7 Steps to Find the Best Podcasts for Your Ad Campaign

Travis McKnight

Podcast advertising is among the most affordable, engaging and effective methods to tap into new audiences and build your brand.

As of April 2019, the podcast industry includes more than 700,000 podcasts that have produced more than 29 million episodes, according to Podcast Insights. A majority of the U.S. population has listened to at least one podcast, and unlike radio, online, or TV ads, 93 percent of users stay engaged throughout the majority of the podcast because the medium demands listeners’ attention and time. Plus, a study by Midroll shows that 72 percent of people who have listened to a podcast for four or more years have purchased a product advertised on that podcast.

2019 Podcast Statistics


If you’re considering using podcasts for marketing and advertising, the most important choices you’ll make are what audience you want to target and which podcasts to advertise with. These are complicated decisions, but we’ve devised seven steps that will help you choose the best podcasts for your brand to partner with.

Step 1: Choose a Demographic to Target

The first step to choosing a podcast is deciding who you want to target with your ad campaign.

“Generally, advertisers will come to us with an outline of who they’d like to target, and then we can work with them on finding the right fit depending on who the brand is,” says Heather Gordon, the director of digital sales at the CBC, which publishes a wide slate of award-winning podcasts like “Love Me” and “Someone Knows Something.”

To create the outline Gordon mentions, ask yourself these four questions:

  • What am I trying to sell or accomplish?
  • Why do my current customers buy this product or trust my brand?
  • Who else would buy the product or be interested in my brand?
  • What do both groups of people care about?

If you have previous user research into your current customer base, such as personas, surveys, or focus-group testing, this opportunity is the perfect time to use those resources to answer the four questions and guide your podcast search.

The process gets more complex if you don’t have a clearly defined user base or if your target audience is too large.

In that scenario, your best option is to use a list of standard demographic labels, such as gender, income, education, and interests. Afterward, perform user research on that demographic or get in touch with podcast publishers that have multiple shows to further explore your options.

Step 2: Identify a Unique Proposition for the Podcast Demographic

Now that you have an ideal podcast demographic, the second step is deciding what you can offer podcast listeners that they can’t get elsewhere.

This task is important on two fronts. First, the unique offer entices listeners because the value of “too good to pass up.” Second, the unique offer makes tracking the campaign success and ROI more effective.

The offer itself needs to have a clear value proposition. The common method is giving podcast listeners a steep product discount or free trial if they visit a podcast-specific landing page on your website, engage with your brand on social media, or use a promotional code during checkout.

For example, the SEO tool Ahrefs recently experimented with podcast advertising. In a blog post about their experiment, the author, Rebekah Bek, discussed creating account giveaway contests for listeners who tweet at the podcast and Ahrefs about why they should win a free account.

“It’s a win‐win for everyone involved: the podcast host gets a great prize to boost audience engagement and some extra social shares,” Bek wrote. “We get extra attention to our message and a way to gauge if the ad resonated well with that show’s audience.”

Although this promotional method is the most common approach, it’s not the only option. Another unique proposition you can create for podcast listeners to compare price points or features among other competing products while describing benefits that make your product superior.

As an example, Target advertised its new affordable bra line, Auden, on the podcast “Science Vs.” In the ad, the host, Wendy Zukerman, introduces the brand and then begins chatting about buying bras with a coworker, Alice. Alice complained about buying a fancy, poorly fitting bra online that cost nearly $70. Zukerman countered that the Auden bra line costs less than $22 and has ample sizes for most women.

After determining the offer or unique proposition, consider if you’re able to provide the podcast host with your product beforehand.

“A lot of times brands will offer the talent a product to experience first hand if they aren’t aware of it; this lends authenticity to the way the talent can then speak about the product or service,” Gordon says. “Having that genuine experience means they can talk more convincingly when they do the commercial or speak about it in their live read.”

If you consider this tactic, it’s important to be aware that not every podcast or publisher allows for hosts to give explicit endorsements or accept product trial arrangements. Public broadcast publishers are among the organizations that typically stay objective.

Step 3: Conduct User Research

Current and previous customers are among the most underused resources in podcast advertising. As we established, the podcast industry is flooded with more than 700,000 podcasts—stumbling on the perfect option without help is tough. But if you combine your brand’s user personas (and other demographic information) with surveys, you can quickly learn what podcasts your customers listen to.

This step works exceedingly well if your brand has an active presence on social media or a robust email newsletter. You can set up a free survey using tools like Google Forms and Survey Monkey. Below is an example.

Example of a podcast survey form


If you don’t have access to enough customers to create a survey, don’t fret. Online tools like Survey Monkey, Survey Planet and SoGoSurvey can recruit survey participants within targeted demographic parameters.

