According to a report from Podcast Insights, there are more than 750,000 active podcasts and counting.

Sounds like a huge pool right?

If you're an advertiser interested in spreading awareness to podcast listeners, the huge pool of podcasts might seem promising -- but also overwhelming.

On a promising note, the growing number of podcasts has resulted in even more advertiser interest. Statista recently reported that podcast ad spend is projected to hit $534 million in the U.S. alone by 2020.

As a marketer for a small to mid-sized business, you might be interested in podcast sponsorship, but not know where to start. Mainly because there are so many podcasts to choose from. How do you know which podcasts your target audience is listening to?

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Since podcasting is relatively new compared to more traditional advertising practices like print or radio ads, you also might be wondering, "Is podcast sponsorship worth it, or just a passing trend?"

To help you determine what ad strategy is right for you and where to put your first podcast dollars, I spoke with Sam Balter, HubSpot's Podcast Manager, and did some additional research to comprise a list of helpful strategies for finding, vetting, and advertising in a podcast that aligns with your brand.

1. Consider podcast demographics.

While different types of TV shows might attract different audiences or demographics, the podcast demographics don't change drastically from show to show, according to Balter. Balter explained that the podcast audience demographic, which is generally made up of "affluent educated millennials" is a "good audience for brands pretty much regardless of what show you’re on."

Why is podcast audience so good? Because of their age, income, and education level, this particular group of people is old enough to make purchasing decisions and has enough income to make those purchases. Because many of them have jobs or are in higher education, these listeners might be interested in learning about a wide range of products or services that make daily life or work easier for them.

Another great thing about podcast listeners is that they'll tune into podcast episodes for a longer amount of time than they will to other content, like video. The podcast audience also enjoys long-form podcasts that are 30 minutes or longer. Since there's much less of drop off on a podcast compared to other forms of content, like video, this means that ads could be placed towards the beginning or end of an episode and still have a good chance of being heard.

2. Understand standard podcast ad pricing.

The next question you might be asking is, "How much will advertising on a podcast cost?"

If you're new to the podcast advertising world, you might not know how ads are usually prices. You might be worried that all podcast ads might have vastly different prices -- or that podcasters will charge a lot for a poor ad slot.

Podcast ad pricing might be more transparent than you think. According to Balter, podcasters and podcast networks commonly use the same formula to determine how much an ad in their podcasts will cost.

If you want to get a ballpark idea of what ad slots for a specific show might cost before reaching out to a podcast team or network, plug the metrics you can find for that show's previous episodes into the formula shown below.

In the above formula, CPM stands for "cost per mille," or cost per 1,000 impressions.

Balter says that the cost of a standard ad in a podcast usually costs between $10 and $50 with more popular podcasts also charging a premium.

However, if you want to do a more intensive promotion -- such as a full sponsored podcast episode -- this cost may vary based on what the content will entail from the podcasters. For example, Gimlet, a prominent podcast network that produces shows like Mastercard's "Fortune Favors the Bold", offers two tiers of advertising: audio ads and branded podcasts.

3. Look for podcasts that relate to your brand or industry.

Because the pool of podcasts is so large, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with niche audiences that relate to your specific industry.

When an ad relates to the topic of a podcast series or episode, it might feel more natural to the listener. It's also strategically smart because listeners who are interested in this industry might identify with pain points that your service aims to solve.

For example, if you place an ad about your B2B recruiting service on a podcast that discusses human resources, listeners who own or manage a B2B company, or human resources employees, might want to use your service to make their jobs easier.

Here's an example outside of the B2B world. On an episode of "The Joe Rogan Experience", a general podcast that zones in on topics like technology, science, and entertainment, Joe Rogan reads a script that talks about how he uses ExpressVPN and Cash App in his daily life. Before going into detail about how he uses these products, he also notes that these companies sponsored the episode.

In the ad, Rogan explains that he uses ExpressVPN to protect his internet data and personal information, while he uses Cash App to pay friends or make transactions on-the-go from his phone. If you can't listen to the podcast, here's a quick excerpt from the ad:

"With all the recent news about online security breaches, it's very hard not to worry about where your data goes. Making an online purchase or simply accessing your email could put your private information at risk ... That's why I decided to take back my privacy using ExpressVPN. ExpressVPN has easy to use apps and runs seamlessly in the background of my computer phone tablet."

