Thus far, I’ve mostly focused this feature on producers and the creative side: staffers, freelancers, veterans, rookies. But producers alone don’t make up the industry. This week, I spoke with Karo Chakhlasyan, the Director of Audience Acquisition at Wondery who came into the industry through the media buying side.
Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation.
Karo Chakhlasyan: I am currently the Director of Audience Acquisition at Wondery. My responsibility is to ensure our shows are heard by the right people. I use different marketing techniques to make that happen. Right now, I’m working to get our latest release, Tides of History, into Apple Podcast’s top 10. I think a screenshot of Tides right next to Locked Up Abroad, our last release, in the top 10 really shows theprogression of our network and it’ll be a cool little picture to have.
HP: How did you get to this point? What does your career arc look like — where did you start, and how did you end up in this position?
Chakhlasyan: My local NPR affiliate station, KCRW was a constant go-to for me in high school and KPCC became another go-to in college. That motivated me to take all the radio courses I could find in college. During that time I loved this show called “Comedy Death-Ray” that aired on a now defunct station called Indie 103.1. I started to stream Indie 103.1 on my desktop and eventually mobile. Then I discovered this company called Earwolf and loved everything about it. I emailed their first CEO asking if they had any job I could do. He said no, and that I should go listen to every episode of The Wolf Den. I emailed him back to thank him and I never heard back.
In 2013, right after college, I lived abroad and my obsession with podcasts grew. I tried to listen to everything I could download. I couldn’t stop listening to the 2007–2010 archives of BBC’s The Documentary, The Story, Milt Rosenberg, Notebook on Cities and Culture, and The Sinica Podcast. Sometime while abroad it clicked that people will eventually stop listening to the radio, listen to more podcasts and podcasts can make money with ads!
When I came back to the States, I promised myself that I would only take a podcast-oriented job. I emailed every Los Angeles based podcast or radio company I could find and having a year of teaching experience abroad didn’t really wow any of the companies. I then searched for “podcast” on Craigslist and found Oxford Road, an agency that bought ads on podcasts. In fact, the managing director of Oxford Road at that time was an intervewee on The Wolf Den!
I mentioned how I heard him there, got hired to work in their mailroom, and confused everyone with my podcast obsession. Luckily, I had two generous co-workers who taught me how to cut podcast deals and what to do to make them profitable for our clients while keeping the shows and networks happy — I thank them quite often.
A couple of Excel sheets later, I realized how profitable podcast ads could be for our clients. It took a few dozen phone calls and meetings, but we grew podcast billings over 100% in a year. That was fun.
But I always wanted to be on the publisher side of things so when I met this guy named Hernan Lopez who had a new podcast company, and found out they had an interesting position open, I applied.
HP: How did you learn to do the job that you do today?
Chakhlasyan: I didn’t really know what to do at first, (Sorry, Hernan!) so I just applied the same playbook I used at Oxford Road. Buy podcast ads, measure, optimize and scale. And I lucked out again by having such amazing and generous coworkers and friends to learn from. I’m happy to say my playbook has grown. I still rewrite and add to that playbook every day. So much to learn!
HP: When you started out, what did you think wanted to do?
Chakhlasyan: I really wanted to produce comedy podcasts. I think I still do! It’ll be about a person who quits their day job to start their own podcast network. I’ll call it “Jim and The Podcast Factory.” Oh wait.
You can find Karo at @birdscanttweet.