Erin Trafford, Story Studio Network: The Canadian Media Conundrum
Erin Trafford is a co-founder of Story Studio Network, a full service content branding and podcast experience for brands she co-founded with her dad Dave Trafford, who is a radio mainstay in the Greater Toronto Area, and a regular contributor on Newstalk 1010.
Erin has the unique experience of growing up with a parent in broadcasting, which means you have been immersed in radio (from the inside) all your life. Erin's radio career started with an internship at CJAD in Montreal, helping to launch what is now the Moose in North Bay, working as a reporter for Global TV in Halifax, before finally co-founding her company.
In this episode, you will hear Erin's pathway from broadcast to podcast, what she believes we can do to fix Canadian Media for the better, and why your business should be podcasting. We also spoke how she wanted to purse a journalism degree at Ryerson University despite their mom's objections, but letter later received a Master's degree in journalism at the University of Western Ontario. Erin also spoke of wanting to avoid being in her dad's shadow and worked in North Bay instead of Toronto to launch a station and have the most fun she ever had in their life.
In the second half of the show, Matt and Erin attempt to sort out many of the self-inflicted obstacles that plague Canadian media, including Bill C-11, Bill C-18, trying to emulate America's monetization formula for podcasting and why she launched th Echo Podcast Network. In fact - give this a read for a little more insight into why she is doing it.
While the Trudeau plays the fiddle while Rome burns, Erin is doing something about delivering content and news to Canadian small markets. Not surprisingly, you will see North Bay apart of it which is where Erin started her broadcast career.
This episode also marks a change in the way we distribute content. We will be adding in the raw YouTube recording of our conversation instead of a simple audiogram post to YouTube. You can see it here.
This is a direct result from the studies done by Coleman Insights and Amplifi Media that covered how people discover podcasts. In short, an audiogram is nice, but two people talking on microphones at one another is better.
Oh and Erin has a new podcast which digs into all things media... especially podcast and broadcast. It is called the 4th Draft.
Tara Sands (Voiceover) 0:02
The sound off podcast. The show about podcast and broadcast starts now.
Matt Cundill 0:13
Erin Trafford- founder of Story Studio Network, which makes podcasts for businesses across North America- is also a former TV host, journalist, and radio talent, having worked at Global News and being a part of the launch of The Moose in North Bay, Ontario. She grew up with radio in the home, as her father is Dave Trafford, co founder of Story Studio Network and regular contributor at Newstalk 1010 in Toronto. This is me basically saying there's going to be lots of radio and podcast talk in this conversation. And we're gonna get messy with discussing everything wrong with Canadian media in 2023. I am always fascinated when speaking to second generation broadcasters, because their experience with radio is literally from the day they're born. And that's where we start. Erin Trafford joins me from the headquarters of Story Studio Network in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Are you a second generation radio talent?
Erin Trafford 1:08
The word that has been used with me is pedigree, and I hate that, because it's like, I'm not a dog. But the story I like to tell is that the year I was born, my dad was involved in his first application to the CRTC to launch CIUT at University of Toronto. So I was quite literally simultaneously born into the business alongside him. So I have been in it since I was in diapers in Toronto.
Matt Cundill 1:38
So that means for second generation radio talent- and I asked that because it is unique, because it does involve a few things. It involves a parent involved in odd hours. And it involves moving from town to town from time to time. Did that happen?
Erin Trafford 1:54
It didn't. So there's- that's an oddity right there. I emphasize this because those folks in the business will understand how rare this is. The furthest my dad ever worked from Toronto was Hamilton, and he commuted. I remember it, it was like the late 80s. I don't- I'm not sure if my brother was born or not. And he had to buy a new car because he was doing this commute. It was like a really big deal. He bought a Honda. And I remember the day cuz he brought me with him. And it was like, I'm getting the Honda because I gotta drive to Hamilton. But he was only there for- I don't know, like, not very long before he was pulled back to Toronto. So he has- his entire career was- has been spent in Toronto.
And for you, did you get the radio bug?
Oh yeah, I got bit so hard. I used to skip school to go to the station with him. There was a moment when- one of my best friends growing up. It was her ninth birthday party. And you know, because I have kids, I can understand now, I can appreciate this. How big of a deal this was even moreso. It was the first time I was going to be allowed to go to a sleepover party. Right? Like it was a big deal. February, sleepover party, ninth birthday. And our parents were friends. So the parents kind of hung up- hung out upstairs. The kids were downstairs with sleeping bags. And the Gulf War broke out. And my dad had one of those big chunky cell phones. And something happened, he got alerted. And he came downstairs and kind of pulled me up onto the landing and said listen, you have- you have a choice. You can stay here and Mommy can pick you up in the morning. My mom was a nurse so she worked shift work also. And- or, you can leave the newsroom- or leave the party and come to the newsroom with me. And I don't know what that's going to look like. And nine year old me, bit by the news bug, bit by the radio bug, left the party to go with my dad. So yeah. It was a thing for me even back then. I was- I was probably an intense kid.
Matt Cundill 3:52
Was that Newstalk 1010 or CFRB?
Erin Trafford 3:54
No, it was 640 at the time. Yeah, he was at 640 until I was in high school. And that's when he made the jump over to 1010.
Matt Cundill 4:03
Just thinking about that era. Was it '90 or '91, when that-
Erin Trafford 4:07
Yeah, it was somewhere in there.
Matt Cundill 4:09
And so I'm thinking it was post-Hog, 640 Hog, which was another adventure.
Erin Trafford 4:15
So that- I mean, it's funny I mentioned the Honda Civic, because we bought the Civic so we could work in Hamilton, but then he got pulled back to come work at the Hog. And the first thing they did was paint our gray civic black and put "Maximum grunt" and a big picture of a pig on the back of our car. And our tires got slashed like five or six times, to the point where insurance was no longer gonna cover it. It was just like, you know, and here I am, this kid, and he's dropping me off at school in this, like, Hog car. It was kind of surreal. I remember it though. It was- It was wild.
