Over the weekend the hosts kept tweeting the latest totals - $5, $10m, $15m - up and up it kept going. “If we go over $20m we’ll break the little totaliser graphic, they’ve never had anyone go up this high”.
They had already generated $3.5m before Friday. As of writing, they’re up to $22.1m and it keeps growing.
Sadly, for them, the money doesn’t go to the hosts, or the producers, or the company behind it. It’s going to a campaign - Get Mitch or Die Trying.
The podcast is Pod Save America from Crooked Media. It was set up shortly after the 2016 election by ex-Obama staffers Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor frustrated by the election of Donald Trump. They’d had a bit of podcast experience before, presenting a show Keepin’ It 1600 from The Ringer. This one they had decided to do themselves.
The show worked because they had been inside the White House, they understood how politics (used to) work, they were political professionals and they were angry. They were also funny too. The show captured the imagination of progressives, many who were as slack jawed in shock as the hosts.
It also did something that hadn’t really happened before. It was successful left-wing talk radio (albeit delivered to phones).
Right-wing talk radio works because it loves having enemies. It wallows in righteous indignation. Whenever the left has tried, they just can’t be as angry, they end up trying to be fair - and that just isn’t as entertaining. The rise of Trump, however, created an opening.
Off the back of Pod Save America, their company, Crooked Media (a play on a Trumpian remark) launched a suite of podcasts (there’s 12 in the network), sells out live shows and has built out the editorial at crooked.com.
To me though, what’s interesting is that they’ve spent a huge amount of time and effort (and I guess money) on campaigning efforts. This combines general ‘get out hte vote’ consumer action with Vote Save America, helping their fans become activists by encouraging phone banking, as well as raising money directly for Democratic candidates.
What they’ve done is something that many media companies think about and try to do - activate and monetise their audience.
What’s interesting about all their campaigning efforts, is that they fit in with their core brand and business. They’ve positioned themselves as Democrats that are passionate about doing what they see is right, pointing out hypocrisy, identifying where you can help, all whilst having fun.
The reason they raised so much money for Get Mitch or Die Trying was that they had, at first, identified an angle.
They knew that many Democrats wanted to donate money to help beat Donald Trump, but they weren’t sure how best to do it. So they created a fund that split donations to Senate campaigns that with a bit of a push could be successful. But they would only pick campaigns who weren’t raking in the money themselves. The obvious swingables would have loads of money pouring in from the Democratic Party as well as Super PACs, there’s would go to the rest.
They took their expertise and packaged it up into an easily actionable campaign. They also made it fun. Getting rid of Mitch McConnell (the Republican who chairs the Senate) made it easy to sell. Here’s their video about it.
The campaign had been running for over a year and had done well, generating $3.5m. They use the Democrats funding platform Act Blue, so all donations were automatically split and donated (they don’t get a dime).
Where it really took off though, was as the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsburg was announced on Friday. This was a big deal for Democrats as it meant that Trump would be able to put another right-wing, and probably relatively young, Justice on the Court. It’s especially annoying for many as Mitch McConnell managed to stop Obama putting a Justice on, arguing that with 269 days to go before the 2016 election that it wasn’t appropriate to do so. This time round, with 46 days to go and within a few hours of RBG dying, he announced he was going to put Trump’s pick to the Senate to vote for. Mega hypocrisy and on-brand for Mitch.
It was a great hook to re-mention the fund-raiser.
Four years of running a consistent product had generated them a legion of fans. Their Twitter accounts with engaged users meant when they tweeted about it, it was to the right audience, with the right material at exactly the right time. It solved a problem for their listeners. A way to channel their anger. It could be easily spread to people they knew with similar beliefs. The network effect meant the campaign activated over 247,000 donors.
Now while they may have not taken a cut, the benefits to the show and company are huge.
Part of their success comes from being the pre-eminent independent Democrat media. With the ability to channel this money and attention they become essential to any candidate, it drives their influence and their access. It’ll make it easier to do their day job and grow their media business. Why would anyone in the Democratic community not want to support their effort, or shows?
In a world where competing for attention is the key battle and where creating content requires access - working out how to super charge an audience becomes valuable not just for you, but for others too.
The broadcast business model is a fine one. Be a broad church that can sell scale. It’s a model that only really does well when you don’t turn people off. The Pod Save America team have gone a different direction, proving how well you can do when you turn listeners on.
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