A Guide to How to Get Sponsored for New Podcasts
You're reading a post from Backyard Media's Podcasting 101, a series of guides meant to explain podcasting and podcast advertising to new and current podcast creators. To see our other guides, click here.
For many creators, an important step in building their new podcast is to get sponsorship. With sponsorship you can make your podcast a self-sustaining project, and start spending money to actively grow it through your own ads and investing in equipment for your show. But for newer podcasters, the exact steps required to getting to those first few sponsors can be unclear. As part of our Podcasting 101 series for podcast creators, here’s Backyard Media’s guide for how to get sponsored.
Get sponsors by professionalizing your show
It’s no secret that sponsors want to associate their product with a show that has a professional look. Whether it’s the content, the audio quality, the visuals of the show, or the back-end of how you manage your podcast, creators have a lot of places where they can prove to sponsors that they’re a great partner to to work with.
As part of one of our recent guides explaining how podcast ads are priced, we provided a checklist of the things creators can do to make sure their show appeals to sponsors. But let’s expand on this list a bit. We can place the items on this list into three distinct categories: professionalization of data, of content, and of management.
9 Ways to Professionalize Your Podcast
Know who your audience is. Use data collection techniques like an annual listener survey to understand who's listening to your podcast. Demographic data about age, gender, income, professional background, location and consumer interests are very helpful for advertisers.
Reach a valuable audience. Does that survey you just got back say your median listener makes $75,000? That's great - make sure you put that front and center in your conversation with sponsors. Podcasts on average draw listeners who are wealthier and better-educated than the average US adult. Advertisers want to reach listeners with disposable income who have interests that align with their products.
Give great ad reads. Sponsors always tell us that they look for charismatic podcasters who can speak personally about their brands and make their ads sound unique. Every ad read should sound fresh and stand out to your listeners.
Have a back catalog of high-quality, well-produced episodes. Your podcast should have dozens of published episodes. The sound quality should be clear, and the host's voice should have background noise. Any music or transition sounds are easy to listen to and don't distract from the content. Finally, you should make sure your audio is normalized, especially if it has clips from multiple speakers (e.g. a host’s narration, a separate interview, some field recordings, or a live event recording). For more on normalization (also known as Loudness), see this 2016 article from Transom.
Release on a regular schedule. Advertisers love consistency when looking at podcasts to sponsor. They want to know when episodes featuring their ads will come out. Creators should aim to publish episodes at least twice a month.
Have podcast metrics to demonstrate actual download numbers for your episodes. Advertisers want to see data that shows your podcast can actually draw in 20, 50, or 75,000 downloads per episode.
Have content that is substantive and nuanced. Your podcast should bring something to the conversation that listeners aren't hearing anywhere else. Podcast content shouldn't represent a political extreme, or include hate speech or lots of dirty language. If your podcast is interview-based, always try to book new, interesting guests that are experts in the topics you’re discussing. Spend time researching your content, and if it helps improve your recordings, write out a point-by-point script to follow as you record your episodes.
Have demonstrated expertise in your field. Perhaps you or your podcast host has years of career experience in the topic at hand. You're able to draw upon interesting anecdotes that relate to your topics, or you can leverage industry connections to have valuable guests on your show.
Cover a niche topic. Similarly, podcasts that focus their show on very specific topics, like machine learning in Silicon Valley or analyzing cases in front of the Supreme Court, are more valuable for sponsors than general interest shows.a number of things that creators sh
What are some other additional steps you can take? If you’ve got all those down, then you can also make sure you do these:
10. Have good cover art for your show. Your cover art should clearly communicate what your show is about, with a simple design and color scheme. You can include an image of the host if you’d like, or a drawing that communicates the topic of the show. Make sure it has your title in it, and that the title text is in a font large enough that it’s readable as a small thumbnail.
11. Have a professional website for your podcast. This site needn’t be custom-built. Website builders like Squarespace and WordPress have a number of professionally made templates available. These can make your content look great in just a few minutes. Take a bit of time to pick out a template that makes sense for the type look you’re going for for your show.
Now, let’s zoom in and get specific about some of the most important elements from the above list.
Have accurate data for your show
We have steps like “Know who your audience is” and “Reach a valuable audience”. Those are great in theory, but where do you actually start in order to achieve those things?
The first step is to track your podcast downloads. We’ve written a detailed guide on how to set up your podcast for download tracking here. Your goal is to have listenership data for an extended period of time, ideally multiple months of data. Many of the services listed in that guide will allow you to download your data in a PDF or CSV spreadsheet format, which you can later share with potential sponsors. The most important data to have is how your listener numbers have grown over time, and the specific downloads your most recent few episodes have received.
Second, you can understand your audience by conducting a listener survey. This gives you both quantitative and qualitative data about your listeners. We’ve talked about listener surveys in two guides - specifically about why you should do one and how you should set it up. For many podcasts, a listener survey is the primary way to get data about their listeners. What are the age ranges of their listeners? What do they do professionally and about how much money do they make? Where do they live? What are their hobbies and buying interests? What other shows do they listen to?
These aren’t simply good things for creators to know, they’re vital data points that potential sponsors will need before they decide whether to buy ads on your show. Sponsors have profiles of consumers they want to market to that are based on income, age, gender, and other interests. Proving that you already have an engaged audience that falls within those ranges is a great step toward securing a sponsorship.
On the qualitative side, listener survey responses tell you what parts of your show work the best for your audience. Do you have a five minute industry-specific news segment at the top of each of your episodes? Listeners might tell you that’s their favorite part of the show because they learn a lot from it. This kind of “thumbs up, thumbs down” information helps you as a creator when you plan your future podcast content. It also serves as anecdotal proof for sponsors that listeners are drawn to your show for specific reasons, to hear content they can’t get elsewhere.
