12 lessons I learned from doing 20+ podcast interviews in 4 months

Tim Soulo (CMO @ Ahrefs)
The Startup
Published in
13 min readJul 16, 2019

One of my goals for 2019 was to appear as a guest on 20+ different podcasts related to marketing and online business.

Which I ended up completing roughly 4 months in:

Disclaimer: my new YouTube channel looks like a total failure so far. At least I already have the first episode scheduled for publishing… more to come real soon ;)

When I told fellow marketers about this particular goal, they all wanted to know how it went and what the outcome was.

So I figured it would be a great topic for one of my Medium rants.

Not to mention, some of these interviews were quite challenging to land…like this particular one with Omer Khan, the host of the SaaS podcast, who clearly wasn’t excited to interview me when I initially reached out:

After some back and forth, I finally managed to persuade Omer to have me as a guest on his show. And I believe that this ended up being one of the best episodes I’ve done this year.

Interested in what I’ve learned from doing this over 20 times?

Read on!

1. Podcasts are about exposure over everything else

Tim, what do you get out of these podcast interviews?

Seriously, I can’t keep track of the number of times that I’ve been asked this.

Everyone wants to know the tangibles: how many new leads did you get? How many new Twitter followers, new LinkedIn requests, new business connections, so on and so forth?

But personally, I see podcasts as an easy way to get brand exposure — both for our company (Ahrefs) and myself.

The total time commitment is roughly 2 hours per episode: 1 hour for the actual interview recording and an additional hour for correspondence before and after the episode.

In exchange, you get to put yourself (your ideas, your product, your business) in front of thousands of potential customers.

But don’t get me wrong here. When I say “potential customer”, I don’t mean that I’m looking to make a sale right there and then.

Have you heard of the Mere Exposure Effect?

“The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.”

My goal is to imprint both our company and my personal brand in the minds of the listeners and form a positive association. Eventually, when faced with a choice, these people will go with us.

We are already spending tens of thousands of dollars on a few minute-long sponsored messages in different podcasts for the sake of exposure across relevant audiences.

Make sure to learn from our experience spending $50k on podcast advertising, if you haven’t done so already.

But compared to these “paid ad reads”, my interview appearances are free and give me drastically more time to talk about our product.

This is how I get the impression that the ROI of spending my time on that “marketing channel” is quite decent.

Not a fan of arbitrary “exposure”?

I’m happy to talk about leads too.

2. Podcasts are terrible for direct lead generation

When I initially tested out podcasts as a marketing channel, I wanted to study it by the book. So for our first round of podcast sponsorships, we created a dedicated landing page and exclusive deal for each podcast, trackable via unique URL.

Long story short, the CAC value turned out to be so high that I decided we’d never sponsor any podcast ever again.

But a few people that I later met at conferences told me that they heard about Ahrefs on their favourite podcast. For existing customers, these ads further strengthened the affinity they had for the Ahrefs brand, while those hearing about us for the first time made a mental note about our tools.

And that’s when I realized that “mere exposure effect” side of it.

I also started to observe my own habits and noticed that I tend to listen to podcasts when I’m far away from the keyboard. So no matter how alluring the call-to-action is, I’m extremely unlikely to follow through right at that moment.

Plus, I often explore topics that are not my highest priority at the moment. So while I’m generally interested in what is being pitched, I’m not ready to take action yet. But I do make a mental (or physical) note about the solution anyway.

In other words, think twice before you use podcasts (whether via sponsoring or getting interviewed) for direct lead generation because the results will likely disappoint you.

At least, that’s how it went for our experience.

3. But you WILL get some leads from your podcast interviews

We ask all new customers at Ahrefs to tell us where they learned about us.

We pull these form submissions into a dedicated Slack channel, so a quick search for the word “podcast” reveals that we do get leads from podcasts quite consistently.

606 leads doesn’t seem like much, but note that this only counts people who were willing to mention that they learned about our company from podcasts in general. I’m sure many people didn’t bother doing that. Also, many people chose to quote the name of the podcast or podcast host directly, which means that they cannot be found when searching for the word “podcast” on its own.

Another caveat is that this number also includes leads coming from our sponsored ads and from organic mentions (the ones we didn’t pay for) on different podcasts, not just my interviews.

