The Story Behind Your Work Is the Inspiration for Slack’s New Branded Podcast

Startup steps up its content marketing game

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Finally landing your dream job is only half the story in Slack's new career-focused podcast.

On Monday, the work-collaboration software company launched a branded podcast series called Work in Progress that tells stories "about the meaning and identity behind work." According to Julie Kim, Slack's director of content and editorial, the series is focused on finding narratives about the role that work plays in people's lives that also fit Slack's missions and values.

"It's not so much about someone who is a musician, a baker or a comedian—these are stories about how they came to do what they do and most importantly, how they identify with that," Kim said during an interview at the company's San Francisco headquarters. "Storytelling has always been core to Slack's brand—we don't set out to do the best branded content. It's thinking about how to produce good stories, period. Good stories can come anywhere. They can come from the Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Fast Company or Slack."

"For this kind of general interest program, we want to be piercing out of the Silicon Valley bubble and reaching a much more mainstream audience."

Work in Progress is Slack's second foray into branded podcasts. Last year, the company launched a series called Slack Variety Pack that was described as a combination of Chicago Public Media's This American Life, NBC's sitcom The Office and Monty Python.

"This is a very different podcast from that—it's different in tone, subject matter, the types of people we feature," Kim said. "Slack Variety Pack was wonderful, we just felt like it had run its course."

Slack is again working with Pacific Content—a branded podcast startup in Vancouver, Canada—to produce the show. But this time, there's a host—podcast and radio producer Dan Misener. 

The first 24-minute episode of the series—dubbed "Going with the flow"—launched Monday and tells two stories: One follows Steve Kiziak—the man who played actor David Duchovny's body double on the X-Files after being discovered on the street by the show's director 20 years ago—who now struggles to find a career beyond Hollywood.

The other part of the episode focuses on Hans Fenger, a musician who dreamed about being a rock star in the 1960s, but ended up working as an elementary school music teacher after getting his girlfriend pregnant. After having his students record pop hits by David Bowie and others, the album was discovered 20 years later by a DJ in New York, eventually leading to hanging out backstage with Bowie at a concert. Fenger's story inspired the 2003 film School of Rock.

"Not everyone ends up backstage with David Bowie," Kim said. "[But] I think this is something that a lot of working people can relate to where you have a plan for how your career is going to go—you have some idea of what your dream job is—but then either you meet someone, you get a lucky break or maybe you have some bad luck and your career can end up going an entirely different direction."

Distribution is also a big push with the new show. In addition to being available though traditional podcast platforms such as iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify, Slack has a partnership with SiriusXM to distribute the show to 30 million people through the SiriusXM Insight Channel, the broadcaster's public-radio channel. Each weekly episode will debut on SiriusXM on Saturday before it becomes available elsewhere on Monday morning.

And Slack's blog will add text pieces that accompany podcast episodes. The brand has also launched a Twitter account for people to submit their own stories.

The stories aren't meant to pitch Slack's products. Similar to how brands like GE and eBay have embraced branded podcasts, the point is to find narratives that fit into Slack's broader brand mission.

That said, Kim said that each episode mentions how Slack is used by big brands and small businesses at the beginning, and at the end of the episode, the small business tells its story.

Before joining Slack in April, Kim's editorial experience includes roles at California Sunday Magazine and Pop-Up Magazine, and she helped launch Instagram's ad business in 2013. Slack's editorial team also includes Evie Nagy, formerly of Fast Company, and Matt Haughey, who founded the community weblog MetaFilter. The company also has a network of freelancers to commission pieces, photos and illustrations to use in content.

"We want working people out there to associate these kinds of stories with the themes and values of the companies, in addition to the product itself, but it's not a hard sell of any kind," Kim said. "The goal here is to introduce new people to Slack, not necessarily to introduce these stories to existing Slack fans and users."

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.