There comes a time in many podcaster’s lives when they look at their show and their audience and their expense line items and think: I should get a sponsor.
Running ads and having sponsors for your show can be a good move – but it isn’t in every case, especially for a podcast you’re running in support of your business. While ads are very common in podcasts, audiences don’t *love* hearing them, and that airspace could possibly be used more effectively for your company.
They tend to be effective when it comes to brand recall – people remember the brands of ads they hear in podcasts, so like a lot of advertising, they can be valuable for building brand awareness, and if you’re in a well-niched subject area with lots of companies who are eager to have access to that highly niched audience, sponsorship can be a great way to defray the costs and even turn a bit of a profit on your show.
At a very high level, there are two types of sponsorships – marketplace, and manual- there are subcategories of each, but for now, marketplace sponsors are where you create spaces in your audio for an ad, and let an algorithm choose what goes there. Manual sponsorships are deals that you negotiate personally. There are a lot of variables of each type – but for the most part you’ll be looking at one or the other.
If your show is huge and well niched, you might do well with marketplace ads. In more detail, the way they work is that you add ‘markers’ in your audio where you have created ad transitions or set pre and post-roll spots to be available for ads. You can usually tag your podcast with different categories like business, chicago, education, Canada, insurance, male, 45-60 years old… any demographic information that would help an advertiser know there is a good potential match. The exact type of categories available will depend on your podcast host and how they’re integrated with different marketplaces. When someone buys an ad on your podcast they agree to pay a certain amount for a certain number of impressions, sometimes over a specific amount of time. They upload their produced ad into the marketplace platform, or sometimes, if it’s a host-read, you’ll record the copy and upload it into your hosting platform to be inserted, by the host, into the places where you have said ads belong. Sometimes this is something you and your team will do. Sometimes it’s all behind the scenes of the host. It depends on the type of service they offer, and if you’re curious about it, reach out to them and find out what your options are!
Marketplace ads typically work on a CPM or cost per mille basis, where a mille is a thousand impressions, or times that the ad is played. Rates can vary hugely but are generally in the 25-50 range, although you can certainly get more in some cases! That means for every thousand impressions, you’ll be paid 25. That can be a great deal if you’re getting enough downloads. If your show is a lot smaller, however, you’ll want to look at other options.
Before we talk about those, however, a word of warning. Not every ads marketplace is going to give you any kind of creative control over the ads – you won’t likely get to choose what they are, so if your podcast is categorized as politics, for example, you might get ads from either end of that spectrum – regardless of your personal tastes or beliefs.
A marketplace sponsorship is usually going to have payment methods worked right into it that you can configure to receive your money.
Manual sponsors, on the other hand, are what we call sponsorship or advertising relationships you negotiate yourself. This gives you more control over content and placement and can often mean higher prices. When you are negotiating your own sponsorship deals, you can include other elements to sweeten the pot like links and verbiage or even images and logos in show notes, specific mentions in email or on social media, even interviews with company representatives, if that floats everyone’s boat! The more visibility you can offer a sponsor, the higher the value of the arrangement.
You might go out and look for your own sponsors or advertisers, or they might approach you! Either way, you can negotiate your own CPM price, or a flat rate for a certain amount of time. Just like marketplace ads, they can be either produced and handed over to you to insert, or they can be host-read that you record and either bake into the episode, or upload to your host to be dynamically inserted.
Baked in or DIA?
When you’re dealing with manual sponsorships, you have another decision to make – will the ad be dynamic and inserted into your ad spaces for a limited amount of time or number of downloads, or will it be baked in, and a permanent part of the show, forever. This is a totally personal choice, and depending on the type of ad it is (an ad for an event happening in October of 2022) wouldn’t make sense as a baked-in ad for example – it would be obsolete by November! But an ad about a great customer experience a company provided might stand the test of time and always be relevant). If you are doing a permanent ad – it should cost more – it will be there forever! Host-read ads are also more valuable than pre-produced ones. A big part of the value of buying ads in podcasts is the relationship the host has with the audience, and a personal recommendation counts for a lot.
