10 Podcasts to Enhance Empathy, Expand Your View of the World, and Help You Get Better at PR

PR and marketing pros are always looking for ways to get inspired and become more productive and like many professionals, they're increasingly turning into podcasts while they work. As of 2019, 51% of Americans had listened to a Podcast and this figure is set to rise drastically in 2020.

Seeing another’s perspective is an important skill we need to nurture as PR professionals. Getting that information about the world around us, whether that helps us to expand our views or learn more about industries that we work in, is necessary. But, having the time to crack open a book or magazine can be challenging, that’s why the easiest content to consume is the one streaming into our ears while we commute. We listen to podcasts to get smarter, to hear different perspectives, relate to stories of humanity’s foibles, and above all—for entertainment—as we aim to get better at PR.

If you're a podcast novice, here are some of the podcasts that open our eyes and inspire us!

1. Freakonomics Radio
Freakonomics Radio is an award-winning weekly podcast. Host Stephen Dubner produces a 45-minute show that “explore(s) the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature—from cheating and crime to parenting and sports.” Through the course of each show, Dubner talks with Nobel laureates, social scientists, economists, entrepreneurs, and his Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt. High production values and edited in a tapestry of music, interviews, media snippets, this is podcast storytelling at its best. If you’ve ever considered producing a podcast, (along with This American Life,) Freakonomics is the gold standard.

2. Code Switch
The hosts of Code Switch don’t mince words: “Remember when folks used to talk about being “post-racial”? Well, we’re definitely not that. We’re a team of journalists fascinated by the overlapping themes of race, ethnicity, and culture, how they play out in our lives and communities, and how all of this is shifting.” Put together by a stellar team of journalists from public radio, including Kat Chow, Gene Demby, Adrian Florido, Karen Grigsby Bates, and Shereen Marisol Meraji; they ponder questions such as: “When do you call someone out for micro-aggressive racism and when do you let it go?” Our current reality of a struggling multicultural community trying to get along does well to hear insights from those that grapple with these issues. As PR pros, having an opportunity to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is always a good thing.

3. Startup
Startup follows the travails of the host, Alex Bloomberg, formerly a producer of This American Life and Planet Money, as he goes through the steps necessary to launch his podcasting startup. Early on, Bloomberg nods at his credentials and lets us in on his mission to support longer format podcasts. Told in the style of interviews, conversations with his wife, and potential partners, Startup is a serial–not necessarily an ongoing podcast. With his NPR experience and a deft hand at pacing, you get sucked in, rooting for Bloomberg to succeed. Listen in to understand how founders approach building a business from the ground up.

4. Design Matters
Host Debbie Millman’s podcast is about “design and inquiry into the broader world of creative culture through wide-ranging conversations with designers, writers, artists, curators, musicians, and other luminaries of contemporary thought.” Think of Design Matters as “Fresh Air” for creatives that you follow on Twitter or see speak at conferences. Since Millman converses with influencers, she’s giving PR professionals insight into their everyday worries and concerns. Perhaps hearing influencers in conversation (259 episodes are available) will help us reach out to the ones that matter to our community.

5. Reply All
The shorthand description for Reply All is that it’s a show about the internet. Host PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman investigate stories that begin online, but have very offline human repercussions. In a recent episode, they tackle how spammy locksmiths, with the help of a call center, are enabled by Google Ad Words to be everywhere local at once. The joy of Reply All is that though each story starts with the internet, each segment is well-researched through distinctly human means, including phone calls, IRL meetings, and interviews with those impacted by the story. Reply All sometimes feels like This American Life, but smaller in scope. Looking at stories from multiple angles is a helpful exercise in PR, as we attempt fresh angles to similar campaigns.

6. Invisibilia
Hosts Alix Spiegel, Lulu Miller, and Hanna Rosin are expert storytellers from NPR and the Atlantic who traffic in storytelling about invisible things that happen around us, even those things that are existential in nature. With their episode Outside In, they come to us with the question of “Can you change from the outside in?” In familiar podcast storytelling style, they highlight three real-life stories of people making the conscious choice to be different than who they are because of something (outside of them) that has occurred. The answer at the end of the episode is, Yes. Told in a long narrative format, you’ll find yourself rooting for the protagonists in each segment. Listening to how these journalists craft their stories can help PR pros with insight on how to pitch to other journalists.

7. Call Your Girlfriend
“Call Your Girlfriend is a podcast for long-distance besties everywhere.” These are the influencers you want to represent your brand. They’re also your audience personas come to life. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow are girlfriends that live across the state from each other. (It used to be across the country.) And in their weekly catch-up conversation, they tackle issues such as menstrual cycles, pop culture, and political news. On alternating weeks they feature in-depth interviews with their “impressive besties,” past besties include Melinda Gates, Huma Abedin, and Tavi Gevinson.

8. 99% Invisible
Host Roman Mars is the all knowing voice of inquiry who poses a question and invites a variety of experts to chime in. The 99% Invisible team circle and approach and go deep into various topics in exactly the way you need. Want to know about trend forecasting? Or specifically, more information about one of the major players in the industry, WGSN? Listen to episode 229, The Trend Forecast; it is an unpaid commercial for WGSN and details how they impact the fashion, home decor, and lifestyle industries. If you also think: “Why does everything on the High Street looks the same?” then this episode has your answer. This podcast offers digestible sound bites with as much insight as an Atlantic article. Get smarter with each subsequent listen.

9. Dear Sugars Radio
In their Dear Sugars podcast, Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild), the Sugars tackle questions about life that listeners send in. They do so with such radical empathy that we’re reminded of our shared humanity when faced with the trials and tribulations of life. Almond and Strayed often acknowledge the difficulty of making decisions, but they are clear in what they advise listeners to do. Beyond answering listeners’ questions, Strayed and Almond look for the question behind the question, calling this out with an acute empathy that is heartwarming. Acknowledgment of our shared humanity can only help us in our PR work.

10. HYPERGROWTH 

If you’re passionate about content marketing, there’s a very high probability you’ve heard of or seen the work that’s being produced by Drift. The company has made a name for itself outside of the B2B technology industry with content marketers in general based on its highly successful content marketing strategy. The podcast hosts keep it real, yet informative. If you’re interested in growth marketing, product management or conversational marketing, grab a cup of coffee and tune in to HYPERGROWTH!

Have we missed one you love? Tweet us and let us know - @Meltwater