John Higginson with wife and agency co-founder Clodagh. Picture credit: Gretel Ensignia
In 2013 Ed Miliband was the leader of the Labour Party, ahead in the polls and seemingly just a general election away from calling No. 10 his home.
Now he hosts a podcast.
This would have seemed like a pretty big fall from grace five years ago. But the former Labour leader, once maligned as robotic and a bit strange, now enjoys cult status and has arguably never been more popular.
While Miliband has certainly become more open, funny and comfortable in his own skin since stepping down as leader of the opposition, this transformation of public opinion speaks more to the way podcasts have grown in recent years than any drastic personality change on Ed’s end. Podcast listenership in the UK has almost doubled in the last half decade, with nearly 6 million now listening on a weekly basis.
The podcast renaissance
Why have they become so popular? Firstly, everyone with a smartphone has access to podcasts no matter where they are 24/7. And almost everyone now has a smartphone.
Secondly, podcasts lend themselves perfectly to multi-tasking. You can listen while you cook, clean, exercise or drive to work. In a world where we all seem to have less time, the somewhat passive experience of listening to a podcast allows us to fit them in when we can, making menial tasks and long journeys a bit more enjoyable.
Which leads to the third and most important point: people are crying out for depth. Podcasts provide true long-form storytelling in a much more manageable medium than short tabloid stories or five-minute TV interviews. Despite our sped-up world and the alleged shrinking of attention spans, there is ever increasing demand for content of real substance.
Whether it’s Serial, The Political Party or Miliband’s Reasons to be Cheerful, podcasts can last for hours and with that can provide a depth of analysis usually withheld to magazine articles that span multiple pages.
The changing consumer
Ten years ago, when I was political editor at Metro, I would get on the tube in the morning and 90% of people were reading the words my colleagues and I had written the previous day.
Now when I look down the carriage on my way to work, 90% have earphones in. Some may be listening to music or watching Netflix, but they are all potential podcast listeners.
That was part of the reason I decided to leave journalism. And that is why at Higginson Strategy we have decided to start our own podcast, Behind The Story.
We wanted to get involved in a medium that is long-form by nature and allows us to delve deeper into the subjects that are important to us. We wanted to break down topics in a way that was thorough, interesting and easily consumable.
Last year we had Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith and three prominent environmental campaigners on for a fascinating discussion on the state of global nature and conservation. We also interviewed Labour MP Caroline Flint on why we haven’t reached gender equality in parliament yet.
In the coming months, we’re really excited to continue to provide the people who shape our world the space to dig deeper into the issues they care about most.
Ed Miliband’s podcast aims to find reasons to be cheerful. For me, podcasts are one of those reasons.