Case Study: Dart Network Podcast Success Serves As Foundation For Building The PodWheels Network

Background

The PodWheels Network is a prime example of a proven service platform that is adept in collaborating with truck fleets and trucking industry organizations to identify specific communications needs and goals. The PodWheels Network team, with its years of experience in the trucking industry and expertise in communications, understands how to work with clients in developing customized podcast content and supporting programs that are focused on delivering positive results. The best example of the strength of concept for the PodWheels Network can be found in the company’s work with our first customer.

In 2016, the initial seeds of the PodWheels Network were planted when Dart Transit, a leading truckload carrier with more than 80 years in the industry, agreed to make a trial run with the driver engagement and communications podcasting program that PodWheels Network founder Greg Thompson had proposed. Russ Moore, Dart’s Vice President of Communications & Marketing, had previously worked with Greg at another large truckload carrier.

Russ was quite familiar with Greg’s work. He had seen Greg develop a company driver and owner-operator communications outreach strategy for the truckload carrier through a dedicated, toll-free telephone line in the early 2000s. At the height of its operation from 2006 to 2008, the recordings shared through the toll-free line averaged more than 100,000 calls per year. Drivers and contractors were notified with a satellite message to the cabs of their trucks each time the phone line was updated with a new message from the company. The truckload carrier actually had to dedicate 16 incoming lines on its PBX phone system to accommodate the level of call volume for the recorded messages that were shared with the fleet on a weekly basis.

Even more impressive than the call volume into the toll-free line, the call completion rate for those calling to listen to the recorded messages consistently stayed at 96 percent for more than 10 years. One of the most eye-popping statistics to result from Greg’s experience in developing a Q&A format that featured interviews and updates with the fleet’s executive team, driver features, industry updates and other news was the amount of time callers spent listening to the updates. The average length of the recordings ranged from eight to 15 minutes. With 16 lines coming into the system and a call completion rate of 96 percent, callers spent more than 13,600 hours over a single calendar year listening to the content presented at the height of the program. The total amount of listening time in that top year for caller results was the equivalent of 570 days.

Advances in smart phone technology and the range of platforms available to engage audiences have opened a world of possibilities beyond dedicated toll-free phone lines. When Greg initiated the Q&A format for the phone line recordings, podcasts, and advanced podcasting platforms were not yet a viable resource. By 2016, the ability to build a highly professional audio production and share it with a targeted audience on a web-based platform had become incredibly accessible. Podcasts, rather than a dedicated phone solution, became the format of choice for the earliest stages of the PodWheels Network and the development of the Dart Network Podcast.

“The search for effective forms of driver engagement has grown significantly over the past few years as fleets are looking for ways to build lasting relationships with their drivers. Through my nearly 40 years in the trucking industry, I have come to believe that driver retention begins with effective engagement through communication. Effective driver engagement can also be a key element in achieving improved safety results, greater operational efficiencies and better job satisfaction among your drivers,” said Russ. “I had been a part of the effort that Greg had put together years ago with the toll-free phone line. I knew he had the industry knowledge and communications expertise to develop impactful content that could reach a target audience. When Greg approached Dart with his initial proposal, the concept of presenting well-developed audio content that could appeal to professional drivers and engage them in positive ways through a podcast became a very intriguing possibility that we decided to pursue.”

Plan of Action & Execution

Before the first recording session was even scheduled with Dart, Greg held a series of onsite meetings with the principals who would be involved in the development of the Dart Network Podcast. The meetings with Russ and his Communications Team identified a range of potential topics that would place the podcast in the best position to engage and inform its primary target audience – the company drivers and owner-operators in the Dart Network. By utilizing public podcasting platforms with iTunes and SoundCloud.com, Dart would also have the benefit of reaching beyond its driving community, potentially engaging future driving prospects while furthering a positive image for the company.

The initial production plan was built around the concept of a ride-along talk radio program, ranging from 60 to 90 minutes of segments with guests and news shared by the co-hosts. Greg worked with the Dart Communications Team on scheduling the interviews – most of which took place during a second onsite visit to Dart by Greg. As the podcast took shape, there were some additional interviews that Greg facilitated by phone with guests. Greg conducted all the interviews, scripted all the openings and closings for the segments and performed all the editing on the podcast content. As part of the preparations for the podcast, Dart’s Communications Team conducted a survey with its driver community to identify the types of topics they would find most interesting. The survey was used then in developing the topic list for the podcast.

