How can manufacturers participate in podcasting in a valuable way? In this episode of The Kula Ring, Chris Grainger, Engineering and Services Manager at Electrical Equipment Company (EECO) and host of the EECO Asks Why Podcast, reflects on how the success of the podcast has impacted the organization. He talks about how the podcast has helped integrate the organization’s marketing, sales, and service teams and how the podcast has led to more content marketing initiatives.
How Podcasting Creates Value for an Electrical Distributor Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how are you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am doing well, Jeff. It’s great to be joining you. And look, today is one of those times when you kind of almost flash back to the early days of web 2.0, you know? Remember, like when people actually blogged on a personal level on a consistent basis? And of course, it seemed like there was a period of time where like half of the blog content out there was about blogging, and so-
Jeff White: It really was. It was the Robert Scoble effect.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, so we’re gonna do a podcast about podcasting for manufacturers, so kind of a 2021 take on the blogging about blogging.
Jeff White: Absolutely. And I mean podcasting is interesting, because you know, every other time that we record an episode, people talk about, “I really would like to be able to do this for our organization,” or, “I really want to get… I’m really interested in podcasting.” It still is a bit of a new thing and it feels like it’s difficult to get into.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I don’t know. It’s a new-old thing, I suppose, isn’t it? But at the same time, you’re quite right. I think a lot of manufacturing organizations are looking at maybe their peers, or just other space, saying, “Hm. They’re having some success over there and building some community.” I will be curious to see how much the Clubhouse effect kind of increases interest in audio content, too, if there’s any overlap there.
Jeff White: Certainly, a resurgence or a surge in new applications and ways of thinking about audio, and video, and sharing, and creating, co-creating content.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, when you look like me, audio was just an obvious choice. You know? It’s like come on.
Jeff White: It’s just so much safer. So much safer.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, like video podcast, what?
Jeff White: I don’t need to be on a screen.
Carman Pirie: Nevertheless-
Jeff White: I think one thing that any initiative of this type requires is that you really need an ambassador within your organization who is going to be able to take the reigns of a journey like this and run with it, and kind of be the face and voice of it.
Carman Pirie: And the voice. Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So, we happen to have an ambassador with us who is doing this at his company. Chris Grainger is Engineering and Services Manager, as well as a podcast host of the EECO Asks Why Podcast. And thanks very much for joining us, Chris.
Chris Grainger: Well, thank you for having me.
Carman Pirie: Chris, I’ve gotta tell you, you’ve got a better mic than we do, and this is not the balance of power that we’re used to having on a podcast.
Jeff White: No. It’s true. It’s nice, though.
Carman Pirie: But I’m gonna try to get through it. It’s great to have you on the show, Chris. Thank you for joining us.
Chris Grainger: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And they blessed me with this mic, so it’s all good here, man. You got good equipment over there too. I can tell.
Jeff White: I remember going to see a presentation with Terry O’Reilly, which if you’re not a Canadian, you’re probably not going to know, but he hosts an advertising radio show and podcast on the CBC here in Canada, and somebody once asked him, “Why do you sound so good?” Because he was giving a presentation in a library and the sound quality wasn’t great. He goes, “Because my mic cost $70,000.”
Carman Pirie: Exactly. Yeah. He figured that out. Well, Chris, please, let’s start by getting a bit of a deeper introduction to you and the EECO organization.
Chris Grainger: Yes, sir. Absolutely. And again, thank you again, it’s an honor to be here. I’ve been with EECO for 20 years. I co-opped with them when I was in college and got to learn about different things around electrical distribution, and the one thing that kept coming up is just the people and helping people in manufacturing and industry out there that we support. When I graduated from Old Dominion University, I had a job waiting as a sales engineer at EECO, and since then had many different roles. Been here 20 years. I don’t think I’ve ever held the same role for more than maybe three. It’s always been an opportunity to try different things. And recently, about 2018, took the Engineering and Services Manager position over the Carolinas and had a crazy idea to, man, why don’t we start a podcast up?
It was right around to all of our regions in the Carolinas listening to a lot of radio, and podcasts, and I think about after the 20th time of Gary Vee saying it, “If you don’t start a podcast, you’re an idiot.” I was like, “All right, it’s time to do this,” you know? And so, put a business plan together if you will, and called a meeting with a few executives and asked for some time with them to talk about this crazy idea, and pitched it to them, and the question was, “Do you think you can actually do it?” And my answer was, “I don’t know, but I would like to try.”
