14 min read
Whether you want to make a living from your podcast or you’re just creating one for fun, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to think about sponsorship.
Even when you’re just starting out, it’s entirely possible to cover your costs. You know those shiny microphones or fancy mixers you like ogling in the music shop? Well, podcast sponsorship can help you get them– guilt free!
Thinking much bigger, podcast sponsorship can also lay the groundwork to greater income later on. With a little work and thought, you’ll find there are plenty of companies out there who might have the right products for your podcast. You may even be talking about these products already without thinking about it.
So even though winning sponsorship for your podcast can be a long and busy process, it can be well worthwhile. Let’s face it, if you can make a few pennies by doing something you already love, that can’t be a bad thing! And a living….? It’s possible. Let’s find out how.
For many people, their podcast is a hobby. It’s a passion project outside of their normal work. For others, it’s actually a part of their work, perhaps promoting a business. Finally, for some the podcast itself IS the business. Let’s take a look at how these work.
First, the hobby approach, is pretty self-explanatory. If you can cover your costs and you get to talk about something you love, then that’s a win. All good.
But… sometimes a hobby podcast gains enough popularity that the sponsorship money grows into something significant. At this point, sponsorship becomes a job itself.
As I’ll talk about later, it takes work to find sponsors, to negotiate with them, to exchange contracts, to deliver the slot, to measure success, etc. It’s hard work, but it’s interesting work, and it powers the fun part: presenting!
Plenty of shows only do this and they do it well. They source external sponsors who pay the podcaster's wage.
But the other option is that the podcast is designed to grow just one business. In this case, the presenter is often a business owner and the sponsor is their own business. The podcast pays its way by winning customers for the business and selling its products and services.
This works really well for just about any business. I’d argue that there are few marketing approaches that can grow trust and credibility like a podcast.
If this is you, the approaches I’ll talk about below still work, apart from finding sponsors, of course. You’ve already found your sponsor – you! But, actually, many self-promotional podcasts can still take on external sponsors for some extra income, so it’s still worth a read.
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty to start with. I know you want to know the numbers! So what can you actually earn?
It’s not as hard as you’d think to earn money from podcasting, but it’s important to understand the general value of selling a podcast to a sponsor. Commonly, you can sell advertising and sponsorship in a podcast in three ways. Let’s break them down.
For this example, we’re looking at the standard “cost per thousand listeners” model. You may see companies chat about this using the term ‘Cost Per Mille’ or CPMs.
You’ll often find that companies are interested in purchasing all three advertising blocks together. If this is the case, it’s not unusual to throw in the Post-Roll for free, just to give a bulk discount and to offer a bit of extra value.
If companies do buy all of your ad blocks, you don’t want to load your podcast with lots of different advertisers. Limiting each show to two sponsors tends to be fair on your listeners and fair on the companies doing business with you.
To do the quick maths here, that means you can be looking at up to $90 per show, for every thousand listeners you have. That’s based on two companies taking every one of your ad blocks. At a good-but-achievable 3,000 listener mark, that means $270 per episode or over $1k per month for a weekly show. Not too shabby for doing something you love!
If you’re creating a really specific niche podcast, you can get away with much higher rates than this.
For example, if you present the ‘Running Shoes Podcast,’ you’ve got a really tight, niche audience there. Because it’s so tight, you might only have 1,000 listeners. But those listeners really really love running shoes!
With a specific niche audience like that, conversion rates can be astronomical. For example, if you recommend one particular shoe, then 1 in 3 of your listeners will go out right away and buy it. That’s all thanks to the trust and personality you’ve built into the show over the years. It’s also thanks to the fact that you know, for a fact, that 100% of your listeners are interested directly in that product.
Compare this to a general interest news show with 10k listeners that recommends a shaving company. Because podcast sponsorship tends to convert better than most advertising, they’ll still get a decent conversion, but it’ll be much lower than the niche running shoe podcast above. That’s because it’s a general product and a general audience. They’re not ALL going to be relevant.
If you can prove that your audience interacts really heavily with your podcast, you can use this to add value to your advertising blocks. Show stats on how many listeners took action on the last sponsor slot you ran or how many tweet you, email you, and Facebook you after every episode. This all proves how engaged your audience is and helps you command higher rates.
There’s another thing to think about if you’re starting a new show. If there’s any chance you might do sponsorship in the future, then start now. Include advertising blocks in your shows, even before you manage to secure deals.
How does that work? Well, with many shows there are products you’ll talk about whether you’re being paid to or not.
For example, on Podcraft we talk A LOT about the Samson Q2U microphone. We’re asked about microphones every day, after all, and the Q2U is great value and an excellent starting point for most podcasters. So, since I’m talking about it anyway, there’s nothing stopping us advertising it as a Pre-Roll, Mid-Roll or Post-Roll.