Step 4: Use the User Research to Find Podcasts

Now that you have a list of podcasts your current and previous customers listen to (or, users within their demographic), begin researching those podcasts to determine if they’re a good fit with your brand and the ad you’d like to create.

We recommend focusing your efforts first on the most frequently mentioned podcasts. If one podcast doesn’t stand out as a clear winner, look for themes that jump out, such as genres, hosts, topics, or podcast publishers. Afterward, dig into popular podcasts within those correlations to narrow down your options.

While you’re researching podcasts, ask yourself these three questions:

    • How do the podcast hosts blend audience interests with the ads or sponsorship mentions?
    • What level of expertise do the hosts appear to have with the products they advertise?
    • If you can find audience demographics, does that data align with your ideal demographic?

If you’re still unsure of what podcasts to target, consider evaluating podcast publishers instead, which can help choose for you.

“What we like to do is encourage clients to consider an audience approach,” says Kathy Callaghan, the executive director of sponsorship at WNYC, which publishes award-winning podcasts like Radiolab and Snap Judgement. “Rather than picking and choosing specific shows, think about the audience and scale you can get by signing a collection of shows.”

After learning what a client’s goals are, Callaghan says she and her team work closely with that brand to understand what shows are working the best. Afterward, advertisers get the opportunity to increase the flight of advertisements for shows that are working better than others.

Step 5: Choose Among Pre-roll, Mid-roll or Post-roll

One of the common questions podcast hosts or publishers ask is where do you want your ad to run: the beginning, middle or end of an episode?

Pre-roll and post-roll ads are often 15-30 seconds long and premiere before or after the episode, respectively. Mid-roll ads range from one to two minutes and serve as an intermission. Each option usually costs different amounts, with mid-roll being the most expensive, and some podcasts will book one type of ad placement months in advance. Knowing what your ideal placement is further narrows your choices.

Mid-roll ads are often the most effective choice because listeners are unlikely to try and skip the ad and potentially miss valuable content. Consequently, mid-roll is also the most popular option.

Step 6: Choose Your Advertisement Type: Baked-in vs. Dynamic

After you’ve determined where in the episode you’d ideally like your ad to run, the next choice is what type of advertisement you want the host or publisher to include. Usually, you have two ad options: baked-in and dynamically inserted.

A baked-in ad is read live by the podcast host and becomes part of the episode itself. Every user will hear the same advertisement, regardless of when they listen to the episode.

Contrarily, a dynamically inserted ad is included in the episode by an ad server after the podcast is recorded. Dynamic ads rotate throughout the year, letting publishers target specific podcast audience demographics. Ultimately, not every listener will hear the same ad.

Podcast publishers may not offer both options, so choose who you want to partner with carefully.

Step 7: Chat with the Podcast Host or Production Team

Now that you’re empowered with the knowledge of who you want to target, what you’ll offer that audience, what type of ad you’d like to serve and where it should live, you’re ready to begin chatting with the podcast hosts or publishers.

At the start of your conversation, the podcast team will likely ask you about the following topics, most of which are centered on your campaign goals:

      • What are you trying to achieve?
      • What are your KPIs?
      • Who are you trying to connect with?
      • What sort of content do you want to be aligned with?

“It’s really about listening to our clients, and then based on our knowledge of our catalogue, working with them to find the best fit,” says Robin Neufeld, the director of content marketing at CBC. “Often the best fit is a number of podcasts over a flight, just to test out different creative, podcasts, [or] genres.”

While you’re chatting with brands and answering these questions, it’s important to remember the podcast industry is full of noise and podcasts with varying levels of quality and reach. Neufeld, Gordon, and Callaghan all emphasize you should choose to talk and partner with brands with enough audience trust, reach, and loyalty to achieve your goals.

“The ideal scenario is those instances where you have a partnership with a client and you agree that you’re going to learn together about what makes the most sense for their brand,” Callaghan says.

Discovering what makes sense for your brand and the podcasts you’re partnering with is crucial. That’s because podcasts are a powerful storytelling medium thanks to the intimate connection listeners have with the show hosts. When an ad pops up on a podcast, it’s closer to having a conversation with a good friend rather than hearing a blaring radio spot. Now is the perfect time to take advantage of this connection and include podcast advertising in your marketing strategy.

Travis McKnight

Travis McKnight

Content Strategy Architect
Content Strategy Architect

Prior to migrating to digital marketing, Travis spent many years in the world of journalism, and his byline includes The Guardian, New York Magazine, Slate Magazine, and more. As a Content Strategy Architect at Portent, Travis gets to apply his passion for authentic storytelling to help clients create meaningful content that consistently delivers a refined experience for users.

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