But we had a good structure, and a good vision, and they were gracious and let us get this mic, and a sound board, and that’s basically it, and we were off to the races. I built some sound panels for our studio, that turned into my home studio, and from there it’s just been a roller coaster of guests, and we’re about 70-plus guests now and we just released this week our 100th episode, which is kind of crazy. It’s been a lot of fun.
Carman Pirie: Well, congratulations. That’s a great milestone.
Chris Grainger: Thank you.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. That’s fantastic. And EECO Asks Why is really all about that kind of getting to know the people that make up the business, isn’t it?
Jeff White: And not just on the company end, either. You’re interviewing customers, and-
Chris Grainger: Oh, yeah. It’s completely focused outward. Now, we do have some interviews with EECO personnel, but primarily our focus is on industry itself. The people that are out there working, making it happen, our vendor network and the community there, and we have basically a theme of the episodes. We have idea episodes and hero episodes. The ideas on the topics, and manufacturing, and industry out there, we always say that the tagline is it’s not salesy. If it turns into a commercial, we’re gonna fix that during recording and try to get everyone back on track, because we’re not trying to sell anything. We’re trying to help people.
And then the hero is all about their personal journeys and how they got to where they are in their careers. During the hero conversations, we always like to talk about what they do outside of work, because we’re not just people who work. We actually have lives outside of work. We’ve found our listeners really like the hero conversations and how we get to that personal element with each guest.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I was going to say, have you noticed a kind of a consistent pattern in terms of listener preference between episode types?
Chris Grainger: It’s really split pretty evenly, but you can definitely tell the heroes are starting to gain more traction. I mean, even with people, I get feedback like from my beautiful wife, and she’s like, “I don’t listen to your ideas because I don’t understand what you guys do, but I love the heroes.” She’s in human resources. She’s like, “And I just love to hear people’s stories and how they got to where they’re at.” That’s something that she really just enjoys, and I think we’ve been getting consistent feedback that the hero conversations are definitely a lot of fun.
Jeff White: Oh, man. I think there’s just something about hearing a personal story, you know? As you can see on the… Well, you’re not gonna be able to see it in the recording of the podcast, but back on our wall here behind us, “people matter, objects don’t.” It’s certainly really the core of our essence, so I can understand why that drives such preference.
Chris Grainger: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I mean, this is a tale as long as time. We know people have that innate interest in other people and their stories. It is interesting to see, and we’ve had a couple of guests recently on the show that talk about how they’ve really leveraged that level of personal connection in business, and I think you’re seeing people more and more comfortable talking about that, which is kind of-
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: It used to seem like a little witchy-woo or something before. A little too soft or something, right?
Jeff White: Yeah. Chris, how do you feel your interviewing skills have grown since then? And is that something that you’ve cultivated before you became a podcast host? Or is it really just in the last couple of years?
Chris Grainger: It’s just within the last year, so I guess I have had business development training, and if you are in BDM in a B2B role, you have to know how to make a conversation and keep it going, and get to the next point, but so far as being behind the mic and being the host, when I listen to some of our first episodes, I’m like, “Ooh. Wow.” It’s come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. I by no means have this figured out. I just enjoy… I guess there’s a greater comfort level behind the mic, if you will, as I’m sure both of you have experienced. As you get those at bats, you get those reps, you just get more comfortable.
And the big thing for me is I’m never focused on me. It’s always about the guest and what can I do as the host to put the best spotlight on them. And to make it a really good experience for them coming on the show. Because if they come on the show and they enjoy it, they get some value out of it, it helps their company, it helps their business, it helps them just personally, they may give me a referral to another wonderful guest, and that happens all the time, and that’s really… I just love that snowball effect. But it’s again all about serving others at the highest level that I can.
Carman Pirie: Chris, I’m curious. If you had to pick one, like the biggest impact that the podcast has had thus far on the organization, what would you say it is?
Chris Grainger: This for me is pretty simple. It’s the alignment between our marketing team and our engineering and services team. That’s been the biggest impact. We’re building content together now. We even have an engineering and services/marketing meeting every month with my team, the marketing team, and the marketing manager is actually the producer of the podcast. He’s a really great friend of mine. His name’s Adam Sheets. He’s kind of behind the curtain. He’s telling me what I’m screwing up and getting me on track during the interviews. He and I, we work really closely together, but we’ve pulled our teams together now so my engineering and services team, who are degreed engineers, really talented individuals, they know about marketing metrics like clicks and those types of rates that we’re looking at to see views, and what’s working, and what’s not from a marketing standpoint, and now marketing understands what my engineering and services team is important to them for the IIOT, and industry 4.0, and smart manufacturing. They’re getting those dots.
