Winter 2017 Tuning In to Tax

Damien Martin—national tax assistant director and host of the Simply Tax podcast—prepares for a new episode in BKD’s studio.
Damien Martin—national tax assistant director and host of the “Simply Tax” podcast—prepares for a new episode in BKD’s studio.
Aaron Phares, BKD’s webinar leader and audio specialist, makes some last-minute adjustments before recording. Both Aaron and Damien have musical backgrounds.
Aaron Phares, BKD’s webinar leader and audio specialist, makes some last-minute adjustments before recording. Both Aaron and Damien have musical backgrounds.
Collaboration is key for the Simply Tax team. “The more you work together, the easier it gets to anticipate what the other person is going to want to do in the podcast,” Aaron says.
Collaboration is key for the “Simply Tax” team. “The more you work together, the easier it gets to anticipate what the other person is going to want to do in the podcast,” Aaron says.
Simply Tax is produced and edited in the recording studio in BKD’s National Office in Springfield, Missouri.
“Simply Tax” is produced and edited in the recording studio in BKD’s National Office in Springfield, Missouri.
The Simply Tax podcast doesn’t create itself; Laura Pendergrass (left), Damien Martin and Aaron Phares work hard every week to create a podcast that both educates and entertains.
The “Simply Tax” podcast doesn’t create itself; Laura Pendergrass (left), Damien Martin and Aaron Phares work hard every week to create a podcast that both educates and entertains.

TUNING IN TO TAX
BKD Steps into Podcast Realm with “Simply Tax”
By Levi Costello

Who’s going to listen to a podcast about taxation?

That’s the question BKD’s Damien Martin asked himself when pondering the medium as another way to educate people about tax issues affecting their businesses, families and wealth.

“I’m fully aware nobody wants to listen to a boring podcast on tax,” he says, “but I saw an opportunity and figured it was worth a shot.”

Damien, an assistant director in the firm’s National Office Tax Department, went with his gut. He quickly connected with BKD Audio Specialist Aaron Phares, and what started as an internal resource for BKD professionals turned into “Simply Tax”—a full-fledged podcast with thousands of listeners.

Dynamic Duo

Coincidentally, Damien and Aaron both have musical backgrounds. Damien studied music as an undergrad, and Aaron worked in audio production while in school.

“The big thing I learned in college was if it isn’t a good listening experience, nobody cares,” Damien says. “In some way, that idea rubbed off on me with this podcast. I try to do interesting things with sound bites and keep in mind that no one wants to listen to one person talk for 15 minutes.”

Aaron has worked in video and audio for years, playing in a band and competing in short-film competitions. He even won “Best Sound & Music” in a 2015 competition sponsored by a Los Angeles-based production company. The tone and feel of “Simply Tax” is primarily linked to Aaron’s experiences in radio, though.

“I did broadcasting in college, which is probably why ‘Simply Tax’ leans a little more radio,” he says. “I want to make sure everyone listening knows what’s happening and where we’re going next.”

Simply Not Simple

The idea for “Simply Tax” originally came out of a discussion Damien had with other tax leaders at BKD. With the tax world changing at an incredible speed, deadlines have become compressed and schedules crammed for tax associates.

“Especially after the 2016 election when tax reform started to enter the national conversation, leaders were worried younger associates wouldn’t know the important details on tax reform,” Damien says. “As we talked through it, I casually brought up the idea of a podcast. Why not try one as a way to educate others?”

The original episodes of “Simply Tax” were only available internally, where Damien’s fellow BKDers acted as a focus group of sorts. He recorded and distributed episodes every week and showed a genuine interest in what his listeners had to say. Then, talk gravitated toward a wider audience.

“We quickly realized what we’d do for an internal audience would look substantially different than what we’d do for an external audience,” Aaron says.

Over the course of eight months, Damien and Aaron shared 30 episodes with other tax professionals in a private LinkedIn group. They both learned valuable lessons during that time and honed their skills to create a top-notch podcast.

“It’s hard to create what’s essentially another form of BKD Thoughtware® that’s going to get through the noise of busy lives,” Damien admits. “Clients don’t want to get into the weeds about tax law. Our professionals need something to share with them that addresses the main issues.”

Fortunately, the more episodes they posted, the more interest they received. People wanted to share the episodes externally, since clients are asking questions about issues like tax reform.

“From a marketing perspective, the combination of the production quality and the quality of the content are very valuable,” says James Anderson, a tax partner in BKD’s Lincoln, Nebraska, office. “We have something we can share with prospects, clients and referral sources that’s timely and easy to understand.”

Partners weren’t the only ones interested. BKDers at the associate level were starting to glean valuable information shared through “Simply Tax.”

“‘Simply Tax’ podcasts provide a means to master my craft as a tax professional,” says Tax Associate Adam Hadley. “I get exposure to different technical and technological topics alongside practical advice for clients, all conveniently on the ride to or from work.”

A Pleasant Surprise

Armed with this feedback, Damien decided it was time to share “Simply Tax” with the rest of the world. The timing couldn’t have been better. Tax reform dominated the news cycle as they released their first episode in the fall of 2017.

Within a week of posting, downloads and subscriptions began popping up far beyond BKD’s normal footprint. Listeners began tuning in from California, New York and Florida. Then the podcast started being downloaded internationally, adding listeners in the U.K., France, Mexico, South Korea, Slovakia and Denmark.

So what’s next? Damien hopes to use “Simply Tax” to tap different audiences and make connections with other CPA firms, law practices and the like so they and their clients are more knowledgeable about prominent tax issues. He’s also become a resource for other groups at BKD who are looking to him and the “Simply Tax” model as they work behind the scenes to develop their own successful podcasts. But Damien’s never lost sight of his original goal.

“I don’t want this to be something that just exists and doesn’t fill a need,” he says. “‘Simply Tax’ is about helping people better understand the tax world. As long as it keeps doing that, we’ll keep making episodes.”

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