This is a post from ProBlogger podcasting expert, Colin Gray.
Advertising is a sensitive subject for a lot of people. It’s a step into the ‘money stuff’, into earning cash from your loyal audience, and it can feel like sullying your beautifully crafted content. Who enjoys the sight of a banner ad sticking out like a sore thumb, after all?
On a blog, it’s hard to run ads or sponsorship in a subtle way. No matter what you do, it’s usually as obvious as that ‘sore thumb’, and twice as painful for the loving content creator. But, there is one way to deliver ads to your audience in a more natural, less… grating… way. And that’s through a podcast.
Sponsorship in podcasting is long established, and bloomin’ effective! Why? Rather than seeing that money grabbing advertiser’s message in cold, stark letters, instead it’s delivered by your warm voice, dripping with personality.
Some podcasters make an art of the advert. For example, Mark Maron creating hilarious skits out of his sponsor slots, Gimlet Media crafting highly produced, entertaining content out of sponsor interviews, or every good podcaster everywhere who simply tells a story about the time they recently used the product and how it helped them.
In Podcasting, you can put the sponsor in context and make it more honest. That’s why it works.
The first question: is it worth it?
Running sponsor slots takes time, including finding sponsors, maintaining them and delivering the spots.
If you can find a long-term, loyal sponsor, that’s great. It becomes an efficient machine where you slot them in, every episode, telling a new story about them every now and again. But, at the start, when you’re running 2-week or month-long campaigns, it’s a treadmill of chasing, contracting, maintaining and recording. So the obvious question is, can you earn enough to justify it?
The rates vary, as you’d imagine, but we’ve got a decent ‘average’ these days when it comes to sponsorship costs. Normally, they’re based on a CPM rate, which means ‘Cost per thousand’ and refers to listeners in this case. Here’s how it breaks down – all times are approximate and costs in USD:
So, if you run a show that’s grown to 3000 listeners (a great milestone, and achievable for most), and you run a pretty standard pre-roll and mid-roll package, you’re looking at $20 + $25 x 3 (for 3000 listeners) = $135 per episode. That’s $540 per month for a weekly show. Not a bad wee extra income!
There’s also the fact that most shows can stand to take two sponsors without diluting their content too much. This depends on the length of your show and how good you are at making entertaining sponsor slots. But, if you manage that, then you’re doubling the income right away. Then add post-rolls for some, and it ramps up a little more. Remember, though, with every ‘extra’ you’re also increasing the work. But, it does get more efficient, the more you do, so it can be well worth it.
Of course, a 1000 listener show (closer to the average listenership out there) is looking at $180 per month for 1 sponsor, or $360 for two. The work is the same as with 3000 listeners… So it comes down to the time it takes to manage, which will be really individual to your show.
The qualifier here is that some niches and some shows can be worth a lot more.
For example, let’s say you run a show on Mountain Biking. I can’t imagine who’d want to talk about Mountain Biking, but hey, it takes all sorts, huh?
Assume you’ve got an audience on the smaller end of the scale: around 500 subscribers. But, do you know what, people who like mountain biking, really really like mountain biking. It’s a niche with fanatical fans. It’s also a niche with people who like to spend money. You don’t get into a sport like that without developing a serious shiny gear fetish, as my own wallet can testify…
You’ve also spent the months, the years even, developing a relationship with these people. So, they know you, they trust you. That’s one thing Podcasting is really great at: trust.
Those three elements – fanatical users, a spending audience, and trust in you – combine to create a dream audience for anyone who sells mountain biking kit.
If they pay to reach your 500 listeners, they know three things.
- Their product is ideally suited to every single person in that group
- The audience are ready and willing to buy good products
- The audience trusts your recommendation.
The conversion rate on an audience like that can be mental. Perhaps 50 to 100 sales from just a couple of mentions, and more after long term sponsorship. That’s worth a LOT more than the mere $22.50 per episode that the standard CPM would suggest in this case.
So it’s up to you to find an advertiser that’s relevant, and convince them how great your audience is.
So, how do we go about finding and managing sponsorships?
The first option is to let your media hosting take care of it. BluBrry have been brokering sponsorships for years, notifying their show catalog whenever a deal comes up. Libsyn, too, run both a self-service and a fully managed programme with dynamic ad insertion.
Some hosts even offer free hosting if you’ll move your show to their service, and allow them to manage your sponsorship. Acast is one such host, and they’ll take on the whole process, finding sponsors, inserting them into your content and sending you the proceeds.
The downsides? First, they’ll take a pretty significant chunk of that payment for the work involved. Second, you tend to get offered a lot of ads that might not be the most relevant to your audience.
Acast and other dynamic ad servers tend to require bigger audience numbers before it’s worth their time. Expect to be turned down if you have less than a few thousand. Blubrry and Libsyn offer their sponsorship services for smaller audiences, though.
If this is the option for you, then you’ll find our podcast hosting roundup here which has a lot more detail.
If you’d prefer to keep your hosting and your sponsorship separate, then a dedicated sponsorship agency might work for you. They often offer a very tailored service, including more options and flexibility around how you run your campaigns.