Matt Cundill 4:51
And so did you work in radio?
Erin Trafford 4:53
I did. I did. And my mom pushed back, right, so I think of it now and I'm like, my mom kind of supported my dad's fun little hobby of radio and his creative pursuits, and all of those things. And then I started streaming in high school and in the Co-op program, and I want to be a journalist, right? Like my guidance counselor was like, You need to be a magazine editor. And I was like, I think I want to be on the radio. So I did all these co-ops. And I actually worked with James McPhee at 640. He was a mentor, and Kathleen Rankin, and all these folks. And I was like, I'm just gonna go do radio and do cool stuff. Graduate high school, and I said, Okay, I want to go to Ryerson, because this is what I want to do. And I got accepted to the program. And my mother sat me down at the kitchen table and said, No, you need to decline this, you need a real job. So I kind of did what was expected. I went and did the philosophy degree at U of T. And then was going to go to law school. And the same exact pattern happened. I did all the LSATs, I applied, I got in. And under cover of night without telling anyone, I was also applying back to Master's programs in journalism. And then I, you know, flipped the tables and said, I'm not going to law school, I did what you wanted me to do for four years, I got the fancy degree, I'm going to J school. So I went to Western and did that. And then right out of Western, I got a bunch of offers and ended up- I wanted something that felt like it was mine. So one of the struggles that I've been- I've had is that my dad is- lots of people that I talk to so refer to him as a living legend. I'm like, That's a weird thing to say to me, that makes me feel weird. But I didn't want to be in his shadow. And I also didn't want to be in his frequency, I didn't want there to be a chance for me to be on the air at the same time as him. I didn't want that. So all the jobs I was looking at were out- out of Toronto, or you know, out of his shadow, and I ended up in North Bay. And we launched a station and I was like 26. And it was the most fun thing I've probably ever done in my life.
Matt Cundill 6:45
So how do you look back at Mom's advice to go and study philosophy, now that you're in the position that you're in?
Erin Trafford 6:52
I love that it came full circle. So I- both of my parents were right, neither was more right than the other. Because there's some stat that says that there are more CEOs with philosophy degrees than anything else. So I do use that degree a lot. It took me a while to come around to that knowledge. But it was an I told you so moment, I was like, we didn't need to spend that money. I could have gotten here without that. So- but I do see, like, here's the thing that I see, is for someone like my mom, who also grew up in the business, because she was a very young mom, my parents are extremely young. She saw all of the pitfalls, right? You're not going to make a lot of money, you're gonna have really hard hours, it's harder on the family. And I think subconsciously, maybe she was recognizing, I'm also a woman, right? My dad is a white guy in radio. So I think it was a bit of her protection mechanism. And she never outright said it. And I don't know if she actually consciously understood it. But it was also I think her saying, like, this business is not built for you right now. Anyway, I did it anyway, which didn't surprise anyone.
Matt Cundill 7:59
So were there any experiences in radio that you encountered that you said to yourself, this is not what my dad would have had to endure?
Erin Trafford 8:07
Oh, god, yeah, like pretty much my entire experience, almost moreso when I was in TV. It was worse in TV, for obvious reasons, right? As I became more conscious of the machine that is the media, I realized how much more challenging it is to be a female in that environment. Yeah. For sure.
Matt Cundill 8:30
And then talk about your experience in television.
Erin Trafford 8:33
So I was at the Rogers cluster out here in Halifax for four or five years. And I saw the writing on the wall, they were changing formats. And I actually wasn't even sure that the brand was going to stick around out here because Atlantic Canada is a bit of a funny market. We're a bit cut off from the rest of the world. We're kind of an afterthought. But I love living here. So this would have been in- it was- it was the year I turned 30. So 2012, 2013, and Global was called Global Maritimes at the time, they were making a big push to re articulate their brand. They bought a brand new studio space right downtown Halifax, they were launching a new show. So I took it as an opportunity to make the leap from radio into television. And I had been hosting the weekend talk show on the Rogers cluster. So lots of people knew me, I had name recognition. And it was a pretty easy get in terms of the job, but man, that transition from radio to television, that was- that was something else. I just realized I'm a radio girl at heart. I can do TV. I like TV, but I love radio.
Matt Cundill 9:36
Were you integrated at all with the Rogers news station on radio?
Erin Trafford 9:41
No, I just left completely and went over to Global and ended up- I basically did everything, I was kinda like the kitchen sink person. I was a reporter, I did some producing. I did the morning show. I ended up on the 11 o'clock. There was a bunch of times you know, I did the six. I basically did everything, despite whatever my job said.
Matt Cundill 9:59
And being in the Maritimes as you mentioned, it's a little more cut off. It's one hour ahead of everyone. You get a head start every single day on all of us, you are one hour ahead of the rest of us.
Erin Trafford 10:10
Do we get a head start? Or do we just rest on our laurels and wait for everyone else to tell us what to do? Because that was a lot of the dynamic that I felt, and still do, right? Well, I run my business- my COO, Jamie, now we're both in Halifax, our sales guys here in Halifax. The rest of our team is in the Eastern, and I run our business on Eastern. The world runs on Eastern.
Matt Cundill 10:33
I'm in Manitoba. I'm running on Eastern. And I understand how unique the Maritimes is and you've chosen to live there instead of Toronto. So tell me about some of those advantages.
Erin Trafford 10:44
Well, as I'm speaking with you, I'm looking at the ocean. Do I need to say anything else?
Matt Cundill 10:50
No, I think I'll just move to the next question.
Erin Trafford 10:53
You know what, it's relatively inexpensive to live here. I have two little girls, we can walk to school. My husband has a great job. We have a wonderful life that I don't think would exist in Toronto. And I mean, I'm Toronto born and raised, like born and bred Bay and Bloor. And I just don't want to go back.
