Podcasts Can Bring in Revenue, Boost Subscriptions and Simply Stand Out

When podcasts come up, a common refrain is, “Can they produce revenue?” They can and they do—some tips are below—but there are other reasons to deploy a good podcast: attract subscriptions (see Arizent below); promote other revenue-producing initiatives; add diverse voices to your content; give your site a different feel (see Overdrive’s Over the Road below); and amplify your own editorial voices.

Last week, Arizent’s American Banker won the Neal Award for Best Podcast for its amazing 5-part series, Access Denied: Systemic Racism in Financial Services. I listened to an episode on “The Financial Media” this morning, and it is eye-opening. It was so engrossing that, of course, I then moved on to a second one and encountered a paywall. It flashed very tempting “special introductory pricing” for subscriptions where you can choose from $41 a week for a month, $29 a week if you subscribe annually—highlighted on the page—and $35 a week if you subscribe for 6 months.

(I wrote last week that Piano’s recently published Subscription Performance Benchmark Report found that 74% of annual subscribers remain loyal to a brand after one year, vs. 46% of readers who pay monthly.)

Of course, many podcasts also weave ads seamlessly into their broadcasts. In an interview on the ASBPE site, John Heltman, editor-in-chief of American Banker Magazine and winner of the Grand Neal in 2019 for his narrative podcast series Nobody’s Home, was asked: What kind of sponsorship opportunities do you offer to clients? How do you seamlessly weave sponsorships and maintain editorial integrity?

“Our sponsorships run through the sales department… but last year we started what is known as pre-roll and mid-roll ads in the podcast. That just means that we run an ad before the episode begins and in the middle. For the mid-roll ad, we just lead up to it by saying ‘And we’ll find out more about that after this quick break.’ And the ad rolls. Sometimes I read it, sometimes it’s read for us, but if I read it there’s music in the background so it’s easily distinguishable from the program. I’d say ours is a pretty typical approach for this kind of podcast.

“As for maintaining editorial integrity, I don’t think it’s different from other advertising. And advertising has pretty clear rules: don’t give preferential treatment to sponsors or represent something as editorial when it’s advertising. Some podcasts have the hosts kind of ad-lib a pitch for the thing they’re selling, but that hasn’t come up for us.”

Speaking of pre-roll and mid-roll, an article on the site Lower Street says that, before approaching a sponsor for your podcast, you should know these things:

What is your inventory? “Podcast ads are often broken up into pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll ads. It’s a familiar format. The mid-roll is the most valuable, since people are already engaged in the podcast by that point… Pre-roll ads are often the shortest, in order to keep listeners on board. Post-roll is often less valuable.”

What’s your pitch? “Simply put: why should a brand advertise with you?” They recommend creating a media kit and a podcast trailer. (There’s a link below to the trailer that Overdrive did.)

What are the demographics of your audience? Who listens to your podcast? “Knowing this is very helpful in determining how to get sponsors for your podcast.”

What’s your advertising rate? “Even if the prospect of earning anything at all from your podcast is exciting, you don’t want to undervalue your show… Rates are typically calculated as a CPM (cost per mille). It’s not all that rare to see CPMs reaching as high as $40 or even $50. Somewhere in the $20-$25 range is fairly average per Midroll and AdvertiseCast.”

Another Neals finalist for Best Podcast, Crain Communications’ Automotive News Daily Drive, features sponsorships—during the podcast itself (the brief intro of the sponsor sounds warm and friendly)—and also ads on the website. And another finalist, Bobit’s Heavy Duty Trucking HDT Talks Trucking, has a sponsor, Fleet Management, and talks up their own events during the podcast.

The other Neals finalist was Randall-Reilly Overdrive’s Over the Road, an eight-part series that gave “voice to the trials and triumphs of America’s long haul truckers.” One thing they do that an expert once recommended to me is to have a separate website and url for your podcast. Here’s a link to the trailer that Overdrive did for Over the Road.

Let’s hope that your podcast gets nominated as a Neals finalist next year—and accomplishes some of these goals.


Neal Award Finalists Offer Replicable and Powerful Examples for Other Publishers

With the Neal Awards celebration set for noon, Wednesday, June 9, I looked through the finalists to see what interesting ideas—it is Ideas Wednesday here—I could find. Well, this might just have to become a series with all of the innovative and exciting work that we’re honoring. It will definitely be worth your valuable while to attend the presentation.

