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I’m no fan of advertising. I've spent the better part of the last 20 years running digital advertising agencies at the VP level. And I can tell you with some authority that a lot of advertising is total garbage. I believe in my heart that advertising is a tax paid by the unremarkable. Longtime listeners of my podcast know that I've been critical of podcast advertising, mostly because I'm good at math
But thinking, like things, can evolve. And my thinking on advertising in the podcasting space is shifting.
It’s shifting because it’s impacted my company. My clients are starting to not only get unsolicited requests from advertisers but are actually booking deals. Last week, I closed a couple of first-time ad buys for a couple of clients. Another client somehow landed deals with six different advertisers for his show, and now we have to figure out how to place those ads in episodes that have been produced already but not yet released.
That’s the impetus for this program: re-factoring the process of making episodes so that advertising, sponsorship, or just good news messaging fits inside of our podcasts.
Dropping non-episode content into a podcast episode that wasn’t designed to handle advertising or sponsorship messaging feels clunky and weird. And no one relishes the idea of un-doing all the work that went into making eight episodes so that the final product with the ad messaging doesn’t sound clunky or weird.
Of course, lots of podcasts are set up to run ads. Many have great processes set up so that ads can be swapped in and out without interrupting the rest of the production process.
But most podcasts have never really considered advertising, so they really have no strategy for handling ads or sponsorship messages. Let’s fix that.
Serve Your Listener First, Advertiser Second
Your relationship with your advertisers or sponsors is fleeting. Your relationship with your audience is not. And remember: it’s your audience the advertisers want to reach. Jeopardize the relationship with your audience at your own peril.
To that end, I would avoid running pre-roll ads. Pre-roll means just that: an ad that runs (rolls) before the actual podcast episode content begins. Yes, it’s very easy to place an ad at the front of your content. It doesn’t change the format of your actual episodes and is fairly simple to drop in if your episodes are already produced. That client of mine with the eight episodes already produced? We may be stuck dropping ads in the pre-roll position for those episodes. And I'm not really happy with that.
Re-factoring Podcast Segments As Ad-drop Locations
One natural place to run ads is during the natural breaks within your episode. Take this show by way of terrible example. What you hear as one contiguous recording is mostly one contiguous recording, but there are distinct segments.
It starts with a cold read, where I narrate a few hundred characters of text to tease the topic. Then you’ll hear a little sound logo for some branding (astute listeners will notice I changed it up for Season Three). After it’s played, I roll into my monologue for a few minutes. When I reach the conclusion of my pontificating, I have a call to action or two (Yes, I know you should only have one CTA. Do what I say, not what I do.), and then I sign off and let the same short logo branding audio clip play.
Each one of those segments, even on a short program like mine, could accommodate an advertisement, a message from a sponsor, or just a good news message. If it were planned, obviously. Since I’ve not yet had designs to run ad messages in my episodes, it would sound clunky and weird if I dropped in ads after the fact. And I don’t want my episodes to sound clunky or weird.
You don’t want your episodes to sound clunky or weird either. To avoid that, you’ll probably need to change how you structure the various segments of your show.
For example, you may need to stop teasing the next segment the way you are currently. If you say “Here’s my episode with Santa Clause… enjoy!” and then roll straight into an ad, message, or anything other than that interview, it sounds clunky and weird.
Not that you shouldn’t tease the next segment. I think that’s a fine idea. You’ll just need to do a different way so that listener isn’t wondering what the hell just happened.
Plan It Out On Paper First
To make the least clunky and weird episode as possible, you need to plan it out before you plop down behind the mic or crack open your DAW. Because while it’s simple enough to find a transition point in a 25-minute interview where an ad drop wouldn’t feel clunky and weird, it’s a lot harder to do that for the other segments of your show, either scripted or freestyle.
So plan it out. Get a whiteboard, a collaborative online document, or a piece of paper out and figure out where ads not only make sense, but where they can fit nicely. No, you don’t have to script out your entire show if you don’t want to. But you should script out the entire structure of an episode if you want to be strategic.
Plan For The Ad Inserts To Fail Gracefully
Remember earlier when I said your relationship with your advertisers is fleeting? At some point, you’re going to come up goose-eggs on an ad or sponsor deal, and you’ll have nothing to insert in that space you just made. So make sure your episode doesn’t sound clunky and weird when no ad or sponsor message runs.
Practically, that means DO NOT bake in “We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors.” into your episode content to mark where you plan ads to run. Likewise, don’t bake in “And we’re back!” when you resume regular episode content. That’s an old broadcast ripoff that we really don't need in podcasting.
If you think your ad breaks need those demarcations (they don’t), then bake them into the edges audio of the message you’re dropping in. But you really don’t need to do that. Just plan for some natural-sounding pauses and that should do the trick.
Practicing Ad Inserts For Good
If you're having difficulty conceptualizing how you would do this for the episodes of your podcast, I understand. So move it from concept to practice, and start “running ads” for some cause or organization that you feel is worthy of mentioning on your program.
If it helps, pretend they've actually paid money to you and your job is to make an ad and run it in your show in such a way that it doesn’t annoy your audience and gets the organization or cause the exposure they’ve (not really) paid for.
How will you incorporate that message into your show? How long will it be? Will you use bed music to show it’s different from the rest of the content? Where’s a good place to run the ad? What do you need to do structure-wise to make that happen?
Rather than thinking about how you might do it: Do it! Why not? I'm recording this in late 2020, and there are a great number of worthy causes struggling to get their message out. Pick one with the values, ideals, and ambitions you can get behind… and get behind it! Not only is it a Good Thing, it’s good practice for you for when advertisers come knocking at your door.
Now, as I mentioned, I do not run ads on this show. As you can see from my terrible example earlier, it would be kind of hard to do. But you can go to BuyMeACoffee.com/EvoTerra and toss a couple of shekels my way. Monthly financial support from my listeners/readers is awesome!
And even though social distancing has made it really hard to do it, I would really appreciate it if you told one other podcaster you know about Podcast Pontifications. Word of mouth really matters for niche shows like mine.
I shall be back tomorrow with yet another Podcast Pontifications.