Matt Cundill 11:12
What was your first podcast experience? Listening wise?
Erin Trafford 11:15
Matt Cundill 11:17
We all have a gateway podcast drug.
Erin Trafford 11:20
Yeah, this gonna betray a little bit of my weird my weirdo-ness though. Is that okay? Like it has nothing to do with media or business or like, bro, anything. It was an astrology podcast.
Matt Cundill 11:33
Erin Trafford 11:34
Matt Cundill 11:37
But that makes sense. Because in the Maritimes, you can actually see the sky and the stars.
Erin Trafford 11:41
I've never thought of it that way. Yeah. And I mean, my little backstory is I say- I don't say, I firmly believe- that I have a little bit of a witch sense in me, like I'm a bit- a little bit psychic, I've dreamed of things that have come true. And I was on maternity leave with my first daughter. And I was bored out of my face. And I was trying to figure out how I was going to launch my business. I knew I didn't want to go back to work. I was in that kind of weird, gooey stew. And I somebody said, you should start listening to this. And it was like a daily astrology podcast. And so I just binged it while I was playing with the baby on the floor. And that's when I realized, okay, like this, this sounds kind of like, you know, it didn't sound good. I thought, I could do this better. And then I started to lean in to podcasting and how I could use it for my business.
Matt Cundill 12:25
And so what was the business? Because you were in television, and then you weren't.
Erin Trafford 12:32
That's the whole story. Yeah. So I lasted two years in that environment before I decided to walk away. And it was of my own volition. And I ended up in a really cool transition job that helped me recognize what I think a lot of folks in- in broadcasting, I wish everyone could have this learning moment because it made me feel strong and confident that I could do something else. I ended up working at a tech startup. And I was in strategic partnerships. And my job was to help articulate the vision of the company to investors, which sounds boring, but was incredibly exciting. And it allowed me to figure out, like, really hone my presentation skills, persuasion skills, strategic thinking, enterprising skills, all these things that journalists have, that I think sometimes when we're let go of the industry, or the industry lets us go or whatever, it's hard for us to really reconcile what else we're good at. And so that opportunity landed in my lap. And I did it for two years, and I loved it. But while I was doing it, I also knew it wasn't my end game. It was a transition, I needed to find something else. So in the background of all of this, and part of the reason why I left the newsroom was that energetically, I was really struggling with what I see now were the pressures of the business, the image consulting, the forced haircuts. Am I allowed to swear on your show?
Matt Cundill 13:59
Erin Trafford 14:00
Having to do these bullshit stories about how a bill becomes a law, like not about the bill, or about the law or the impact. I'm like, I'm not gonna go on a six o'clock news and do a story about how a bill becomes a law. But that's the kind of shit that we were doing. So I was just done. And I started building a website all by myself. And I learned how to code, and I learned how to write, and I learned how to make money doing it. And I learned how to cultivate my own audience. And all of a sudden, one day, the paycheck from that website was bigger than my paycheck from the newsroom. And at the same time, I got hauled into the manager's office, and told that my website was a threat to my job. And if I didn't take my name off of it, I was going to get in trouble with my day job. So all of this kind of swirled at the same time, which gave me the confidence to walk away. So as I transitioned, I was building the site, building the site, building the site, and eventually it became my full time job and allowed me to work with some of the largest brands in Canada. And so when you ask the question, the question you asked was, What was your podcast about? That's what the podcast was about. I launched a podcast about the burgeoning, fledgling influencer marketing industry back in 2016. And there was no tech to do a podcast back then. But we did it. And it was great visibility for my company. And to put a bow on it, I just recently sold that website business in order to fund story studio network. So it all kind of came full circle.
Matt Cundill 15:26
So you're in an era when you do recognize that influencer marketing is important. Yeah, you're doing podcasting. And it's not necessarily about the websites and the Instagram, and YouTube, and where other traditional influencers are going. You're saying no, podcasting is an influencer medium, and we're going to push it in that direction.
Erin Trafford 15:48
It's funny because I think I walked away from the influencer space because I didn't like the energy of it. And I actually think it's because I was always being called back to more media. So the way I look at podcasting, yeah, there's like big celebrity podcasts and like influency people, I like to think of it more as an act of values, alignment, and branding. And that's what gets me excited is that if you really nail it, with podcasting, that's more what you're doing rather than this whole, look at my fancy lipstick and buy it from my affiliate link, kind of thing. I always knew that I was going to come back to media somehow. And this was just the right time and space to do it.
Matt Cundill 16:31
So in 2016, you mentioned the technology, it certainly was not what it is like today.
Erin Trafford 16:36
Matt Cundill 16:37
I'm trying to think back because around the same time I was building my studio ongoing, started with a microphone. But I noticed right now you're using a Rodecaster Pro, that was a game changer. What were some of the other big technological things to come into your life where you said, wow, things are so much easier now.
Erin Trafford 16:55
I just remember how hard they were back then.
Matt Cundill 16:58
Erin Trafford 17:00
It was very time consuming. The speed of the advancements in podcasting is unreal. I mean, I think about it in terms of me learning WordPress, because when I started WordPress in 2011, it was the same thing. By the time I left, it was almost like anybody can have a WordPress site. But when we- when I started, it was like pulling teeth. I mean, just even like things like Riverside, SquadCast, Descript- they've changed the game. Like I can sit down and have a whole podcast done and dusted, promoted, in 90 minutes. That's crazy town.
Do you use Descript to edit?
Sometimes. I do on the fly, like for little clips and stuff, our team- our team uses still the Pro Tools, which I don't ever log into. That's above my paygrade now.
Matt Cundill 17:50
Tell me about websites, because you've been so involved with them. WordPress going back to 2011, you saw it, and so many podcasters skip over that step. And it is a big mistake. So for any podcaster who doesn't have a website in 2023, tell them why they need a website for their podcast. And I can't believe we have to have this explanation. But it's true.
