How to Nail Your Podcast Ad Reads
A crash course for podcast hosts and producers
By Emily Cooper
Almost everyone I meet who discovers that I work on podcast ads thinks there’s nothing to it. What could be so hard? You have a script, the host records, bing bang boom. It should take five minutes, tops, right?
Wrong. A lot goes into the creation of podcast ads, and getting it right — producing ads that convey a message without wasting the listener’s time — takes experience. As the Manager of Copywriting for Megaphone’s Creative Solutions Team, I help advertisers new to podcasting create spots that fit with the unique sound of the medium. I’ve worked alongside hosts from all backgrounds, some of the biggest brands, and talented producers on everything from standard host reads to highly-produced branded content. In this role, I’ve been an advocate for show hosts and producers as well as for the advertiser. “Podcast ad mediator” should be on my resume.
And as someone who’s seen nearly everything that can go wrong when producing ads, I’m here to offer some advice to podcasters about how to get it right the first time.
While podcast ads are evolving, and in fact Megaphone is focused on spots that can run across a wide variety of shows, the sound that defines our industry is the venerable host-read ad. While normally these reads run without a hitch, hosts new to the process face a learning curve, and even experienced podcasters can make basic mistakes. Mistakes lead to an email with the most dreaded four words in podcasting: “We need a makegood…” That means the advertiser wasn’t satisfied, and they want you to give them a free spot to make up for the error. That costs you money, and wastes everyone’s time.
Know the types of podcast advertisers
To understand the game, it’s important to know the players, and in podcasting that means two heavy hitters: Direct response (DR) and brand advertisers.
Direct Response (DR) ads include a “Call to Action” that urges listeners to try their product, and normally include a custom URL or promo code for a discount or special offer. Examples include Casper, Blue Apron, and Stamps.com.
Brand ads have a different goal. It’s less to drive listeners toward a specific action and more to build an ongoing relationship with listeners. They want you to remember them and know who they are, and that brand awareness is key to their long-term success. Starbucks, Sonos, and Lufthansa are just a few of the brands that have made their presence known in the podcast space, and we’re starting to see more brands making the leap to podcasting, both with ads and branded content.
It’s also important to note that “host-read” does not mean “baked-in.” Many of the host-read ads you hear today are dynamically inserted, and you might be asked to replace them with new host-read ads weeks or even years after you record an episode.
Follow these best practices to nail your ad reads
Whether you’re reading a DR or a brand ad, whether it’s for a single show or meant to be heard across a network, the most important piece of advice is to plan ahead. It doesn’t matter how off-the-cuff your show is. Advertisers may want to capture your breezy style, but they mostly want you to get the key parts of their message right. Specifically:
- Make sure the advertiser has everything they need from you. This is particularly relevant if you’re running DR ads that require you to sample a product or service and then include your personal experience in your read. The advertiser will generally need your shipping information and your product preference (if there are options to choose from). Send this info to advertisers as far in advance as possible so that they have time to send you the product and troubleshoot any issues if need be. You don’t want that test mattress showing up on your doorstep the day after you’ve recorded a mattress spot.
- Ask questions before recording. Advertisers don’t want to receive an urgent email that reads “I’m in the studio right now, so I need an answer in the next ten minutes.” If you have questions about an ad, the time to ask them is hours, or preferably days, before you’re sitting in front of the microphone. Try to get your ad copy at least a week in advance and review it as soon as you get it.
- Give your old episodes a listen. If an advertiser wants to insert ads on shows in your back catalogue, it’s good practice to listen to some of your past episodes where the ad will run. Your episodes from three years ago may sound a lot different from your episodes today, and reviewing your archive will ensure the ad you record today doesn’t sound disjointed. With the huge uptick of dynamically inserted ads, requests for back catalogue campaigns and refreshed creative for long-running campaigns are only going to increase, so hitting the right tone on these spots will prove to advertisers that you’re ready and able to handle the shifting landscape.
- Double-check to make sure you’ve hit all the required points in real time. Whether it’s a producer, a co-host, or even yourself, you should always have someone checking your ad read against the copy while you’re recording. Make sure you follow the advertiser’s instructions to the letter. If the advertiser marks something as required, include it in your read verbatim. Missing a required point may be grounds for a makegood, so you should always double-check that you’ve hit everything before uploading your ad.
- Lastly…have fun! Your listeners come to your show for you, so bring as much of yourself to your ad read as possible.
While not a guarantee that you’ll never receive a request for a makegood, following these steps is a great way to minimize mistakes. Remember, a lot of people wish they were able to make money doing podcasts — if you’re running ads that means you’re one of the lucky ones. Don’t take that for granted by putting out half-baked ad spots. Put thought and effort into your reads. Your listeners and advertisers will thank you.
Save this cheat sheet for your next ad read!