The segments for the debut edition of the Dart Network Podcast included the following:

  • Business tips for owner-operators and company drivers from ATBS.
  • A look at the upcoming 2016 election from the perspective of trucking with Heavy-Duty Trucking Magazine Executive Editor David Cullen.
  • An Operations Update from Dart’s Vice President of Operations.
  • Segments from the leadership of Driver’s Legal Plan.
  • Safety tips from a veteran Dart owner-operator.
  • A segment dedicated to Dart’s 2016 celebration of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week.
  • A feature with a Dart owner-operator who travels with her dog, highlighting Dart’s pet-friendly policies.
  • Health & Wellness tips for life out on the road with advice from a dietary and wellness expert.
  • Discussions on equipment and maintenance with Dart’s VP of Maintenance.
  • A feature on a model truck builder who is part of the office staff at Dart.
  • “Shout-outs” from Dart’s office staff to the members of Dart’s driving community.

The debut edition of the Dart Network Podcast was released in early September of 2016, and it had a total running time of 97 minutes. Greg followed up the debut edition with an 81-minute Fall Edition of the Dart Network Podcast, which was released in November of 2016. Given the initial strong response to the long-form podcast approach, a collaborative decision was made by Dart’s Communications Team and Greg to break up the segments within the longer programs and begin releasing those as individual pieces. In addition, the decision was made to begin developing shorter stand-alone segments that could be released on a weekly basis.

Greg and the Dart Communications Team were able to leverage the strong foundation that had been established by the initial work on the long-form podcast, creating customized processes and building what has become a production system that is tailored to Dart’s needs. By having an average of four podcasts per month, Dart has a “content pipeline” in which working drafts of the segments are produced and sent to Dart for review and approval. If any edits need to be made, the segments are updated before they are uploaded for distribution.

The Dart Communications Team, in collaboration with Greg, has developed a promotional strategy for the Dart Network Podcast series that includes social media posts and various forms of internal notifications, including periodic fleet messages, posters and a featured position within the Dart Data Tracker app.

“One of the things that we have valued about Greg’s approach is his focus on listening and learning about Dart. While Greg is always ready with a suggestion, oftentimes based on his 20 years of experience in trucking, he takes the time to look at an opportunity or an issue at hand in a manner that offers options that are unique to Dart,” said Russ. “The idea of adding a regular podcast series to the workflow that our team has in place would normally be rather daunting. Greg understood that we needed his entire workflow process and to be a plug-and-play resource from day one. Greg’s commitment to position his company as a collaborative service provider which can scale up or down and take direction while working independently is one of the keys to the development and growth of the Dart Network Podcast.”

Results

From the time of its initial release in September of 2016, the Dart Network Podcast achieved both strong and consistent levels of success in the outreach to its primary target audience. Dart promoted the launch of its podcast with an e-blast sent to all the company drivers, owner-operators and driver prospects in the Dart Network. The e-blast became the first major step in building the audience, as the initial podcast download results approached 400 within days of the e-blast’s release. The move to break out the segments within the long-form podcast and distribute them as individual releases paid off as well. Shortly after moving to the individual segment releases, which eventually led to the creation of the content pipeline and weekly podcasts, the program began to pick up a greater consistency among the listening audience. By November of 2016, the Dart Network Podcast began averaging over 100 downloads per week. That average remained fairly consistent for the first year of operation, as the Dart Network Podcast finished with just over 5,200 downloads from September of 2016 through the end of August in 2017.

Listen Up: Dart Celebrates Driver Appreciation

In preparation for the arrival of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week in 2018, the Dart Network Podcast talked to the office staff at Dart headquarters to ask what they admire most about professional drivers.

While the target audience remains the driving community and the non-driving employees in the Dart Network, which includes 2,500-plus people, the podcast has given Dart a powerful outreach tool. In addition to supporting the informational needs of its driving community, Dart has utilized the podcast to highlight the company’s efforts to give back to the industry and communities where it has a significant presence.