But there’s something more you can do with this data. Just as businesses create a profile of their “ideal customer”, podcasters should create a sample “listener avatar”.
What does this listener avatar look like? In essence, it’s a detailed written description of your ideal listener. Give them a name and assign attributes based on the average of all the listener data you’ve gathered from your survey. You should detail what your listener avatar does for a living, their gender/age/geographic location, whether they have children or a partner, what their hobbies are, and most importantly, why they tune into your podcast instead of listening to someone else’s.
(Note: If you find there are multiple “types” of listeners in your survey data, you can create a few different listener avatars to represent those distinct segments of your audience.)
If you’ve done it right, your listener avatar will summarize much of what you know about your audience for potential sponsors. Creating an avatar also serves as a moment to focus in on your marketing strategy: given your audience’s demographics, what kinds of companies could you attract to sponsor you?
One last thing about listener data and sponsorship that creators often ask us - what’s the specific listener number I should hit before companies will sponsor me? The reality is, there’s no hard and fast number for listenership to guarantee sponsorship for your show. Generally, once your podcast is in the 8,000-10,000 downloads per episode range, it becomes easier to find sponsors. That isn’t to say it’s impossible to find sponsors below 8,000, but the industry trend is that’s the start of the range where most companies are looking to sponsor podcasts.
Have great podcast content
Having good content means a lot of things, but at it’s core it means your show is interesting and people want to listen to it. From our big list above, we list a few different points that cover podcast content:
Have content that is substantive and nuanced.
Have demonstrated expertise in your field.
Cover a niche topic.
Have a back catalog of high-quality, well-produced episodes.
Give great ad reads.
Why have substance and nuance in your podcast? Hopefully this is obvious, but let’s be explicit about it. There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts on the Apple Podcasts store. If your show doesn’t have substantive content that adds value to a listener’s understanding of the topic you’re discussing, why would they listen? Bringing something different to your topic area is crucial to attracting and maintaining a listener base, which in turn is crucial for finding sponsors.
One trend of new podcasts is to follow the format of the “hot take roundtable” - podcast hosts bring up a news event that happened in their field, and give their reactions to it. Try to avoid this! Your goal as a podcast creator is to have discussions and insights that listeners won’t hear from three other podcasts in their podcast app.
A related point about nuanced podcast content is to cover a niche topic on your podcast. Why should your podcast cover a niche? Isn’t the idea to appeal to lots of listeners? Actually, we at Backyard Media have found that the most successful podcasts are those that have found a niche and gotten really good at covering it. One podcast we work with, First Mondays, is the premiere podcast for analyzing cases before the US Supreme Court. Hosts Ian Samuel and Dan Epps have found a way to use their legal training and Supreme Court clerkship experience to provide insights on the Court’s cases that listeners can’t find anywhere else, and their popularity is proof that they’ve mastered their particular niche.
This dovetails with another point from our list - use expertise in your field for your podcast. If you have years of experience starting companies and taking them public, then consider making your podcast about that. Have you been a health care policy expert for a decade? Then make a policy podcast about health care. Invite former colleagues in the industry as guests on your show. It’s easy to avoid the “hot take” podcast format we mentioned above when you have deep wells of experience and connections to draw upon for your podcast’s episodes.
And the last two - have a back catalog of episodes and give great ad reads - come with time and experience. You should aim to have a few dozen episodes under your belt before looking into advertising. Most likely this is also the period when you’re building your audience to a point where you can attract sponsors. Keep in mind that because listeners can download any episode of your podcast at any time, it’s good to have a back catalog of quality, evergreen content that they can listen to in addition to your most recent episodes.
Giving ad reads takes a bit of practice, and if you haven’t done it before, companies will look at how you sound during your episode content. As you begin to attract sponsors and do your first few scripted ad reads, be sure to take the time to read through the script, find ways to personalize the phrasing or delivery, and in some cases find product features that you genuinely appreciate, so you can mention those during the ad. Sponsors like to see that you’re putting your own personal touch to ads while also keeping to the message of their campaigns.
Be consistent in everything you do
Great content is important, but consistency is vital to sponsorship. Consistency means releasing your podcast on a regular schedule. Sponsors will always check to see if podcasts release on a predictable schedule, with most preferring weekly or every other week. Anything less than twice a month becomes less appealing for sponsors, because the ad inventory on the podcast that’s available for them to buy becomes too small. Companies are also making an investment, and they want to know when their ads will run. If you’ve gotten good at publishing on a consistent schedule, that’s a huge step towards getting sponsored.
Consistency also means good communication. Backyard Media handles much of the communication between sponsors and podcast creators when setting up ad campaigns, but it’s vital that there’s sufficient communication between the marketing team creating the ad and the podcast host who will read it. This can be in the form of an introductory conference call, followed up by emails clarifying important information like must-mention points in the script. Marketing teams want to know the creators they’re working with are responsive to the needs of their ad campaign.
The good news for creators is that communication leads to better ad reads. Hosts understand the product better, how it works, what they should focus on, and the goals of the ad campaign. In turn, the sponsor is happy and more likely to renew their ad deals. And finally, listeners are more likely to enjoy the ads, because they sound great! At Backyard Media, we’ve seen firsthand how responsive and open dialogue between hosts and marketing teams makes for the best partnerships.
And that’s everything new podcasters should be doing to get sponsored. We’ll have more content about sponsorship over the coming weeks, so keep coming back to our Guides for Creators section to learn more about how you can land your podcast’s first sponsorship deals.
Want to read more guides for podcast creators? Click here to see our other guides.