Podcasts are a great way to both flex your creative muscles and build an audience for your work as a performer. But if you’re only podcasting to advertise yourself, you might be missing a fantastic side hustle opportunity: brand sponsorships.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about one of the most effective ways to monetize your show, from how much podcast sponsors pay to how to track down the right partners.
A sponsor is an advertiser who pays to have their products or services promoted during your podcast episodes. Your agreed-upon sponsorship deal will determine the number of episodes in which their ads are featured, the number of ads that run during each episode, the type of ad, and your ad rate—i.e., the amount you get paid per ad.
The two main types of podcast sponsorship you’re likely to encounter are identified by payment type: CPM (cost per mille) and CPA (cost per action) deals:
- With a CPM sponsorship, an advertiser pays you an agreed-upon amount for every 1,000 downloads of an episode in which their ad is featured.
- CPA sponsorships, on the other hand, are more like affiliate programs. The brand or company pays you a percentage of any product or service sales that result from a unique link or promo code provided for your show—essentially, a commission.
Of course, the key to getting sponsorships is having an audience that advertisers want to speak to. Before you even think about monetizing your podcast, “you need to have a very clear idea of who your audience is,” says Matthew Passy, founder of The Podcast Consultant. That means “why you are speaking to that audience and what you hope that audience is going to get out of this show they’re listening to.”
Hosting your podcast on networks like Soundcloud, Google Play, or Apple gives you access to analytics like completion rates and the types of devices people listen on. Spotify, due to its subscription levels, also offers details on your audience’s gender and age range. These details are vital marketing tools when it comes to contacting brands.
“I’ve worked with clients who have a very well-defined audience,” Passy says. “They go out and talk to brands and businesses that are specifically attracted to their niche, and they can garner and command a much bigger advertising rate.”
While many brands want to reach as many potential listeners as possible, others may place more value on a smaller, targeted demographic, such as the audience of a niche podcast might have. Even if you’re not generating upwards of 1,000 downloads each month, it’s still possible to make some cash from a sponsorship deal. It all depends on the type of sponsorship agreement you’re able to arrange.
The right podcast sponsorship model depends on your audience reach.
CPM sponsorships tend to make the most sense for established podcasts with large audiences because of their per-download payment structure. Simply put, if each episode of your podcast is getting more than 1,000 downloads, with a CPM sponsorship, you’re getting paid for every episode.
Podcasters just starting out will probably want to opt for CPA sponsorships. With this model, even if your episodes are only downloaded by a small number of listeners, if a few of them purchase products or services using your affiliate link or promo code, that’s money in your pocket.
Having success with the affiliate link route is a great first step to garnering bigger partnerships down the road. “If you show you can generate engagement, if you can prove your success as a person who can command your audience to do something, then it's going to be a lot easier to go to someone and say, ‘I want you to pay me to message about what you’re doing,’ ” says Passy.
CPA sponsorships give you the opportunity to earn while you are growing your audience. Of course, there’s no guaranteeing your listeners will remember to use your links or codes, but many affiliate deals include a discount to help drive your audience to the brand and encourage a purchase.
In general, CPM ad rates tend to be between $20–$25, but rates of $40–$50 per 1,000 downloads aren’t unheard of.
The length and placement of the ads in your podcast will also affect how much you get paid. That $25 CPM rate is based on a 60-second mid-roll ad spot. Mid-roll ads are the most valuable to sponsors, because they occur in the middle of a podcast episode, when the listener is already engaged and less likely to skip past them. CPM rates for pre-roll ads, which tend to be shorter and are placed at the beginning of the show, are around $15–$18. Post-roll ads go for even less—around $10 CPM—because listeners are less likely to stick around for an ad once the show is over.
When it comes to CPA sponsorships, rates vary widely between different affiliate programs. If you join the Audible Creator Program, for example, you’ll earn $15 for every listener you get to sign up for a trial membership. Skillshare offers a 40% commission (up to $67) for every new customer your podcast sends its way. CPA rates can even differ between specific products and services in the same affiliate program—Barkbox pays $18 for every new subscription, but their Super Chewer product pays $20 per subscriber.
Another thing to bear in mind is the type of ad you’re willing to run—whether they’re native, host-read ads or pre-recorded by your sponsor to be inserted into the episode. Host-read ads tend to lead to more engagement and purchases, according to one recent study. If your sponsorships are primarily CPA-based, unique host-read ads may be the way to go.
