Should Sponsors Advertise on Podcast Networks?


You're reading a post from Backyard Media's Podcasting 101, a series of guides meant to explain podcasting and podcast advertising to companies that are new to podcast sponsorship. To see our other guides, click here

Companies new to podcast sponsorship often find out about podcast networks pretty early on. These groups of podcasts that operate together offer some opportunities for companies wanting to advertise, but it’s important that podcast sponsors know what they’re about and the pros and cons of working with them. So what are podcast networks, what do sponsors need to know about them, and why should (or shouldn’t) sponsors consider working with them?

The Two Main Types of Podcast Networks

The podcast industry has seen a number of new podcast networks in the past decade. Typically, these networks form in one of two ways:

  1. As an arms-length organization, where podcast shows operate with their own production staff and create content independently, but the network offers logistical and financial support. This support can be in managing podcasts’ websites, finding advertisers and creating listener membership programs. Radiotopia and Maximum Fun are two of the biggest examples of this kind of network.

  2. As in-house production studios, where shows are organizationally closer to the network because they depend on them to produce their content in addition to other logistics like payroll, advertising, and listener support. Stitcher Premium, Relay FM, 5by5 and others fall into this category.

The Benefits of Podcast Networks

So if you’re a podcast sponsor or you’re considering getting into sponsorship, why might you want to advertise with a podcast network?

First, sponsors who work with networks can expect a standard of quality and reliability with a networks’ shows. When onboarding new member shows, networks will require a certain level of audio quality and proven podcast listenership. Once a show is a member, the network will often manage or have full access to that member show’s analytics and listener demographics, and they can usually share some of that information with potential sponsors.

These organizations can also guarantee reliability in their shows: that they will be of a certain quality, post new episodes on an predictable schedule, and that their hosts will read ads in a professional and personable manner.

Similarly, sponsors will find that working with a podcast network means there’s one person or small team that that manages the advertising for all of the network’s shows. Communication with a few people who have access to an entire network’s ad inventory is much less of a hassle than managing email threads with half a dozen different podcasts’ production teams. Creating a comprehensive ad campaign with a network is often much easier and takes less time.

The Downsides of Working with a Network

This isn’t to say that the podcast network is the panacea for sponsors who want to do big podcast advertising deals. For starters, podcast networks will charge more on average for the same podcast sponsorship - instead of a rate of $15 or $20 per 1,000 listens (known as CPM), a sponsor might have to pay upwards of $25-35 to get on a show. Networks will contend that this difference in price relates to the quality and scale they can guarantee.

Podcast networks may also require sponsors to agree to certain terms in a sponsorship deal. Requiring an ad package is common, where the sponsor’s ads will appear across a number of shows, rather than a specific show the sponsor has handpicked. Networks will often do this to fill available inventory on shows.

Finally, the bigger the network is, the more distance there will be between the sponsor and the podcast host actually reading the ad. Host-read ads are still the bread and butter of the industry, and study after study proves they’re effective advertising. That’s because audiences like hearing personalized product recommendations from the people they’re already listening to. This kind of personalized recommendation comes from a host being familiar with the product and understanding the message they sponsor’s conveying in their ad campaign. When a sponsor works with a large network, there is generally less flexibility to customize each ad with a personal host recommendation or message. Flexibility and customization aren’t impossible, of course, but it does become less likely as the network becomes larger.

So, should I advertise on a network?

In the end, sponsors getting in the business of advertising on podcasts should consider what their aims are. Do they want to run a campaign across many different podcasts and see what works? Or do they want to reach a niche audience on on couple of podcasts, and reap the rewards of tapping into curated audiences? How much time does the company have to set up their campaign, and what rate are they willing to pay?

At Backyard Media, we’ve observed a lot of these trends around the professionalization of podcast advertising. Our goal as a podcast services company has been to optimize on both ends of this spectrum: give advertisers the reliable, professional service they need with a single point of contact, AND connect sponsors with the podcast creators who will be promoting their products. We guarantee professional metrics and also give sponsors the flexibility to choose which shows they want to advertise with. We think that white glove, personalized service is the future of the industry, and there’s a lot of evidence that that is where the podcast advertising industry is going.

This guide is part of Backyard Media's Podcasting 101, a series of guides meant to explain podcasting and podcast advertising to companies new to podcast sponsorship. Want to read more guides written specifically for new podcast sponsors? Click here to see our other guides.