As part of my series about the “How Businesses Pivot and Stay Relevant In The Face of Disruptive Technologies,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marla Isackson.
Marla Isackson is a seasoned marketing executive with over 25 years’ experience creating innovative marketing campaigns for world-famous brands including Citibank, American Express, Barnes & Noble, and WebMD. A longtime passionate supporter of women’s initiatives, Marla is creating a new movement for women in podcasting. She is the founder of Ossa (https://ossacollective.com/), a podcast network and two-sided marketplace with over 1000 podcasts, connecting women-hosted podcasts and women-focused brands in order to increase the representation and influence of women’s voices worldwide.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am the Founder and CEO of Ossa Collective — a women’s podcast network and two-sided marketplace on a mission to increase the reach, impact and earning power of women’s voices on a global scale. Prior to Ossa, I built a women’s empowerment network called Like A Boss Girls to a following of over 1.2 million people.
In my earlier career, I worked as a corporate marketing executive. I have over 25 years of experience creating innovative marketing campaigns for world-famous brands like Citibank, American Express, Barnes & Noble, and WebMD. I wanted to create a home base for women entrepreneurs, social activists, leaders and go-getters — the type of resource that I wished I’d had access to in the early days of my career. Much of the work I did at Like A Boss Girls carried over to Ossa when I made the transition in 2018.
I’ve spent many years in this space of women empowerment and believe that podcasting is a great opportunity for women to elevate their voices and maximize their earning potential.
A passionate supporter of women’s initiatives, I believe in the power of podcasting as a rapidly growing communication platform with the reach and impact to elevate underrepresented voices
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
My first job out of college was a manager trainee position at a now defunct department store. After the training program, I was made department director of women’s handbags and hosiery-one of the most profitable departments at the store. Consequently, at the age of 22, I managed a large group of sales associates, most were at least 30 years older than me. I decided to teach some of the sales training tips to my team that I learned in my training program. One of the most senior sales associates, Dorothy, said to me-“kid, I get what you are trying to do but I worked here before you arrived, and I will be working here after you leave”. Big life lesson-it’s not always easy to facilitate strategy changes with your team-and-don’t be too proud to ask for advice especially from people who may have a lot more experience.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My family has been incredibly supportive. I am also very grateful to my dear friends Anne Kavanagh and UJ Rojas who provide me with great insights and counsel. They ‘urged‘ me to start a podcast and use the channel to amplify our business efforts. I was violently against the idea but finally agreed to try to do a few episodes. After a few recordings, I caught the podcasting ‘bug’, and this was the beginning of my journey to launch a podcast network for women.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Ossa’s mission is purpose-driven — to increase the visibility, influence and earning power of women in the podcast industry. My goal is to expand our reach and amplify the voices of women in underrepresented communities on a global scale. Podcasting is a very powerful medium. Compared to most other forms of digital media, it has a low barrier to entry for production and implementation. I want to continue to empower women and show them that their voice has value.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you tell our readers a bit about what your business does? How do you help people?
Ossa is a podcast network connecting women-hosted podcasts and women-focused brands in order to increase the representation and influence of women’s voices worldwide. Our goal is to help women in podcasting to increase their earning power, elevate their social and cultural influence, and land more shows in the Top 100.
At Ossa, we believe that podcasting is a powerful communication platform with the potential to elevate women’s voices on a global scale. Ossa is committed to closing the gender gap by helping women leverage podcasting as a tool for empowerment.
Which technological innovation has encroached or disrupted your industry? Can you explain why this has been disruptive?
Podcast advertising has significantly impacted the advertising space. Over the past decade, advertisers used traditional-TV, radio- and digital platforms such as Google AdWords and Facebook to reach and engage with consumers. However, according to a July 2020 Ad Age post, advertisers have found that 86% of digital audiences skip through ads and 47% utilize ad-blockers. Podcast listenership has more than doubled in the past 5 years (2020 Nielsen Podcast Listener Buying Power), with more that 100 million Americans listening to podcasts every month (The 2021 Edison Research, The Infinite Dial study).
As a result of these evolving audio audience listener habits as well as digital ad conversion declines, advertisers are shifting their ad dollars and are including podcast advertising in their marketing mix.
A Nielsen study conducted in 2019 for the podcast advertising company Midroll found that podcast ads have a 4.4X better brand recall than display ads on other digital media platforms. Additionally, 63% of podcast listeners have made a purchase after hearing a podcast ad. Listeners often have a close and intimate relationship with podcasts hosts and trust their recommendations, reinforcing the significant influence podcast hosts have on consumer purchasing activities.
Podcast ad market revenue in 2020 is projected to grow 14.7% year over year to nearly $1 billion and is projected to double by 2023-a key indicator reinforcing the importance of podcast advertising in an advertiser’s marketing mix.
What did you do to pivot as a result of this disruption?
