Here’s why your podcast’s paid media buys aren’t working

Pacific Content has 3 essential rules for effective paid podcast promotion. And now we offer it as a service.

. 7 min read


At Pacific Content, we make original podcasts with brands. But we don’t just make shows. We also help our clients market their shows.

One of the most effective ways to market a new podcast is through paid promotion on other podcasts. It’s a classic preach to the converted tactic: connect with listeners through the shows they already listen to and encourage them to sample your new podcast.

Why? It works.

According to the Canadian Podcast Listener study, 22% of monthly podcast listeners said they discovered a new podcast “on another podcast.” What’s more, 33% of “Power Listeners” (5+ hours/week of podcast listening) said they first learned about a new podcast from another podcast.

In the US, Edison Research found that recommendations and advertisements on “other audio programs” were among the most commonly-cited modes of new podcast discovery:

For years, I’ve seen traditional media buying agencies try — and fail — to execute effective promo campaigns for our clients’ podcasts. Why do they fail? Often, big agencies lack podcast-specific domain expertise. Other times, they don’t have meaningful relationships with podcast creators or networks. Or they don’t understand how to measure the effectiveness of a podcast tune-in campaign.

But perhaps most commonly, the incentives are too small for media buying agencies to justify the hard work required to do an amazing job.

Podcast promo budgets (ergo, agency commissions) are often much smaller than TV, paid social, or out-of-home budgets. With smaller incentives at play, I often see traditional media buyers look for an easy button.

What do these “easy buttons” look like?

  • “Hey large legacy radio network, we’ll take your Business and Technology package, please.”
  • “Hey large music streaming service, we’d like some programmatic ads targeting US podcast listeners between the ages of 35–44, please.”
  • “Hey paid social team, we need more podcast downloads. Fire up the lookalike audiences, please.”

Easy buttons almost always lead to mediocre results.

Pacific Content believed we could do a better job than traditional media buyers. We decided to reject the easy button and lean into a more customized, creative, and effective approach.

So in March 2020, Pacific Content began to offer paid audio promo buying services to our clients. It’s going really well, and we’ve outperformed every big media buying agency we’ve competed against… often by several orders of magnitude.

I’m not writing this to brag.

Instead, I want to share our recipe for paid promo success, with the sincere hope it’ll help brands (and their agencies) spend more money on what works, and less money on what doesn’t.

First, a definition

There are many different kinds of podcast advertising. Today, we’re talking about just one: the podcast “tune-in” campaign.

A paid podcast tune-in campaign is designed to do one thing: measurably increase the reach of a podcast among its target audience by encouraging sampling through paid promotions on other podcasts.

That’s it.

Tune-in campaigns aren’t about driving overall brand awareness or favourability. Tune-in campaigns aren’t about selling meal-kit-in-a-box subscriptions and they’re not about getting prospects to visit your website.

Tune-in campaigns are exclusively about audience development for your podcast.

Our recipe for tune-in success includes three essential ingredients:

  1. Creative Bravery
  2. Audience Targeting
  3. Measurable ROI

Let’s dig into each one…

1. Creative Bravery: The Right Message

At Pacific Content, we’re big on Creative Bravery. As my colleague Steve Pratt says:

Creative Bravery means that, first and foremost, you are making a show. Not a piece of marketing. Making a show means that you’re acting more like a media company (think HBO or Netflix… who make shows) and less like a traditional brand (where the marketing is directly focused on products and services).

Creative Bravery also means that while you are making a show, you’re not making an ordinary show. Not a pretty good show. You are making a great show.

For brands, Creative Bravery doesn’t only apply to your own original podcast. It also applies to the marketing of your podcast. The marketing and promotion of your show should be just as creatively brave as the show itself.

What does that mean in practice? It means buying promos that:

  • Sell the benefit of the show, not the brand behind the show.
  • Include hosts in the promo development process. Avoid networks or shows that only offer announcer-read spots.
  • Supply hosts with advance copies of the show you’re promoting so they can actually listen to (and form an impression of) the show they’re promoting.
  • Send talking points, not verbatim scripts to read. Understand that podcast hosts know their audience better than you do. They know their own voice better than you do. And if you’ve supplied them with advance copies of the show you’re promoting, they know what they like about your show better than you do.
  • Avoid short 0:15, 0:20, or 0:30 spots. It takes time to sell the benefit of a new podcast and explain why someone might want to check it out. It’s nearly impossible for a host to cram a genuine personal endorsement into a 0:30 promo spot.

For example, Pacific Content recently worked with the team at TWiT on a tune-in campaign for the latest season of Command Line Heroes. Here’s Mikah Sargent from Smart Tech Today, talking about the show:

This Command Line Heroes promo ran in both the video and audio versions of TWiT’s Smart Tech Today

To my ears, this is way more creatively brave than a 0:20 second pre-roll full of boilerplate language read by an anonymous promo voice (“Support for our network and the following message come from…”).

Your podcast promo should be just as creatively brave as the show itself. Don’t settle for less.

2. Targeting: The Right Audience

For brands, an original podcast isn’t always about reaching the largest audience. It’s about creating a meaningful connection with the right audience. This is especially important to remember when you’re allocating paid budget to market your show.

At Pacific Content, we use a data-informed approach to find existing shows that appeal to our clients’ target audiences. Our podcast neighbourhood analysis tools allow us to quickly identify the right shows and networks to approach.

For example, when we helped Ford Motor Company launch Bring Back Bronco, we knew we wanted to reach podcast listeners who care about 4x4s, automotive history, and outdoor adventure.

So we analyzed neighbourhoods in the AutomotiveHistory, and Wilderness categories to better understand what these audiences are already listening to. When we looked at the Automotive category, it became obvious that there’s an existing neighbourhood of shows that cater to truck and 4x4 enthusiasts:

The Apple Podcasts (US) Automotive category, with motorcycle, racing, and truck neighbourhoods highlighted

One of the shows we discovered was Past Gas, a storytelling show that “brings you some of the craziest stories from all of automotive history.“ After listening to several episodes, we approached Studio71 about a potential partnership, and the result was a fully customized episode drop. The very first episode of Bring Back Bronco appeared in the Past Gas podcast feed, and on their YouTube channel:

This Bring Back Bronco promo ran in both the video and audio versions of Donut Media’s Past Gas

Not only was this a genuine, enthusiastic, creatively brave endorsement from Past Gas co-host Nolan Sykes, but it reached exactly the right audience: automotive enthusiasts who love great storytelling.

3. Measurable ROI: The Right Measurement

There’s a well-known saying in advertising, commonly attributed to department store magnate John Wanamaker:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

For many years, this was frustratingly true of podcast advertising, and especially so for podcast tune-in campaigns, where the traditional measurement tactics don’t apply. If you buy an audio promo on another podcast, and your CTA is, “Search for Show X in your podcast app,” no coupon code or vanity URL will be much help in tracking conversions.

In recent years, companies like Chartable and Podsights have helped solve this problem through audio-to-audio download attribution tools. For a deep dive, I recommend Bryan Barletta’s explainer on podcast lift reports, but in simple terms, these tools help answer the question, “For every dollar we spent promoting our podcast on other shows, how many new downloads did we get?”

Pacific Content’s shorthand for this is, dollars in, downloads out, or cost per attributed download. When we run paid tune-in campaigns for our clients, this is our north star. Of course, we also consider reach, frequency, and CPM. But ultimately, the goal of a podcast tune-in campaign is to measurably increase the reach of a podcast among its target audience by encouraging sampling through paid promotions on other podcasts.

Paid promo effectiveness means delivering a creatively brave message to exactly the right audience, with the lowest possible cost per conversion.


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