#CampaignInsider | Writing the playbook on podcasting | Step 1: find an original concept - european campaign playbook

the european campaign playbook

Writing the playbook on podcasting | Step 1: find an original concept

by Sean O’Curneen, Secretary General of the Renew Europe group at the Committee of the Regions, and producer of the podcast “Letter from Brussels”. 


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In political and public communications, leaders use storytelling to connect with voters and build solid relationships through political narrative.

And the best way for stories to come alive is by telling them

No surprise that podcasts are on the rise in Europe in political campaigns throughout Europe.

During this month, we will focus on how to use podcasts and audio platforms in your campaigns.

This episode is possible thanks to our sponsor: Bullemedia, a European sound production agency. They produce information, knowledge and original creations podcasts about Europe.

Writing the playbook with us is Sean O’Curneen, Secretary General of the Renew Europe group at the Committee of the Regions, and the person behind the podcast “Letter from Brussels”



It took me a year and half from deciding that we needed to produce a podcast to finally producing the first episode. Taking the decision was fairly straightforward, the hard part was coming up with the right concept. I want to walk you through my creative process on the concept and provide some practical advice for anyone planning to start up a podcast.

To be more precise, of the year and a half mentioned above, a large chunk of it was spent on research.  This process got me hooked on many great podcasts and helped me realise the niche in the market. Beyond the content, it helped me think about the format that would work best, from duration and speakers to branding and production.

What is a podcast?


In English, if someone asks for a precise measurement for something that cannot have one, it is common to answer with the question: “how long is a piece of string?” thus implying that it is a subjective matter. I often feel that the question “what is a podcast?”can be answered in the same way. The one thing that all podcasts have in common is that they are audio files that can be downloaded from the internet. Whether they are free or for sale, last ten minutes or ten hours, have music or not, good or bad sound quality, it all depends on the producer(s). And, in a way, that immense freedom is one of the biggest challenges. How do you get it right for your audience?


Finding your concept

While a podcast is like the proverbial piece of string in the sense that the producer has a huge amount of freedom to design it, the truth is a number of parameters will quickly narrow down the options, and this in turn will increase the chance of success by helping you identify the added value you are bringing to the podcast world. So, ask yourself:

Who is my target audience? 

  • What content have I got that will be of interest to them? 
  • How much time do they have to listen?
  • How much flexibility have I got with sound quality (will they tolerate the sound from an online video call)?
  • How much time have I got to produce it? 
  • What human and technical resources have I got available for production?
  • How will my target audience find out the podcast exists?
  • How will I measure success and over what time period?


Finding the concept for us

Once I had taken the decision to add a podcast to our communications toolkit, it turned out to be harder than I expected to find the right concept. After consulting with my communications team, I realised that there were some technical hurdles that we would not be able to overcome easily, and thus I had to work through a number of concepts before eventually finding the one that worked for us. In the end, the concept became clear through a process of elimination:

  • As the target audience was mainly busy people active in and around politics, the podcast could be no longer than 15 minutes;
  • To avoid depending on the schedules of busy politicians spread around Europe for recordings and thus avoid delays in the process, the content would have to be written and narrated by myself;
  • For practical reasons, the podcast would only be produced in English and language versions would only be explored at a later stage;
  • When quoting politicians speaking in any of the EU languages, rather than using the sound of interpreters, I would paraphrase them. 
  • Finally, to make the podcast attractive, I would use Jonah Berger’s Trojan Horse approach, using stories to present facts and information (the work of our political members).


A 15-minute, narrated, audio-recording telling stories reminded me of a BBC radio programme my father used to listen to when I was a child, called Letter from America, by Alistair Cooke. This immediately gave me the title for our podcast: Letter from Brussels. Since Brussels is the beating heart of Europe, and the capital of the European Union, it was a perfect choice for the title of the podcast since many of the featured stories will be about what happens here.


Some technical advice

Producing a decent podcast is technically easy and inexpensive. Doing the research beforehand is essential and there are plenty of online resources to help people starting off, with advice on software and hardware. Do not make the mistake of buying expensive equipment before you are sure your podcast will succeed! Give it at least six months before you start thinking of upgrading to more sophisticated equipment. I have only just bought a better microphone now that I am confident the podcast will continue into a second year and beyond.

Producing a podcast can be a lot of fun, but it is also stressful, in particular as deadlines approach, unexpected and baffling technical issues arise at the last minute, or you realise that content you were relying on is no longer valid. Do your research, have a backup plan, and don’t be over ambitious. It is always better to offer your audience more when you can, than to find you cannot fulfil unrealistic promises. Get these things right and you will enjoy it, you will provide added value to your audience, and hopefully you will also help to expand the European demos.

Sean O’Curneen is Secretary General of the Renew Europe Group in the European Committee of the Regions since 2004. He is author of the Letter from Brussels podcast, and holds a Masters in Journalism from the Université Aix-Marseille and a Masters in European Politics from Birkbeck College, University of London. He previously worked for the Mayor of London, BBC Television, and Radio France Internationale.

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