Erin Trafford 18:14
Well, you need a home base. So we can talk about podcasts and get really nerdy about how it's an extremely decentralized medium. So the other thing we want to talk about is owning your audience. So if you're sending your folks to your website to listen to your podcast, versus go find me on Apple, Spotify, any of those number of things, you're increasing the value of your website, which you can get also super nerdy about, which if you get more time spent on your website that's increasing your domain authority, which is gonna help your Google rankings. Let's talk about putting the transcripts on there. I mean, yes, yes. You need a web presence for your podcast. It doesn't have to be complicated. It can be super simple. It can be also very complicated. Depends on how you feel about it. But you do need it, absolutely. Was that enough of a sales pitch? I'm like, how nerdy do you want to get right now?
Matt Cundill 19:02
No, actually, I was just going for the clip.
Erin Trafford 19:04
Matt Cundill 19:05
I got the clip. That will definitely be the clip. And here we are, by the way, this is actually the first time I have used SquadCast to do video. And it's going to be the first time I'm going to upload a video experience of our talk into my YouTube. Normally it's just been an audiogram. But you can feel the video monster getting closer and closer. It's now tapped me on the shoulder and just said, you don't need to do an audiogram, you really should be putting up Matt and Erin talking. People do like to watch people talk and move their hands around, such as I'm doing now. And I'm going to create an audio experience later that is going to be completely separate. Shorter, tidier cleaner, edited out my stupid comments. Is that the way to go?
Erin Trafford 19:58
That's one way to go. I don't think there's any- there's any rules right now, I honest to god think everyone in podcasting is just trying to figure it out. That's what I think. I think we're still in that, just figure it out, I call it spaghetti at the wall phase. And I emphasize this to our team all the time, because we get into these conversations. And sometimes I can sense like, there's this desire to get it right all the time. It's like, well, we gotta- it's gotta be right. And I say, no, it doesn't. Done is better than perfect. And we are in a growing industry that is in an experimental phase, there is no wrong answer. There may be a better way, or a more efficient way. But you cannot screw up right now. You just can't. That's my philosophy.
Matt Cundill 20:46
What's your ideal client? And who is your ideal client?
Erin Trafford 20:50
Story Studio Network, can I tell you the backstory, how it started?
Matt Cundill 20:53
Erin Trafford 20:54
I feel like that informs kind of the answer to that question. So 2021, I had just had another baby in the middle of the pandemic, which was a whole- that was a whole thing. So I didn't have anything going on. I wasn't- you know, I wasn't building my consulting business. I wasn't doing anything with two babies in a pandemic. But my dad was still at 1010. He was doing the weekend show, but he was also producing podcasts on the side for fun. He texts me one day, and he's like, Do you have a few minutes to talk? And I can just tell that when he texts me that, he's got some big idea brewing, that's either brilliant or so dumb that I'm gonna have to have a hard conversation with him. So I was like, Okay, fine. I have five minutes. 90 minutes later, we ended up unpacking this notion that he has more work than he can handle. He's getting unsolicited pitches from organizations in Canada, wanting to enter the podcast space, and just because he is who he is, he's saying, Yes, I can help you. Yes, I can help you. And then all of a sudden, he's like underwater with all this work. And he didn't know what to do. So I was like, okay, stop what you're doing. We're going to put some structure around this. And we're going to assess what the gap in the market is here, like, what are they actually coming to you for? Why are they coming to you? And here's what we discovered. And this took- this took six or eight months to really unpack. But our baseline assumptions were correct. They were coming to him because they were struggling to have their core messages, so their earned media, their PR efforts, whatever it was, actually hit mainstream media. They weren't getting picked up on TV the way they used to, they weren't getting picked up on radio the way they used to. That was a symptom of the industry shrinking, of COVID sucking up all the oxygen in the news cycle, there was a lot of forces at play. So their natural response was, well, then if we can't get on the news, we should have our own podcast. I thought it makes a lot of sense. So we went out with the assumption that Story Studio Network was going to be a newsroom in a box. That we were going to provide- yes, it's branded content, meaning the organizations that we work with drives the agenda, they own the show, they own the IP, they help us craft it in collaboration, and really make sure that their story and their message, and moreso their values, ring true through the content. And within two weeks, we'd sold our first show out, we'd proven the concept. And we just kept pushing that rock, you know, down the hill, until today, when you know, yesterday, Jamie, our COO, just started our 40th Slack project. So we've done 40 shows in however long it's been, just over two and a half years. So our ideal client is that organization, brand, which I say can be a personal brand. We do work with thought leaders, but it can also be a not for profit, that is seeking to cultivate their value through an owned asset that most of them aren't getting the time of day from mainstream media or their PR budget is being spent, but it's not effective anymore. So they're coming to us for that editorial lens, and the production value. Honestly, it's the most fun application of my skills ever. Sometimes I pinch myself, I'm like, is this real life? Do I get to do this, like, every day? I do. It's wild.
Matt Cundill 24:17
Tell me about the creation of the Fourth Draft, which is your new show. Which I'm loving, by the way.
Erin Trafford 24:22
Thank you, that was a gin martini or two.