Prior to 2018 I founded a women’s empowerment platform called Like a Boss Girls and the community had grown to over 1.2MM+. Despite my success, I could see that society & our audience were evolving and to make the greatest impact, we needed to pivot to a forward-thinking media platform-podcasting. Podcast industry experienced very rapid growth and I realized that I needed to pivot and focus on this channel. I made the decision to focus my efforts on the podcast industry and launched the Ossa network( https://ossacollective.com/ ) in 2019.
Was there a specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path? If yes, we’d love to hear the story.
I started my own podcast, Mind of a Mentor, in 2018 with the goal of amplifying the Like a Boss Girls brand and reaching new audiences. I was hooked and saw incredible potential in the future of podcasting as a way to connect with more people and to champion new voices. Researching the industry, I found that, like many industries, women were underrepresented. In 2018, only 23% of podcasts were hosted by women, and only 20% of ‘charting podcasts’ were hosted by women. These stats were dismal. I decided to use my knowledge and expertise and pivot my business, Like a Boss Girls, to a women’s podcast network. Ossa helps women in podcasting build meaningful connections, champion issues that they care about most, grow their career, and make more money via our ad booking platform.
So, how are things going with this new direction?
Ossa helps women in podcasting build meaningful connections, champion issues that they care about most, grow their career, and make more money via our ad booking platform. Rather than focusing on big-name influencers and celebrities like many podcast networks, Ossa supports the “every woman” — micro-influencers with small-to-medium niche podcast audiences. I’m proud to be the Founder & CEO of a network that provides resources, monetization, & support for 1,000+ women in podcasting, reaching over 4MM listeners per month. We are in beta, testing Ossa Insights, a dashboard connecting podcaster stats as well as social media, website and other marketing channels. This summer we are launching our first annual Ossa Academy, a free 7-week virtual podcast accelerator program for women in podcasting.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this pivot?
Over the past 2 years, I attended several prominent podcast industry conferences. I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of podcasters and industry leaders. People working in the podcasting industry, for the most part, are incredibly generous, supportive and collaborative. The focus is ensuring overall industry growth and success. The aphorism “A rising tide lifts all boats”(President Kennedy) is an apt description reflecting the collaboration of people working in the industry.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during a disruptive period?
A leader needs to discuss the issues and challenges facing the business and identify how these changes are impacting employees. Lay out a clear action plan-a roadmap for the way forward. Encourage a dialogue with your team to better understand their concerns. Compassion is really important. You need to understand and appreciate the stress and anxiety your team is experiencing during turbulent times.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
During this period of uncertainty, leaders need to keep their team engaged and excited about the path forward. It’s important to communicate with team members very frequently. This practice helps to minimize stress and uncertainty.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Transparency is critical. Leaders need to be open and honest about the challenges the company is facing. Team members need to be able to trust the information they are receiving from their management.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make when faced with a disruptive technology? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Ignoring reality and hoping nothing will change. Disruptive technology will disrupt the way you do business. Ignore these changes at your peril.
- Not asking for help. You may not have the resources, internally, to be able to understand and act on the impact this change will have on your business. It’s important to ask for help. Seek out colleagues in your industry and find out how their businesses are adapting and evolving. Additionally, find a consultant or strategy group that can help you create an effective action plan. It may be challenging to identify options or new approaches while trying to manage your day-to-day operations.
- Not asking your customers for their input. Your customers will be impacted by these changes, so it is important to ensure that you are creating new approaches that your customers actually need or want. Otherwise you may end of making costly business decisions that are not relevant to the needs and concerns of your customers.
Ok. Thank you. Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to pivot and stay relevant in the face of disruptive technologies? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Understand the needs of your customers. As technology changes, customers will feel the impact and will want to align themselves with those businesses that are using new technologies to support the needs of their customers
- Stay on top of technological trends that can and will impact your company. It’s critical to read industry publications as well as all relevant available research studies. Keeping informed will enable business leaders ensure that they are making the changes necessary to keep competitive.
- Have a long-term business strategy. It is really important to avoid the ‘shiny object’ syndrome. Determine if incorporating a new technology will support your long-term goals or if it will be a costly distraction. Be focused on core priorities.
- Assess if you have the right team to help move your business forward. Will your staff be able to take advantage of this new disruptive technology. Is your staff flexible and can they adapt and thrive during this period of change or do you need to make necessary staff changes to ensure a successful pivot.
- Work with your team to participate in the creation process-new approaches and strategies. Your team may be interacting with your customers, often, and will have first-hand knowledge of consumer wants and needs.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility” Eleanor Roosevelt. I believe in personal responsibility and accountability. I’ve made some great decisions and not such great decisions. However, I try to learn from my actions and mistakes and take responsibility. Being accountable for my actions is a key component of personal integrity.
How can our readers further follow your work?