Should I Sponsor a Podcast?
If you run a business, you've probably been asked about advertising before.
You might've heard from people who wanted you to place an ad in a newspaper or magazine, or on the radio, or even on the back of a bus.
Many a business has plowed thousands of pounds into those types of traditional advertising and, thanks to a lack of planning, tracking or strategy, lost a fair chunk of money.
But what I can tell you is that podcast advertising does work. And, if done correctly, can work really well.
So whether you've been invited to sponsor a podcast, or want to research some new advertising methods, here are the answers to all your questions…
What's Different About Podcast Advertising?
Podcasts can be highly targeted. In fact, most are.
A podcast's core audience will subscribe to the show, and have often listened to every single word the host has ever said.
A trade magazine might be ultra-niche, but many readers will still skim certain sections that are obviously adverts.
In audio, that's much less likely.
A podcast's core audience knows the host well. They like them, they trust them, and they turn up every episode to hear from them.
But that alone isn't necessarily enough for an advert to work.
What Makes an Effective Podcast Advert?
Because podcasting and radio are both audio, you might imagine your own ad being very similar to the kind you've heard on the radio.
Though this is an option, it's far from the best one.
In order to fully benefit from the host's relationship with their audience, a host-read message is a lot more likely to cause listeners to take action.
Host-read messages – if done well – aren't breaks in the show's content. They're a part of it.
A key factor here is that the advertiser/product and the show topic/ethos are a good fit for each other. The podcast host must fully endorse what they're selling to their audience.
If the host uses your product or service, they can build a short story around it. They can tell their audience why they started using it, the benefits they received from it, and why they recommend it.
That's much better than a random voice-over, jumping in to hurl a slew of details at the listener and offering little more than an annoying interruption.
Do Download Numbers Matter?
With newspaper, TV, and radio advertising you'll hear figures in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Sometimes even millions.
Many potential podcast advertisers write-off the medium because listener figures are often in the hundreds, or low thousands.
Again, though, this comes down to engagement rather than sheer volume of numbers.
What percentage of the 40,000 local radio listeners care about the content in your average advert? What percentage of this number is that ad even relevant to?
But if you have a podcast with 200 hardcore listeners on (for example) the subject of keeping pet rats, and the host is talking about a particular rat food they use for their pets, how many of the audience will be interested to find out why?
Numbers Vs Engagement
We need to get past the idea that a bigger audience is always better. It's not a case of how many, it's a case of who.
If you're a wedding planner, would you rather reach 50k people who aren't getting married, or 50 who are?
What does it actually mean to say a podcast gets a certain amount of downloads?
The easiest way to do this is on a downloads-per-episode basis, and in the period of 30 days following that episode's release.
So if I tell you that my podcast gets 2000 downloads, that means after I release a new episode, it'll be downloaded around 2000 times within the first month.
My all-time number of downloads (counting every episode ever released) might be 500,000, and I might be getting 300 total downloads per day. But these don't mean much to you if you're paying to sponsor the next 4 episodes.
What is a Download?
Media hosts (the services we use to upload episodes to) will generally clock up a download each time there's a request for a file. A “file” being an episode of the show.
That might be someone downloading the episode, and listening to the entire thing. Or it might be someone hitting play in their web browser for 5 seconds. Both will register as a “download”.
Are Download Numbers Unreliable?
So couldn't a particularly dishonest podcaster find multiple ways to vastly inflate their numbers?
Unfortunately there are rare occasions of this happening, yes. But the overwhelming majority of podcasters are honest, passionate, and hard working people. People who value their integrity and their audience above all else.
If you want to make money scamming someone, I'm sure there are a lot of quicker and easier options than running a crooked podcast.
But to put your mind at rest, I'd advise putting more emphasis on engagement metrics than download numbers anyway.
We'll talk about tracking results and engagement shortly. But, here's a final thought on the reliability of download metrics.
How many of your local radio station's “40,000 listeners” are just jumping in the car for 5 minutes here and there?
How many of your local newspaper's “3000 readers” are reading every word or every advert on a page full of adverts?
I'm not saying that advertising on traditional mediums doesn't work. My point is simply that no system is perfect, and that we need to look beyond the numbers when evaluating any return on an advertising investment.
How Long Would I Need to Commit to a Podcast Sponsorship?
If you decide to go ahead and sponsor a podcast, you should agree with the host on how long it'll run for.
You might agree to try an initial 4 episodes, then review your arrangement before deciding on doing more.
And although you might only pay for 4 episodes, these episodes generally don't vanish once they're published. They can still be being downloaded 10 years from now, as new listeners discover the podcast and binge its back catalogue.
That's a long time since your newspaper ad ended up as a chip shop wrapper, or your local radio ad slot finished!
How Much Does it Cost to Sponsor a Podcast?
Again, if you're working directly with a podcaster, and not through any middleman, then it's simply a case of agreeing on a price that works for both.
Some podcasters with big download numbers are happy with the classic CPM (cost per mille) model. That often translates to an ad slot cost of around $20 to $25 per 1000 downloads (per episode, after 30 days of its release).
However, many podcasters will be keen to hammer out an agreement that looks beyond simple numbers. Engagement can be far more important, as we've covered already.
I gave the example of the pet rat podcaster with a core audience of 200 highly engaged listeners.
If you're a pet supply company creating products for small animals, this would be a perfect opportunity to get in front of those listeners and build a relationship with them.
It's extremely unlikely that's going to happen for $5 per episode though – it's just not worthwhile for the podcaster, and doesn't reflect the highly targetted nature of that audience. A much more realistic figure might be $30 to $50 per episode.