Matt Cundill 24:26
Erin Trafford 24:27
Chez Trafford. I have kids. I don't go to bars. My husband learned how to mix a mean drink in the pandemic. It was actually- I pulled myself off the mic for a while because I could sense a couple of things were happening with me. Number one, I could feel this swell of support behind me from mentors and folks behind the scenes really pushing me to start leading change in Canadian media. And I think it's because of all those things that we've already talked about, the fact that I have this unique lens on the business by virtue of the fact that it's in my DNA, I may not have as much- You know, I'm not a 40 year news room veteran, but I am a 40 year Canadian media product, I understand it. And embody it, is the word I use, probably more than, than any average person. And so I started getting these messages. And some of them were overt, that it's time for you, Erin, to really step out, and say what you think and say what you see, because it took me a while to really come to terms with that, because it was a confidence issue. It was a imposter syndrome thing, but folks saying Erin, you really have this knack to see around the corner, you can see around the corner. And so I sat with that for a good six or seven months. And that's what the Fourth Draft is, it's me coming out and saying, listen, like, I have had to turn the page so many freaking times in my career to get to this point. Canadian media is in turmoil. I don't care who you are, if you don't believe that that's true, like, we need to have a conversation. The industry is- it's not dying, but it is in trouble. There are some real decisions that have to be made and some positions that have to be taken. And we need to have those conversations. So this new show is my way of, to be honest, processing through that in public. It's my way of really creating space to have those conversations, because watching the industry die, especially- and I think it's still buried in my Instagram profile. When all those big cuts happened at 1010, in February of 2022, when they basically obliterated that newsroom. I went for a beach walk by myself. And I wept. Like I wept uncontrollably. And I thought, like, this means something. And it's so hard to convey what that meant to me as a person and to the industry as a whole. So that's what the Fourth Draft is. That was more emotional than I expected to get. Sorry, Matt.
Matt Cundill 27:09
Well, with reason. I mean, 1010- that's home base. That's Dad, right?
Erin Trafford 27:13
Matt Cundill 27:14
And, you know, for me, CJAD in Montreal, the same thing happened there. I've worked in there, I grew up alongside that radio station, so I totally get it.
Erin Trafford 27:24
I was at CJAD as part of my internship in 2006. In January. Who goes to Montreal to work in January? Me.
Matt Cundill 27:34
So funny enough, I don't know how we didn't meet because I was working at CHOM in that building in January 2006. So for whatever reason, we were in the same building for that internship, and we never saw each other.
Erin Trafford 27:46
Oh, weird. Maybe because I was out there in the freezing cold following politicians around with a microphone.
Matt Cundill 27:51
So you worked with Mike Bendixon.
Erin Trafford 27:53
I did work with Mike Bendixon.
Matt Cundill 27:55
We had a Promotions person, Skip Snare, who was tour manager of the Rolling Stones from '72 through to Tattoo You. And then when Mike was hired at the age of 26 to be the program director, Skip says, I have wine at home older than that.
Erin Trafford 28:12
Well, it was weird for me too, because I was also 26, right? Like Mike Bendixon and I are the same age. And I was like, Well, I'm this plucky intern, and he's like the boss's boss. I think he's brilliant. If I can be so bold as to say that, but I can see how- talk about impostor syndrome. I don't know if he had it. He must have.
Matt Cundill 28:31
He did not. I can clarify.
Erin Trafford 28:34
Well maybe that's- back to that whole thing about, what are the pressures for being a woman versus being a man? Maybe- I don't know. Maybe I was- I was still learning at that point.
Matt Cundill 28:42
He had the stamp of approval from a number of people including Steve Couch and Gary Slate, Rob Braid.
Erin Trafford 28:48
Just all those- can I say that? All those white guys?
Matt Cundill 28:52
Old white guys. old white guy?
Erin Trafford 28:53
Old white guys. Well they're old now.
Matt Cundill 28:55
They were then.
Tara Sands (Voiceover) 29:00
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Matt Cundill 29:31
Canadian media's in trouble. I feel like there's about six fires that you and I can identify that need to be put out. I don't know which one needs to be put out first. But I'd like to start with C11 and C18.
Erin Trafford 29:46
Oh, when you said that, I like, start to want to like throw up in my mouth.
Matt Cundill 29:50
And you've worked in newsrooms. We've just spoken about newsrooms. What are we missing here? Why would anybody come up with this?
Erin Trafford 29:57
This is such a big elephant. I'm like, I don't don't even know if there's a spoon that will help us start digging in. There's a few players in here, the most important is the audience. And I don't know if you sense this, but I sense this still, that Canadians don't understand what has happened. Like, they have no clue what is going on. And then you and I, and folks like you and I- I worry we're in an echo chamber, because we're talking at each other. And we're saying the same thing. And we're reinforcing that this is complete bullshit. But I think that the audience doesn't understand. And that's a huge problem, that even if we get back to the legislative table with the government and get somewhere with them on rewriting this or backing this, like, I can't even understand how we're going to get out of this. Like, I don't see a way out. And the worst part is that by the time we do or don't, the audience is going to be so far gone, that it won't matter. That's my fear.
Matt Cundill 31:00
So I think we possibly may already be there with traditional media. But you've also sounded the alarm on podcasts and Canadian podcasts. And you had a great suggestion. I saw it somewhere on on one of your your video uploads, likely LinkedIn, when you suggested, you know, community and networking, and somehow getting together to solve the issues of Canadian podcasting. But before you dig into that, as a Canadian podcaster, what's the problem? What is the uphill battle? What is the struggle?
Erin Trafford 31:30
Hey, thank you for saying I said something smart on social media. I'm like, I did? Did I actually?
Matt Cundill 31:35
Well, she looks like you.
Erin Trafford 31:38
It's my gin martini doppelganger. So here's the way I see it. And this is just from me having lots of conversations with lots of folks in the industry, just so that I can get this kind of read of the room. Podcasting is awesome, because it's decentralized. Podcasting is awesome, because you can grow your own audience. The phrase that's used, which I think is hyperbolic, is it's a- it's democratized. Anybody can access it, and grow the audience. Okay, fine. The challenge that we're seeing is that when a platform such as that starts to take off, it is automatically Americanized, in that the monetization strategies, the money, the way the industry adapts, is based on American core values. So what that means is Canadians are automatically compared to Americans. How big is your audience? Will the American audiences 26 times bigger. How much money are you making? Well, American brands will pay 100 times more. And the challenge is that, we in Canada have less than the population of California. So if you want to actually reinvigorate Canadian media via podcasting, you have to change the narrative, because we can't use the American playbook. The other interesting- this is a theory. I'll tell you my theory. And I don't know if you agree with it or not. I just think it's interesting. I'm sure you've spoken to folks in the UK about podcasting. Because the UK podcast scene is kind of cool. They're way ahead of us, as far as I can see. And they have a really collaborative community, eye level approach to podcasting, as far as I can tell, that matches a lot of the ethos I see with Canadian podcasters. And I wonder if it's the CBC/BBC effect, and that the Americans don't have an equivalent, that the Americans are much more money driven, market driven, capital driven, and that the UK and Canada are much more about the content first, because we have this culture of content first.