But I know for sure that my podcast interviews do result in some leads and customers for our software because I often get messages like this one on Facebook and LinkedIn:

4. Podcast interviews will help you grow your social following

Ever since I started doing podcast interviews, I get LinkedIn requests like these quite consistently.

I also noticed that my Twitter following is growing much faster than it used to.

But why do I need a big social following anyway, you ask?

The answer to that question could be a Medium rant on its own. So for now, let’s just consider this as a nice additional perk of doing podcast interviews.

5. Try to listen to at least one episode of the podcast that you’re pitching yourself to

I won’t pretend to be some kind of productivity guru and claim that I’ve listened to each podcast that I’ve pitched myself to, but I sure tried my best.

There are lots of perks from doing that:

  1. Crafting a more personalized outreach email since you’ll be able to genuinely compliment the host on the episodes or ideas that you enjoyed.
  2. Easily come up with a list of topics to discuss based on the content of the past episodes.
  3. You will be able to reference the previous episodes during your interview, which not only helps the host to funnel their new listeners to past episodes, but also helps you establish a stronger rapport with the host as well as his listeners (you are one of them).
  4. You will simply know the style/format of the interview and be better prepared for what’s coming.

Oh, and you’re actually going to learn a ton of great stuff from super smart people. With some podcasts, I ended up listening to 10+ episodes, because I enjoyed them so much.

Think you don’t have time for that?

My total office commute time is roughly an hour a day. Assuming the average podcast episode length of 40 minutes, that’s 1.5 episodes per day. I also have lunch with my headphones plugged in from time to time, which lets me listen through one more full episode per day.

Even if you don’t plan to pitch yourself to any podcasts in your industry, listening to them might be a pretty good way to make the most of your time.

6. Avoid cold outreach if possible

Here’s what NOT to do if you want to land podcast interview: after compiling a list of relevant podcasts, send them all an email template bragging about how awesome a guest you’d be for their show.

Instead, I researched each podcast and skimmed through past episodes to see if anybody I personally knew had been featured there. If I saw any, I immediately reached out to them and asked for an introduction.

Something else I discovered along the way: if I saw an acquaintance featured in a podcast, I’d start digging into which other podcast interviews they’d done. This way, I could then ask them to shoot me a few introductions in one go.

7. Use sponsorships to get your foot in the door

Most podcast hosts have very strict rules which state that you can’t simply pay your way to being a guest on their show. But at least sponsorship helps you to establish that initial connection with the podcast host. Once that is settled you can offer them a “discovery call,” which gives you a chance to persuade them that you’ll be a great guest.

Fair warning: When you land that discovery call, never pressure the host to have you as their guest. And God forbid you mention sponsorship as an excuse for getting interviewed. This will do nothing but ruin your relationship with that person.

Many of my friends were very surprised that I got interviewed on Pat Flynn’s podcast.

Well, this happened as a combination of the two above approaches. I first asked for an introduction from a mutual friend, because we were looking to become sponsors of Pat’s podcast. And while we were on a Skype call with Pat polishing the sponsorship details, I suggested an idea of a podcast episode on the “basics of SEO,” because I knew he had just one episode on the topic of SEO to date and it was not very good from my POV. That idea resonated with him and I got my interview.

8. Make sure you have some results to show and stories to tell

I know, I know. You’re like DUH…but hear me out.

Hold off your “podcast grand tour” until you’re certain that you have enough cool stuff saved up to guarantee that you’ll be an interesting guest on any show.

I joined Ahrefs as CMO back in 2015, but I only started pitching myself as a podcast guest a whole four years later. All the work I’ve done for Ahrefs in these four years (plus a bunch of achievements before Ahrefs) served as content for my podcast interviews.

Another reason why I often review the past episodes of each podcast and make a note of who their past guests are is to make sure that there is a caliber match in terms of knowledge, experience and accomplishments.

For example, I didn’t even consider pitching myself to Joe Rogan’s podcast. Besides the podcast being irrelevant to our business, the caliber of his guests is in a different league. That guy has interviewed Elon Musk!

9. It’s ok to say the same stuff over and over.. and over.

A lot of people are afraid of repeating themselves. If they share their story on a certain podcast, they stop themselves from pitching it again to any other podcast.

To me, that’s just silly.

Out of the 20+ interviews that I’ve done this year, I’d say that anywhere from 40% to 80% of what I was saying was something I’d already said before. And I never got a single complaint about it — neither from the listeners nor from the podcast hosts themselves.

