The Soufflé As A Teaching Tool

Here’s the scene: You’ve put everything you have into opening a new restaurant. In your ridiculously well-appointed kitchen at home, you’ve been feverishly perfecting what will become the signature item on your dessert menu: A Grand Marnier soufflé. With a couple of hundred eager mouths to feed including customers, peers and reviewers alike as the parking lot has filled waiting for the doors to open, you come to the realization once you see the horrified look on your sous chef’s face: Your kitchen only has convection ovens. Those will just blow your soufflé right over. Now what do you do?

There’s a ton to learn from this example for creators of all kinds, and I chose the soufflé as the focal point for myriad reasons, not the least of which is that it’s perhaps the ultimate kitchen test of patience, preparedness and skill.

I’m using the restaurant soufflé example as a result of a conversation I heard on one of the 73 shows my friend Dave Jackson does, this one called Ask The Podcast Coach along with co-host Jim Collison. They do the show live on YouTube on Saturday mornings and put out a recording of the show as a podcast – cool idea. And on April 30 they were discussing podcast trailers and to put it mildly, Jim doesn’t see the point. Now this conversation isn’t meant to call Jim out or anything like that, Jim’s kind of a big deal in the podcast world and who am I to disagree with him? But the more I thought about it, the more it got me thinking about advance promotion for a ton of different things, and I think it’s a conversation worth having.

You can take the ideas here and apply them to restaurants, absolutely, and to podcasts, too. And you can apply them to virtually anything else you can think of where you’re doing something that other people will experience. So I’ll argue that you can apply this to everything from the movie you’re shooting to the oil change place you’re about to open. Keep that in mind because I’m going to mostly bounce back and forth between restaurants and podcasts here.

I believe, Jim, that every podcaster would benefit from a trailer, or promo, or whatever you want to call it. And not necessarily because every podcast lends itself to having a dramatic script read in the style of legendary movie trailer announcer Don Lafontaine, saying, “In a world with a million podcasts… one woman sits alone.” Because frankly, most podcasts don’t suit that kind of drama, and the majority wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype.

However, let’s look at a couple of different examples where you don’t have to look all that far to see the benefit. Let’s start with the experienced podcaster. Or at least, a person who already has a following. Now they might have a following because they’re an actor on a hit show. Maybe they wrote a great book, or they’re a big deal in the business world, or used to be President or Prince or whatever. But they have a following. If you already have an audience and you’re branching out into podcasting, I’d argue that you’d be missing a massive opportunity if you didn’t have some kind of trailer or promo to announce to the world that you’re doing something, announce a date and have people ready for it. For crying out loud, look at Spotify. A famous person says the word podcast in a restroom conversation and Spotify puts out 97 press releases and promos for shows they have no intention of ever producing.

Back in the dark ages before iTunes, if you were a recording artist with a new album coming out, your version of a trailer came in the form of a single that was released a month or two before the album itself. The first single would give you a taste of what was on the album, and build some advance hype. And everybody would put out a single before the album – even artists that no one had ever heard of. A perfect example is the summer of 1990, when this song called “Vision Of Love” came on the radio. It was everywhere, and everybody was talking about it because WOW could that singer hit some notes. Nobody had ever heard of her, but it turned out her name was Mariah Carey. And the same week that “Vision Of Love” had gotten so much airplay and sold so many copies that it was in the Top 40, her debut album came out.

If you’re a famous chef and you’re going to open a brand new restaurant, you leverage your celebrity to make sure people know when and where your place is going to do their first seatings. Please don’t think that great chefs just magically show up on the Today show because they woke up thinking it’d be fun to cook up some tasty vittles for Savannah Guthrie. They go because they want everyone on the planet talking about their Grand Marnier Soufflé that looks so delicious on camera and oh my God I have to go get some honey circle the calendar.

And like I said, that’s an idea that translates to pretty much anything. If you’re one of the hosts from the TV show Fastest Car and you’re opening a chain of DIY hot rod garages, you get on TV or wherever else to leverage your existing audience. What’s that? You hosted a TV workout show for ten years and now you’re putting your name on bunch of gyms? Guess who’s having a bench press competition with Al Roker next week! Involved in a famous court case a few years back and just wrote a book about it? Hope you like getting up early and having TV makeup on.

However – and this may come as a surprise – not everyone who starts a new podcast is already a celebrity.

I know, I should have said “spoiler alert” or something, but there it is. And Jim, here’s why new podcasters – especially the ones without a following – absolutely should have a trailer.

What’s often the #1 determining factor of whether or not a new business will be successful? It frequently goes to the question of how thorough your business plan was. Yes, I know, writing a business plan can often be a pain in the keister. I’m still recovering from a 43-pager I wrote a while back; I mean, it got a ringing endorsement from the woman who used to sit next to whats-his-name on that reality show about running a business, but yikes. Exhausting though it may be, if you’ve ever actually been serious about starting a business and wanted any outside involvement at all, you know that a business plan is Step One, partly because of all the other required steps along the way to complete Step One. In particular, things like market research, defining your unique selling proposition, creating a marketing strategy, projecting costs for equipment and infrastructure and so on.

All of those things and more should be, even if only in back-of-the-napkin form, part of a checklist for any podcaster who hopes to have listeners beyond their Mom (and whether you want to admit it out loud or not, by virtue of hitting the “Publish” button, you do. We talked about that at length in a piece called ‘Normalizing Mediocrity‘.)

To be able to write a script for a promo, you have to establish what your show is. You have to come up with a snapshot of what the show is about, what sets it apart, and why it’s worth listening to. Consciously thinking through those details is something that far too few podcasters do, possibly because it feels a lot like work. But for virtually any other creator or service provider, not doing that work would be unheard of. It’s an old business trope that’s so true it has become tired, “If you fail to plan, you can plan to fail.”

And again, it’s true for a million different things. There was a point, for example, where comedians with wildly divergent styles like Steven Wright and Robin Williams had to decide what their stage persona was going to be, and then everything they did had to pass through that filter. Imagine Robin Williams standing still on a stage with a microphone on a stand, smoking a cigarette and doing… well… virtually any of the bits that have become legendary. Wouldn’t work. And if he did 75% of the show running around being Robin Williams and then sat down in a chair to do the rest, the audience would wonder what had gone wrong. Garth Brooks, one of the biggest-selling country music stars in history, put out a rock album called The Life Of Chris Gaines that despite being a great album full of really solid songs, was so loathed by his hardcore fans that a movie project tied to the album was scrapped.

Do you remember Colgate Kitchen Entrees? That line of frozen food that Colgate launched in 1982?

No, you don’t. (And there’s a reason.)

Don’t mistake this for an admonition to “stay in your lane”, though. Even though critics and passionate country fans hated The Life Of Chris Gaines, it still sold two million copies because Garth Brooks can, to a degree, get away with his 9th studio album being full of rock songs and pop ballads. But if you don’t know where your lane is, you won’t know when you’ve gone horribly off-course, and it’ll become hard to build a fan base when they have no idea what you’re doing. Establishing where the lines are will help prevent you from inadvertently crossing one. And one of the easiest ways to establish the lines is to write the promo. If you can’t nail down the specifics of your show enough to create with a compelling promo, rethink your show.

Coming up with your pre-promotional material will help a podcaster to remember that if they want to record interviews with bands, they’re going to need to plan for more than two microphones. To help the mechanic figure out that if you want to service box trucks, you’ve got to have enough ceiling clearance to accommodate the extra height. And to help the restaurateur anticipate that convection ovens work great until you want to have your signature dessert be a Grand Marnier soufflé.

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