How and Why to Sponsor a Podcast
Imagine you are the CMO of a growing, established company. Your job is not easy. You have to get people excited about something that is no longer new but still relatively unknown (you don’t have the advantage of being GE). In 2017, traditional go-to media like print and television falter under pressure from new media online, and it feels like this new media landscape is constantly evolving. Even worse, chances are your CEO doesn’t trust you, with 80% saying they are either unimpressed with or don’t trust their CMOs. Your CEO tasks you to increase revenue 25%. What do you do?
There may be a way out of this trap, though, and it’s with a technology that now touches nearly half of the US population but is still young enough to get a foothold in and dominate a small niche: podcasting. Podcasting has come a long way since the first podcast hit the web in 2003 as Radio Open Source. In 2009, only 9% of Americans listened to podcasts. Today, that number is nearly 40% with 24% of total Americans listening to a podcast monthly. That’s nearly 60 million people.
This presents a unique opportunity for the savvy CMO. The majority of podcasts are run by one-off enthusiasts and sole proprietors of podcasts, many of whom are not committed to running their podcast in the long run. Meanwhile, brands like GE, with GE Podcast Theater, quickly grow and dominate their niche. If you sponsor your own branded podcast, you can still be an early mover in a market that disproportionately rewards consistent, committed action.
Even more, podcast listeners fall into a unique demographic category that is difficult to otherwise capture through sponsored content or advertising.
Podcast listeners are more likely than the average person to be highly educated, earn a high household income, and to be a professional. Even more, effective podcast sponsorship can drive actions on the part of listeners that traditional advertising rarely brings with it. Interestingly enough, they also tend to be younger, meaning that you have the opportunity to capture the ears of younger, more educated, more affluent consumers.
Successful podcasters like Tim Ferriss and Joe Rogan can make or break a brand. Joe Rogan’s show has an entire website dedicated to linking to books mentioned in the podcast and Amazon regularly sells out of products after they’re mentioned on The Tim Ferriss Show.
When it comes to sponsoring existing podcasts, you’re looking at a CPM of anywhere from $25–100 for a slot on a top 50 podcast with high conversion rates. There are some pros and cons of sponsoring an existing podcast.
- Requires less setup work and time on your part.
- Comes with a guaranteed, existing audience.
- Should give you baseline expectations for conversion rates on successful shows.
- Often pricey. Could be more cost-effective to launch your own professionally produced podcast. A premium show with 500,000 regular downloads can cost you $50,000 just for a few minutes of airtime.
- You don’t get to control what it is mentioned by. The episode you sponsor could be totally unrelated to, or totally run against, what you want mentioned.
- Could have a waitlist. Successful podcasts are going to have a waitlist of other sponsors knocking down the doors to get in.
You could “sponsor” your own show…
That brings up another, newer option: sponsoring your own show. In this case, you don’t approach an existing podcaster, ask them to let you sponsor an episode or two, wait while they pencil you in, and hope that their audience makes sense for your show. Instead, you partner with a creative studio to produce a full-length podcast that is put out by your company in every case.
This is what GE has successfully done with GE Podcast Theater’s The Message and Life After. Venture capital firms Andreessen Horowitz and Founders Fund have each put out their own, internally-produced, podcasts featuring different technology trends in which the companies take interest.
A few years ago, this would have been considerably more difficult and expensive than just sponsoring an existing podcast, but the costs of hosting and launching your own podcast have crashed dramatically as recording and streaming technologies improved. There are strategies you can leverage to make your podcast one of the best-performing on the Internet in its niche and, if you keep up with it, the show can pay dividends on what you put into it.
Just like sponsoring an existing podcast, there are pros and cons to sponsoring your own show.
- You control the brand and the style. You can make the show about branded content or you can make it a series of interviews with interesting people. Your call.
- You control the cycle of release for the show. Some shows release on “seasons” all at once and others release on their own regular cycle.
- You control the audience. You may have to build your own listenership, but you have better control over the types of people who will listen to the show and you can bring in your own audience from elsewhere.
- Cost. If done properly, this can produce more evergreen content than any number of sponsorships on other shows.
- You will have to build your own audience.
- Requires upfront time investment. The best podcasts launch with a number of shows already prepared.
As podcasts become more popular, narrative-style branded content is edging out the interviewer-interviewee style popular during the original rise of podcasting. Although the interview format is still the most common,, storytelling podcasts present a better opportunity to bring in listeners and entertain them instead of preaching to them.
If you’re going to go ahead and sponsor your own feature-length podcast, follow this checklist to make sure you knock it out of the park and don’t join the graveyard of half-tries in the podcast world.
- Identify your audience. Don’t try to go for “everybody.” Choose a demographic, choose an end-listener, and be clear about who you are selling the podcast to.
- Find a few podcasts that are already successful and who have demographics like those you would like to work with.
- Where does this audience hang out? What pages do they like on Facebook? What podcasts do they already listen to?
- Appoint a host. Even if you are taking the storytelling approach, your podcast needs a host with whom the audience can identify. Choose somebody who can build a relationship with your audience through the show.
- Choose a theme. Don’t go for a scattershot approach. If you want to cover multiple topics in your show, either cluster them under one obvious umbrella or consider using a “season” format.
- A season format allows you to go in-depth on one topic for multiple episodes and then pivot to a new topic later on. GE’s Podcast Theater is a good example of this.
- Set a schedule. Listeners value consistency and knowing when they will be able to listen to the podcast. Make your release schedule clear. Do not release episodes on an irregular schedule. Either release all at once or set a schedule like once a week, once a day, or once every other week. After you know the frequency, set the schedule for which day and time you will release them. Nearly half of all podcast listeners listen during or on the way to work, so releasing before you get too deep into the workday or workweek is a must.
- Record at least 10 episodes before launching. There are few things worse than an interesting podcast that launches and then makes its listeners wait until the next episode. Record at least 10 episodes early and upload at least half of those before you launch so that listeners have a backlog to listen to.
- Pre-promote your podcast to your existing audience. As a growing company, you should already have a readership or email list. Promote your podcast to them before you launch and once you launch to get subscribers.
- Create a podcast-specific landing page. This is important. You can track engagement with your podcast and ROI more easily if you have a specific page to which listeners can be directed while listening to the show. It can be as simple as yourcompanyname.com/podcast.
- Once you launch, encourage reviews. You can run a promotion with your audience to encourage reviews. The more reviews you get, the more legitimate the podcast looks.
- Consider launching in video. Video podcasts provide great fodder with the advent of home entertainment systems that revolve around the Internet. The bar is low for video podcasting and it is easier to get into the top 10 podcasts.
Podcasts provide clear, marketable analytics for CMOs and their teams to rally the support and resources they need from the company. This medium is still young, so the right storytelling show marketed to the right people can top the charts and blow other advertising resources out of the water. Running a season of a podcast is almost negligible in cost and, if you don’t like it, can always be discontinued later while providing evergreen content.