Wondery’s Genre-Defying Plans to Transform Podcasts

It seems unnecessary to say about one of the top three podcast publishers, but “Wondery Means Business” is the name of the first of six innovative marketing campaigns being pushed out by the Amazon company this year. Not that anybody doubts it. With 220 active shows, 72 million streams and more than 55 pods reaching No. 1 on Apple Podcasts, the studio known for such binge-worthy hits as Dr. Death and SmartLess is taking a new approach to its programming starting April 1, strategically timing the rollout of its most popular genres. “We are by no means abandoning the concept of one-show marketing,” says Bladimiar Norman, Wondery’s inventive head of global marketing. He adds he’ll be applying the tenets of his box office experience from working on franchises like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek to the audio business: “The primary goal here is to connect our IP to audiences and create fandom through experiences and moments. We’re meeting customers where they are.”

Talk us through a few of the campaigns and their strategic timing. 

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We are kicking off this approach with “Wondery Means Business” because it’s debuting during tax season. This is when consumers are looking at their finances and business opportunities, and the real estate market kicks into full gear. This six-week window is when we have a lot of eyes on the business of general consumers. I wanted to take the stigma out of business, stocks, the market and tax laws and make it accessible for consumers. That’s what our content does, whether it’s Business Wars or the interesting stories on Scamfluencers.

Then the true-crime campaign in October is tied to Halloween? 

This was my first test area around brand and structural campaigns that are more holistic. With the success of Dr. Death, Dirty John, The Shrink Next Door, The Vanished and Generation Why, we’ve learned so much about true-crime fans and their rabid desire to participate in the community. Three years ago, I wrote up a strategy around true crime to see if there was an appetite in the audio-first space for more world building. In 2023, we launched a live event in Gotham Hall that was sort of the Comic-Con of true crime, and we had hundreds of enthusiasts pour in that day. That became the moment we realized this genre-based, thematic initiative of creating experiences for fans in an audio-first environment really could work.

Exhibit C Live – our True Crime event in NYC
Exhibit C Live True Crime event in NYC

What is the thinking around podcasts like American History Tellers?

Our history brand initiative is around the Fourth of July. We are very aware of the political climate, both globally and in the U.S. We know that all eyes will be on the presidential election, and our data shows that consumers are stepping back, looking at the historical aspects of what the founding fathers of the United States of America dreamed up and were building here. And we connect the dots between today’s world, what happened in the past and how we revisit history.

Which demo represents the greatest opportunity for Wondery?

Fandom in sports is one of the most, if not the most, active audience bases that exists. We’re launching our sports brand in September to align with [football] season, but sports is 360 [degrees], it’s four-quadrant, it’s 365 days a year.

How do you decide which types of shows to take a bet on?

We cross-functionally look at our IP opportunities as a group to develop the brands that are going to satisfy our customers. We’re exploring kids and family on a high level. A STEM toy line was announced in collaboration with Wow in the World. ’Tis the Grinch last quarter was a humongous initiative for us; it’s a primary holiday family brand that we’re launching a new content experience with, and we can thus develop multiple touch points off it. The Dr. Seuss partnership there was very clear and present.

The Grinch Experience – An immersive experience for the launch of our holiday podcast
The Grinch Experience – An immersive experience for the launch of the holiday podcast.

Listenership in podcasts grew significantly last year, yet many companies have cut programming or laid off staff to remain profitable. Are you expecting the landscape to improve this year? 

I’m extremely enthusiastic about and focused on growing the podcast pie. What that means is we focus on frequent podcast listeners, infrequent podcast listeners, and folks who have never listened to a podcast. I’m fully aware that the first two are my primary job and the third piece is still a very important part of my job. I didn’t come from the film business into podcasting because I wanted to take a break. I decided to make a shift because it was a business that I felt like I could have long-term impact in. That means I want to win with all three buckets. Our goal is to be a household name and to get everybody in the world listening to our podcasts.

This story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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