Recently, I have been doing 2-3 interviews a week about podcasting. I’ve been speaking at conferences in the last few months about the topic as well. And believe it or not, the number one question I get asked when I get off the interview call or the conference stage, is “How do I get sponsorships for my podcast?”
Sponsorships have become an attractive revenue stream for podcasters. Podcasters want to know how they can directly monetize their podcasting efforts. And why wouldn’t they? Many of the top podcasters that do publish their monthly income make north of $30,000 a month on sponsorship revenue. That’s at download numbers starting at 30,000 an episode. I can only imagine how much some of the very top podcasts on iTunes make with 250,000 to even over a million downloads an episode. Yes, shows like This American Life and Serial get well over a million downloads for each episode upon release. The numbers just keep growing as the weeks keep rolling.
It’s no secret why big brands like Ford and Squarespace, who run Super Bowl ads have gotten into podcast sponsorships. Even Hollywood has gotten into the game, running podcast spots for their newly released films hitting your big box multiplex cinema. The payoff for advertisers is huge—one survey of 300,000 podcast listeners found that 63% bought something a host had promoted on a show. It looks like a gold rush for us podcasters, right? Well, not exactly.
I did my own study on how many podcasts on iTunes have sponsors. I looked at every category, from comedy to spirituality, to find out what percentage of podcasts are securing sponsors. What I discovered is that only about 3% of podcasts have regular sponsorships on their shows. Three percent!
I don’t say this to discourage you, rather to illustrate two important points.
1. You have to qualify for sponsorships. No, there is no formal qualification process but think about it- sponsors want to get their advertising dollars worth. They want a show that is going to convert for them and get them an ROI on their advertising investment. Not every podcast out there is going to do that for them.
2. Podcast sponsorships are still young. Sponsors are getting their feet wet, but they’ll be deep sea divers soon.
So given what we know, how can you secure regulars sponsorships for your podcast? Well, my goal is to show you exactly that. But before I get into it, a quick disclaimer:
Not all podcasts are meant to have sponsors. If your intention for creating a podcast was to further develop your communication skills or to spend an hour a week with your best bud gabbing about the NBA playoffs, that’s cool. If you have no inclination of marketing and growing your show to thousands of listeners an episode, you are alright in my books. I’ll be starting a personal blog this year at some point. I totally get doing something for personal development or enjoyment. I am not a believer that ever podcast out there should have sponsors. It’s your show. Do what’s best for you.
This guide is organized into 6 steps, each one building upon the last. Not all steps take an equal amount of time to complete. You’ll figure that out as you go through them. Let’s get into it!
Step 1: Create a Show that’s Worth Sponsoring
Many people don’t know that Nicole and I worked full time on The $100 MBA Show for two full months before it was launched. We took on no other work and no other clients. Our sole project for 60 days was to create the best business podcast we could. We went hard, 7 days a week with 12 hour days. I think we took off 2 days in the entire 2 months. Why so much time? Why all the hard work?
We knew going in that the first step in creating a successful podcast, above everything else, was to create a show worth listening to. We studied shows we found to be exceptional and dissected what made them so popular. We question everything. We wanted to create a show that not only added value to our listeners, but also to the world of podcasting. We re-recorded our first 5 episodes at least a dozen times . The bottom line is, we saw our podcast as a production, just like any hit show on Netflix. We aimed higher than we felt comfortable aiming.
When I’m asked the question “What is your one piece of advice when it comes to getting sponsors for your show?” My answer is always, “Create a great show.” As the creators of our own shows, we are often biased. That’s it’s always better to get people other than yourself to say your show is great- major publications, thought leaders in your market; or better yet, your platform- iTunes or Stitcher.
Step 2: If you Build ‘It’ They Will Come
In this step, the “it” I’m referring to is not the show itself, but the audience. Your audience is your biggest asset with any podcast, YouTube channel, blog or business for that matter. Build a thriving audience and the sponsors will be knocking at your door. Very few podcasters that I have met that have sponsors on their shows, had to chase down sponsors. This is because they let their access to a captive audience do the talking.
As your show grows, the easier it is to secure long term sponsorship deals. This is because your podcast becomes more than just a podcast. It’s a brand, and you the host, become a celebrity of some sort. When you are a celebrity in your field you’re not chasing down sponsors. LeBron James is not begging for a shoe deal and Beyonce is not cold emailing Pepsi. They have an audience. They build a brand and an identity that sells itself and so can you.
Focus on providing more value than your audience is expecting and creating a podcast that fills a void in your market and your audience will come. This doesn’t mean you do not need to do any marketing, it just means when you do market you convert visitors to your podcast into subscribers. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever have to approach sponsors. It just means it’s a whole lot easier to secure them when you have large captive audience to offer.
You might be asking, “But Omar, how many downloads/plays an episode do I need to start seeing or approaching sponsors?” In my experience, most sponsors I interacted with want to see at least 5,000 unique downloads an episode to be interested. There are exceptions of course, but that’s generally what I found to be true. Not there yet? No problem. You can get there over time. Podcasters that are successful know, it’s a long term game. We aired 82 episodes on The $100 MBA Show before we had our first sponsor and 130 episodes before we had sponsors on every episode.
