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Podcasts are deeply popular these days among a broad demographic cross-section. That makes podcast episodes an intriguing prospect for advertising.

Yet it can be confusing to get started for brands who are new to podcast advertising, which is why we’ve created this short introduction to the subject. No matter what niche you’re in or how much money you have to spend, podcasts can be both a profitable and effective place for ad buys.

Why Are Podcasts so Beneficial for Advertisers?

A quick overview of some statistics will prove how valuable podcast space can be for small business advertisers.

As of April 2018, you can find over 525,000 active shows on Apple iTunes alone, with content available in over 100 languages from 155 countries and over 13.7 billion downloads and streams in 2017 (up from 10.5 billion in 2016). Over 40 percent of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast at least once.

Moreover, podcast listeners tend to be highly educated, affluent and loyal to the brands they prefer; 45 percent of monthly podcast listeners report household incomes over $75,000 each year. Podcast listeners consume an average of seven different shows each week, and the vast majority (80 percent) listen to most or all of each episode. And mostly? They don’t skip the ads.

All this popularity translates into an attractive marketing space for advertisers who spent an estimate of $220 million on podcast ads in 2017, with that figure expected to rise to over $500 million by 2020. Even better, podcast audiences are particularly likely to have excellent brand recall.

When it’s built on a well-aligned match between audiences, podcast advertising helps sponsors expand their audience base exponentially and reach consumers who have the ability, interest and money to buy. Moreover, these listeners include quite a few early adopters — excellent news for recently launched startups.

Advertising on podcasts doesn’t have to be terribly expensive, either. By some measures, the average cost of an ad is between $18 and $25 per thousand downloads. Of course, a download doesn’t necessarily guarantee the consumer is listening intently all the way through that ad, and the overall cost can increase greatly for very popular podcasts that are in high demand among sponsors. Still, the potential ROI, whether you choose a coupon code or a unique show-related URL approach, can be substantial when the campaign is effectively created and managed.

Podcasting 101

Before you dive into podcast advertising, you’ll need to learn some lingo first.

First of all, there’s the placement of your ads inside the podcast episode. Your basic choices are pre-roll, post-roll and mid-roll ads, meaning respectively before, after and during the episode itself. Pre-roll ads tend to be about fifteen seconds in length, while mid-roll spots are longer, up to a minute or so. You can also place shorter ads in the outros of podcast episodes as the podcaster’s end music plays.

You may also be offered something called a billboard ad placement. These are short (ten seconds or so) that can be placed at any point before, during or after the episode.

Advertisers (who may also be referred to as sponsors) can place ads that are required to be delivered on script or off script. The former simply means the podcaster will deliver your script word-for-word, with no variation. The latter means that the podcaster will put the ad into their own words. And in some cases, sponsors simply give podcasters talking points – that is, a few written bullet points that provide the key items to mention.

The length flight for your ad campaign is simply the length of time your ad will run on the podcast. If the ad is permanently recorded, it will be included in that podcast episode forever. This means that even a year or two from now, when new listeners discover the podcast (something that happens every day), they’ll still hear that exact ad. Bear this in mind if you’re promoting a short-term sale or time-limited event.

As a podcast advertiser, you can buy wide or buy narrow. This simply refers to the number of niches in which you place your ads. If you’re buying ads for podcasts in several different genres or categories, you’re buying wide; buying narrow means you’re limiting your ad purchases to a particular category.

The insertion order is the formal ad contract or order you’ll sign as the advertiser, committing to run your ad for the specified length of time at the specified rate. Many advertising networks will take care of this for you.

Finally, it’s essential to understand the most common metrics for the cost of an advertisement. The most commonly used metrics are CPM and CPA rates. CPM stands for Cost Per Mille, and it refers to cost per thousand podcast listens (measured by the podcast, its network or platform analytics by downloads or streaming events). CPA means cost per acquisition; it refers to the cost of gaining a single new customer as a result of that advertisement.

Finding a Podcast That Suits Your Brand

In order to pick the best possible show for your brand’s first forays into podcast advertising, it’s important to become familiar with the top podcasts, as well as the various ways in which those podcasts manage and publish ads from their sponsors.

Review a handful of managed lists of the top podcasts maintained and published by sites such as podbay.fm and iTunes (access in iTunes store via the app, and look for “Top Podcasts” for the top ten list).

Next, focus on creating a long list of possible candidates based on your first impressions as to compatibility between the podcast’s audience and your own. The podcast should also reflect your brand values and personality as much as possible, to avoid future public relations issues.

Listen carefully to several episodes of each podcast. Make notes as to who the sponsors are and what types of ads run in each episode.

Finally, explore the podcast’s presence on the web. Identify its social media accounts (particularly Twitter, Facebook and Instagram) and any landing pages or websites it maintains.  Review not only the content published by the podcaster but also the conversations that are generated around that content. Don’t forget to make note of any information on those channels aimed at potential sponsors.

You may want to rank your “dream” podcasts in order of preference to help you focus your efforts as you begin to contact each podcaster or podcast network.

Generally speaking, it’s not possible for anyone other than the podcaster or publisher to gain access to accurate statistics as to listeners or download counts. Most podcast advertising materials will disclose an approximate audience size, however.

In addition to this “DIY” method, you can also utilize podcast advertising networks, many of which will provide tools to help you identify ideal podcasts based on your needs.

About Podcast Advertising Networks

Companies such as Midroll and PodSearchAD can help nervous first-time sponsors enter the podcast arena with more confidence.

Networks such as these offer a number of advantages over the self-directed route. For example, these companies can help you with everything from proposal creation to campaign design and prep, and more. Podcast networks can also work much more efficiently to match your brand with the right podcasts to match your audience demographics.

Using networks may also expand your reach and allow you to connect with the top podcasters in popular niches. Those podcasters can carry a decent amount of celebrity status, which makes it difficult for small business sponsors to successfully connect with them on their own.

Relying on a network for assistance in sourcing, creating or managing your podcast ad campaign will definitely cost more than handling these functions in-house. However, for brands that are new to the podcast advertising experience, having a skilled team provide a little hand-holding may be well worth the cost.

Creating Your Podcast Ads

The creative side of podcast ads should be addressed early on in your process. You can always make adjustments to a script when requested by the podcaster down the road, but it helps to have a firm idea of the content you need to include in the ad before you reach out to podcasters.

It’s usually best to keep your ads on the short side. Fifteen seconds is a safe target length to shoot for initially. However, you may also want to create an extended minute-long ad script for mid-roll placement.

As for the tone and style of the ad itself, you’ll want a certain amount of consistency with the tone of the podcast. Give the podcaster a script, but allow them to freestyle with an off-script approach, especially if the personality of your brand and your targeted audience is a bit young or irreverent. Allowing podcasters to put their own spin on your script makes for a more relaxed, natural-sounding spot that will “land” with listeners and stay front of mind for your targeted customers.

Kim M. Pham

Kim M. Pham

Kim M. Pham is a professional Digital Media Strategist based out of Los Angeles, CA currently working at DASH TWO. Kim has worked closely with clients primarily in the music space on campaigns for some of the world’s biggest country artists, including George Strait, Luke Bryan and Shania Twain. Being on the agency side, Kim works with clients to develop media plans that reach intended audiences and support their respective business objectives. She is responsible for the development and management of digital strategy for client brands.

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