Don't make the same mistake I did when sponsoring Podcasts
I learned a costly lesson that in tech podcasts, an early focus on monetization, or more generally on the “business” of podcasting, is a much better indicator of long-term success than “buzz” or reputation of the hosts.
Image credit: Conversation In A Sevillian Courtyard (1881) José Jiménez y Aranda (Spanish, 1837 - 1903)
Monetization focus is a better predictor of long-term podcast success than buzz or reputation.
It sounds obvious when written out, but here’s how it can be easy to overlook:
The Context ¶
Early on in my time working in marketing at DigitalOcean, I was tasked with driving growth via new podcast sponsorships.
The best-performing podcast sponsorships we had at that time were Linux Action Show and Radio-T, two long-running shows where we took a chance on sponsoring them when they were small and stuck with it.
With that information, I decided to find new podcasts to sponsor that were just starting out, but had potential to grow into something big.
I did my own research and asked my engineering colleagues what podcasts they were listening to. I emailed all the podcasts and responses fell squarely into two buckets:
Sponsorship is not our priority - It was obvious from the pace of email replies that they were focused on other things (like recording podcasts) and hadn’t really thought about sponsorship.
Sponsorship IS our priority - They followed up quickly with stats, one-sheets, sponsorship levels, ideas, future podcast topics, etc…
Surprisingly, all the podcasts with lots of buzz and endorsements from colleagues fell into category ONE (Sponsorship is NOT a priority.)
That’s where I got things wrong:
Incorrect Conclusion: I decided that it’d be best to focus my time chasing down sponsorships in category ONE, incorrectly assuming that those folks were focusing on podcast quality and NOT monetization, while group two was focused on monetization and NOT quality.
I felt like I was the baseball scout finding the sleeper small-town talent that doesnt even know how good he is.
How do I know I was wrong? I wasted a ton of time chasing down sponsorships of buzzy podcasts in category ONE that fizzled out within a year. Their creators lost interest, maybe because they weren’t making money from it.
Meanwhile, one of the podcasts in category TWO was Software Engineering Daily (SED). At the time it had fewer than 500 listens per show, but the creator of the show, Jeff, had the sponsorship motions of a podcast a hundred times larger. Five years later, SED has grown 100x to become a veritable tech media empire, with 25,000 weekly listeners and expansion into other forms of content too.
Luckily for me someone else at the company locked down SED sponsorships later and DigitalOcean still sponsors them today.
But there was a high opportunity cost of wasted time chasing down flash-in-the-can podcasts and not going all-in on SED earlier.
Lesson for Podcasters ¶
If you love talking to people about your niche, that’s only one requirement for success. The much more difficult requirement is that you also need to be interested in the business of podcasts.
Lesson for Marketers ¶
Don’t dismiss those podcasters emailing you weekly touting growth in their sub-1000 listener podcast, offering multiple levels of sponsorship more befitting of something from Gimlet media. They have the fundamentals to build the next niche podcast empire.
Update: I had no idea this existed when I first wrote this, but whether you’re looking to advertise on podcasts, or monetize your podcast, check out Sponsored.us. They’re a marketplace connecting Tech Podcasts and Sponsors.