Behind the Project: “Searching for Salai,” an Award-Winning Podcast

by Katy French

There’s nothing we love more than the chance to stretch our creative wings, push the boundaries of our capabilities, and help our partners tell stories that elevate their brand. Oftentimes, those stories are told through visual content, but every now and then we get a chance to do something totally different.

Hence, when SAP asked us to help them with a new project to raise awareness about their latest technology, we found a creative solution that let us explore an exciting medium. Today, we’re giving you a behind-the-scenes look at that project: Searching for Salai, an award-winning podcast that started as a seedling and grew to become a story unlike any we’ve told. 

searching for salai SAP column five

The Ask

SAP is a global company that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations, and they have been longtime partners of C5. We started working with them back in 2012, and have helped them create infographics and video content to support their brand. But with the advent of SAP Leonardo (an SAP branch focused on putting intelligent technologies like blockchain and IOT to use in businesses), they were looking for a different way to bring awareness to the platform through fresh, creative storytelling. 

Specifically, they were looking to tell a story that would explain how their technology fits into the lives of everyday people. Often the cultural narrative around tech is that it culminates in a dystopian future. But SAP wanted to do something to build awareness about how technology (like SAP Leonardo) can benefit our personal and professional lives. We loved that angle and were happy to help them tell that story.

The Idea

Luckily, the SAP team already had a vision for how to tell that story. Inspired by GE’s The Message podcast, they were interested in creating a podcast series that would tell a fictional narrative based on the themes of tech and humanity. This would help SAP build a stronger connection with listeners while reinforcing the brand’s core messaging—a win-win.

We saw this as a huge opportunity. Podcasts have become a powerful presence in our everyday lives for good reason: They’re an effective, easy-to-consume way to deliver a compelling narrative. Because of this, we’d already been looking for an opportunity to expand our podcasting capabilities, so this project was the perfect fit.

Thus, we spent the next 9 months discussing creative direction and format with the SAP team while they worked diligently to get the green light from their side.

Once approved, we were ready to build out our audio capabilities, craft a narrative, and produce what became Searching for Salai, a 9-part podcast series.

The Execution

As this was our first foray into podcasting, we knew we’d need reinforcements to help us produce the series. We first turned to Writer/Director Holt Bailey, who had a vision for the project as an audio-first format. 

We could have brought in a director who focuses on video, or gone for a writer with a theatrical background, but we wanted a partner who could see the story through from end-to-end. Of course, while production would be one thing, finding the right story was crucial. 

The Story

Per SAP’s inspiration, we needed a narrative to explore the themes of technology and humanity, told through interesting characters and a strong storyline. Hence, Holt worked his magic and came up with the story for Searching for Salai. 

The synopsis: Art history buff and podcaster Charlotte Warburton decides to investigate what seems to be a tall tale of time travel. Jack Finney, the story’s architect, claims to be the long-time apprentice of Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Salaì. What starts as a light-hearted interview turns into a tangled investigation that challenges Charlotte’s heart and mind. Jack’s stories can be explained through technology, real-life theories of time travel, and documented events in history. He claims he has traveled to this time to teach how innovation can happen when technology, people, and data are combined. Charlotte takes her listeners on an exploration of Jack’s psyche, and gains quite a bit of self-discovery throughout the process.

If you’re not already intrigued, check out the trailer.

As we wanted the story to appeal to a large range of listeners, including both those on the tech/B2B side and consumer side, we felt this narrative had the elements necessary to draw people in. Additionally, we decided to tell the story in 15-minute segments, so that people could consume it on a lunch break, short commute, or a daily walk. Besides, who isn’t interested in time travel, history, and mystery combined?

It was a detailed and ambitious story, requiring the voice actors and production team to pull it off. Luckily, our crew was up to the task. 

The Production

With the narrative locked, we faced the challenge of telling an audio-only story, outside our normal capabilities. Hence, we also called in a technical producer, 2 PAs, 12-person cast, 3-person sound design/editing crew, and a composer for a custom score.  

Simultaneously, our design team worked to create all the visual assets necessary to promote the podcast. In the end, we produced the finished podcast, cover art, and podcast visual identity, as well as supporting content.

To see all the team’s awesome work, check out this behind-the-scenes featurette: 

Needless to say, we are incredibly proud of the final result, and we encourage you listen to the entire series when you have a chance. You can check out episodes on the website, or listen on iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify.

We also want to thank our awesome team, including Writer/Director Holt Bailey, Sound Designer and Composer Jordan Tani, Podcast Producer Alex Stein, as well as the C5 team: Senior Producer and Strategist Megan Lieberman, Director of Strategy Asher Rumack, Designer Jenny Famularcano, and Account Director Jeremy Fetters.

The Results

While doing new things has its challenges, we always find it’s worth it to take a risk. (As Nelson Mandela said, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.”) With the support of our awesome crew and the vision of a great director, our hard work paid off. We were honored to win both “Best Podcast/Audio Series” and “Content Marketing Project of the Year” for the Content Marketing Institute’s Content Marketing Awards. 

But above all, we’re most grateful for the creative energy, commitment, and enthusiasm of our entire team, including our partners at SAP. We never take our work for granted, and we’re lucky to get to do what we do each day. 

We’re also happy to help any brand tell its story. If you’re interested in more of our work:

And if you’re looking for a creative partner, let’s talk. 

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