In 2017, podcasting reached $314 million in revenue, an 86% increase from 2016 that shows no sign of dropping off in the coming years. More than ever before, podcasters are able to create great content for a living. Of course, all podcast revenue is not earned by advertising and there are a variety of ways for creators to raise funds, but advertising continues to be a major focus for podcasters. Getting sponsors for your show is really exciting, but you also have to keep that sponsor happy by showing them your podcast is worth the investment.
Luckily, iTunes’ recent release of their podcast analytics has shown that advertisers don’t have to worry about their ads being heard. Midroll Media, using iTunes analytics, has shown that “podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.” Lawson Media released a similar statement saying that their podcast, Moonshot, “achieves upwards of 85% completion rates, with many episodes being above 90%.” Lawson’s statistics also show that very few people skip through ads while listening.
Podcasters and advertisers don’t need to worry that listeners are skipping ads, but that doesn’t mean that all ads are equal. I usually listen to podcasts while riding my bike; I don’t generally skip over ads that come up because it’s inconvenient and I don’t want to crash my bike. But that doesn’t mean that every ad that comes up has my full attention or sticks with me for very long. So what makes for an effective ad, and how do you keep listeners’ attention and sponsors’ satisfaction? The team at Podchaser pointed me toward shows with ads that both kept their attention and motivated them to buy products and these are the features that matter.
Use organic ads as often as possible. Rebekah Bek, the woman in charge of Ahref’s podcast sponsorship, admitted that organic ads often require that hosts are very familiar with the product and can explain their features and benefits clearly, but that they are still more than worth the samples or memberships it costs a sponsor to foster that knowledge. She explains that “when the podcast host is fully fluent with our tools and then given the freedom to promote us however they wish, the difference in both the depth of content and persuasive strength is quite clear.” Remember, podcasts are like listening to a few friends talking, and my friends don’t read a script when they recommend products to me. And if they did it would be really weird for everyone involved.
Keep the personality of your show. If you’re an irreverent comedy improv show like Harmontown, make an ad that reflects all of that and keeps listeners laughing through the ads just like they laugh through the show. If you’re more serious and reflective, have ads that are short and to the point like Akimbo. If you’re a narrative show that uses interviews and recordings like Serial, interview users of the product and tells their story on the ads. Midroll’s ad-effectiveness research showed that host-read ads were incredibly effective, so basically you are the magic behind making ads work. Whatever your show offers listeners is what your ads should offer them as well.
Hosts should be as familiar as possible with the product. I recently listened to an ad in which the podcast host admitted to not understanding what the product (a platform helping businesses send targeted emails to customers) was or how it worked. Blaming his dislike of all things technological, the comedian made several jokes about his lack of knowledge and managed to read most of the scripted features while swearing that his show only sponsored top-quality products. But overall I walked away with the feeling that, if the guy being paid to sell it didn’t care enough to get to know the product, why should I?
This may seem like Advertising 101, but make sure the listener gets a complete sense of the product. Organic ads are great but if you start to leave off features, customers and sponsors alike are going to be less than satisfied. As a listener, I would prefer to have as much information as possible about a product, and the thing you leave out might be exactly what convinces someone to buy in. If a full explanation takes some extra time, don’t worry about it. A recent study by Midroll Media shows that listeners had a “43 percent greater recall with a longer, customized version of the ad, compared to the conventional, shorter ad for the same product.” So take the time and make sure that by the end of an advertisement a listener can describe what the product is, what it does, why they need it, and how to get one for themselves.
Beyond the product, let listeners know that this is a company they can trust, whether because they are environmentally conscious, honor a money-back guarantee, or have been in the industry for decades. Maybe your listener doesn’t want new, incredibly soft underwear, but they may love a company that makes quality comfort-wear and want to check out your sponsor once they know the brand was built on charity work or cruelty-free products. This is both a favor to your sponsor and a way to show your listener you really know what you’re talking about when recommending products.
Many podcasts have set time-limits for ads which makes pricing easy and straightforward, but if you use flat rates or allow ads to go as long as you feel it takes, keep in mind what you’re selling. Some products do not need much explanation and repeating features or rambling about how great the product is will lose a listener’s interest. If the product only requires 30 seconds then give it a great 30 seconds and no more. Respect both your sponsor by making a quality ad and your listener’s time. Everyone will be appreciative.
Ads can be anything you want, so try new things, especially with placement. Some shows don’t do pre- or post-roll ads, some don’t do mid-roll ads. It’s up to you, but most importantly it’s about what suits your show. Don’t ruin momentum just for an advertisement; don’t wreck your intro for one either. Put some thought into what best fits with your show or even with particular episodes and go with that. Don’t sacrifice your top-notch content for an ad, make the two work together in beautiful, revenue-earning harmony.
If your sponsor is giving listeners a discount, free trial, or special offer, make sure it’s easy to remember how to get those. Most podcasts I’ve listened to either use the podcast title as a promotional code or sends listeners to a URL like advertiser.com/podcastname. Both are easy enough to remember if you know the name of the product, but let’s not always plan on that. If you’re feeling especially kind to your more forgetful listeners, you should consider keeping a page on your site with sponsors or list sponsors in the description of your episodes so that products are easy to find.
Advertising is a great way to gain revenue for your show and make podcasting your full-time occupation, but there are definitely ways to do it right and do it wrong. Hopefully, this guide helps point you toward doing it right, engaging your listeners, and drawing in more sponsors with your incredible success. But there are two more huge things to keep in mind: 1) keep listening to shows and think through what works on their ads and what doesn’t and 2) trust yourself because you’re already making a great show so making great ads is just one more step in that process. Now get to it.