But as I've said, this is dependent on so many different factors, and it's entirely up to the business and the podcaster to come to an agreement.
There's absolutely no one-size-fits-all answer here.
Another Pricing Factor
The positioning of your advert in a podcast episode can also be a factor in the pricing.
There are 3 categories of ad positioning in podcasting.
- Pre-roll – a 15 second ad at the start of the show, usually before the main topic of the episode has begun.
- Mid-roll – a 1 minute ad in the middle of the show, or in the middle of the main topic discussion.
- Post-roll – a short ad at the end of the show, usually after the main topic has ended.
As you'll have guessed, a mid-roll ad is generally the most sought-after spot, and thus tends to be the most expensive.
And with the risk of many listeners switching off after the main topic of an episode, the post-roll spot is the least appealing.
There are trends rather than rules though. There's an argument that a show's most elite and fanatical listeners are the ones who always make it right to the end. So a post-roll campaign over multiple episodes could work really well, and at a much lower cost!
How Do I Track Results?
Just as you don't want to waste your money, a good podcast host won't want to waste their listener's time either.
There are a few ways you and the host can monitor how effective the sponsorship is for both parties.
- Tracking clicks – you can use tools like PrettyLink to create memorable URLs to be read out on the show. For example, yourbusiness.com/podcastname. This way you get an idea of how many listeners are checking you out.
- Dedicated website section traffic – you can create a specific page or section of your site tailored to listeners of the podcast. You might try asking the podcaster to list their 5 favourite products, or similar.
- Coupon codes – you can provide listeners with a coupon code that gives them a % discount at checkout. If you go down this route you may offer the option to pay a lower per-episode fee to the podcaster that's incentivised with commission from these sales.
A Model Example
It's all very well telling you this stuff, but I always like to provide examples of things working in practice.
So here's a podcast that I think pulls of sponsorship and advertising flawlessly. It's called The Model Health Show.
The host, Shawn Stevenson, has built an army of dedicated listeners over the course of his 250+ episodes.
He's sourced sponsorship from the makers of many of the products he uses himself. From food and supplements, to gym equipment.
I'd encourage you to listen to the first 8 minutes of episode 242 for a texbook example of integrating an ad into a show's content.
This isn't an 8 minute long advert. It's just so well done that it's hard to notice an ad has actually started. And yet, it puts the message across far better than any old-fashioned interruption style advertising would.
I also mentioned dedicated website sections, host recommendations, and coupon codes. One of the show sponsors is Four Sigmatic and this is an excellent example of where listeners are being pointed to.
This is an arrangement where the podcaster, the sponsor, and the audience are all benefiting from every aspect of the agreement.
Sponsoring Fiction Podcasts
There's a great opportunities to be found in sponsoring fiction podcasts or audio dramas too. These shows tend to have really hardcore, fanatical followings.
Again though, just dropping a pre-recorded advert into an episode is never going to take advantage of that.
Some of the best adverts I've heard in podcasts have been on fictional shows, because the makers can get really creative with them. They can build them right into the story world.
In Wooden Overcoats (a sitcom following the antics of two rival funeral directors) you'll hear some outstanding examples of their Bruno Mattress commercials. Check out the opening few minutes in Season 2, episodes 2, 3, and 4.
With fiction podcasts, it's obviously a little harder to nail down listener interests and demographics. But producers tend to know their audiences well, and a quick chat with them will help establish whether or not you're a good fit for each other.
Finding a Podcast That Fits Your Business
So what if you're won over to the idea of sponsoring a podcast, but aren't sure where to find the right show?
Well, there are companies like Midroll and the JK Media Agency who can get you in the game by finding shows for you. If you're really busy, and don't have any time to dedicate to this, then that might be the best option.
Or you can set out on your own to find the perfect partner.
Doing Your Own Research
A great starting point is to search for shows around your own topic and taking a listen. You'll find good ones and bad ones, but you'll know it when you find one that suits your compay's style.
So how do you start looking?
Take the target audience/customer of your business (hopefully you know this!), and one of their most frequently asked questions.
To return to our pet rat podcast example, if you're the pet supply company, you might type “best pet rat bedding” into your podcast ap's search function.
The episodes/shows that come up in your results – there's your starting point.
What to Look For
Before listening, check the date of the last episode the podcast released. If it was over a year ago, that's probably a no-go.
If it's been a while since the podcast released a show, they might be podcasting in seasons, and be on a season break. If they're well organised they'll have clearly mentioned this in their title, shownotes, or at the end of their last episode.
If the show has put out something in the past month then that's enough to warrant further investigation. Here's some other things to consider…
- How frequently do they release episodes? Consistently weekly or bi-weekly is an encouraging sign.
- Do they run any ads already? This can make the process a lot smoother.
- Does the overall tone and vibe of the show sound good to you? Is it something you'd happily be associated with?
If you find a podcast that you'd be interested in talking to, then go ahead and reach out to them. Most shows include contact details, either social or email, so that listeners can get in touch. The chances are they'd be delighted to have a chat about potentially monetising their show.
And by all means, share this article with them too. If they're new to sponsorship then it'll hopefully act as a good agenda for you both to talk through.
An Alternative to Podcast Sponsorship
Rather than sponsoring a pre-existing podcast, you could always consider starting your own instead. Branded shows work wonders for growing an audience around a product, a service or a entire company. There's nothing more effective for growing trust and credibility than a podcast, right now.
If that's something that might interest you, check out our free ebook: Why Your Business Needs a Podcast.
And, if you're won over to the idea, then we also have a free step by step guide to planning and a launching a podcast.