Coffee, Content and Conversation With a Podcast Pioneer

Six Pixels of Separation’s Mitch Joel offers up lessons learned after 550-plus episodes of picking people’s brains.

top down shot of a person holding a coffee cup

In his 11 years hosting the podcast Six Pixels of Separation, Mitch Joel has amassed quite the collection of free-flowing conversations. He’s had Nicholas Carr riffing on fake news, Catharine Hays talking advertising and Morgan Spurlock diving into branded content.

With that kind of material, it’s not too hard to see why the podcast on innovations in digital marketing has lifted the profile of both Joel and his global agency, Mirum. But it all started with simple curiosity. “It was the most selfish thing I could do,” he says. “Who can I coerce to spend an hour with me that I really want to pick their brain?”

Now, the Montreal-based Joel offers would-be podcasters some advice on getting started.

1. Forget about lead gen

If you’re trying to tie podcasts to sales or leads, rethink your ROI.

“Podcasting, it’s not for direct response or lead gen,” Joel says. “It’s more about social proof and showing competence in the market.”

For Joel and Mirum, Six Pixels of Separation projects an identity to help them stand out in the morass of marketing agencies. “People latched onto the character, the persona, the speaking, the books,” Joel says. “If you’re trying to define what Mirum is, it’s easy to point to Six Pixels of Separation and say, ‘This is who we are.’ It’s what makes us different.”

2. Find your podcast format

Podcasts can take many forms: scripted narratives, interviews blended with planned segments or simply conversations.

Joel landed on the latter for Six Pixels of Separation. “I wanted to capture the feeling of taking someone out to coffee and talking about a book I read or something I thought.”

New podcasters should avoid falling back on the same old, same old or going the copycat route.

“I’m not the type of person to look at the marketplace and say, ‘I could do that, too.’” Joel says. “I think that’s a common mistake. Instead, look at a marketplace and say, ‘No one’s doing this like I would do it.’”

3. Learn how to listen

Joel spent years as a music reporter, lined up with countless journalists, waiting to get a crack at, say, Tommy Lee of Mötley Crüe. He had to get creative to get beyond canned answers.

“I had to figure out something different to bring to this conversation,” Joel says, “to get this guy energized, to get something out of him he hasn’t shared before. That’s a learned, tough communication skill.”

So is the value of silence in an interview. “As soon as the person has given their spiel, if you sit there and wait, they’re going to say something, ‘You know what else,’ or ‘I was just thinking’ or ‘I would like to add,’ and I promise that everything after that sentence is going to be gold.”

4. Play to your strengths

Joel advises podcasters to search for the three things they know best and focus on them. For Joel, that’s brands, consumer technology and marketing. This mix is how Six Pixels of Separation has stayed relevant as other marketing podcasts have come and gone.

Still, Joel sees room for improvement. The podcast is so well established he doesn’t do much promotion and distribution, something new podcasters must do. He doesn’t have an email database. His success has allowed him to remain a one-man show, from booking to interview to production.

“I’m sure in the future I’ll work on those things,” he says. “But after 11 years, I just kind of tinker.”

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