That’s because the audiences of different podcasts don’t overlap that much. And even when they do, the podcast hosts themselves usually take the initiative to check out your past interviews and make sure their interview with you will be unique.

So don’t worry about rehashing the same stories and the same advice over and over.

In fact, in a podcast interview from Jessica Rhodes, who runs a “podcast booking” agency InterviewConnections (meta, right?) she actually suggested listing all your biggest accomplishments and best stories on a fancy PDF that you can send along with your pitch, making it easier for podcast hosts to decide what they want to talk about with you.

Which actually segues nicely into the next lesson I’ve learned

10. Always suggest a “discovery call”

You can’t really blame podcast hosts if they don’t do any proper research on you before the interview and end up asking generic questions where you fail to shine. At the end of the day, it was you who asked to be a guest on their show, not the other way around.

So it’s your job to help them come up with meaningful questions that will open the gateways to all your best knowledge.

What I’ve noticed after doing 20+ interviews is that whenever we did a “discovery call” a few days prior to the interview, the actual interview turned out vastly better than those without.

That’s why I started offering a 30-minute discovery call every time I pitched myself as a guest.

The agenda is usually along these lines:

  1. I ask them to describe their audience along with their main interests and challenges.
  2. Based on that, I offer a few topics and bring up some relevant stories that I could share during my interview.
  3. I may also refer the host to some past articles I’ve published or interviews that I’ve done to give them more context for our future interview.
  4. And finally, we discuss the “boundaries” of the future conversation and the overall format of the show.

That discovery call clearly adds some extra hustle, but most of the time it’s totally worth it. Especially so if a podcast has a large audience and you want to impress them and make them remember you.

11. Don’t let the lack of speaking experience hold you back

Some people that I’ve talked to about podcast interviews as a marketing strategy told me that it’s not for them because they’re not good at speaking.

Well, for my first ever podcast interview, I asked for a list of the questions a few days in advance and prepared all my answers. I thought I’d take the occasional peek at them during my interview, but I was so stressed that I ended up reading off all my answers, word for word.

This is the part where you expect me to tell you that a few dozen interviews later, I breeze through them like a true superstar.

Sorry to disappoint.

These days, I don’t ask to get questions in advance and I no longer get all stressed out during my interviews — there is that.

But there’s still one huge liability that I struggle to overcome. English is not my native language, and I never lived in an English-speaking country long enough to practice becoming fluent.

So quite often during my interviews, I lack the vocabulary to say what I want to say — which results in all sorts of very awkward sentences. Pretty sure this puts off a fair share of listeners and damages my credibility.

But I prefer to not think about this and focus on the positive things. A lot of people are getting tons of value from my interviews, otherwise I wouldn’t be getting all these new followers on social media.

Plus, some podcast hosts reach out and invite me to be their guest based on these past interviews:

So if English is your native language…you have a huge head start over me and it will work out for you much easier. (Motivated yet?)

12. Got a fancy microphone? Make sure you test it

Before embarking on this journey, I ordered myself a nice (and not very expensive) microphone: the Rode NT-USB (disclaimer: NOT an affiliate link) and started doing interviews right away.

Yet, too many of my interviews still had terrible sound quality because:

  • I was sitting in an empty room with bare walls and a ton of echo;
  • I was speaking too close to the mic;
  • I was speaking too far away from the mic;
  • I didn’t record the track on my end, and Skype (or whatever call software we were using for that particular interview) used a ton of compression that decreased the sound quality.

So via trial and error, I figured out the optimal distance from my mouth to the mic and started recording my side of the audio with Audacity (in case the podcast host was eager to merge two tracks together).

I wish I’d done those tests long before doing a dozen interviews with terrible sound quality.

Bonus: Don’t sell

I know that some people are superstitious about the number 13, so let’s have this as a bonus tip.

Your sole objective as a guest on someone’s podcast is to be interesting and share your unique views with the audience. If you get a chance to mention your business, do it. But if the conversation doesn’t go there, don’t try to shoehorn it in.

Just have a casual conversation and roll with wherever the podcast host leads the conversation. Most of the time, they will throw you a softball or two to talk about your business, so you don’t have to worry about that.

It’s far more likely that people will check out your business if they genuinely enjoyed your interview, as opposed to any direct calls to action they may hear during a dull interview.

Good luck!