The Writers Guild of America Audio Alliance recently held a moderated discussion about how to pitch your podcast to a network. Podcast consultants GG Hawkins and Kate Downey have a lot of experience with professional podcast networks, film, and TV and know what makes a podcast pitch sink or swim. The discussion’s ambiguity about who to pitch to, though, brought up more questions than answers.
Many attendees wanted to know “how to get an IP” and “how to take advantage of the podcast to tv pipeline.” The blurry area between podcasts, video streaming content, and network or cable television makes some people think they see dollar signs. It made me want to clarify why I’d want to be part of a network. Many podcasters don’t want to be part of a network because they want to be able to take full charge of their content.
However, the actions that Hawkins and Downey recommend in order to pitch your podcast to a network are helpful, even if you never pitch to anyone. Tasks like making a pitch deck or refining your goals will give you perspective on your podcast, help with monetization and promotion, and help you take action to grow your podcast.
What Can a Podcast Network Do for You and Your Show?
A network can provide structure and support. For example, they can:
- Provide cross-promotion opportunities, such as trailer swaps.
- Hire someone to provide services for multiple shows in their network (i.e., PR, editing, transcripts, or show notes), so quality and branding are consistent.
- Help you find interview guests, voice artists, and/or other collaborators.
- Provide support with contracts and legal issues.
- Purchase media hosting in bulk.
- Negotiate for ad space and sponsorship in bulk. This way, an advertiser isn’t only looking at your download numbers when deciding whether to advertise on your show. They’re looking at some or all of the shows in your network and those combined downloads.
- Provide emotional support, camaraderie, and solidarity.
Plus, they can give you some brand recognition and credibility. If your podcast is on the same network as other podcasts with a good reputation, being able to say that you share that network makes you seem better by association.
Notice that I said they “can” do any of these things. Depending on the network, they may do some or all of them. They can also require a percentage of your ad revenue in exchange for these services, which may or may not be favorable. They may even make promises and not fulfill them. Some podcast networks make a point of stressing that their network’s creators retain the original copyright. This tells me that some networks don’t.
Before you join a podcast network, treat it like a job interview. Find out the benefits, how they communicate, what they’re going to do for you, and how they’ll do it.
Before Your Pitch Your Podcast, Focus On Your Goals.
Obviously, you need to know what you expect to get out of your relationship with a podcast network before you pitch. A common misconception is that once a network accepts your podcast, you have “made it” and now have your dream job of being rich and famous. If you know your goals, you can find out what pitching your podcast to a network can do to help you reach them. Your pitch goal, your podcast’s goal, and your personal goal are separate things.
Hawkins and Downey challenged the participants to think about their goals in these terms:
- Horizon Goal or your “sky’s the limit” goal. For example, Kate Downey suggested, “to work with comedians to create audio content that helps women reach their goals, with a sense of humor.”
- Project Goal, or your goals for this podcast and pitch. For example, if I were to pitch a podcast to Grim & Mild, my goal would be to write a series of interconnected audio drama horror stories set in a particular historic location in an area I know well, launching in six to eight months. It’s not about me, and it’s not about podcasting in general, it’s about this particular podcast.
- Personal Goal: This is where you think about what you need to get out of this. It can be as general as “self-esteem” and as specific as “getting paid $1400 a week after taxes.” This is about you, not altruism or podcasting.
Think about SMART goals; specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. Once you have these goals explained in detail, you can determine what tools you need to craft your pitch.
How Should You Pitch Your Podcast To A Network?
Like when you pitch your podcast to a journalist, feed the tiger what it wants. You wouldn’t pitch a cooking podcast to a sports network and vice versa. Unless your podcast is about professional athletes cooking, which sounds like a good idea, and you should pitch that.
GG & Kate put the pitching process in dating terms. “What’s the goal of a first date? Have it be good and get a second date. A pitch meeting gets you the next meeting. It gets you an advocate.” They also said, “Don’t expect anything to get sold in the room.”
Plan When to Pitch Your Podcast
Networks have busy production schedules and only devote part of their year to new pitches. So, get on their mailing lists. Also, get on the mailing lists for conferences and festivals with pitch events.
There’s a little overlap in the audio, TV, and film worlds, so a few film conferences host pitch events for podcasters. The Tribeca Creators Market is one that Hawkins and Downey mentioned. Another is The Gotham Project Market. Film events make space for podcasting under a wide umbrella called “audio storytelling.” This could be anything from narrative nonfiction newsy podcasts that sound like This American Life to audio fiction podcasts like Limetown. Take time to consume some of the work they are already proud of supporting, to get a feel for what’s appropriate to the situation. Again, feed the tiger what it wants.
Pitch markets can be like speed dating but worse. It’s crowded and distracting, and people don’t have enough time to get to know you or your project immediately. Be prepared with a copy of your media kit. All you can expect is to exchange info and hope to move on to the next step.
Research Podcast Networks
If you know what kind of podcast network you want to work with, look it up. Check their website’s About page or FAQ, and find out if they have a form to fill out or a way to pitch to them. Not only this, but find out if they’re not accepting pitches.
Find out what the network’s goals are. Whether they have a mission statement or a story, learn what they’re interested in and what they want to do next. For example, on Maximum Fun’s About page, the company description mentions, “one key aspect that remained central was the incredibly intelligent, passionate, and compassionate audience at the core of the work” and “a spirit of love and generosity.” The Daily Wire describes itself as “something unique in the right-of-center media landscape — a truly for-profit business with an emphasis on distribution and marketing.” PRX says they’re “shaping the future of audio by building technology, training talented producers, and connecting them with supportive listeners.” If your goals and values don’t match theirs, they probably won’t accept your podcast, and if they do, you won’t be happy in the long run.