It’s just bringing us all together and we’re building campaigns, and trying to take this content and repurpose it, and I even have my team writing blogs, and just trying to do things, case studies, that move the ball down the field and we’re not so isolated now. We’re just one unit, really, and we know it’s important to marketing and they know it’s important to us, and it’s just really just brought us all together.
Carman Pirie: Man, I don’t think… I love when you can look outside of your organization and it’s damned hard to find somebody that looks like you. It’s an interesting moment. And I can’t think of a lot of folks that would have engineering and marketing that tight.
Jeff White: And certainly not being brought together by a marketing and community-building vehicle like a podcast.
Carman Pirie: That is not hosted by the marketing team at all or driven by the marketing team, really.
Jeff White: I mean, it must be more integrated now than when you started, I’m guessing.
Chris Grainger: Oh, yeah. For sure. Well, now, again, Adam and I, we’re in lockstep. I mean, we’re talking every day. We use Microsoft Teams, so we’re always pinging each other through the chat and we’re definitely just one unit now. I guess it was an idea I brought forward to the team, but even when I brought it forward to the executives, I had Adam there with me to present it, because I knew I can’t do this by myself. I recognize there are shortcomings that I have from a marketing standpoint and just from an audio, being able to pull off a podcast, and he had that background, so it really worked out to have that teamwork approach. From there, we’ve just grown out.
I’ve brought some engineering… I guess you would say practices to our podcast and how we actually perform it, because I’m a process-driven person, structure everything, so I’ve been able to take some of my engineering training and really apply that down to our scheduling and things like that. And Adam, he just takes it and runs with it, and now we have a new team member, Andi Thrower, she’s taking things we’re doing and with this video component and trying to sharpen our edges there. It’s just been a really good evolution.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. I’m excited to see how it evolves with the more recent introduction of video, as well. I think that’s going to open up a lot of interesting distribution options for you and content repurpose options over time. I’ll also be curious to hear any feedback from you as to if you start finding guests are harder to come by. I’m curious if people are camera shy, too.
Chris Grainger: I haven’t run into that yet. The biggest thing I’ve run into, when we started video, I warned them. I said, “Look, guys. I have the face for audio. This is not something that we need to be throwing a camera on with Chris.” But I’ve kind of gotten over that. People are most hesitant around, “I’m not a hero.” And I have to tell them, I say, “Look, you are a hero. You’re in manufacturing. You’re making product that’s impacting people around the world.” No matter where you’re at in manufacturing, what you do ties to other things most likely.
That impacts all over the world. I say, “And that’s a story worth telling.” They get over that, you know? I mean, and once they get into the moment, and we get the flow, and I kind of try to get them eased up about being comfortable about talking about themselves, we have a lot of fun with that.
Carman Pirie: Nice.
Jeff White: Yeah. I have to imagine that people are okay talking about themselves if you just kind of give them license to do so, and a way of thinking about it, and a way of delivering that. They’ll generally open up. It’s been pretty rare that hasn’t happened with our show, I would say.
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Jeff White: One of the things you mentioned a moment ago was just around how you’ve brought process into this to ensure that things run smoothly and planning all of that. I’d like to spend a little bit getting into the nuts and bolts of how you do this and what you’re thinking about as you go through it, just because as I mentioned before, I think there are a lot of people who just would like to know how this is done and see how the sausage is made. So, yeah, tell us a bit about how you run the show.
Chris Grainger: Absolutely. It’s again, the focus is the customer or the guest experience, if you will. We really focus hard… I typically start with a 15-minute conversation around just brainstorming, because I want to get those initial butterflies out of their stomach, and then get ideas in my head on where we could go. Is this an idea conversation? Is it a hero? Or is it both? Or is it multiple ideas? We have that brainstorming session. I typically follow up with some pre-canned questions that I’ve worked through based off that brainstorming session. They’re not the same for each guest. Typically, I do modify them, particularly from idea to idea.
Then I’ll send them to the guest, and so I’ll give them a chance to review, and to understand where the conversation could go, and I always put in there, “Please add, delete, or modify anything you want, because I want to make sure this conversation goes down a road or path that you desire.” Once we get that ironed out, we set up a recording time, we talk through video or audio, and if they don’t want to do the video, we’ll do audio only and we have these bumpers and these backdrop images that we can put on YouTube. It just won’t have the actual video. So, we have a workaround for that.
