Radioinfo’s Manager’s Special: Peers Project Founder and CEO Michelle Akhidenor

Last month Australia’s only BIPOC-led, women owned podcast agency, The Peers Project launched into the US market. CEO Michelle Akhidenor founded the agency in 2018, and was in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list in Media, Marketing and Advertising category in 2023 also winning B&T‘s 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur of the Year.

This year Radioinfo goes across the country and networks to catch up with Managers and CEOs on the state of the industry and their role within it. On International Women’s Day 2024, we caught up with Michelle on her thoughts on the podcast industry and future trends, why she created the The Peers Project and where to from here.

What do you think the trends are for podcasting in 2024?

Video Podcasts!!

According to Cumulus Media and Signal Hill Insights’ Podcast Downloads Fall 2023 Report, YouTube was one of the most used podcast platforms in 2023 with 28% of weekly US podcast listeners choosing YouTube as their go-to platform over Spotify and Apple Podcasts. YouTube has also proven to be the #1 platform for discoverability of podcasts with “podcast newcomers” more likely to prefer actively watching video podcasts over listening to them. 

With that being said, I still believe there’s a place for audio-only podcasts to dominate this coming year if executed correctly. What is most important here is that even if your podcast doesn’t have a video version that you share on YouTube, ensuring that you film it so that you can create video clips to best promote your show is key. In this way, your video clips can be used as an awareness piece and, just like with any other podcast marketing collateral, can drive traffic straight to your show on the audio platforms. 

What inspired you to look to the US?

Although Australia is the largest podcast listening nation per capita, there’s no denying that the US is the centre of the podcasting world with 43% of the population—almost 130 million people—as podcast listeners with the country on track to exceed 150 million listeners by 2027 (Insider Intelligence, eMarketer 2023). 

Outside of these staggering numbers, I was inspired to launch The Peers Project, Australia’s first and only BIPOC-led, women-owned podcast agency, in the US as that’s where my podcasting journey began. In 2017, I started out in podcasting in NYC and immediately fell in love with the medium. At the time, podcasting was exploding here in the Big Apple and yet still up-and-coming back home in Australia. After my time in NYC, I saw an opportunity to take all of the knowledge about the industry I’d learnt on the ground here in the U.S. back to Australia and launch what was one of the country’s very first branded podcast production companies. Over the last six years, we The Peers Project have been fortunate enough to work with some of the worlds’ biggest brands including, Shopify and Alibaba, creating chart-topping, award-nominated branded podcasts. Now, we’re looking to continue producing top-rated shows out here in the U.S., working primarily with progressive brands across both the East and West coasts. 

How does Australia’s podcast industry vary from the US?

Naturally, given the difference in population size, the US podcast industry is much larger and yet a lot more segmented than the Australian podcast industry. What I mean by this is that there are a lot more “smaller” and “niche” podcast networks out here in the U.S. than there are back home. For example the likes of Dear Media – a podcast network for female voices and networks solely dedicated to amplifying the voices of People of Colour, not just larger mainstream networks like what we have in Australia. Of course, these large networks still exist in the U.S. with iHeart dominating the U.S. market however, it’s very cool to see that there are many smaller networks and podcast players out here that I believe, allows for more opportunity for podcasters. 

What are the most significant changes to the industry you’ve seen since founding The Peers Project?

Over the last six years since I founded The Peers Project in 2018, I believe the most significant changes to the industry have been how much more difficult it has become to launch a podcast series that cuts through the noise. With the increased competition and extraordinary number of podcasts now available to listen to, it’s become more important than ever to focus on creating a show that not only educates and entertains, but engages audiences. I believe that the only way to do this successfully is to ensure that your podcast is rooted in a robust strategy that aligns with your audience’s deepest desires and needs. Being able to craft a series that achieves real cut-through is a skill in itself and one that we focus on honing and perfecting here at The Peers Project. 

What advice do you give to a newcomer to the industry?

Whether you may be a podcast producer, podcaster or other industry folk, I think it’s critical to look at podcasting as a long-term game. I’ve been in this industry now for six years and I can tell you first-hand that the shows we produced back in 2018 don’t compare to the chart-topping podcasts we at The Peers Project produce today. There’s something to be said about persisting and staying in the game longer than the rest, being open to learning each and every day as this medium is constantly evolving, and remaining committed to your craft. Just like with anything, those that take a long-term approach will ultimately outperform the rest.  

What was the best advice you have been given?

One of my very first podcast guests based here in NYC said: “Pursue your passion and you’ll never have any regrets.”

I couldn’t agree more with this statement and appreciate that sometimes it can be daunting coming into this ever-evolving industry with little to no experience. Candidly, that was me. I didn’t have a background in media. I had no network. I wasn’t sure how to go about producing a podcast let alone publish one on behalf of a well-known brand. But the one thing I did have was passion and an undying commitment to figuring it out. And now, six years later and having just launched The Peers Project in the U.S. with our new HQ in New York, I can confidently say that although the journey hasn’t been easy, I truly have no regrets. 

What’s been your favourite part so far?

Hands down being able to come full circle and launch The Peers Project here in New York – where it all began. 

How do you balance deriving an income from supporting voices that often struggle to be heard?

I have a finance background and so, for me as a woman of colour in business, it’s always been very important to build a company that is sustainable and generates a healthy revenue and profit margin. 

Our mission at The Peers Project is simple: We exist to amplify diverse stories and voices, whilst achieving tangible business outcomes for brands through the power of podcasting. 

I believe that this says it all – we exist to ensure we achieve results for the brands who we work with whilst simultaneously working to amplify diverse voices and stories—supporting those who are unrepresented. Although it isn’t always easy, six years on we remain committed to this mission and it truly is the lifeblood of our business. 

Are you where you want to be?

Yes, I am. And I feel incredibly privileged and proud to be able to say that.

Nothing will ever be perfect and although there is still so much more I want to achieve and build, I feel content and proud of how far we’ve come and what we’ve been able to accomplish as a business over the last six years. 

Although we’ve done a lot, this is truly just the beginning—watch this space!

Radioinfo’s Manager’s Special is a series that we will run throughout 2024. If you’d like to chat, or to nominate your CEO or GM, drop me a line.

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo
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