How Tenderfoot TV’s Donald Albright used his music marketing background to grow a podcast network

Donald Albright, president and co-founder of true-crime podcast network Tenderfoot TV, started his marketing career by accident when he was a student at Clark Atlanta University in the 90s.

At a party celebrating Atlanta-based R&B group 112, Albright was collecting business cards and wound up with a gig working on a “street team” for LaFace Records, passing out flyers and putting up posters promoting the label’s artists.

He spun that part-time job out into a fully fledged music marketing company, D-Day Entertainment, which he founded in 1997 while he was still in college. Eventually, he dropped out to focus on the business full time as it racked up a roster of major label clients, including LaFace, Def Jam, Atlantic Records, Columbia Records, and more.

Albright later became a road manager for artists after another stint in-house at LaFace, touring the world with the likes of Usher and Chris Brown. It was during that time he met filmmaker Payne Lindsey, now CEO of Tenderfoot, who was then working on music videos.

In 2016, the two co-founded Tenderfoot. Albright was responsible for the early campaigns that helped put Tenderfoot’s first pod on the map, and even though he’s now president of the company, he still leads marketing for its newest shows.

“The things I first started doing in the music industry—passing out flyers, putting up posters, having a street team—when I got into podcasting, those things still weren’t happening, so it was like podcasting was 20 years behind music, Albright told Marketing Brew. “Coming to podcasting and they’re still at phase one of promotions, I felt like I had a huge advantage.”

We spoke with Albright about how the lessons he learned in music marketing shaped his approach to podcast marketing today.

While promoting Up and VanishedTenderfoot’s first hit—which now has three seasons of episodes that have been downloaded more than 400 million times since the pod’s 2017 premiere, according to the company—Albright’s options were fairly limited.

Tenderfoot could barely afford ads at the time, but they ran their first one nonetheless. Albright said he paid $2,500 to run a campaign for Up and Vanished, another true-crime show, a classic podcast promotion strategy. He negotiated the rate down from $4,000, since $2,500 was all the available credit he had on his card.

That was also the year Albright ran a particularly memorable guerilla marketing campaign for the pod. Lindsey was giving a talk at Podcast Movement, one of the largest annual conferences in the industry. To promote both Lindsey’s session and Up and VanishedAlbright did what he knew: He put together a street team made up of a few Tenderfoot employees and four people hired from a local promotional agency.

At the time. podcasting still wasn’t “mainstream enough” to drive the general public to shows by only handing out flyers, Albright said, but he figured that tried-and-true music marketing tactic would work at an industry event.

“If you’re promoting the new POC album or the new OutKast album and you go to the right place—you go to the club, you go to a college—everyone’s going to know who those artists are, but you can’t just go find your podcast audience,” Albright explained. “A podcast convention was the only place where you can say, ‘Everything that I do here is going to be worth it.’ So we just went all out. We looked at that like our campus or our club, our concert.”

The team traversed the venue in t-shirts that read “If I Vanish Call Payne Lindsey” with the podcast’s tipline, handing out flyers and stickers directing people to a Tenderfoot booth and to Lindsey’s talk. They even brought a mobile video truck that played a trailer for the pod and displayed a series of press quotes about it.

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The play worked, at least by Albright’s standards. People showed up for Lindsey’s talk, and he said some even told them they did so just because the Up and Vanished t-shirts caught their eye. That sort of anecdote is how Albright measures the ROI of his street campaigns, he told us.

“The return is really about gauging how I feel about the execution of our plans,” he said. “Are we distributing enough flyers? When I go over to the ballroom 30 minutes beforehand, do I see the team out there? I know when they’re killing it. I know when they’re not killing it.”

Albright still relies on this type of guerilla marketing from time to time, especially at conferences.

Now that Tenderfoot is well-established among the podcast community, Albright said there’s less of a need to promote it in this fashion at industry events. But for events like true-crime convention Crimecon, which Tenderfoot attends every year, attendees will still see its street team on the ground.

… To Times Square billboards

For its next big show, Atlanta Monster, about the Atlanta child murders, co-produced and funded by How Stuff Works Media (now part of iHeartMedia), Albright said Tenderfoot ran billboard ads for the first time, displaying the cover art for the pod over the streets of Atlanta. It also ran radio ads and ads in other podcasts (this time without nearly bankrupting Albright).

“The best way to promote your podcast is on another podcast,” Albright said. “Now we had the biggest podcast in all of podcasting, we had a podcast that did 100 million downloads in 12 months, so we had a huge launching pad for Atlanta Monster.”

Four years after Atlanta Monster Debuted in 2018, and now with 20 shows and 700 million total downloads across Tenderfoot, Albright said he’s been taking “another music approach” to the company’s marketing strategy over the past several years.

That strategy? “Everything has to be big,” Albright told us. Billboards in Times Square certainly meet that qualification.

By 2019, Tenderfoot had graduated from static billboards in Atlanta to digital out-of-home ads in Manhattan alongside some of the biggest brands in the world, Albright said.

It’s also moved on from audio-only ads to TV spots on networks like TNT, where Tenderfoot promoted its 2018 hit, To Live and Die in LAwhich has been downloaded 75 million times across two seasons.

For the past couple of years, Albright said his marketing decisions varied project to project. Sometimes, if he really wants to make a splash, he’ll do billboards. Partnering with iHeart and Audacy, Tenderfoot has also been running radio campaigns, and Albright told us he’s planning on experimenting more with TV and OTT ads down the line.

But Albright isn’t “forgetting about the little things,” he said. Tenderfoot still runs ads on Facebook targeting the local markets where the stories their shows explore took place, and of course, the network continues leaning into a cross-promotion podcast as well, which Albright said will always be the brand’s “bread and butter.”

“We now have the flexibility in the budgets to go beyond [podcast ads],” he explained. “We’re strictly independent, but we still want to be perceived as a big company. We’re right up there with iHeart, right up there with Spotify. These are companies that are far more valuable than Tenderfoot and have more success and more podcasts than Tenderfoot, but we want to be viewed in the same way that they’re viewed in terms of what we can accomplish.”

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