Besides seeing the incredible work that your fellow AM&P Network members are doing, there will be myriad ways to connect at the Neal Awards such as: interactive networking – mini breakouts during intermissions; video booth fun with sponsor Gather Voices – create a video to share your win on social media! #NealAward and @siia; MIRO – contribute to a community-driven art piece by doodling on the #NealAward MIRO board; or just to cheer on your favorite finalists and winners.

Register here. Attendance is free. See all the finalists here. Here are some replicable and effective ideas from a few of the finalists:

Run video interstitials. A finalist for Best Single Article, Teachers Are Getting Schooled on Retirement from Informa’s begins with a powerful tale of a Long Island teacher given bad investing advice from a life insurance rep when she was just starting out. “He said he had an easy way for her to save for her retirement beyond her pension.” After the first four graphs, there’s a short video promo for a succession planning discussion they held on May 11 between contributing editor Maureen Wilke and Advisor Group (the sponsor) SVP Todd Fulks. There are ads later in the story, but that short video is a smart way to promote more good content.

Provide tools/content for our audience – part 1. Industry Dive’s Restaurant Dive is a finalist for Best Series for its series of six articles on successive Mondays with the first story titled, Mapping the Rise of Ghost Kitchens. “Dark. Ghost. Host. These are just a few of the names for the budding restaurant segment rising from the economic upheaval of the novel coronavirus pandemic,” it begins. Not only do they go in-depth, but they also created a “ghost kitchen calculator to help operators assess the financial profile and determine profitability of a ghost kitchen before developing their own concept.” We are here to meet audience needs, and this sounds like a big one. Think about what value-add you can give to an article you’re doing.

Provide tools/content for our audience – part 2. For Best Profile, American Chemical Society’s Chemical & Engineering News is a finalist for a wonderful profile titled A Day With Jennifer Doudna: Trying to Keep Up With One of the World’s Most Sought-After Scientists. It chronicles the day she spoke at the University of California, Berkeley campus. “It’s clear that being considered the Beyoncé of science has reshaped Doudna’s life. But has it reshaped how she views herself?” The article leads to a sidebar story titled Jennifer Doudna’s Tips for New Entrepreneurs. “We asked her to share her best advice for budding academic entrepreneurs,” writes Lisa M. Jarvis. One story presents the person, and the second story presents how to help their audience succeed.

Adding diversity – part 1. Haymarket Media’s PRWeek did a great job of enlightenment and outreach during the pandemic with a video series called Lockdown Life—also a Neal finalist for Best Series. You can see from the small photos that accompany each week’s video that there is diversity of all kinds: age, gender, ethnicity, activity—headlines range from TikTok Influencers Overnight? to PR Pros Flocking to Buy Chickens to 3 PR Pros Recall Their Bouts With COVID-19. Showcasing a variety of your members or audience just makes content more interesting. Oh, here’s the best episode: “Your Job Seems Too Boring” – Kids and Partners Observe PR Pros in Quarantine.

Adding diversity – part 2. What an engaging lead paragraph in DTN’s Progressive Farmer from Chris Clayton, ag policy editor, for his Neal-finalist profile titled Grappling With a New Farm – Young, Black, First-Generation American Determined to Succeed as a Farm Owner (pictured above). “Like a lot of children growing up in a small Nebraska town, Zemua Baptista remembers playing with tractors in the living room as a boy—’carpet farming,’ as he describes it.” And later in the story a quote from Baptista: “I still see it when I tell people I’m a farmer and they kind of look at me. For me, to give a face to a minority farmer is a good thing.”

Offer daily engagement. For Best Podcast, Crain Communications is a finalist for its Automotive News Daily Drive. This must be quite an undertaking to produce every day, though topics could be endless. (At least they took Memorial Day off.) They’re rewarded by a strong audience and sponsorships—on the podcast itself (the brief intro of the sponsor sounds warm and welcomed) and with ads on the site. “Daily Drive is our daily podcast series. We speak with industry experts, insiders and Automotive News reporters about events and trends impacting and reshaping the automotive industry.” These are also good avenues to amplify the voices of your editorial team.