Matt Cundill 33:47
Well, when I look at most of the successful podcasts in the US, they- they sound, feel, or came out of NPR. I think NPR has a lot to do with the way podcasts sound.
Erin Trafford 33:59
Matt Cundill 34:00
But in terms of monetization, that's an American beast that is CPM driven. And nobody's going to be able to keep up with a $25 to $34 CPM, anywhere, because I have those conversations every day. And we have to look to our value in order to sell it. So sound wise, I see in the US, NPR. Canada, CBC. BBC in the UK, but when it comes to the money side, yeah, and we're right beside the US, so we have to come up with a different strategy. It's got to be high value. It's got to be a fair price. And you're probably going to have to work out the deal yourself. Programmatic money's going to be nice, but it's going to maybe do a car payment. And that's it.
Erin Trafford 34:43
Maybe, maybe, yeah. So there is a unique Canadian challenge that we face. And if C11- I mean, who knows what C11 is going to look like after these consultations.
Matt Cundill 34:53
So the government recognizes that there are challenges, but is going about it in a way that is completely unhelpful. Does that sound about right?
Erin Trafford 35:03
I would say so. Yes. I mean, my fear- I have so many. This is triggering. My fear is, it's going to be C18 for podcasts, and that the big players are just gonna say, screw this, it's too small of a market to even be worth the effort, and pull right out.
Matt Cundill 35:21
Yeah, I painted that scenario on your LinkedIn after- I might have traumatized you a little bit. For those who are just trying to keep up with this conversation, Bill C18 is for news. And what happened in the end is Facebook and Google decided we're not going to be participating in your news, because we don't want to pay Canada for sharing links. It's kind of a silly idea. C11 recently asked big players who make over $10 million to please register with the Canadian radio and telecommunications people. Because we would like to regulate you. They don't say what that means. In a nice kind world, it would mean, can you alter your algorithm to put Canadian podcasts at the front? And I'll say, Canadian podcasts and indigenous podcasts, because that's the way that the law is written. That seems like a very nice thing. What won't be nice is if they ask Apple and Spotify, we would like for you to pay. We'd like for you to fund our podcasts. And I can see Apple, who got into this out of the goodness of their heart years ago, because Steven Jobs liked podcasting, saying, you know what, no, we don't even make that much from podcasting. We're not going to participate. We're going to turn this off. And Spotify, who does make podcasts, could very well say, You know what, we're just not going to send podcasts to Canada. If that happens, that's 80% of the podcast distribution that's out there. So I know I have professors, and I'll throw in the localism- at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia- who said to me, you're being very apocalyptic over the situation. But I'm not. I've already got the blueprint. And it's happening with Facebook and Google as we speak right now.
Erin Trafford 37:02
Mhm. Who said that to you, that's a local Nova Scotian?
Matt Cundill 37:06
Professor Ian Stewart, of Acadia University back in 1989.
Erin Trafford 37:11
He said that in 1989?
Matt Cundill 37:13
He wrote that on my paper. Don't you think you're being a little apocalyptic over the situation that I presented to you? It was a- it was a Canadian politics and media course.
Erin Trafford 37:24
Love it. Oh, I'm obsessed with that. That just means it was- we were seeing around the corner when the academics weren't. I am fearful of that reality. I mean, there's a version of that reality that isn't as apocalyptic. But no matter what, I think we're in for a rocky road. And the podcast industry in Canada isn't strong enough right now to, I think, survive without massive change. And I've had other conversations with folks in ad sales and all that kind of stuff, who also paint this really interesting narrative. And it's just one perspective. So I'm not saying it's true or not, but like that, in particular, the Canadian radio companies- so like the Bells, the Coruses, the Rogers, all of them- are harming Canadian podcasting, just by virtue of the way that they're valuing the medium, and the way that they're attaching it to what- the other stuff they're selling. So the over the year, sponsorships and advertisements. So there are folks who really do see that this could be- I'm not gonna say a death knell, but I think a reset.
Matt Cundill 38:37
Push to the bottom.
Erin Trafford 38:39
Matt Cundill 38:39
And you mentioned ad companies. There is a very low knowledge about podcasts inside ad agencies.
Erin Trafford 38:48
Oh, my gosh, I know.
Matt Cundill 38:49
Do you spend most of your day talking to these agencies explaining third party tracking pixels, and dynamic ad insertion, and stuff like that?
Erin Trafford 38:56
I do not.
Matt Cundill 38:58
Because I do. And that's- it's a- it's quite the experience.
Erin Trafford 39:03
I think they're still at a, what's a podcast?
Matt Cundill 39:06
Erin Trafford 39:09
It's like I used to say, when I was selling, like, branded content on the internet, people would be like, how- how do I internet? It's like, we're at that same point again. How do I podcast? Well, okay. Like there's just a general education that needs to happen. And we're not there yet. So if the government steps in and regulates before the education, like- there's a lot- oh, yeah. It's gonna be a fun Christmas.
Matt Cundill 39:33
So you're in Halifax you're worried about this. I'm in Winnipeg. I'm worried about this. Joe McLeod does the 905er podcast, who can't put a link up on any of his channels because of Bill C18, he's worried about this. He sent me a letter and he says, Who do I go to for help on this? Because my MP is Liberal, doesn't help. The Conservative Heritage Minister will only say dog whistle things like, Trudeau censorship. The government's trying to censor you. Which is completely unhelpful. And it's not even necessarily true.
