In an increasingly digital world, there are many possibilities for connecting and engaging with students. In September of 2021, the Collins College of Professional Studies at St. John’s University launched a bi-weekly podcast, Conversations with the Creators, to reach students in the field of advertising. As the name implies, the podcast invites innovators who are developing provocative ideas in marketing, media, PR, and tech to sit down with our host Professor Neil Feinstein, Associate Professor of Advertising Communication at St. John’s University.
The podcast started with two main objectives. The first was to stem the decline in undergraduate advertising and PR majors, and the second was to expand the graduate program. The strategy was to showcase people who are doing exciting work in advertising, PR, media, and tech. In order to implement this strategy, data played a key role. As a result of our research, we initially targeted matriculating undergraduate students (18-22) who are accustomed to living in a hyperconnected world with on-demand information. However, research suggests these students also want to receive information in an entertaining format (Hampton & Keys, 2017). This idea led us to choose a podcast to expand our program. Our research also reminded us that social causes and particularly social justice are important to Gen Z (Villa, 2020). Understanding Gen Z as driven by purpose and change meant we tailored our episodes to meet these themes and chose guests accordingly. For instance, Season 3 was about “Making A Difference,” Season 4 was about “The Women Who Make Advertising Great,” and our current season is about “Technology for Humanity.”
Further research uncovered how career choice is on the minds of our audience. 40% of Gen Z are rethinking their career choices because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In each of the podcast episodes, Professor Feinstein asks our guests what advice they have for students who may be pursuing a career in the industry. Being able to get advice from experts about how to navigate finding a career in advertising gives students unique information that can help them pursue employment after graduation.
When it comes to listening habits, we found that our audience fell off after 20 minutes, which aligns with how attention spans are shrinking (American Psychological Association, 2023). Similarly, in terms of their media consumption, Gen Z are tied to their devices, spending 15.4 hours per week on a smartphone (Hampton & Keys, 2017). As a result, we aim to keep the episodes succinct and entertaining. Understanding how these digital natives are accustomed to taking in new information informs the structure and focus of each episode.
Over the seasons, we continued to analyze our audience. In our latest evaluation, we found that our target audience had expanded, as the data show our largest group of listeners is around 23-27 years old. This helps us understand more about who our audience is and what might interest them. Learning from the data to build out and optimize our latter seasons is key to the success of the program.
Finally, the podcast wouldn’t be successful without a strategic outreach and promotional campaign. When each episode is launched, it is posted across our school’s social media pages, from Instagram Reels to LinkedIn to TikTok. We also have a targeted email campaign which goes to all our advertising students. These parallel efforts ensure maximum exposure to the podcast.
Conversations with the Creators joins many other podcasts that are changing the way students access information about graduate education. In addition to being a great admissions and teaching tactic, podcasting can become a professional development project for students who take on the role of copywriters or producers for the podcast. For any higher education institution looking to engage their students in a new way, podcasting is a great way to reach students where they are, particularly when supported by robust promotion and data collection.
Miriam Prever is a PhD student in Multi-Sector Communication at St. John’s University and a producer on the Conversations with the Creators podcast.
Listen to the latest episode of Conversations with the Creators below.