A group of men and women posing for a picture next to podcasting equipment and cardboard cutouts of wildlife.
Article California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence By Ramiro Adeva

Agoura Hills podcast is a blueprint for community engagement

The city of Agoura Hills won the 2023 Helen Putnam Award in the Internal Administration category. For more information about the award program, visit www.helenputnam.org.

Tucked away in a tranquil corner of Los Angeles County, Agoura Hills once faced a familiar conundrum: How do you bridge the communications gap between local government and the people they serve in an era teeming with information? In a bid to close the gap, Agoura Hills embarked on an outreach strategy that included the production of a podcast, The Good Life Agoura Hills.

“We understood that in our tight-knit community, we needed a way to connect that was both dynamic and convenient,” City Manager Nathan Hamburger said. “The podcast format allowed us to bring the city’s initiatives and news directly to our residents’ fingertips.”

An age-old problem

Before the podcast, the city used a range of familiar tactics to reach its modest population of 20,000 — from traditional in-person gatherings and events to leveraging social media and advertising in the local newspaper. However, these tactics still fell short of helping the city connect with its diverse community. The city decided to go more digital, focusing on video content and direct electronic communications, as well as community outreach.

It was during this time that staff recognized the potential podcasting had to bolster engagement and transparency. “Our community deserves flexibility in how they engage with us,” Hamburger explained. “The podcast model meets them where they are and enriches their experience.”

Although podcasts have become more popular among public agencies in recent months, only a few cities across California were utilizing them for community outreach at the time.

“Our research showcased the podcast’s potential as an innovative, cost-effective, and engaging solution,” Hamburger said. “It was apparent that this format could redefine how we connect with our community, and we were excited to be one of the few public agency trailblazers in the world of podcasting.

The city strategically maps out podcast episodes well in advance. The podcast has featured many noteworthy community figures — including the city manager, chamber of commerce CEO, local sheriff’s captain, Los Angeles County sheriff, school superintendent, and water district general manager, to name a few.

The podcast’s introductions, often referencing pop culture elements, are pivotal to humanizing the content and forging a relatable link with the audience. “The Good Life Agoura Hills podcast is informative and humorous,” said Jennifer Seetoo, Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station captain. “Seeing government leaders’ funny side and providing the community with helpful information makes government leaders more relatable.”

Two men speaking to each other for a podcast in a well-lit room surrounded by lights, a camera, and other audiovisual recording equipment.

A cost-effective response

The podcast is also a way to make each dollar go a little bit further. Each monthly episode is roughly 30 minutes long. The city makes the most of its budget by batching two or three episodes at a time over one or two days, bringing the cost of each podcast to approximately $4,000.

The project’s resounding success has exceeded all expectations. Before the podcast, the city’s lean team spent a lot of resources on in-person workshops and meetings. Unfortunately, many of these meetings only had an average of 5 to 10 community members in attendance.

With an average of 33 listens and 324 views per episode, the podcast has outperformed in-person meetings on similar topics by a significant margin. This outcome underscores the podcast’s efficacy as an alternative means of community engagement and remarkable savings in time and resources for the city. Though there are many good reasons to hold an in-person or hybrid meeting, the podcast lets the city reach more constituents for less money.

Staff hope the success of The Good Life Agoura Hills Podcast reverberates beyond the city. “We’re thrilled about our community’s success and excited to share our experiences and insights with other municipalities,” Hamburger shared. “The podcast model is replicable and can truly revolutionize community engagement on a larger scale. … The good news is that our success showcases that other cities can create a podcast to reach their community — no matter how big or small your community is.”

Hamburger’s wish has already started to come true. The podcast was featured in several publications and podcasts, including the Cal Cities Advocate, American City and County, and the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy, as well as The Chirp and the Local Government Insights podcasts. The team also presented at the annual California Association of Public Information Officials (CAPIO) conference: Attendees rated it as one of the conference’s best sessions.

The podcast has also garnered top honors, including a Helen Putnam Award, a CAPIO Award of Distinction, and a Public Relations Society of America – Los Angeles Prism Award.

The success of Agoura Hills’ podcast demonstrates the potency of podcasts as a tool for community engagement, communication, and transformation. Staff hope that as the city continues to disseminate its experience and know-how, the ripple effect may lead to a wave of innovative community engagement initiatives nationwide.

Ramiro Adeva is the assistant city manager for Agoura Hills and can be reached at radeva@agourahillscity.org or (818) 597-7353. Watch this video for an overview of the project.