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Inside Podcast Promotion

Inside Podcast Promotion

[By Aaron Broverman]

Last year, Serial – a serialized whodunnit chronicling the arrest and conviction of Adnan Syed for the murder of high school classmate Hae Min Lee in 1999 – became the fastest podcast ever to reach five million downloads and solidified its reputation as “podcasting’s first beakout hit.”

While listenership of podcasts is still small, that audience gets increasingly larger each year. In its 2015 study, Edison Research showed that podcast consumption grew from 11% of the U.S. population in 2006 to 33% in 2015 — a current total of 155 million Americans. Not only do audiences grow, but the number of shows available do too. Canadaland, Radio Lab, This American Life and The Joe Rogan Experience are just some of the podcasts that routinely appear on iTunes’ “Top 10 Downloads” list each month and they each boast their own rabid, weekly following.

More than the size of their audiences, or even the amount of people who have even heard of a podcast, that following is why podcasts have become a viable promotional platform for any product or service.

“You’re reaching a passionate audience,” says Martin Waxman, president of Martin Waxman Communications, a strategic communications consultancy firm and the co-host of the Inside PR podcast with Gini Dietrich and Joseph Thornley.

“There’s an affinity that takes place when people are listening to you with their ear buds and if they can trust you and know that you truly believe in the sponsor or the advertiser, that’s a great situation because there’s a relationship with the podcaster and the listener that you don’t get with a banner advertisement,” says Donna Papacosta, Principal at Trafalgar Communications and the co-author of The Business of Podcasting with Steve Lubetkin.

So if you’d like to take advantage of what Papacosta calls, “the intimacy of the ear buds” and reach a podcast’s often highly targeted and highly engaged audience, what should you keep in mind?

Podcasts Can Help Advertisers Reach Niche Audiences

Most of the leading podcasts these days rely on the same group of advertisers. NatureBox, MeUndies and SquareSpace are just some of the usual suspects and according to Papacosta, most of these traditional advertisers require at least 5,000 downloads a month before they’ll even agree to pay for an ad. But the size of the audience is hardly what makes advertising unique on podcast, it’s the specificity of the audience you can reach.

“If you had a podcast on neurosurgery, you probably wouldn’t have a lot of listeners, but you would have a truly niche group listening and if you were an advertiser who wanted to reach neurosurgeons, you would want to advertise on that podcast,” says Papacosta.

Plus, podcast ads often come off as a much more genuine endorsement because of the trust that often exists between the host and their listeners. This harkens back to the early days of television when the hosts or the actors you were watching would pitch the product themselves.

“Often times it’s not a produced ad, but it’s the host relaying their own experience with the product or service in question. This is a really credible way of getting your message across to people because people assume that the podcaster believes in the product. As long as you’re transparent about it, I think it works,” says Waxman. “If it’s the right audience, the audience doesn’t need to be huge, especially it it’s a business-to-business audience.”

But to Attract Advertisers, Promotion is Key

When it comes to podcasts, advertisers don’t matter if no one is listening, no matter how niche the show’s topic is. Attracting advertisers at all hinges on building an audience.

“It takes time to build an audience,” says Papacosta. “Obviously, it also takes producing really great content and promoting it on social media and other ways. You might use traditional public relations as well.”

Though podcasts aren’t popular enough yet for PR firms to take them on as clients and regularly promote them to advertisers, that doesn’t mean traditional PR strategy can’t still be applied when hosts are promoting their own shows.

“It still comes down to who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to accomplish, just like any other form of communication. What is the type of content that would appeal to the audience that I want to reach? If you really understand your audience, you know what they want to listen to and you might even ask for feedback as your show progresses,” says Papacosta.

“Just like any other form of media, you really need to understand you audience, know the type of content that they want, deliver it and then be able to measure it in some way.”

Mechanisms for audience and download measurement include free services such as Podtrac and FeedBurner.

Waxman believes that if you are going to promote your podcast through the media, it’s better to target digital media channels as those readers are more likely to investigate a podcast than legacy media consumers.

“The digital version of a publication is probably your best bet because a reader can click on the link in the article, be taken to your podcast, hit ‘subscribe’ and it’s seamless. Whereas if someone were reading about something like that in a print publication, you have to remember the podcast, write it down – there’s a lot more steps.”

Of course, no matter the publication, Waxman says the same basic PR questions apply, What is the story? How is it relevant to that audience?

“Remember too that PR firms can also produce podcasts themselves because they’re all about storytelling and having a podcast of your own is a great way to build awareness of your business and the business of your clients by positioning you as thought leaders on your show topic,” says Waxman.

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