You've been running one of the most successful independent podcast networks. You're managing relationships on both sides with the hosts and the ads, how are you keeping both sides happy?
I have a pretty good internal compass. I've been a podcaster for so long and I’ve had various relationships that have worked to varying levels, I have a good understanding of what people need and what people will like. From the host side, I can kind of protect them and I hope they have faith in me to do the right thing for them.
With our advertisers, I actually think a lot of them like to talk to me because I'll be the one actually communicating the ads in many cases. It seems to be something that a lot of people like. They'll talk directly to the person who is arranging it all but also one of the people that will actually be involved in the communication of their company's message.
So it's having that deeper connection into the voice of the show...
Yeah. It's one of those things that no matter how big we get, I'd like to still have control in. Let's say in 10 years we have a bunch of salespeople, I'd still like to be involved in that process of talking to new sponsors because I actually quite enjoy it.
Many of your advertisers are both B2B and B2C brands like Fracture, Backblaze, Squarespace, and Igloo, and so many come back as recurring sponsors. How many of them come back?
The way we phrase this — and this is what I say to all the companies who ask us this question — we've never had a company that is serious about podcast advertising leave us. Every company that is serious has always renewed with us.
"Long-lasting relationships are what keep us in business."
Why do you think that is?
We're quite picky about the advertisers we work with. We turn down some requests simply because long-lasting relationships are important to us. For our advertisers, I know that they base decisions on having people that are good to work with that can also deliver results. So we only take advertising from companies that we believe fit well with our audience. We don't take something just because the budget is there; the fit for a long lasting relationship has to be there as well. Long-lasting relationships are what keep us in business.
Podcasts today don't really have demographic data about business title, geography, and segment targeted data that people are used to today when it comes to ads. I find a lot more comes down to gut feel and testing, is that right?
Yeah, some products just make a good fit. For example if you make some kind of 'internet of things' home security product or plug socket, you're probably going to do a good job advertising on podcasts that talk about Apple and similar products because those are people that like those products, have a disposable income, etc. so you can assume it will be a good fit. We have some shows that are so obvious — like The Pen Addict — if you make pens, it fits.
There are some shows that will be completely hyper targeted and obvious but other than that you have to understand the world you play in, the world you operate in, and who your customers are. I assume most people would know what that looks like and there is probably a podcast out there that will fit for them. We may have it, we may not, but somewhere out there is a podcast that would work well for them.
What does the process look like from exploring the idea of a podcast advertisement to actually doing your first campaign?
Get in touch with someone like me! The first thing to learn about is information about all of our shows (names, descriptions, hosts, etc), and download stats. That way people know what they're paying for and see the types of shows we have. Then we also give pricing along with that so people know exactly what they are getting into. From there, if they wish to continue we talk about our inventory and what is available and plan some dates that work. Once we've got those dates locked down, there will be some exchanging of contracts so we can get those dates booked.
Then I work with the company to develop ad copy for the shows. Rather than asking for the company to provide a full script, we typically ask for a list of bullet points so we can write the copy in our own style which is very important. We have a style at Relay FM, and I know what fits our shows, and our hosts. We do our best to make the ads sound natural because that is what works best in podcasting. There will be times that the host uses the specific product talked about and they will talk about their own personal experiences, but other than that we'll craft some copy that will fit with the show.
If requested, we share that copy back to the advertiser so they can make sure everything looks good. Then we run the ads. After every week, we send the time codes over to our advertisers so they know where the ads are and they can listen to them. Then we invoice on a monthly basis.
"I don't want it to feel like our customers are just throwing money into a hole."
It sounds very hands on. You're there for the advertiser the entire time.
For me, it's really important. These people are giving us money. I don't want it to feel like they're just throwing money into a hole. I want people to feel like they are being taken care of and that we're doing the best that we can. For example, I don’t think that the sponsor should have to go digging through an episode to find their advertisement. So for me as the general contact, I send them the time codes to make their lives easier.
One of our favorite things to do, when I was at Igloo, was share all the ad reads so that everyone in the company could hear how other people talk about us. It's always interesting...
You really can learn something from it.
So tell me about ad reads, what makes them effective?
Obviously one of the most effective things that they can possibly be is a personal endorsement, but the thing about personal endorsements is that they shouldn't be bought. A personal endorsement is something that someone will give freely (if they want to give it). One of the best things a sponsor can do is to provide product to the advertiser in advance so people can try it out. That's really important. That’s the best way to enable people to endorse your product. It’s not guaranteed (as the host may not want to do this), but it’ll start you off on the right track.
