How to Break into Podcast Advertising

A crash course for advertisers

By Emily Cooper

The best thing about podcasting is also the most dangerous for advertisers. Podcast hosts and their listeners share a deep, intimate bond during the minutes and hours they spend together; anything that disrupts that personal connection — for example an ad that’s out-of-step with podcasting’s unique tone or style — risks alienating the audience and harming an advertiser’s brand.

My position as the Manager of Copywriting at Megaphone has given me a 10,000-foot view of the podcast advertising process. I’ve spent years as the intermediary between advertisers and hosts. With the influx of brands to the podcast space, I’m here to pass along some of what I’ve learned about how advertisers (and agencies) can better navigate the medium and collaborate effectively with podcast hosts and producers.

Know what style is right for you

First, it’s important to understand the different types of ads in podcasting and figure out which best suits your advertising goals.

Host-Read Spot: This has been the dominant style in podcasting to date. The host(s) of a given show perform the ad, either reading verbatim from a script or ad-libbing part of the spot to match the tone of the show.

Third Party-Read Spot: When done well, this style sounds similar to a host-read spot, but can be used in two situations when host-reads can’t:

1. When the host is prohibited from reading spots, for example because she/he is a journalist;

2. When the spot will be heard across multiple shows, for example with audience-targeting technology

Pre-Produced Spot: Essentially a traditional radio ad, often with music, sound effects, and/or actors. This type of spot can be particularly jarring to podcast listeners, and should be carefully tailored to match the more laid-back, informal style of podcasting. At Megaphone, we have an entire team dedicated to the production of such ads with the goal of creating spots that emulate the understated sound of podcasting while running across hundreds of shows to a targeted audience.

For the rest of this post I’ll be focusing on the first two styles, where the production of your ad is usually in the hands of the podcaster or podcast network. There are several things advertisers can do to ensure the highest-quality ads with the fewest possible mistakes.

Create the right sound for your ad

Direct response (DR) advertisers often opt for ad-libbed host-read ads by providing hosts with talking points that contain just a few required lines, leaving the bulk of the read to the host’s discretion. Brands on the other hand tend to stick to carefully worded scripts that are meant to be read verbatim in order to maintain brand safety.

Both types of reads can be successful provided the sound, tone and language fit the intended audience. Basically, it comes down to whether the copy or talking points you provide are designed to get the best performance out of the talent and the best fit with the medium.

Direct Response (DR) Advertisers: Use your flexibility to your advantage. Having hosts or producers riff on your service or product creates a natural sound and a sense of fun that can work on an individual show or across multiple podcasts. After all, creators know their listeners best, and that relationship imparts authenticity.

Brand Advertisers: The key to making a verbatim-style script engaging comes down to language and voice. Know your target audience and use accessible language that drives engagement for that demographic. If you’re going to produce the spot yourself and use a voiceover artist for the ad read, find a personable voice that can mimic the casual tone of a podcast host to ensure the ad doesn’t sound disjointed within the larger show.

Follow these advertising best practices

Knowing firsthand how difficult it can be for advertisers to familiarize themselves with a new medium, my key piece of advice for those looking to buy podcast inventory is to take time to understand the intimacy of the space. The following steps will help you get there:

1. Listen to the experts. Like traveling into any kind of unknown, it’s good to have a tour guide. Gather feedback and insight from people who have experience in the space. Ask them what makes a good ad before you finalize your creative. Take time to meet with the team who will be producing and running your ad, even if it’s merely a quick kickoff call.

2. Make your expectations known. Your requirements for the person doing the ad read should be crystal clear in the copy, either in the production notes or in the copy itself. You want personal experience or an endorsement in a host read? Make sure the host agreed to that, received their sample, and that it’s marked as “required” in the copy. Do you have certain language you want to avoid? Place it in the copy at the top of the first page in big red letters “DO NOT INCLUDE.” When in doubt, put your instructions in writing.

3. Format in a way that’s easy to read. Every advertiser uses a different format for their ad copy, so at times hosts and producers may feel like they need an Enigma machine just to figure out what you want them to say. Format in a way that makes the read foolproof. Do’s and don’ts should be at the top of the page, followed by a pronunciation guide (if necessary), and then the ad copy itself. All ad copy should ideally be on one page and there should be enough spacing and a large enough font size to make reading it out loud easy. Any extra information about the company or service should be on a following page.

4. For pre-produced spots, use audio made for the medium. If you plan on reusing audio from a previous campaign, it still needs to fit the sound and tone of the podcast space. Radio ads are not the same as podcast ads. Audio from a TV commercial does not transfer well. Consider remaking your old audio to ensure your podcast ads don’t stand out in a bad way.

We’re learning more every day about what makes a great podcast ad, and with the massive growth the industry is experiencing, podcast advertising will continue to evolve. Advertisers who take the time to educate themselves on the medium today will have a leg up on how best to tackle the inevitable industry shifts of the future. Take your first step into podcast advertising by using the below guide to determine the kind of ad that best suits your needs.