One of the biggest names in this area is Midroll, who hold some of the biggest shows on the web in their books.
Again, an agency of this type will take a significant chunk of your revenue as payment, and they tend to require a minimum of 3k to 5k downloads per episode to get involved, although it can vary by niche. The work they do is significant, though, and can be well worth the fee. It’s hard work running your own sponsorship campaigns, and their contacts list can be a huge advantage in finding good sponsors.
Yep, it’s possible: you can manage the whole process yourself, and many shows do.
The upside here is that you have ultimate control. You can determine pricing, location, length, and be really flexible in how you work with every sponsor you encounter. You can search out really relevant ads, only including products that you know your audience will love.
You can build relationships with sponsors, offering more and more value, getting more in return. And you can easily include much more than just the sponsorship, such as social media, newsletter mentions, sponsored blogs, video clips or consultancy.
To be fair, some of this you can do with your hosting, or with an agency. They can never force you to take an irrelevant ad, for example. But going DIY means there’s no minimum audience numbers to get started, and, importantly, you get 100% of the ad revenue.
But, like I said, it’s a lot of work. Finding sponsors, negotiating a deal, signing contracts, inserting the ads, following up, re-negotiating, ending the relationship, searching for a new sponsor, and on, and on… If you treat it as a job, though, and you have the networking, sales and negotiating skills to pull it off, then it’s entirely manageable. Done well, the time can be well worth the extra income not lost in agency commission.
If you want to use your podcast hosting company or an agency, the way is clear. Sign up, and let them take care of it. But, if you want to go for glory and take the DIY route, how do you start? Here are some tips on finding and closing a good sponsor.
The first, and most obvious, is to look around your house. What products do YOU use? Often, you’re a member of your own target audience, so you love the products they love.
For example, take my mountain biking show, hinted at above. If I were to start sponsorship for that, I’d go no further than my own garage. I’d look around at the kit I use, the shorts, the shoes, the bags, the helmets, the bike itself. Every single one has as manufacturer or a retailer which you can approach.
It’s the same with Podcraft, my show about creating great podcasts. I just need to look in my bag, or around the studio to find dozens of products and manufacturers to approach, from microphones to software.
The big benefit here is that if YOU use a product, then you can honestly talk about how great it is. You can tell stories, give examples and generally enthuse about how much you love it. That honesty and passion translates to the audience, making your ad spots more entertaining, more useful, and far less grating on the listener. As a bonus, it also makes it more effective. They’re more likely to buy something that you obviously love.
Whatever subject you talk about, think about your favourite things related to it. It could be gadgets, books, courses, services or something else entirely. Whoever makes that thing, they’re your sponsor.
Another place to find likely sponsors is in the ad spots you see every day.
Search your subject keywords in Google and see what pops up. The sponsored results will show companies that are already spending on advertising and targeting your chosen topic.
Similar with Facebook: next time you’re wasting your life gazing at your ex’s holiday pics, keep at least half an eye on the ads that pop up. Facebook is ridiculously good at knowing what you like, and will show ads to match. As I said, if you’re part of your target audience, then those ads will match your listeners. That means they’ll serve up even more relevant companies that are already investing in advertising.
Finally, get onto the big websites in your niche and check out the ads. Most big magazine sites include banner ads at some point and, again, these might showcase some inspiring products.
Do you still buy magazines? If not, you should! They might be on the decline (or are they…?), but most industries still have a few good mags. There’s something about the printed word and tangible products that keep people buying.
Magazines survive on advertising, too. Inside those glossy pages you’ll find hundreds of ads, from full page to tiny little boxes. Start contacting those companies and selling them on the benefits of new media sponsorship!
Once you’ve started negotiating, a great way to close the deal is to offer a test. This is even more useful if you’re new to the game, since you’ll not have much of a track record to show potential sponsors.
You might offer a half price rate for the first two episodes, for example, reducing their risk in ‘trying it out’. If you’re confident that you have a relevant audience and they’re likely to take action, then the results should speak for themselves. Win the sponsor a few sales and you’ll have no problem charging the full rate from them on.
Better yet, if you’re really confident, then offer a money back guarantee. Tell them, “If I don’t deliver X sales or X amount of referrals, then you can have half (or all!) of your money back.” Of course, you need a great way of tracking this, like an affiliate system or offer codes, and even then it’s never 100% accurate. But if you account for that in the numbers and stay realistic, then it can work well.
The aim in sponsorship is to build long lasting relationships. If you can find two or three sponsors who are super-relevant and who get consistent results with your listeners, then it can lead to a hugely beneficial relationship for both parties. Less chasing, less negotiating, and more creating great content, attracting an even bigger audience.
If you’re looking to dip your toe in the waters, but sponsoring your blog is a step too far, then try your podcast. Build a relationship there and who knows, it might lead to your blog, your video channel, your social media.
If that gives you the time and the space to spend time on the content you love, offering more and more value to your readers, then it’s worth an ad spot or two. Give it a shot!