Where an endorsement is not given or needed, it's all about the way we craft the copy. We take a lot of time on making sure that we're effectively communicating the features and benefits that a product or a service may have. We don't just pull stuff off the website or take verbatim points and read them. We translate them into our own way of speaking. I want all of our ad reads to sounds personable. Otherwise you might as well just have an audio clips that pops in and have somebody else talk about it. I don't think that's what makes podcast ads effective. What makes them effective is that we are speaking to them in our own voice and write them to make them sounds that way.
Another thing on the effectiveness side is repetition. We can definitely see that with Squarespace...
The idea of Squarespace sponsoring podcasts has become a little podcasting joke. But what’s interesting is it works. I know it works because Squarespace continues to buy our shows because people continue to sign up. Having your message repeated is incredibly important because it embeds your thing in somebodies mind. They might not be looking for your specific product right now but three months from now when they are looking for it, they'll remember that product.
How many times should you be trying a show to figure out if it works for your business or not?
There is a common consensus among people in our industry that 3-4 ads within a couple of months seems to work. It can be difficult to measure a lot of this stuff because it can differ from product to product and company to company. But the general consensus is to buy a block of ads (3-4) and have them run relatively close to each other.
"As with most marketing efforts, measurement is never perfect."
Speaking of measurement — you used to be on the marketing side yourself — so you know what everyone is trying to get out of their metrics. What are the best practices you've seen for that?
Measurement is difficult. As with most marketing efforts, you can never measure it perfectly. There are going to be people that come to your product three months after they hear the ad, and there are going to be some that just go to the website right away and sign up.
The best thing you can do is provide URL's and promo codes. You give a URL that the host will read on the air which is personalized in some way. This will give people somewhere to go to find information, and you’ll be able to track those people with that URL. Giving a promo code is probably the best way though. Providing a discount gives additional incentive to people, and it’s a little thank you for them too. Then even if people do not visit the site through the unique URL, you’ll still know they’ve come via the podcast sponsorship. We have advertisers that don't do this and I know it becomes difficult for them to track, but from their perspective they are just trying to support the show and they are just happy with the halo effect it can bring.
I totally agree. What resources are there for people to get started with podcast advertising?
There aren’t really many...
The best thing you can do is contact a bunch of different people. Call the people that sell the advertisements, they will always talk to you because they want to sell to you. That is the best single way in my opinion to get the information. I've never found any sort of resource that really works because all the resources are produced by people that sell ads, so they are naturally biased. I know that Midroll has a lot of good stuff but it’s peppered with their shows. I really think the best way is to speak to a lot of different people, compare what they say, and go from there. There isn't a top 10 tips that is produced by an independent party, that I’ve seen.
I think from my experience that the best way to start is to just try it. It doesn't have to be super expensive...
The best thing to do is find some small shows, and the way to do that is ask people that work with you what they listen to. Find some stuff that you think might work, throw some money at it, and test it. That's the best way and then you can start scaling up from there. That really works for a lot of companies that we work with. We've had some companies that started with us and sponsor a little bit here and there, and with Squarespace, go on to buy a Super Bowl ad. They started really small, sponsored a bunch of different podcasts, and went on from there.
"When our hosts are able to fun with the ad reads, the audience will notice and continue to listen"
Do you have any favourite ad reads?
I love anything that Cards Against Humanity does [both laugh], because they fall into a different bucket. They really are just looking to support the shows that they enjoy. So their ad reads are different and very content driven, and not really related to their product in any way.
There is a couple companies that we work with, that I really like. I really like what Pen Chalet does on The Pen Addict podcast. I have a standard read that we do every week but every single week they have a tailored discount offer for just that week. I really like that because our listeners listen to that ad every week so they can find out the specific deal. So if you're a shopfront, and have stuff that changes all the time, that's really great.
We've got a new advertiser called Ministry of Supply that I think are really fun. They have an interesting product and what I like about them is that you can take the promo code into their physical retail stores which I haven't seen before, so that's an exciting one.
I really like Fractures ads and Igloos stuff as well because they let us change the copy quite a lot to keep it fresh. Those ads I know really, really well so I am able to go with them in my own direction. I like a company that let’s us have a bit of fun with it because it can creates some interesting results. If you let us have fun with it, our audience is going to enjoy it. If they hear us having fun, they will continue to listen to the ads.
What’s your favorite 90's dance song?
Hang on a second [Mike checks the date of a song]. Ah! 1989, that doesn't work. Hmm, I don't know.
What’s the one from 1989?
Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) [both laugh]
I feel like that's from the 90's...
It was recorded in 1989. Oh! But it came out in 1990. There you go. C+C Music Factory - Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now) ft. Freedom Williams. There is no greater dance song than this.
I'm going to go listen to it right now...