Although Rogan notes that he's reading sponsored material before beginning the segment, the services he discusses relate to technology, handy apps, and internet security, which are topics that he has covered on "The Joe Rogan Experience". Additionally, these topics might be interesting to the millennial podcast audience which is highly tuned into smartphone and computer technology.

Lastly, because Rogan describes his own experiences with ExpressVPN, the segment feels less like an ad and more like a friendly recommendation. In fact, listeners who are fans of Rogan might trust that he has used the advertised product and that he had a good experience with it. If they think he's a credible recommendation source, they might choose or consider ExpressVPN when looking for a data security provider.

After an example, you need a brief section that sums up what readers should get from the example. In this case, something like, "One of the main selling points of advertising on a podcast is that listeners are already comfortable with the host. When the host reads your ad copy, there's already a level of trust between the host and audience that wouldn't be there with alternative mediums like video or display ads. It's almost like a lightweight celebrity endorsement."

4. Use your competitors for inspiration.

As with any new marketing or advertising technique, a competitive analysis can help you identify what similar companies are doing, as well as opportunities where you can get ahead of them.

If you have a direct competitor who has advertised on various podcasts, see if those shows might fit your ad strategy as well. Similarly, if there are brands in your industry that provide non-competing services and use podcast advertising, try to identify shows that they advertise on.

From there, you could either look into contacting these podcast producers or their networks or look for podcasts that have a similar level of success and discuss similar topics. While you shouldn't directly copy what your competitor is doing, a competitive analysis could still inspire you to develop an ad strategy or promotional content that improves upon that of similar brands.

5. Purchase multiple ads for small shows rather than one for big podcasts.

As you start researching podcasts, you might find a long list of shows that will align very well with your product or service. When that happens, do you invest in one expensive ad for the biggest show with the most promising numbers? Or, do you use that money for multiple ads on different podcast episodes?

Balter says, "It’s better to play an ad multiple times on a smaller show then try to a single ad on a big show."

If major podcasts have a huge listenership and ad premiums, you'll have to pay much more for one or two ads that may or may not be memorable. While you might get great visibility, this could be a huge gamble. If the ads don't provide ROI, you'll lose ad dollars.

That's why the safest strategy is to follow Balter's advice and choose frequency over sheer audience reach.

Look at a number of smaller podcasts that still have engaging content and really relate to your product or business. Then invest a bit of your spend in each. If one or two don't pan out well but the others do, consider swapping the low performing podcasts out with other shows or purchasing more ads on episodes of podcasts that are giving you revenue or brand awareness.

6. Advertise on multiple podcasts within the same network.

If you plan to invest in multiple podcasts -- or multiple ads within a podcast episode -- and find a network that produces multiple shows that align with your product, consider building a relationship with that network and putting your ad dollars there.

In the podcast world, Balter explains that advertising on shows within the same network is called a "pulsing" strategy, adding that it's better than airing multiple ads on one podcast episode but still can have similar reach.

"Because people who listen to Gimlet shows are likely to listen to other Gimlet shows, you can get a solid number of impressions off of a few shows over a relatively short amount of time without inundating listeners with the same ad over and over again."

Here's an example of a Hendrick's Gin ad that Gimlet has circulated on a number of its podcasts and displayed on its advertising page.

The native ad begins by telling listeners that the episode they're listening to is sponsored by Hendrick's Gin. Then the ad's narrator goes on to discuss the flavors associated with the beverage and how people who drink it are looking to escape from their mundane life.

This Hendrick's ad feels unique but it speaks to a wide variety of people that could be bored with their lives and doesn't note specific industries. The ad also doesn't specify the podcast it's on which makes it easy to place in many different ones.

7. Be vigilant of dishonest podcasters.

As you research various podcasts -- especially those that are smaller, you might realize that it's easy to find numbers and success metrics for some, while others are less transparent. Because of this, you'll want to do some extra digging and properly vet the podcasts at the top of your list to make sure they're legitimate.