Step 3: Create a 1-Page Sponsorship Guide
Now that you have your audience and you’re communicating with sponsors, they will start asking you for your sponsorship rates. There is no real, set in stone standard for podcast sponsorship rates. They really can be whatever you like.
With that said, podcast sponsorships are often calculated by CPM or Cost per Mile (1,0000 downloads). A common CPM for a pre-roll ad spot of 15 seconds is $18 and $25 for a mid-roll. So if your show gets 5,000 downloads and your show does one pre-roll and one mid-roll an episode, you’re looking at: $18 + $25 = $43 X 5 = $215 an episode.
Once you set your rates, you need to display them in an easy to follow Sponsorship Guide for your sponsors. This is like a 1-page info sheet that not only shares your rates but sells your podcast. Remember, this is business. Show what’s in it for your sponsors and why your show is not only worth their dollars but worth them being associated with.
Need an example? Take a look at The $100 MBA Show’s 1-page guide we created for our sponsors below. This one was for March 2015. Each month, as the show grows in audience, we update this guide.
If you do not want to deal with the work involved in securing sponsors and rather someone else handle it all, we recommend Midroll. We’ve secured many sponsors for our podcasts but so has Midroll. Midroll is easy to work with, transparent and in my opinion the best agent in the game. They work with and are trusted by great podcasts like StarTalk Radio, WTF, Startup, Comedy Bang Bang, Entrepreneur on Fire and Smart Passive Income. When your show is ready to take on sponsors, we highly recommend you give them a look.
Step 4: Under-promise & Over-deliver
If you look at our sponsorship guide, you’ll see we actually guarantee our sponsors more listens per episode than we charge. Sponsors that secured spots in March pay for 16,000 listens an episodes but receive at least 20,000. It’s important to note that these listen numbers are calculated as the total listens per episode over a 6-week span. So in other words, you have 6 weeks to secure these numbers. But we play it safe and we make sure we can deliver the number of downloads we promise within the first few days of release. We don’t want to disappoint.
And that’s the whole point. Give them more than what they are paying for. We all want to feel like we got a deal, so always under-promise and over-deliver. It’s the best way to get sponsors coming back to you quarter after quarter.
Step 5: Nail Your Reads
I’m a big fan of Marc Maron’s podcast WTF. Yeah, he’s a funny guy and his guests are often interesting but that’s not the real reason why I listen to his show. I listen because, he is great at delivering his sponsorship reads. I’ll hear Marc do a read for the same sponsor I had on a show last week and immediatly feel like I got work to do after hearing his version of the read.
Your read or sponsorship ad is something you really need to invest in. Take the time to rehearse your reads. Make sure you are keeping them natural and cater them to your audience. The reason why sponsorships for podcasts are so sought after lately is because brands are realizing how powerful the voice of the podcast host is with his/her audience. Give examples of how or why your listeners should check out your sponsors’ product or service.
Need an example? Have a listen to some of my reads.
The first is for Hostgator on The $100 MBA Show. I do a pre-roll at minute 1:00 and a mid-roll at minute 6:05. I try to give real world examples of why our audience should sign up for their service. I also reference previous lessons on the show (WordPress) and how it applies to Hostgator.
The second is a mid-roll at minute 2:42 we did for XERO on our second podcast, Webinar Ninja. Here, I try to show how Webinar Ninja and Xero are alike, why we love them and why you should too.
Step 6: Go Beyond The Read
Any additional value you can offer your sponsors will help them not only remember you but have them wanting to do business with you again and again. Feature them in your show notes, show them some love with a tweet when you market your episodes or mention them in a blog post like I just did!
Sponsors help support your show, so help support them. We all know it takes a lot of time, effort and money to run a podcast with high production and content value. Take pride in your relationships with your sponsors. Let them know when a listener of yours has taken your recommendation via your sponsorship read. Here are some examples of some of our awesome listeners showing both our sponsors and us some love:
Cat shows how The $100 MBA Show and Squarespace helped her start her website.
— Cat Polivoda (@FrauPolivoda) January 2, 2015
Dean asks a question on our show about what are the best pieces to pick up from our sponsor Combatant Gentleman for a business conference.
I believe sponsorships are like any relationship- it’s a 2-way street. You got to provide for your sponsor so they can provide for you.
There is one last thing I do want to mention before I close off this post. The content of your show should be your top priority. Understand that when you take on sponsors, this is a principle that will be challenged. Your job as the producer of the content is to make sure your sponsorship reads do not affect or contradict your show’s value. This is where pros shine and amateurs reveal their audience’s interests are not a priority. Remember, your audience got you here. Never forget that your show only really maters if they listen.
More About Sponsorships
To learn more about securing sponsorships for podcasts or anything else, check out our guest teacher episode of The $100 MBA Show with Jason Zook. I would also highly recommend Jason Zook’s and Matt Giovanisci’s full course on securing sponsorships- it’s the best I’ve seen on the topic. It’s called How to Secure Sponsorships for Anything.