The Art of the Podcast Pitch

Three things marketing people most assuredly hate: (1) being told that their marketing isn’t working; (2) having a tooth pulled without Novocain; and (3) getting a sales pitch. Yet there they were, rows upon rows of marketers and agencies, sitting in an air-conditionless Manhattan auditorium for 3-1/2 hours listening to sales directors and show hosts of the major podcast companies pitching their new series for the fall.

Fascinating how, at least to those in the room, the unwrapped and shimmering new podcast announcements had as much energy and anticipation as a new TV season. The companies enlisted their podcast hosts – many sudden celebrities – for a sampling of their wares and their power of persuasion to attract advertisers.

It was the first-ever Podcast Upfront Showcase, presented by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. It put a three-dimensional persona on an audio-centric platform, providing candy-store browsing for marketers and ad agencies in this suddenly hot medium. (It was fun to hear some of the smoothest sales people claim their show sponsorships have already sold out for a year and if you wanted to hop on for 2017, then today was your day.)

CRN was there for more reasons than to get out of the rain. As expert marketers in the audio space, we recognize the power of podcasts and could have sat on either side of the divide: in the audience as a conduit that matches clients with podcasts to meet marketing objectives, or on stage as a producer with plans to take our creative, content, and experience into this dynamic field.

One measure of how far podcasting has come, at least according to Slate Editor in Chief Julia Turner in her keynote, is that if you do a Google image search for “podcasters,” you’ll see thousands upon thousands of results. She also tried to convey the power of podcasting as represented in objects:

1 – A zip lock bag, to portray podcasts as “The Original Mobile” (she puts her phone in the bag and is able to listen in the shower).

2 – A baseball, to show “Powerful Engagement” (podcast listeners are true “fans,” so when it comes to connections, they “hit it out of the park”).

3 – A knit cap, to illustrate “The Original Native” medium (something to do with podcast ads being so genuine and coming directly from the host’s mouth in the host’s native tongue and tone).

Turner, along with so many other presenters, reiterated the value of podcast marketing:

-The intimacy of the audience

-Purposeful listening – audiences are not “browsing,” they are actively choosing

-The transparency in the ads read by the hosts

-The entertainment factor of the ads, often scripted by the hosts themselves

While the podcast experience is about the subject, even more so it’s about the host. That’s why seven podcast companies paraded out a dozen popular podcast hosts. You got a taste of their topics, tone and personality. They were better sales pitch people than their DOS counterparts of polished preparation and presentation. I believed in them (authenticity was cited several times). And, between you and me, I would have believed in any product they were paid to endorse. Their talent sold their show.

Lining up advertisers is clearly a two-way street. If the host was going to endorse a product, he or she had to approve it and be comfortable offering at least the appearance of believing in it. Leo Laporte, host of Podtrac’s “Twit.tv,” said, borderline apologetically, that he has turned down advertisers from time to time. “It is a big responsibility of ours when we make the commitment to introduce an advertiser to the community,” he said. But when he agrees to an advertiser, those brands can count on his heart and soul in the messaging.

Scott Aukerman, host of “Comedy Bang Bang,” said he started out doing straight professional ad reads, then slowly inserted comedy, poking fun at the product as well as himself. “It’s amazing what kind of retention we get; when the ads are funny, this is different from the typical reaction to simply shut them out and go elsewhere,’’ he said. “People will stop me and mention the ads as much as the show.”

Midroll Chief Content Officer Chris Bannon described one comedy show’s directive from an advertiser, Mack Weldon underwear: “Read it in the same tone as the host. If the host is inclined to swear, then let him do it in our ads.”

That tone is so important. “The ‘first person’ has moved from blogging to podcasting,” said Seth Lind, Chief Operating Officer of “Serial” and “This American Life.”

The beauty of podcasts, it was noted more than once, is to fill a niche and stay narrow. That way, there’s plenty for everyone to choose from. Also, people can drift in and out of show loyalty and topics, depending upon whether they are having a baby, raising a teenager, buying a first house, planning a wedding, getting into college, or taking up fly fishing. The marriage doesn’t have to last forever.

Podcasting wasn’t born yesterday. But it’s sudden spurt in popularity, from both listener and advertiser, plays into the changing nature of how people consume content: on their terms, on their time, what they want, how they want it, and what they do with it. For the audience, it represents an intense relationship, whether real or perceived. It’s the need to feel a sense of inclusion, acceptance into a world seemingly created just for them and others like them. In marketing, we call it engagement. In poker, it’s “all in.”

Jim Alkon
Marketing Director