This is where the goals you established earlier come into play.
How Not To Pitch Your Podcast
A mistake people make often enough that it’s worthy of note is to try to pitch to a network or a person on social media. Sometimes it’s in direct messages; sometimes, it’s in comments on a post. Don’t ever do this. If you pitch to a network on the podcast network’s official social media posts, your comment can get lost. Also, whoever monitors that social media account most likely has nothing to do with pitches. Pitching your podcast to a person’s social media account is the equivalent of walking up to them while they’re relaxing and conversing with friends and trying to shove your media kit into their hands while saying, “Please do extra work on my behalf on your personal time.”
Introduce your Podcast and Yourself
If there isn’t a form to fill out, send a cold email. Tell them who you are and what your podcast is.
Ask to send materials, such as your podcast’s media kit, pitch deck, and trailer.
What’s a pitch deck? It’s like a media kit but cuter. It’s a PowerPoint or slide deck of images and short, relevant information.
Again, the goal is to get a meeting, build the initial relationship, and find an advocate for your podcast. The next stage is individual meetings over Zoom so they can get to know you and your work, so word your email accordingly.
If you don’t get a response immediately, follow up about a week and a half later with something that makes the connection register for them.
Your Pitch Meeting
Your pitch meeting is essentially a job interview. It’ll usually be conducted over Zoom or a similar conference call tool. Dress professionally, and be ready to go over details in your materials with them. Essentially, what you’re there to discuss is how you and your podcast can help the podcast network meet its goals.
- Your podcast’s description
- What kind of audience it’s for
- How many downloads do you get, and where
- How it fits with the podcast network’s mission.
It helps to have your notes and materials on the screen so you don’t have to look down. Hawkins and Downey suggested using teleprompter software, such as PowerPrompter, which has a 30-day free trial.
Hawkins and Downey swear by getting a ring light. I thought this was superfluous at first. Then I realized that my office lighting looks great for me and was dark and blurry on camera. You don’t have to do this, but you want to ensure they can see you clearly. A ring light is a lot easier and cheaper than a lighting rig.
Afterward, take note of how your meeting went. Some people keep a spreadsheet or a planner journal. Record who you spoke with, what information was relevant, and your gut feeling about how the meeting went.
Downey said, “Don’t expect anything to get sold in the first meeting or even the second.” If they’re interested, they’ll contact you.
Again, follow up about a week and a half later, and mention something that helps them remember the meeting (they probably have many). If a connection came up in small talk during the meeting (i.e., “we met at PodCon2 in 2018, I was wearing a blue jacket, and you were wearing an orange shirt” or “we both went to the same university”), mention it.
Respect the person’s time and workload. If you don’t get a response, don’t take it personally; it’s simply not a good fit.
What If They Say No, Or Don’t Respond?
Rejection happens; it’s part of the process. Maybe your show and this network don’t go together like milk and cookies. You might never hear from them; it’s possible that the person you met has a mountain of tasks on their desk. Take note of this, and move forward. When you have good news about your podcast in the future (i.e., “our podcast just won a Webby award” or “we just passed 4 million downloads”), let them know, as long as it’s relevant to your pitch. Additionally, be glad that you didn’t dunk your podcast cookie in the wrong beverage.
What If They Say Yes?
Revisit the goals you crafted at the beginning and the network’s mission statement. Read your contract thoroughly and make sure you’re getting what you need to meet the goals you want. Pat yourself on the back, and get to work!
Should You Pitch Your Podcast to a Network?
You’re the content provider, and they’re the content hub. Their goal is to sustain their business, no matter what content is in it or how healthy the content providers are. You’re manufacturing a product for them to distribute. They make the rules.
If a podcast network tells you that you have to have six ads per episode and you get to keep 20% of the ad revenue, is that what you want? They may give you a lot in exchange for that 80% cut. Maybe they provide a full slate of professional promotion services, including billboards in Times Square and Piccadilly Circus. Maybe they’ll do all of your post-production services for you. Or, maybe this isn’t a relationship that helps you and your show thrive.
A network can do a lot for podcast creators. Creative collaboration, camaraderie, and new ideas on production leads can go a long way. But it’s important to get your agreements in writing and make sure that everyone has a common understanding of what to give and take.
Lisette Alvarez of Stormfire Productions also attended the WGA Audio Alliance pitch seminar, and I asked them for their reaction. They said, “the session clarified, for me, how to be a little clearer and break down my own strategy for podcast pitching and production. The concept of “horizon vs. personal vs. project goals” was helpful. Because the industry is still a bit Wild West…I think that means it is more important than ever to have a team and a network of support.”
Alvarez further clarified that they “would have liked to hear more about tactics for indies to pitch to investors rather than production companies.” I wholeheartedly agree.
Want to Pitch Your Podcast to a Network?
If you want to pitch your podcast to a network, here are a few with pitch information on their websites.
- Maximum Fun: Their tagline is “comedy and culture,” so if your podcast fits that bill, their pitch information is in their FAQ.
- Wondery has a link to submit content partnership inquiries.
- PRX takes on new content via a process called PRX Remix.
- Wireless Theatre Company explains its audio drama script submission policies and process in detail.
- Fable & Folly has an application process to join their network.
Whatever you choose to do, the strategies that GG Hawkins and Kate Downey outlined will definitely help you clarify your goals as a podcaster and how you plan to achieve them.