Erin Trafford 40:05
Matt Cundill 40:07
So that's unhelpful. Jesse Brown at Canadaland has been very vocal about this. So here we're sitting, what do we do? How can we come together?
Erin Trafford 40:17
Well, can I tell you a little bit what's happening at the Echo Network, because-
Matt Cundill 40:20
That's where I wanted you to go.
Erin Trafford 40:21
Yay, I picked up what you were putting down. So a little bit of me seeing around a corner. I started my career in North Bay, which is also a little bit why I'm a bit of a witch, because I feel like I create these beautiful patterns and cycles of renewal. I got an email, January of this year, 2023, from a guy who I met when I was launching the station in North Bay. He owned- at the time, it was a brand new marketing agency in the city. So he was buying spots for his clients on the station. And he was a former radio guy, and I always just really liked him. Like he just- you know when you meet people, and you're like, there's just a cool vibe. I always trusted him. He was just good to work with. I was 26, felt very safe with him, which, in retrospect, I can say that. At the time, I had no words to put- put around that. And anyway, so he's been following me ever since. So about 17, 18 years. And he sends me this email out of the blue in January and says, Erin, I'm watching you, I think you're brilliant. I love what you're doing. I've got this idea. But first, I want to pose a question to you. Why is it that Canadian podcast networks don't work? And I was like, challenge accepted. So hopped on a call with him. And as I'm known to do, I'm like, after 90 minutes, we decided to start this crazy project together, hadn't seen him in 18 years. I said, listen, Scott, if we can make this work, I will do this, I will go all in with you and make it work. So what we determined is in North Bay in particular, and as we've learned over the last eight or nine months, in multiple multiple markets across Canada, mainstream media has pulled right out. So when I was in North Bay, there was a massive local media diet, there was a thriving newspaper, there were multiple news reporters at each of the radio stations, there was CTV Bureau, there was Cogeco the cable channel, there was- CBC had a bureau there. And in the last 17 years, that news presence has diminished from what would have been probably 20 or 25 bodies, down to three across all media. Three people. They don't have TV, they don't have radio, they don't have a paper anymore. They don't have anything. So we put all of this into context and thought, what if we could reinvigorate these local pockets of Ontario? Just start small, with podcast networks that really help reconnect the community back into their content, but also lean into this millennial mindset of, I don't want to have to wake up at 8am just to hear 90 seconds of news on the radio. So there formed the Echo Community Podcast Network, and we hustled hard. He's got a studio built, we have a team on the ground, and launched it just- middle of September. So we're barely a month into it. And here's what I can tell you that we're seeing. We've just got our flagship show up and- up and standing up, we've got- we're into phase two. So we're going to be adding in some cool stuff about local high school sports. Like all the stuff that local news used to do, we're now rolling out in podcast form. And I would be lying if I told you we have it all figured out. We don't have it all figured out. But we're, you know, 1% growth, 10% growth every week. And we're asking new questions. We're talking to all kinds of people. But here's the cool thing that we're seeing, back to your point about how do we solve this. And I saw this in the metrics yesterday. 65% of our listens are coming from direct website traffic and our newsletter. We have zero social media strategy, and we built it this way because of C18, C18 dropped in the middle of our strategic rollout and launch planning, right, it dropped- when did it happen? July?
Matt Cundill 44:04
Erin Trafford 44:05
Okay, so July, we pivoted and removed social media. And we said, what if we did this without social? What would this look like? And we're hitting our metrics anyway. So we've been able to create a groundswell of support for the content that flies in the face of what everyone believed needed to happen in order to grow a media company, which I think is super cool. You're the first to hear it. I haven't said that out loud, except for our team meeting yesterday.
Matt Cundill 44:35
I think I had a four point plan for news organizations to do a pivot if they were stuck under C18. And I'm going to try to remember it, and you can just correct me. First thing was get a newsletter. Immediately. You should be building your email list and communicating in that fashion. Simply going live and using your stories and your Instagram to communicate. There's no link involved, but you're working in a one on one situation. So now you've got a little bit of a video strategy going. I know we have thoughts about Twitter, X, and Elon Musk, it's there, you can go ahead and use it, it's fine, you'll be fine. Everybody will be fine. Those were three that came to mind. You can throw some crud on the fire.
Erin Trafford 45:15
Yeah, the newsletter thing. So that's part of what I learned through my digital days growing that business is, I learned very early on that the value of my company was in the ownership. So I didn't have huge social numbers, I didn't have huge conversions off of Instagram, for example. But the places where I was really large, was where I was able to use SEO, and search intent, and behaviors and drive traffic back to my website, and therefore my newsletter. And that's why I was able to very easily sell that property, because it was an easy acquisition, there was no work involved. So I learned very early on, don't build on rented land. And that's what we're talking about. But here's the problem. And I don't know if you've noticed this, is I've had a lot of conversations with smaller broadcast companies. And they're like, Well, we have a newsletter, and I'm like, great. How did you acquire those subscribers? They're like, well, we ran a contest. It's like, we did a really fun contest that was like, sign up for our newsletter, or sign up for our hot hits, blah blah blah, and you're gonna get entered to win a barbecue, or- you know what I mean? And I'm like, okay, so the intent is wrong. And this is what we need to teach the broadcasters, because I'm looking at that list thinking, that's a list of 10,000 people who are- in the business, we'd say, prize pigs. They're not your people. So there's a fundamental shift in content strategy, in intent, in branding, when it comes to- how do you create something of value that isn't a barbecue, or whatever, a booze cruise? Because that's- that's the disconnect, is Canadian media thinks that it needs to give shit away in order for folks to value it. And I don't believe that's true. I think we need to do better at explaining why we're valuable. And that's what we've done with the Echo Network. And it was hilarious, because we have these really keener designers and interns on the team. And the first thing that came out and said, they're like, let's launch with a headphone giveaway. And I was like, No fucking way. Get that off the website. We're not giving away headphones. People are going to subscribe to our newsletter, and listen to our podcast, because they want to be there. And that's what we're seeing. It's very exciting.