I tell everybody who asks about a podcast the easy time is when the mic’s hot. I mean, that’s the easiest time of the whole deal. When the mic’s hot, we’re doing that recording, we’re working through that, and then it’s all post production, and that’s where Adam and Andi, they take the bulk of the heavy lifting. They do a lot of the editing of the audio and the video. I write all the show notes. They proofread the show notes, so it’s really a back and forth. A big piece of advice I would have for your listeners, get organized with some form of release schedule. That release schedule for us is the bible, and we go through, “Here’s who’s been recorded, here’s what’s scheduled, here’s what’s not scheduled, here are the blogs that associate with that episode, here are all the links, the personal headshots, or their personal links that they want to have in the show notes.” It’s a pretty detailed document but it keeps us on the same page, and it also has areas of responsibility and who’s doing what next, so we can look at that document right now and say, “That’s in Chris’s court, that’s in Adam’s court, that’s in Andi’s court.”
We all know at any moment in time, it’s a live document on Microsoft Teams, where everything sits. It brings a little bit of peace to the craziness that it can be when you are recording so much, and then the next thing we try to do is we try to really stack up our recording days and make the most out of those days, and get multiple guests within one day too, just maximizing everybody’s time.
Some things like that have really helped us keep the experience at a high level but really be efficient at the same time.
Jeff White: I really do like the idea of recording a whole bunch of episodes at one time. Ours are spread out quite sporadic, so you’re in between sales calls and other things. “All right, time to record a podcast.” But it does break up the day nicely.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. I suppose though compartmentalizing the time would help on a number of fronts.
Jeff White: For sure.
Carman Pirie: I’m interested, Chris, 100 episodes in, how is the leadership feeling about this initiative?
Chris Grainger: It’s been very positive. I actually had a long meeting with our COO yesterday and we were talking about the podcast and where it’s at, and nothing but smiles there. I mean, they definitely are supportive. We have several of even our board members who have… even one has been on as a guest. From the executive level, the leadership level, they definitely see the value in it and understand that we’re having a chance to be a thought leader, to be an influencer, and for an electrical distributor, that’s a great place to be because you typically, you think about just a distribution business, we’re not making the stuff. We’re selling other people’s goods, so anytime we can put our brand in front and be the thought leader there it’s a good thing.
I think it’s been received very well.
Jeff White: One of the things I’m interested in, have you found that having the podcast as a media property has enabled you to do things that maybe you weren’t able to do before, just as an electrical distributor?
Chris Grainger: Yeah. I mean, we’ve definitely, so far as it’s given us a chance to learn how to do some of these things that we’ve never done before and be more comfortable with that, where in the past, as an electrical distributor, simple things like webinars, educational type content that you’d want to put out there for your clients, we would lean a lot on our vendor community to lead those. But now we’ve got the podcast underneath us and we understand how to actually deliver some of these things ourselves. I’ve found over the last six months doing more with my team directly on creating customer-centric type events, where maybe we’re leading, we’re actually in front, leading the content around these specific industry niche type topics, and now we know how to promote them better, we know how to get the people in the seats to actually attend. We have a follow-up process.
All the things that we’ve kind of learned with the podcast, we’ve been able to apply to some of these things from the educational standpoint, webinars, case studies, and things like that. I guess that would be the biggest area of impact for us there.
Jeff White: Yeah. I think what it enables you to do and the confidence it gives you to be able to bring that skill and that understanding of the medium and the distribution and delivery of it is really a big… You know, there’s a lot of learnings there.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. It makes a webinar or what have you not seem like as heavy a lift.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: When you’re recording a podcast on a very regular basis. Yeah.
Jeff White: I’d like to dig in a little bit to how, as you’re interviewing and you’re doing these idea-based episodes and these hero episodes, how have you… You mentioned that you’re brainstorming early on before you record the show. How are you really getting to the bottom of what it is, especially in the… I think the hero episodes are probably, they probably take care of themselves in a lot of ways, but I think the idea episodes, you’re trying to find a topic out of whatever it is, whether it’s one of your vendors, or one of your customers, or what have you. How are you getting down to something that is worth talking about and creating an idea around that? Are you focusing on product? Are you focusing on application of those products? Or where are you going with that?
Chris Grainger: Yeah. It’s really focused on solutions and we really don’t talk product. I mean, that’s kind of the thing. The whole theme is people and ideas over product. That’s at the core of what we do, so I get a lot of ideas just by quite frankly listening, and watching LinkedIn, and a lot of the groups that I’m a member of, and Clubhouse, and what are people talking about, and trying to get the ideas that are out there that sometimes seem a little fuzzy. Okay, well, let’s pin them down and actually peel back a few layers of the onion and understand deeper. Simple things like cybersecurity, that’s all sorts of idea topics that we’ve talked about because everyone has a little different approach or there’s a little different road or avenue we could take with that.
