Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios

7 min read

At a shopping center in Los Angeles’ Century City, a 1,200-square-foot room painted green, hung with Christmas decorations, was stocked with an espresso bar, a cotton candy stand and steppers for photo ops. Over the weekend, an actor appeared in a furry green suit.

Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios
Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios

The Grinch’s Holiday Greenhouse is one of Los Angeles’ newest “pop-up experiences,” often used to build excitement around big-budget TV shows and movies.

But the company is pushing podcasts, a form of entertainment that until recently relied almost entirely on low-key marketing support — or almost no support at all.

Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios
Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios

For its new series, “This Is the Grinch Holiday Podcast,” Amazon Podcast Studio Wondery has launched an extensive marketing campaign that compares favorably with the far cheaper marketing tactics employed by many podcast makers over the past decade and a half. Has more in common with movie marketing brochures: Swapping ads read by hosts and hopefully on the podcast app’s home page.

Other podcast companies are taking a similar approach as competition for listeners intensifies and investors start taking profitability seriously. They’re turning sound into vision, advertising shows on billboards, streaming platforms and the internet, and hiring marketing executives from studios and streamers to spearhead the effort even as budgets for both media and technology are squeezed.

“Our starting point is always Hollywood-style content,” said Nicole Blake, director of franchise development at Wondery. “Now we’re bringing the Hollywood way to the market.”

When barter isn’t enough
Podcast listenership has been on the rise since podcasts first emerged with the iPod in the mid-2000s. The industry is largely funded by two groups: advertisers who sell on the premise of reaching young, educated consumers, and tech companies who hope to convert listeners into paying subscribers by producing relatively cheap forms of media. Spotify said this week it would cut 17% of its workforce and has invested more than $1 billion in the space.

Successful podcast companies in the 2010s rarely considered advertising their shows in the traditional sense, podcast executives say. As demand increases but the number of shows remains relatively small, most studios can rely on word of mouth, PR and good old-fashioned barter, where one podcast advertises another podcast in exchange for the same benefits.

“We used to be able to launch a podcast, mention it on some other shows, and then it took off and get about 200,000 downloads a week, which was easy,” said Kristin Hume, senior director of brand and marketing at NPR.

Then a wave of new dramas followed and never stopped. More than 1 million new podcast series were released in 2020, up from just over 23,000 new podcast series released in 2010, according to podcast search engine Listen Notes.

“There are so many other options now that we really have to formalize how to roll them out,” Hume said.

The visuals that accompany podcasts in apps and marketing also now require more investment, executives said. As a result, more money is being spent on designing eye-catching artwork to stand out on sites like Spotify and Apple Podcasts, as well as filming studio talent for YouTube and TikTok. Offline billboards are an attractive visual medium for podcast marketers, but they still rarely have the budget to spend on TV advertising.

Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios
Podcast Companies Begin to Advertise Like Hollywood Studios

Podcasts include Slate, Pushkin Industries and Love Media placing ads in busy areas like Times Square and along roadways across the country to drum up interest in shows like “Slow Burn,” “The Happiness Lab” and “Atlanta Monsters.”

“Ultimately, we’re not just trying to reach people who already know they like listening to podcasts, we’re trying to reach people who aren’t listening to podcasts yet because they haven’t found the right show yet,” says marketing manager at audio publisher Pushkin said Eric Sandler, vice president of Pushkin, an audio publisher co-founded by journalist Malcolm Gladwell.

Marketers like Sandler and NPR’s Hume must convince their bosses that increasing media budgets is a good idea, even as other media and technology companies’ budgets and headcounts are squeezed. They say data they only recently had access to helped them prove that point.

Analytics platforms like Chartable have emerged in the past few years to help podcast marketers better attribute listeners to their marketing, a goal that has been challenging given the way podcasts are often distributed on multiple hosting platforms, Hume said. .

NPR, which went through a round of layoffs and slashed its marketing budget earlier this year, now advertises its podcasts on YouTube, Spotify and connected TV platforms including Hulu. The latest of the company’s annual campaigns of at least $1 million since 2021 is to promote the work of its Black podcast hosts across the network.

“We make these things to be heard, and marketing is critical to that,” she said. “It’s definitely becoming easier to understand.”

Other podcast companies have found that they can increase their advertising footprint at minimal cost by placing ads on media properties owned by their parent companies.

iHeartMedia’s podcast network, home to long-running shows like Stuff You Should Know and Six Degrees with Kevin Bacon, runs more than $100 million worth of free advertising on its radio stations annually, according to Conal Byrne. Chief Executive Officer of the company’s Digital Audio Group.

Marketing plans for “Tis The Grinch” include advertising on Amazon.com (from IMDb to Audible) and a tie-in with Amazon’s Ring doorbell. (Users can choose to have the character’s voice automatically reply.)

A podcast brand, not just a podcast
The huge saturation of podcasts has prompted companies to think more deeply about their brands to build loyal audiences across multiple shows. A growing number of companies are following the lead of streaming services and magazine publishers, launching subscription models, offering live events and access to talent as part of a package deal.

“We’re definitely taking a leaf out of Hollywood’s book, mainly because that’s how I’ve been promoting streaming video subscription platforms,” said Nada Arnot, who joined in March The Economist Group as Executive Vice President of Marketing from the UK. Streaming service BritBox. Arnott said the publisher, which has a range of daily, weekly and limited series podcasts, launched Economist Podcasts+ in October as it expands its marketing budget to Promotional $49 per year subscription.

Crooked Media, home of podcasts including “Pod Save America” and the comedy “Edith!” Activist-focused media company. Crystal Ponzio-Busto Head of Marketing and Communications.

Ponzio-Busto said this means ensuring that the videos and ads the company uploads to promote the podcast are tagged with relevant keywords and targeted to people who are more likely to interact with its content. Netflix.

Blake, the Wondery executive behind the Grinch campaign, joined the company in 2021 from Warner Bros. to oversee global franchise development for the Harry Potter brand.

The company, which declined to say how much it spent on the Grinch campaign, now plans to apply the tried-and-true Hollywood intellectual property concept to more podcasts, prioritizing possible expansion into books, TV series, live events and other podcasts, Black said. It will take a multi-pronged marketing campaign to generate enough interest from audiences and partners to make this happen, she said.

“We’re using every ounce of Wondery’s firepower to do this,” Black said of the Grinch event. “You’re going to see it, you’re going to hear it.”

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