The incredible explosion in podcasting over the last few years hasn’t gone unnoticed by brands. By the end of 2022, it is estimated that podcast listening will grow to 132 million people in the US alone. These are a lot of listeners that advertisers are very keen to connect with. That means that podcasting can be big business, and not just for the big players at the top of the charts. The podcasting market was valued at $14.25 billion in 2021, which means there is plenty of money to go around, and lots of creators who are able to turn this side hustle into a lucrative business.
However, 1.2 million new podcasts were launched last year, and it’s clear not all of them waltzed straight into a juicy sponsorship with BetterHelp. What distinguishes the shows that pick up sponsors from the podcasters that never get brand support? Here are some tips for podcast creators (or aspiring podcasters) to make sure that your show is one that brands will want to sponsor.
There is a saying on the internet that is often referred to as “Rule 34”. According to this rule, “If it exists, there is porn of it”, meaning that anything and everything under the sun has probably at one point inspired some kind of pornography. (Ah, the internet. What a special place).
The philosophy of rule 34 dates back to 2003, but these days, the same can probably be said of podcasts: no matter the obscurity of the subject matter, there is a podcast out there exploring pretty much everything you can think of (and a lot of topics you probably can’t even imagine). This breadth and variety means that there is strength in finding and owning your niche.
Your particular area of expertise might be antique clocks, it might be figure skating, or even the art of baking bread. Whatever it is, the more specialized your subject matter, the easier it will be for you to find the die-hard fans of that topic that want to engage with the conversation you are hosting. Building out a niche will also make it easier for you to take ownership of that space and become the podcast authority on the particular issue you have chosen.
If your podcast is a general interest chat show, it’s more difficult for you to explain to prospective listeners (and sponsors) what it is that makes your show different. If you are the number one podcast talking about the world of dog grooming, you’ll face far less competition, and will have clear and obvious appeal to anyone with any level of interest in this topic. That’s great for advertisers: they won’t listen to every show that they are pitched, so the more targeted and unique your niche, the easier it will be for brands to understand the premise and appeal of your show.
This tactic works particularly well for B2B advertisers. Think of building your audience as an exercise in “quality vs. quantity” - if you are the top show talking about a specialized topic then advertisers will be interested in partnering with you, even if your audience is relatively small. Size doesn't matter if they know they’ll be reaching an audience that is highly relevant and specific to the message they are interested in spreading. .
You don’t need to wait for a brand to sponsor you to become a voice of authority. In fact, before you speak to any brand about paid partnerships, you should establish your expertise with your audience, to build a relationship with your listeners where you act as a voice of authority. Often, it is easier to do this when you are not getting paid, so your recommendations come across as genuine pieces of personal advice, without any motivation from outside interests.
Name drop the brands you personally use that relate in any way to your subject matter. Make it clear that you are not being paid for these endorsements, but you have found value in the brands that you are mentioning and want to help guide any listeners who might need it. In the dog grooming example mentioned above, you might want to talk about the pet shampoo you prefer, or your trusted online booking system - any product or service that you have come to rely on in your day-to-day work that you can wholeheartedly recommend to your listenership.
When the time comes, the authority and credibility of your earlier recommendations will carry over into your sponsored integrations. Your audience will find it less jarring when you do start running paid adverts for brands - just make sure you disclose the difference between the sponsored brand mentions and your organic endorsements.
Mentioning brands in an organic manner can also help potential sponsors later to understand the relevance of your content. At ThoughtLeaders we track both organic and sponsored brand mentions that appear in podcast transcripts. That means even if you haven’t featured any ad mentions before, a potential advertiser can see the list of brands that have been mentioned in your show. That allows that advertiser to instantly understand if their brand is at all comparable with the other names in that list: if you have only spoken about B2B software, they will see that this probably isn’t the best content to promote their new skincare range.
Tread carefully when you discuss any brands that don’t work well for you. It can help you to sound more credible when you share examples of products that you didn’t find so successful, but make sure that you don’t alienate any potential sponsors in doing so. If you are discussing a product that you weren’t satisfied with, you might want to avoid referring to the brand in question by name to prevent any awkwardness later down the line.
This might sound like it goes without saying - of course, to run a successful podcast you want to attract a loyal audience. But there are several ways to build on and emphasize the strength of your relationship with your listeners, and turn them into a devoted following.
Engage with your audience by inviting them to ask questions and taking their feedback and incorporating it into the show. Make each listener feel like they are part of a wider conversation, rather than just an occasional listener to your podcast.
One good example of this is the podcast “My Dad Wrote a Porno”. With jokes that repeat from episode to episode, the podcast builds on “in-jokes” that loyal listeners will understand to create a sense of community and belonging. The hosts also set out terms of a drinking game that listeners can play along with. Your podcast might not lend itself to a drinking game format, but you can always find ways that listeners can engage with your content on multiple levels, and feel part of a larger community even while listening to your show independently.
It’s a good idea to connect with your listeners via social media and use those platforms to provide them with additional content that isn’t part of the main show. You can pose your listeners questions via polls, or elicit their feedback on certain topics, and then discuss the results in the show. You can also give your listeners a group name that denotes their fandom, and sell merchandise with your podcast name to further enhance that sense of belonging.
All the time you invest in building your following into a community will allow you to present that audience loyalty in a way that brands will understand. If you frame your brand integrations carefully, some of the trust and affection your audience feels for your show will essentially “rub off on” brands that you choose to work with. That’s a huge incentive for brands, and can help you to find sponsors that can become long-term partners for your podcast.
Whether you’re at the beginning of your podcast launch or you’ve already got a devoted following for your show, these tips can help you to attract (and retain) brand partners. Finding the right brands to work with is a win all around: the brands have a chance to speak to an engaged audience, your listeners learn about products and services that may be valuable for them and you have financial support to continue to create quality content.