In the second year of operation with the Dart Network Podcast, the program has featured segments highlighting the company’s involvement in breast cancer awareness and hurricane relief. The breast cancer awareness effort included the company having a specially decaled truck with the American Cancer Society’s pink ribbon on it. The company truck is being driven by Debbie Chapman, a breast cancer survivor, and the Dart Network Podcast conducted an interview with Debbie. It was part of the coverage the podcast provided for a special event the American Cancer Society held at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

For the hurricane relief after Harvey struck Houston, Dart responded to a request by one of the owner-operators in the Dart Network when his small town began to organize a relief drive. Dart provided a trailer, fuel and logistical support as the owner-operator delivered a truckload full of relief supplies. The Dart Network Podcast interviewed Nick Dallman, the owner-operator who made the run, discussing his experience.

Dart has also used the podcast as a platform to highlight the company’s support of military and veterans causes. The podcast presented special editions during two events when Dart presented two sets of specially decaled, military-themed trucks to company drivers and owner-operators in the Dart Network. The podcast has also featured interviews with company drivers and owner-operators in the Dart Network who have participated in moving the Wall That Heals Vietnam Memorial, a replica of the Vietnam Wall on the National Mall. The Dart Network Podcast was also on site in December of 2017 at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in the Twin Cities for the Wreaths Across America event. With the Wall That Heals and Wreaths Across America, Dart was able to also promote the good work of the Truckload Carriers Association in support of those organizations. The breast cancer awareness segment earned the company coverage in the industry press with a feature in the Trucker newspaper.

The success achieved through highlighting veterans causes as well as supporting breast cancer awareness and hurricane relief set the stage for Dart to produce a series of podcasts noting the important work of the Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) organization. Dart had been a longtime advocate and supporter of TAT prior to 2018. The decision to produce a podcast series focusing on awareness and prevention of human trafficking coincided with Dart reaching the milestone of 500 TAT-trained company drivers and owner-operators in the Dart Network.

In April of 2018, Dart was invited by the Minnesota Trucking Association (MTA) to participate in the Briefing on Commercial Sexual Exploitation. The gathering was a coalition-building exercise hosted by the MTA, Truckers Against Trafficking, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the NATSO foundation. MTA-member carriers from across the state participated in the event, which highlighted the heart-wrenching issues related to human trafficking and, once again, underscored the importance of situational awareness and the value of training.

Greg worked with Russ and his Communications Team to outline a series of recordings with representatives from the Minnesota Trucking Association, Truckers Against Trafficking and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to discuss the key points highlighted during the coalition event in Minnesota. Greg and his company produced a five-part series in support of Truckers Against Trafficking that was released in May of 2018. The series has received critical acclaim, and it has been featured multiple times within the trucking industry press. Entering the final quarter of 2018, the series is on the doorstep of surpassing 500 total downloads. For taking the initiative to produce the series as part of its continued support of Truckers Against Trafficking, Dart has been nominated for the 2018 Mike Russell Trucking Image Award, which is presented annually by the American Trucking Associations.

The additional outreach and exposure facilitated by the Dart Network Podcast has helped to increase the overall download totals for the series. In the second full year of operation, the Dart Network Podcast collected over 6,250 total downloads. The grand total of downloads for the first two years of operation exceeded 11,650. Much of the growth in year two of the program has been seen over the second six-month period from March to September. The podcast is now available on multiple public platforms, including iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn, SoundCloud.com and Blubrry.com.

The PodWheels Network app platform, which is the cornerstone of the PodWheels Network program, was designed to seamlessly integrate with the 2018 debut of the Dart Data Tracker app. The PodWheels Network app platform offers Dart the ability to have a direct in-reach to company drivers and owner-operators in the Dart Network. As opposed to the public podcast platforms, the PodWheels Network app provides Dart with the ability to share close-circuited private content with company drivers and owner-operators in the Dart Network.

“The Dart Network Podcast is becoming a true driver engagement platform for Dart. As we have participated in the strong and adaptable collaborative program that Greg Thompson has put in place with his PodWheels Network, I believe we’ve just scratched the surface for the potential of this program,” said Russ. “Between the public podcast platforms where the Dart Network Podcast has a presence and the development of the PodWheels app that integrated so easily into our Dart Data Tracker app, we are perfectly positioned to reach our desired internal and external audiences. Most importantly, the content that Greg and his PodWheels team is producing speaks to our fleet, and it represents Dart well across the trucking industry. When Greg told me that he had begun expanding his podcast programs within the industry and was in the process of developing the PodWheels Network app, I told him there is a great need for the kind of engagement platform that PodWheels offers. Based on our experience over the past two years, I believe that PodWheels can offer solutions that make a difference for fleets seeking to build lasting relationships with their people behind the wheel.”

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