Matt Cundill 47:38
I love that, put the value up front. And by the way, I built a newsletter at a radio station with concert promo codes. So 25,000 people on the newsletter, but most had signed up to get the concert promo code emailed to them, so they could have a pre sale. Like a special rock concert, Power 97 pre sale. It felt like a valueless audience in the end.
Erin Trafford 48:04
It kind of is. Because then what are you going to do with that list? How are you going to re engage with that list? How are you going to create a behavior that creates a cycle, where they look forward to the newsletter, they open it and then somehow that leads back to a measurable KPI for the business? A download, a listen, and interaction, an engagement, something maybe over the air that can be measured using the PPMs. Like there is- there is a disconnect in the strategy fundamentally, and it will be easy to fix, but we got to talk about it.
Matt Cundill 48:34
So bring this back just for the regular podcaster who doesn't have to deal with all the Canadian media drama that we've just spoken about. We should probably title the episode The Drama Queens.
Erin Trafford 48:44
Where's my crown?
Matt Cundill 48:49
Talk about the download for a second, and how valuable it is and how it should be read. Because there's a lot of people out there who- I mean, I go into every Facebook group, how do I get more downloads? Do I have enough downloads? I got 150 downloads, is that good? Should it be compared? Help these people out. Be their therapist and provide them with the opportunity to get out of the abyss and come back to planet earth. How should they be looking at metrics?
Erin Trafford 49:15
I would love that T shirt, just like a T shirt that just has all of those dumb questions. How do I get more downloads? Am I good enough? Are you good enough? Are you really asking that question in a Facebook group? First of all. Don't ask that question in a Facebook group. Okay, so the download is a necessary metric because it is the best, most broad metric we have right now. So we can't discount it. However, you know this, it doesn't tell the full picture at all. So where we look now, especially because we work with really niche companies and really niche stuff. We're not going for massive downloads, like none of our shows is going to blow up the charts necessarily, because we're going after a really specific group of people. So the way I would look at it is- compare your downloads to your time spent listening. We're always trying to get to an apples to apples comparison, especially if, for example, you're an independent podcaster and you want to get a sponsor. I can guarantee you're gonna have a hard time articulating the value of a podcast that gets 1200 downloads a month, versus an Instagram account that gets 50 thou- has 50,000 followers, right? You need to come up with an apples to apples. So what is your time spent listening, and then back that out into how many downloads you're getting, and come up with a- we do this. This is how many minutes people have listened to my podcast. People can understand the value of a minute, but they can't understand the value of a download. And then there's a whole other thing about how like- automatic downloads by default, based on whatever player you're using. I know Apple's phasing that out, but I mean, it's just- it's not an accurate representation of health, wealth, or goodness, certainly not goodness.
Matt Cundill 51:01
I find it amazing, but I really find it endearing, that you can be comfortable with metrics such as 60% browser traffic. I would just look at that and go, Well, why don't we have more Apple? Where's the Spotify listens? Where are those downloads?
Erin Trafford 51:17
Well, it's- they're sitting on our website and listening through our embedded player, which I think is a behavior that's fascinating.
Matt Cundill 51:25
Yeah, I mean, I've heard people say, if you have more than 4%, browser traffic, it's fraud. But clearly, it's not.
Erin Trafford 51:30
No, it's absolutely not. And they may be on a lock screen, I just- it also could be like because of the conversions from the newsletter, we're linking right back to our embed player, rather than to Apple and Spotify. And the reason we're doing that is to reduce- So there's this whole thing about like, a confused mind doesn't buy, or a confused mind doesn't click. So in a market like North Bay, what we're actually trying to do is convert and educate at the same time. So we know people on the ground don't actually understand podcasting. A lot of them have never really listened to a podcast before. So if we say listen on Spreaker, listen on Amazon, listen on Apple, listen on Spotify, the confused mind won't know what to click. So our strategic choice out of the gate for the first month was just click this one link, and then hit the play button. We're just asking them to do the one thing. And they're doing it, which is wild. So you know, eventually, we probably will build out that metric. But we have a crazy conversion on our website right now.
Matt Cundill 52:31
Is there anything else that is around the corner, that you see, that you haven't told us yet?
Erin Trafford 52:38
Oh, my goodness, I think we need to see what this C 11 is going to be. I really do. I see a bright, bright future for branded content. Bright future, if we can get folks to really wrap their heads around it. I see- I mean, selfishly, I see a bright future for Story Studio Network. I'm so excited to build it. I don't know what the future holds. But I'm excited about it. I don't know yet, maybe we'll have to have another- like a reset conversation after C11 comes out.
Matt Cundill 53:06
That's like two years away.
Erin Trafford 53:08
But aren't the consultationss going to be done, like, in six weeks?
Matt Cundill 53:11
They won't be able to get this together.
Erin Trafford 53:12
Right, it's government.
Matt Cundill 53:14
I mean, they've said it's two years away. So I'm confident that by the time they release anything, most of the things that they've suggested, will have changed, gone bankrupt or not be available anymore.
Erin Trafford 53:25
I do think that the radio companies are finally going to stop looking at us as a threat. I think the smart ones will.
Matt Cundill 53:33
Erin, thanks so much for doing this. I really appreciate it, and giving us a perspective, and looking around the corner into the future.
Erin Trafford 53:38
Thanks for having me. So fun.
Tara Sands (Voiceover) 53:40
The Sound Off Podcast is written and hosted by Matt Cundill. Produced by Evan Surminski. Edited by Chloe Emond-Lane. Social media by Aidan Glassey. Another great creation from the Soundoff Media Company. There's always more at soundoffpodcast.com.