If you take this approach right from the start it sets the expectations for your audience. Then, when the time comes to obtain real partners, they don’t get a shock, or shout, “You’ve sold out!!”
As a bonus, it also allows you to show potential real sponsors that you know how to deliver adverts on your podcast.
Now the big secret here is that this can generate income, whether it’s a real sponsor or not. And that’s through affiliate marketing. You see, those ‘sponsor slots’ will be delivered with affiliate links attached.
For example, we’ll talk about the Samson Q2U, and then say, “Go to thepodcasthost.com/q2u to check it out.” That redirects to our Amazon affiliate link for the Samson Q2U and if someone makes a purchase we get a cut.
So set expectations, showcase your professionalism, and earn a little coin with affiliate sponsorships today.
One more bonus? Why not! The best part is it’s easy to track and starts building those conversion stats we talked about earlier. You can run a plugin like Pretty Link through your WordPress site to allow you to see how many people have been referred to your partner’s site through your affiliate link. This is an example of engagement and conversion success that works wonders with future potential partners.
Arguably the most important part of any sponsorship deal is ensuring that you find the right kind of sponsor. That means understanding what products would sit well in your podcast, and understanding what products your audience wants to hear about!
Your first step could be to think about who your ideal listener is. In podcasting we refer to this as our avatar or our persona.
Flesh out this description as much as you can. You want to get in-depth on what makes your avatar tick and what products they like right now. The wrong product can alienate or annoy your audience, so it’s key that you get this right.
For example, with Podcraft we know that our avatar loves to hear about great podcasting applications and tools. That means we can talk about the best podcast hosting or the best recording tools and it’s actually interesting to our listeners!
It’s in-content advertising that’s not annoying at all because it covers items our audience absolutely wants to hear about!
Once you know your avatar, you can dive into the market research on what potential partners exist. The starting point here are companies that are already spending money on advertising.
Begin with websites or blogs in your industry to see if there are any sponsored articles or pages on them. This is a great starting point because these companies already see the value in sponsoring content.
This is useful in ferreting out popular industry pages or events. Once you have these, you can check to see who is advertising with those.
Social media is also useful if you pay attention to the ads you come across. Pay attention to who’s advertising to you on Facebook, and note them down as potential sponsors. Often you’re a good match with your listener avatar, so you can be pretty sure those products are a good match for them too. So be on the lookout!
It’s also worth a bit of time searching for common phrases in your area in Google. Instead of scrolling past them, look at the sponsored slots. Those slots tell you who’s spending money on Google ads to target your type of audience.
Track some some industry magazines based on your podcast’s speciality. In the same vein as before, take the hit and read through the adverts. Check to see what companies are advertising and whether they might suit your audience.
Lastly, look at what companies are sponsoring other podcasts. It may be too cheeky to try and steal their deal, but many companies like to spread their advertising dollars around. Even if it’s a no, you can at least get a feel for what kinds of companies you might want to approach.
Doing this research is important in understanding what sort of business is open to advertising and what types of products fit your avatar.
Even if you know your avatar like the back of your hand and you have a list of great potential sponsors, it can still badly affect your show if you don’t deliver those slots effectively.
There are several ways to include a sponsored slot, but by far the most effective is when the host of the podcast delivers the advert personally.
Listeners tune in to hear the host’s views, so if a product is highly regarded by the host then the listeners are more likely to take action on the recommendation.
Sponsored slots are also far more effective when they’re personalised. That means avoiding the standard ‘sponsor spiel’ and instead telling your own story.
For example, if I was sponsored by Bose I’d tell my audience how I bought a pair of their QC35 noise cancelling headphones to listen to podcasts and how the quality blew my mind!
Or, in a recent real example, I’d talk about how we’ve been using Audioblocks to produce our Hostile Worlds drama documentary show. I’d show them how we’ve been using the sound effects, the music beds, and a lot more, to create great sounding audio.
In this case, we’re teaching people a few new tricks, but we’re also including the sponsor. So, it’s useful! It’s an advert that they don’t want to skip. That’s the key.
You can hear that in this episode of Podcraft where we tell the listener how we use Loops in our highly produced shows. Skip to 11.45 to hear the advert where we end up talking for quite a while about the approach. Audioblocks was very happy with how this came out and how useful and personal we made it.
Showcasing to your audience why you like the product and how you use it will always result in more purchases. And the more purchases you generate, the more your sponsors will return, and the more future sponsors will pay.
I hope this article answered all of your questions about podcast sponsorship from how to find sponsors to methods for delivering the slot. Now it’s time to put this into action.
Start by finding an affiliate sponsor and introducing that to your show. Use that to test approaches, hone your craft, and collate stats around success. You can also begin to clip out some of these slots and create your own sponsorship demo. From there, you’ll have everything you need to send to potential sponsors, and to come across as a credible, professional podcaster.
Download this issue of Tradecraft as a PDF to read and reference at your own pace.