Balter warns, "Downloads are not algorithmically verified, therefore people sometimes make up how many downloads their show gets. So, if you’re sponsoring a less reputable podcast, make sure to get download numbers for a single episode."

If you want to verify that the podcast is giving accurate numbers before reaching out to them, here are a few steps you can take.

  • Look at all the sites they post their podcasts on: If they post on a major site like SoundCloud or Spotify, you should be able to see general platform-provided view numbers to get an idea of how successful their podcast was.
  • Look for them on social media: While podcasters might not be airing episodes on social media, they might have a following or a few social accounts to spread awareness of the show. If they do, look at the follower count, likes, and visual signs of engagement on these pages. If you can find signs of social engagement and a following, this might be a sign that they have a legitimate audience.
  • Work with a credible network: Many credible networks might be transparent about podcast numbers to potential and current advertisers. Additionally, you can look at the success of the network's other shows as evidence that they're associated with engaging content.

When you do finally talk to the podcast producers, get as much specific data as possible about views and impressions. If they have or have had advertisers in the past, you might want to ask them if their advertisers have seen an ROI. If they can show proof that advertisers make more money than they spend on ad slots, this shows that ads on this podcast can be successful.

8. Consider purchasing back catalog space.

A back catalog is a collection of a podcast's previously recorded episodes. Back catalog podcast episodes might still be listened to, shared quite regularly by listeners, and up for grabs when it comes to ad space.

Because back catalog episodes have already aired and don't seem like an obvious ad opportunity, Balter says this tactic is "interesting and something a lot of people don’t consider."

If you do decide to advertise in back catalog podcasts, zone specifically into evergreen episodes that will continue to remain relevant for a longer period of time.

For example, if you're a marketer for an e-commerce home-shopping site, you could advertise in back catalog podcasts about DIY ideas or home decorating. This type of podcast won't age drastically over time and might be relevant to anyone listening to podcasts about those topics.

While these podcasts might've already been promoted during their first launch, podcasters are often encouraged to re-promote evergreen back catalog content. Your brand could also share the podcast on your company's social channels for some added promotion.

9. Determine what type of promotion you'd like to run.

While some companies like to create standard native ads that exist as pre-roll or mid-roll within a podcast episode, other brands might pay the podcast producers to create sponsored content.

Similarly, advertisers might want to script the ad and have the host read it, or have the host casually work product discussion into the podcast conversation, so it feels more natural. Some podcasts may only offer certain types of sponsorship options, but if you still want to consider the different types, here are a few with an example for each:

Native Ad:

A native ad is created by the brand for the podcast. With this common strategy, you'll create a short audio clip that discusses your product, service, or another promotion related to your brand. These usually run for 30 seconds or less and sound a lot like audio ads you'd hear on traditional radio stations. These ads usually air as pre-roll or mid-roll ads after a podcast host says something like, "And now, a word from our sponsors."

Below is an example of an ad for the Toyota RAV4. In the 30-second ad, a narrator describes all the unique features that make the car safe, reliable, and fast. Like the Hendrick's Gin ad noted above, the ad doesn't acknowledge a specific podcast so it can be shared on multiple different shows.

If you're looking for inspiration for a quirkier native ad, check out GEICO's list of ads, which have been aired on both radio and podcasts.

Sponsored Content:

With sponsored content or branded podcasts, you pay the podcast production team to create interesting content about a topic related to your industry of the company.

While the content might not discuss your product outright, the podcast hosts will note that your brand sponsored the podcast -- and most likely include some information about your product or service.

If the podcast is valuable and interesting to the listener, they might remember your brand and affiliate informative content with your company.

One recent example was a mini-series called "The Sauce" in 2018. The podcast, sponsored by McDonald's -- and created by Gizmodo and Onion Labs -- investigated why people rioted over the removal of Szechuan Sauce from the McDonald's menu. While the podcast has since been removed from Apple podcasts, you can find a short preview for it on Gizmodo's Facebook page.

Paid Interview:

This is a type of sponsored content where an expert from or affiliated with an advertising brand is interviewed in exchange for the sponsorship dollars. While this gives your company's experts an opportunity to spread brand awareness and show their expertise, it also allows the podcast to create interesting interview content about a topic related to its own mission.

