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Mar 7, 2024 15:56 PM

DOAC: 8 of the Wrong Lessons for Brands to Take from Britain’s Podcasting Powerhouse

As the podcast industry has grown and embedded itself in the UK, so too has a household name: The Diary Of A CEO (DOAC).

The immensely popular interview podcast, helmed by the Founder of Social Chain (no, me neither), Steven Bartlett, is a blend between aspirational self-help and TV talk show in style.

Is DOAC the gold standard for all genres of podcast?

If you’re a brand creating your podcast or looking to up your video content offering, here are 8 of the Wrong Lessons for Brands to Take from Britain’s Podcasting Powerhouse:

(Disclaimer: I may not be an enormous fan of DOAC, but I still have enormous respect for all of the staff involved in creating and maintaining what is genuinely a powerhouse. I’m sure they’re proud, regardless of what I maintain are valid little criticisms.)

1. Click *BWHUM* bait intros:

You know the ones. The soundscaped melodramatic opening of any given episode of DOAC is designed to intrigue and shock just enough for you to listen all the way through, regardless of whether this moment lives up to expectations.

Of course, in most instances they never actually can live up to the drama of the intro, but that’s okay, as long as you listen and consume the ads.

Branded podcasts cannot work like this. A branded podcast should be your way of positioning your brand as subject matter experts (thought leaders to use 2023’s most overused term) and, as such, the intro to an episode should clearly lay out to your audience what they can expect to learn and why your podcast could be a valuable addition to their day – no smoke and mirrors here.

2. Too fine a line between content and promotion (fancy a Huel?):

We cannot pretend to be blind to the appeal of commercial opportunities within podcasting.

It’s big business, but on one condition: the agreement between podcast and listener has always been clear – “we need your support to keep this podcast going, but we’ll always be clear with you when we are asking”. This agreement between podcast and listener has always felt like a straightforward and pleasant way of cultivating the often unpleasant bond of money and creativity.

With that in mind, you can understand the instant feeling of unease which comes across me every time I see a Steven Bartlett advert for Huel (for which he is a Company Director) set in a podcast studio, with everyone’s favourite Dragon singing the praises of this health supplement drink.

Tif casual scrollers see this advert as podcast content, it’s deliberate exploitation of podcast audience attention to sell bottles of Huel (just had a banana one by the way, very nice). Steven can advertise whatever he wants, wherever he wants, but to me this doesn’t past the honest podcasting smell test.

3. Losing the USP over time:

Is this podcast really anything to do with CEO’s anymore?

That last point about Huel felt a bit mean towards Mr Bartlett, but I actually have a lot of sympathy for the fact that the shape and nature of the podcast has grown in directions which would have been difficult to foresee when it began in 2017. For a podcast like DOAC, the name is only part of it (you’ll notice they use that acronym just as much as I do).

With an audience which engages with a broad array of topics and guests, it makes sense to pivot. For your brand, however, your podcast simply must do what it says on the tin, making the most of every little interaction with your niche listener-base.

4. Where are the experts in the room?:

Okay, so Steven knows a lot about social media marketing and about delicious, delicious Huel – but is that enough?

The answer is that ‘not knowing’ will always be a strong starting position for a host who wants to act as a surrogate for a curious audience. However, things can get really sticky once health, science or financial misinformation is spread and the host doesn’t even realise.

Once again, enormous sympathy for the challenge Steven and the DOAC team have taken on, but misinformation has gone unchecked on the show. You have to be responsible with the influence you have earned.

For your brand, you need the experts in the room. Branded podcasts are the antidote to misinformation in your field. Unpack those challenging topics and showcase discussion.

5. 4,855 Thumbnails per episode:

Grace Andrews, Marketing Director for Steven Bartlett & The Diary Of A CEO has been keen to share, on multiple occasions, that DOAC tests up to 100 episode thumbnails per episode.

Here’s why to ignore that entirely if you’re a brand:

a) Testing and learning is the 21st century way but, unless your podcast is a full time business, put your resource into the content, and work with a professional company in order to develop an ongoing promotional strategy.  

b) Grace Andrews is Marketing Director for Steven Bartlett as well as DOAC. Would it suit Steven Bartlett’s personal brand, as a key social media marketing figure, if half the world knew his podcast tested more thumbnails than anyone else? Food for thought.

c) Testing and learning from thumbnail engagement is a sophisticated way of gathering audience data and tweaking the ‘presentation’ of the content to suit those behaviours. It is not a replacement for high quality podcast content and you will never hear Grace say the thumbnails are the reason for DOAC’s success.

6.“I listen for the guests…”

During my straw poll research for this blog post I asked several friends and family members for their thoughts on the show and was met by an almost universal “I listen/watch for the great guests”.

For mass audience podcasts like DOAC, it isn’t essential that the audience has the same para-social relationship with the host that non-guest-led podcasts often rely on. Bartlett is doing his job well if he is giving his guests his number one publicity tool; a platform.

Your brand can’t settle for host apathy. If you’re the leaders in your industry, your host cannot blend into the background – they are your brand representative and they need build their own relationship with your listeners. Diary of Mel from Legal!

7. Production value is not always the be all and end all:

I’m glad our CEO (no diary) is currently on a plane because he really loves production value.

I’ve picked and prodded at DOAC but, let’s be honest, they can do whatever they like given the size and standard of the product. Much like the 100 thumbnails example, it’s important to note that every podcast is at a different stage in the ‘glow-up’ cycle.

In simple terms, is it better to have:

A) a simple podcast production with a clear narrative, fascinating discussion, and solutions for the audience to take away with them, or

B) a podcast which lacks consistency, research and authenticity but has 4K video, audio drops and neon backlight?

K.I.S.S – Keep it simple, Steven.

8. Brands have objectives outside of download numbers:

We create podcasts with brands within tech, finance, MedTech, international relations, sports, health, art and many other industries. The one thing they all have in common is the value they place on their eventual listener.

“How do we want our audience to engage with us after listening to the podcast?”

This question is the cornerstone of branded podcasting and, in the above industries, the answer will never be to shrug and listen next week.

Branded podcasts need to be useful and HAVE to be specialist. If a consultancy commissions a podcast in order to exhibit specific challenges and solutions within an industry, will they benefit from more from 15 potential customers listening or 8,000 listeners who will never engage with their brand? Same ball, different game. 


Podcasting is too big of an industry now for success to take one shape, and for that shape to be replicated over and over again perpetuity.

Diary Of A CEO has earned its place in the podcast market and will continue to thrive but, remember, some things can be enjoyed without being imitated.

Talk to us at The Podcast Guys to start your full-length podcast series today!

Posted in: Thought Leadership, Trends

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