Affiliate Compensation for Manual Sponsorships
Generally, you’ll arrange payments for a manual sponsorship by signing a contract for the agreed upon deliverables and sending an invoice, but there is one different compensation method you might want to consider. Sometimes, there is an opportunity for an affiliate arrangement within a sponsorship, where instead of taking a cash payment for the airspace, you can receive a commission for anything your audience buys using a special link that the sponsor or advertiser provides to you. In a lot of cases, this doesn’t work well because conversion on podcasts tend not to be very high, but if it is someone you have a relationship with, and you can also send an email to your own list or community and promote the opportunity in other ways, it can result in a much higher dollar value than CPM or a flat monthly fee. I would tend to recommend these only as part of larger deals that involve more than just running an ad or for companies and other professionals you know and trust. 🙂
When it comes to monetizing your podcast via relationships with other companies, you’re not restricted to just ads. It’s your podcast. You can do what you want with it, and if you are looking to use it as a revenue-generating part of your business, then you can use the framework to create valuable content for other companies. This might mean getting a sponsor for a special episode or series and giving them more attention within that content or more editorial control over what the content is. I know of podcasts that sell special 5-part serieses that run consecutively over a week and include a variety of content assets that the sponsor can use in their own marketing – it can be a lucrative deal for many industries. As always, you’re the boss of your podcast, and you can use it however you want and however makes sense to you.
Should You Have Sponsors?
- So after all of that, you want to ask yourself “should I have sponsors at all?”
- How large is your audience?
- How niched is your audience?
- How valuable is access to that audience?
- Can you get a sweetheart deal or will you need to go to a marketplace?
Ultimately, you want to get the maximum value out of your podcast and in the majority of cases for company shows that are not going to be from making money by running ads. Using your airspace to connect with your audience without annoying them with ads, and promoting your own products or services, or building relationships with other organizations can be much more valuable long term.
When there are ads – especially marketplace ones where it’s fairly obvious the ad is just there to make money – also raises the question of editorial control. You might have all of it! But ads and sponsors do convey that someone other than you has decision-making power. Consider this carefully, and whether or not it’s what you want to convey, especially if you’d be trading credibility for a few dollars.
There is no harm in testing things out! As long as you are creating spaces in your podcast for ads, then you have total flexibility in how you use them. Remember, for mid-roll ads, you will want to have some kind of transition to and from the ad content. You’ll hear it in this podcast! There is a musical element and VO indicating we’re going to the ad spot, then the main body content returns.
If Not Ads or Sponsors, Then What?
If you decide not to have sponsors, or not to have sponsors right now, but you might want to in the future, you should organize your show to include the space for them, and there is no better way to do that than by promoting your own products, services and events in the spaces that could theoretically go to sponsors! Do your own dynamically inserted host-reads with CTAs to whatever you want to focus on in your business!
Likewise, you can use space that would go to a sponsor to support other businesses you want to connect with or build relationships with, or to support charities and non-profit organizations you support.
You can also connect with other podcasters to arrange ad-swaps, where you each promote each other’s show in your own podcast. This can be a great use of airspace that helps your grow your audience.
Question of the Week:
Should you number your podcast episodes?
There are a couple of parts to this question. First of all, are we talking internal or external? For internal use and keeping track of what you’re doing when, absolutely, 100% definitely yes, number your podcast episodes!
Now, do those episode numbers need to be shared elsewhere, specifically, in your podcast titles, visible on the podcatchers? That is a lot more up for debate, but the answer is probably not. It can be nice to share what episode you’re releasing, especially if it is important that people listen to things in a specific order, or you have enough episodes that your number is basically a testimonial to your own awesomeness, but outside of those cases, episode numbers are taking up valuable title real estate. Your podcast title is your first and best chance to convince someone to listen to an episode, and devoting even a few characters to information that doesn’t help someone make that critical, should I listen or not decision is a waste.
You can always put notes in your subtitles or show notes, but save your title space for more informative content.