This company specializes in turning industry conferences into podcasts
Marc Honorof is the "king of repurposing content," and he realized one day that conference panels would make great podcast episodes.
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Every year, cities all across the US host tens of thousands of industry events — everything from small happy hours to large, multi-day conferences. To attract attendees, event organizers ask industry leaders to give talks and appear on panels, and it’s fairly common for speakers to share cutting edge research and best practices with their audiences. But then once the conference is over, everyone packs their bags and returns home, and all those talks and panels live on as little more than memories for those who attended them live.
Marc Honorof looked at this dynamic and saw a missed opportunity. After all, why couldn’t the insights shared at these events live on in other formats? Why couldn’t they be accessed on-demand, thereby allowing the organizers to further monetize the content and also promote future events?
So in 2019, Honorof founded Industry Pods, a company that specializes in recording live events and converting them into free podcasts. Over the past year, he’s partnered with nearly a dozen event businesses in industries ranging from CBD to venture capital. He’s also joined a larger podcast network that helps him with both distribution and monetization.
I recently interviewed Honorof about his entry into podcasting, why event organizers agree to partner with him, and how the Covid shutdown affected his business.
Breaking into podcasting
Honorof is the first to admit that running a podcast company wasn’t some long-held dream of his. “I don't listen to podcasts,” he told me. Instead, he entered podcasting for the same reason he’s entered every industry he’s ever worked in: because he recognized that there was undervalued intellectual property. “I am the king of repurposing content,” he said.
This started in the 90s when Honorof ran a company that licensed PC software from developers, published it to CD-roms, and then sold it in catalogues and physical retail stores. At the company’s height, PC Magazine ranked it among the top 10 software sellers in the entire world, not too far behind Microsoft.
A few years later, Honorof launched a business that partnered with major book publishers to package manuscripts for non-fiction book concepts. “Let’s say you’re an editor at HarperCollins, and you want to publish a book about the Civil War,” he explained. “So I was one of the ‘book packagers.’ I would sign a contract with them. I'd find the author, I'd find the graphics people, and then I’d put the whole book together.” Under this framework, he’d receive an advance and future sales royalties once that advance earned out. “It’s 20 years later, and I'm still getting royalties on some of these books.”
Later, Honorof joined TOKYOPOP, a company that specializes in licensing popular Manga comics from Japan and distributing English-language versions in the US. Honorof’s role as managing director of TOKYOPOP Digital involved hiring artists to create animations of the comics and other mobile products like ringtones and wallpapers, and then he’d negotiate video distribution deals with telecoms like Verizon. After YouTube launched, his team began uploading videos to the platform, and many of those old videos collectively generated millions of views.
Honorof’s foray into podcasting came in the mid 2010s, a full decade after the medium was invented. After reading an article about the rapid growth of the industry, he suddenly remembered a TV production company that he’d worked with years before. “They did a lot of programming on military history for networks like the History Channel, National Geographic, and the Learning Channel,” he explained. “So if they were doing a show on D-Day, for example, they'd interview four or five D-Day veterans who made a significant contribution to the war. They interviewed these veterans for an hour and then used two minutes of the interview for the show.” That meant there were hundreds of hours of unused footage just sitting in their archives.”
Given that Honorof is the self-proclaimed “king of repurposing content,” he wondered if this footage could be adapted for a podcast. He collaborated with the production company, splicing in interstitial music and hiring voice actors to narrate. “The show was called Warriors in Their Own Words,” he said. “We launched it three years ago and it just surpassed a million downloads.”
How did the show find that audience? Honorof convinced military-focused organizations with already-existing social media followings to promote it to their channels. Institutions dedicated to everything from veteran support to military history were more than happy to feature the podcast on their websites, newsletters, and social media accounts.
Despite the show’s success, Honorof didn’t put much effort into monetizing the podcast and was even considering halting production around the 40th episode. Then one day he was approached by Ken Harbaugh, a radio personality who was working with the National Medal of Honor Museum. Harbaugh proposed that he take over as host for Warriors in Their Own Words, and Honorof was amenable to the idea. The two parties signed a production deal, and now the podcast is regularly publishing new episodes.
Honorof’s success with the show left him wondering what other great audio was out there just waiting to be adapted into a podcast. “I had one of those 2 a.m. epiphanies that in this country alone, there are over 100,000 conferences each year,” he said. “Whether it's a plumbers conference, a tech conference, a medical conference, or what have you, they have subject matter experts. They have keynotes. They have breakout panels. You have the smartest people in that particular industry talking for three or four days, but then when the conference is over nobody ever sees or hears that content again. It goes into the vaporware. And to me it seemed like a fricking waste.”
Honorof soon launched Industry Pods and began seeking partners for his initial shows. I asked him about the value proposition for the event organizers. He listed two benefits.
The first was that a podcast extends the conference’s reach and aids in its marketing. “Now more people are aware of their conference, so it theoretically will increase their attendance.” In other words, listening to the podcast recordings of previous conferences might make a listener more likely to purchase tickets and attend the next one in person. “If you have 50 speakers and you release an episode a week, that’s a year’s worth of marketing.”
The second was additional monetization. “It creates a new asset for them that can be sponsored, so they can either roll it into their platinum program or they can sell it as an independent sponsorship package,” said Honorof. Because conferences are regularly selling sponsorships anyway, it’s relatively easy to upsell vendors on a podcast package.
Industry Pod’s first major partnership was with the USA CBD Expo, which happened to be one of the last major events to take place in Las Vegas prior to the pandemic shutdown. A friend of Honorof’s offered to sponsor the podcast, and he showed up on the expo’s first day to record all the talks and panels. The podcast debuted in March 2020, and over the next year it went on to publish 34 episodes
The pandemic shutdowns pretty much wiped out in-person events, but this, ironically, made Honorof’s job much easier. Event companies pivoted to producing virtual webinars and conferences, and suddenly he didn’t have to travel around the country just to record the talks and panels.
Honorof also partnered up with a larger network called Evergreen Podcasts, which promotes and monetizes close to 100 shows. The network helps him scale up his audience much more quickly and creates advertiser deal flow for his podcasts. “They had production, they had sales, they had marketing, and I didn't want to build all this stuff myself,” he said.
Flash forward a year, and Industry Pods is producing nearly a dozen shows on subjects ranging from the Blockchain to mentorship to venture capital. I asked Honorof what makes for an ideal event to partner with. “The more specific the conference, the more valuable,” he said. “If you go to a conference on x-ray imaging technology, that's pretty specific. They may charge $3,000 to $5,000 for an attendee, whereas tech conferences are a dime a dozen; a lot of them are free or maybe $100. So if it's a broad-based conference, that could be good because it opens up many more listeners to me, but if it's a very specific conference and I bring in a sponsor, I can charge that sponsor a lot more money.”
With the vaccine rollout going smoothly in the US, most in-person events will return by the fall, but Honorof said he probably won’t actually travel to conferences anymore to record the speakers. “I can just ask the AV people to plug us into their PA system to record,” he said. “It takes a nanosecond.”
And with the work commute likely returning, podcast downloads are set to spike in the coming months, especially as large platforms like Spotify, Apple, and Amazon continue to make huge investments in the medium. I asked Honorof if he thinks he timed the launch of his company well, but as a longtime content repurposer, he doesn’t think in those terms. “With content, I don't know if there's an early or a late,” he said. “If the content is good, people will listen.”
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Simon Owens is a tech and media journalist living in Washington, DC. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a full bio, go here.