Sometimes we’ll spin those idea themes into little miniseries. We did a power series. We’ve had several out there on IoT and how things are working there from an industrial network standpoint. It’s really just watching. It’s listening to our vendor community, for one, because they have the solutions and the new things that are coming to market. But more importantly, I get the idea, the best ideas, from the end users, from the industrialists themselves that… Okay, you’re working on this problem that you have out there. What solutions are you considering? And I’ll figure out, they’ll give me those solutions. Well, that may be something we’re considering. I just had this conversation with an integrator yesterday and talking about retrofitting for an integrator in the future, and now it’s a podcast idea, so we’re gonna be recording together and it just comes from conversations and listening with intent.
Jeff White: I think one of the other things that’s really interesting about hosting a podcast and getting to have all of these conversations, I mean, otherwise how would you have an extra 100 conversations in a year with people, is you’re also able to connect the dots between different people. I know we’ve had a number of guests where they’ve talked about something, or raised an issue with something, and then we’re like, “Oh, we had a guest a few weeks ago who talked about that very thing. I can connect you with that.” Have you found that the community you’re creating goes beyond just EECO and its relationships with its customers and vendors?
Chris Grainger: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the biggest thing I think I’ve seen. It’s across the country and now we’re downloaded on all seven continents, and I had a… She’s working on her doctorate in England around manufacturing, believe it or not, found EECO Asks Why and set up a meeting with me just to talk about IoT and industry 4.0 and things that I’m learning from the guests, so it’s getting a much broader reach than we ever imagined, for sure. It’s really just quite humbling when you think about it, but it’s bringing value, that’s the cool thing, because we’re getting positive feedback, and it definitely has opened up some avenues for us.
Carman Pirie: I wonder on a personal level, Chris, what’s been the biggest surprise for you over the last year? What did you not see coming?
Chris Grainger: I didn’t see coming first of all just the amount of work. I thought it’d be a lot easier, but to be honest, it’s a lot harder than I thought. But you know, personally just how much of a blessing it’s been. I’m just gonna be honest. It’s just been a blessing. I mean, who would have thought, I’ve been able to talk to extremely high-level executives at some top companies in the world, all the way down to people who are just graduating college, getting ready to start their careers in manufacturing and industry, and I cherish every one of them. The relationships, even though we may be only recording together for an hour, I’ve made a friend and I feel that way and I have a really cool vehicle to help them, and I just think it helps so many people, and then we had this Women in Engineering series we did with 11 guests, and I have two daughters, they’re eight and ten years old, and they listened to every one of those episodes. Now they’ll come up to me, “Well, hey, did you realize that this girl, she traveled to Europe.” I’m like, “Yeah, I was the one interviewing her.” But they were just like… They’re inspired. They’re like, “Well, this is really cool. I had no idea this is what you do, and this is the industry that you’re in.”
This whole idea around STEM, because I tell you, the consistent theme I’m hearing from every guest, we talk about hurdles in industry, and I don’t know what you guys are hearing, but it’s workforce attrition and the skills gap out there. And I mean, it’s across the board, so if we can be impacting the next generation and maybe just shedding a little light on what industry really is about, or manufacturing, or even marketing, how that could support industry, I think it’s a good thing. And that’s been a big impact on me.
Carman Pirie: That’s really, really cool.
Jeff White: It is. My son is our biggest listener. He’s 13.
Carman Pirie: It’s a slow way to grow a fan base.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, it’s weird. Grade 8 kids just really don’t care. “My dad has a podcast.” Be quiet. I think that’s a really lovely place to leave it and I’m so interested and glad to hear kind of what this has brought both to you and to EECO, and your growing community, so thank you very much for sharing with ours.
Chris Grainger: This has been a pleasure. I think you guys are doing a great job and just thank you again for having me on.
Carman Pirie: Chris, not at all. It’s been our pleasure. Thanks so much.
Chris Grainger: Yes, sir.
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Chris GraingerEngineering and Services Manager
Chris is a servant leader and has a passion for helping others. He leads the engineering and services team at EECO and last year founded the EECO Asks Why podcast. As its host Chris explores the ideas that are shaping industry and the heroes that are on the front lines every day. Chris’ approach is people and ideas over products and remains committed to keeping the spotlight on others as he serves industry at his best ability.