In the example below, Daymond John interviews a rep from ZipRecruiter, on the podcast, "Rise and Grind." Because the podcast series regularly discussed business, entrepreneurship, and management, this ZipRecruiter-sponsored interview about hiring talent, still feels like a natural piece of content.

This paid interview tactic could also work for businesses in other industries as well. For example, if you're a marketer for a cookbook publisher, you could pay for a chef who created some of a new book's recipes to get interviewed on a podcast related to cooking, home-making, or DIY.

In another example, if your company sells medical devices, you could pay for your CEO or an executive to be interviewed on a podcast that touches on medical news or technological advances.

In either example, audiences who listen to those podcasts because they want to learn more about topics or products within their industry might hear the interviews, gain insight from the experts, and trust your brand more.

Product Placement:

This is a form of sponsored content where podcasters are paid to mention your product casually in the podcast's discussion.

In a classic example, the "My Brother, My Brother, and Me" podcast aired an episode about Totinos which was sponsored by Totinos.

While the hosts played games and had random discussions about life, as they've done in most of their episodes, they were chewing Totino's pizza rolls most of the time and made each game or featured piece of content center around the food product.

Direct Response Ads

This is a native ad that feels like a product placement where the host reads a short script written by the advertiser. The ad ends with the host telling listeners to do something, such as click a link or use a coupon code. Unlike the more traditional pre-roll or mid-roll native ad, the listener is still immersed in the experience of listening to the host.

Although the host notes that their discussion is sponsored, it still might make the listener feel like they are getting a solid recommendation from the host.

On Dax Shepard's podcast, "The Armchair Expert," he includes at least one direct response ad in the middle of each episode. At the 65:00 mark of this episode, Shepard reads a script that explains the benefits of using the meal-delivery service DoorDash. Then, he tells listeners to download DoorDash and use the code "DAX" to get $5 off of their first order:

10. Purchase ad spots online.

If you're just looking to purchase a standard ad slot and already have an audio clip, some tools allow you to purchase space and target ads to appear on multiple podcasts.

For example, if you're just planning to target one or two simple native ads to millennials on Spotify, you might want to use Spotify Ad Studio to create and launch basic native ads on the music platform. If you want to launch to multiple host-read ads in a number of different podcasts, you could consider using a service like Midroll, where you can submit ad information and purchase ad slots in a variety of different podcasts.

11. Or, reach out personally to podcasts you'd like to work with.

If you want to do something that requires more planning, like sponsored content, a paid interview, or preparing scripted product placements, you should make an in-person connection with podcasters.

Once you've done your research and found a few podcasts you're interested in, reach out to begin discussing your advertising options. Send an email with a little bit about your brand and why you think you could work well with them as an advertiser. Be sure to also ask about their growth and key success metrics to confirm that they are as promising as you think.

12. Monitor your progress.

Regardless of what type of promotion you purchase, you should be tracking your money spent compared to the money the advertisement earned. This will help you determine the ROI of your campaigns.

If you're publishing promotions on multiple podcasts, this will be an important way to tell which might warrant more advertisements and which might require less to no ad spend.

With this post on marketing ROI, you can learn how to use a simple formula to calculate and find a few examples of how it can be used when strategizing in the real world.

Navigating Podcast Sponsorship

The podcast landscape is a pool of growing opportunities for marketers. And, if you're ready to start testing the sponsorship waters, be sure to keep these key tips in mind.

  • Find podcasts that align with your brand: People are listening to an episode to get informed about a specific topic. If your ad aligns well with it, they might be interested in learning more about your product.
  • Choose frequency over audience reach: It's less risky and more efficient to invest in multiple ads on smaller podcasts rather than just one or two ads on a major podcast.
  • Consider working with a network: Networks may provide more legitimate view numbers and have a variety of podcasts with similar audiences that you can air your ads on.

Want to learn more about general podcasting? Here's a post that Balter wrote about what he learned from launching three HubSpot podcasts.

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Originally published Nov 6, 2019 7:00:00 AM, updated November 12 2019