Build creativity into virtual events. A finalist for Best New Product is FreightWaves Virtual Events. In a promo video on their site, CEO Craig Fuller says that “the idea of the FreightWaves Live Experience is to bring you into the action, make you a part of the experience—letting you see how technology is going to shape the future of our industry.” They must be successful because virtual events are planned through this year and even into 2022.

Congratulations to all of the Neal Award finalists; it’s well-deserved! Please register and attend the Neals celebration next Wednesday at noon to see the winners and some of the faces behind this amazing work.

Young people in headset listening to music flat vector illustration. Youth in radio studio recording podcast cartoon characters. Sound recording equipment, microphone, headset isolated design element

The Roles of Engagement: Podcasts Must Connect First, Pursue Dollars Later

In a Lunch & Learn we had last week, Nicole Racadag, managing editor at the American College of Radiology, spoke about their new podcast. “This was something totally new for our organization,” she said. “We launched the first season of the ACR Bulletin podcast in the summer of 2020. The first installation was on population health management, which had a lot of implications for our members, especially with the pandemic. In November we did [a series] on lung screening to coincide with screening awareness month.

“We are also going to look at branching out into doing some visual podcasts. Looking at stats the podcast has also driven a lot of traffic to our magazine’s website. It was downloaded more than 500 times in 2020 and it’s taken a lot of traffic to our landing page.”

I set out to write about monetizing podcasts this morning, but after looking at what our members are doing, it appears that building engagement must come first. The International News Media Association just came out with a new report concluding that “Connecting with listeners must initially be a higher priority than monetization.” However, they also write this: “Revenue from podcasts is growing and is predicted to resume pre-pandemic projections in 2021.” Sponsorships, subscription-only podcasts, transcripts, branded episodes and live events are paths to revenue.

Here are a few great examples I’ve listened to from members:

Interview industry luminaries. Steve Barrett hosts Haymarket Media’s PR Week Coffee Break every week, 15-minute chats with major people in their industry. He spoke with Linda Thomas Brooks recently, the new CEO of the PR Society of America. They also write a short article about the podcast to make skimming easier. Previous guests have been Jim Vandehei of Axios and Edelman’s new Los Angeles GM Jonathan Jordan.

Tackle big issues. Crain’s Detroit Business conducts several podcasts—most are around 20-25 minutes long. One series, Gist: Business Voices Out Loud, focused recently on leadership insights during the pandemic. “Wellness is becoming more important than engagement, because without wellness, no one is engaged,” said one of their expert hosts. Another podcast is just called Voices and another, Small Business Spotlight.

Provide “Thought” leadership. Erin Hallstrom does the excellent, 30-minute Food for Thought Podcast for Putman Media’s Food Processing Brand. She has fulfilled what she told me back in the fall, that they would do a lot more podcasts now “because we’re going to be stuck inside again this winter.” She added that “transcripts became a huge thing” as far as growing audience.

Be informative, use transcripts as a value-add. Spidell, a tax analysis and information publisher, has been doing their popular California Minute podcasts for a while now. These are closer to around 4 minutes. Interestingly, they offer transcripts only to subscribers.

Field questions. Early on in the pandemic, MedLearn Media increased their crisis coverage by boosting their podcast, Monitor Mondays—which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary—from 30 to 60 minutes. “Because of the pandemic, there was so much confusion to deal with and just a tangle of regulations,” said Chuck Buck, publisher. “So we would have 30 minutes of content with our regular panelists, and then field the questions, which just kept coming on a daily basis. We saw big audience numbers.” This helped MedLearn Media sell more subscriptions.

“As podcasting becomes as much a standard part of news media offerings as print and digital, publishers will have to change how they approach product development,” said INMA report author Paula Felps. She believes that “media companies are uniquely positioned to capitalize on podcasts as they have everything a successful podcast requires: compelling stories and information, professional storytellers, and an audience at the ready.” And, she added, “Where audiences flock, advertisers will follow.”

We also believe that’s true. Advertisers and sponsors are looking for more ways to engage with publishers, especially with events still quiet. So if you can build thought leadership, engage a bigger audience and create a popular brand, then revenue should find you.