No Formulas for Podcast Sponsorships

If ever there was a next big thing in online advertising, this is it. We’ve recently helped one of my agency’s clients, Travelocity get in on the podcast sponsorship movement, redirecting online ad dollars to this promising alternative channel.

We’ve been working with Travelocity since 1998, and it’s always been a great client. From the beginning, the client has been open to pushing its online advertising into new areas. The explosion of iTunes and podcasts, combined with other advertisers’ hesitancy to enter the space, made the timing, relevancy, and potential of doing a podcast sponsorship obvious to Travelocity. So when we suggested a partnership with public television travel guru Rick Steves, it was an opportunity Travelocity couldn’t pass up.

Steves is America’s leading authority on travel to Europe and beyond. He’s done over a hundred PBS travel shows and authored 30 bestselling guidebooks. Currently, he also does a weekly travel show on public radio, “Travel with Rick Steves,” which has built up a massive offline following. Now with the popularity of portable devices like iPods, his fans worldwide can listen to the show whenever they want, along with some brief messaging from Travelocity. Truly a match made in travel heaven.

According to a recent PQ Media study, podcast ad spending is projected to grow at an astounding compound annual rate of 154 percent over the next few years, outpacing even other alternative ad options, like blog and RSS (define) advertising. John Keehler, our strategist behind the sponsorship initiative, believes these types of advertising will have significant impact beyond merely generating brand awareness.

“Through sponsors like Travelocity,” Keehler said, “big fish and even not-so-big fish podcasters can focus on doing what they do best: providing free, informative, and entertaining content for their listeners. And that benefits everyone.”

There’s no formula to our approach, but I figured I could share how we made this sponsorship happen.

The first thing you need to know is, at this point, this is a very manual process. There are podcasting networks that can make it easier for you to sponsor podcasts, but they’re still pretty early in their development. A few of the networks include Podtrac, Kiptronic, The Podcast Network, and PodShow. You’ll probably want to try the networks, but do some exploring on your own as well.

Here’s the process we went through to identify the right podcasts for our client:

  • Find top-ranked podcasts. Whatever your category, there are podcasts that should be an appropriate fit. In our case, we looked at iTunes’ list of top travel podcasts. We also looked at travel publishers to see if they had podcasts. That gave us a starting point: a list of possible podcasts.

  • Listen and evaluate. Podcast quality can vary widely. Some are literally done in a kitchen or living room; others are professionally recorded. Content quality is also something you’ll want to evaluate, since you’ll want to make sure you’re associating your brand with good-quality, credible content.
  • Contact and negotiate. This is the most interesting part. Many of the podcasters we contacted had never been approached about a sponsorship nor had they given any thought as to how it might work. We had to talk about things like:
    • How many subscribers do you have?

    • What format would the sponsorship take: live reads/mentions; :10, :15, :30 prerecorded spots; links on the site, etc.?

This process felt very much like we were creating a new platform. There were a lot of conversations. Some podcasters were more organized than others. Some were more open to sponsorships than others.

One final bit of advice: Podcasters really know their audiences and what they might or might not be receptive to. Don’t try to push something if the podcaster expresses concern about how the audience might respond.

If you haven’t considered a podcast sponsorship of your own, you should. And if you’ve experimented with podcast sponsorships, I’d love to hear about your experience.

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