grow Quill from a two-person start-up to a staff of fifteen with building momentum.
Keys to growth: Service, learning, and collaborative competition
In a growing industry – with increasing competition from both bona fide podcasters and keen amateurs – Zaidi sees increasing opportunity. “We love and are inspired by all our competitors,” she says. “Each one has taught us something and we love to work in collaborative competition. We send business back and forth depending on the niche. While we are sharing the same space, we are propelling each other forward,” she explains.
Another important factor to the growth of Quill has been the service arm of their business, which Zaidi describes as “one of the smartest things we did” in the early days. The service side of Quill enables them to keep learning, creating shows and working in the trenches with clients so they never lose sight of what is important to content creators. “The service arm of the business allowed us to identify pain points – and based off that we have built a product that launched July 1st that allows clients to enjoy an end-to-end podcasting solution for businesses looking to create and build a podcast audience.”
And while they are getting a lot of investment offers, the Quill team is still bootstrapping and has no plans to change their funding model in the near future. “We don’t want to bring in outside investment right now because as soon as you have them at the table there is a lot more pressure to grow,” she says. “We want to learn as we go and don’t want our business to be all about numbers.” That said, investment isn’t off the table down the road.
Their primary challenge to growth? It’s not finding clients, staff or doing great work – rather, it’s managing the company remotely. As a tech-enabled agency they have staff all over North America and headquarters in two cities (Toronto and Chicago) – and while they would have had several team events by this point, today half of their team hasn’t met the other half. They’re building their culture through zoom parties and mental health days, but it’s not quite the same as live interaction.
As far as finding the right people, Zaidi believes that positioning the company in a way that attracts the type of people they’re looking to work with has allowed them to build a strong and engaged team. “We are really big on work/life balance, we offer mental health days and have an unlimited vacation policy,” she explains, noting they hire high performers who are looking to work hard and play hard and are comfortable with the concept of being their own boss and having a lot of autonomy. It’s the strength of their team that has enabled them to push through the challenges of pandemic and continue doing great work.
Moving the industry forward
As passionate podcasters, the team at Quill is focused on tackling the three main challenges of the industry: Lack of education, lack of accurate data and lack of benchmarks. “Everything we do is to move the industry forward and fill those gaps,” says Zaidi.
Their podcast marketing product, CoHost, is helping brands measure the ROI of their podcast, a challenge that the Quill team has experienced with the current state of podcast analytics. Business owners interested in participating in the products beta phase can connect with Fatima at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They have also recently launched the Quill Podcast Awards, which enables them to build recognition and visibility for smaller shows. “It’s often the established shows that get all the ad dollars and recognition,” explains Zaidi. “We want to see more diversity in programming in the industry.”
Through the development of new products, innovative collaborations, a commitment to service and a passion for growing the podcasting industry, Quill is a force in the content creation space. Today, they are emerging not only as a company that delivers quality products and services, but thought leaders that are helping companies take full advantage of a growing and engaged pool of customers.
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