So, now that you have a better understanding of podcast sponsorships, how do you get one for your own show? Again, a lot depends on the kind of sponsorship deal you’re after.
If you’re just starting out, it’s probably easiest to look into affiliate programs. Many affiliate programs are easy to join and free for at least an introductory period. This means you won’t have to pitch your show to a company or negotiate a deal as you would with a CPM sponsorship. Here are a few affiliate programs you can apply to right now:
But if you’re looking to strike a more reliable and lucrative CPM sponsorship, you’ll need to put together a solid pitch with all the information that potential advertisers will want to know.
Grow your audience
The most obvious way to attract sponsorships is to grow your podcast’s following. Your audience size depends on the popularity of your subject matter, your online presence, and a host of other factors. But in general, there are some steps any podcast can take to boost audience numbers.
- Ensure high-quality recording. Nobody is going to share a podcast that doesn’t sound good, much less listen to it for long. Make sure you have taken care of all the necessities for setting up a home studio, from choosing the right mic to soundproofing your space.
- Create a trailer. Just like trailers for movies or TV shows, you can make bite-size previews of your podcast’s content to share across all your social channels.
- Optimize your podcast for better search results. Just a few years ago, Google started displaying individual podcast episodes in its search results; knowing the basics of search engine optimization can greatly expand your reach. Familiarize yourself with programs like Google Trends—or paid services like Semrush—to research what keywords and search results could apply to your podcast. You’ll then be able to capitalize on existing interest in your podcast’s subject matter.
- Create a call to action. If you’ve listened to any podcast, you’ve almost certainly heard its call to action. “Rate, review, and subscribe” is a familiar chorus, but it's vital to remind listeners how they can help you grow.
- Bring in guests (and be a guest yourself). Inviting guests on to your podcast exposes your brand to their audiences and fans. The same works in reverse; guesting on other podcasts is a direct introduction to new listeners. Try resources like matchmaker.fm, a directory of hosts and experts offering their guesting services.
- Promote your podcast on social media. Whether on your own personal channels or the podcast’s branded channels, spread the word about your podcast consistently. Captions or audiograms that tease episode highlights are a good way to build buzz around new releases, for example.
“The most common way that people discover a new podcast is, someone who they know, like, or trust turns to them and says, ‘I know you’re into [this subject] and you should really check out this show,’ ” Passy says. “Encouraging your listeners to tell their friends is going to create advocates and marketers for your show, which is going to do a better job of growing it more than anything else.”
Turning your listeners into advocates means engaging, engaging, engaging. “Any time you receive some sort of engagement from your audience—whether it’s a like, comment or review—respond,” Passy says.
“Thank them, comment on them,” he continues. “Some people will read reviews during their podcast. You really have to covet every single person who is willing to take a moment to engage with you. Think about growing your show one person at a time. Turn that casual listener into an active, engaged advocate for your show.”
Identify a list of brands
By now, you should have enough information about your audience to understand the types of products and services that will appeal to them. But it’s also worth looking at the types of companies that advertise on podcasts that are similar to yours. Do you cover TV and film? True crime? Are you telling a longform investigative story? Were you inspired by any specific podcasts? Asking yourself these questions is a great way to identify your show’s niche and can help lead you to similar podcasts with sponsors who might be interested in your work.
You can also easily find lists of brands that spend the most on podcast ads. In February 2022, for example, the top three were BetterHelp ($7,883,000), HelloFresh ($3,137,000), and Athletic Greens ($2,613,000). Another way to find potential sponsors is to think about search keywords that might lead listeners to your podcast. Google those terms and see what brands come up.
But be advised: don’t just say “yes” to the first brand that reaches out.
“It’s tempting when you are trying super hard to make money on a show and somebody comes along and says, ‘Hey, I would love to be an advertiser,’ ” Passy says. “If you are willing to take anybody’s money just to advertise, what you are doing is selling something that you don't believe in, which will erode trust in your audience. And [you’re] selling something that your audience isn’t looking for.”
Make a media kit
You know you’ve got a great podcast and you believe that your listeners will be interested in a company’s products or services. Now you need to convince that company to sponsor your show, and the key to doing that is a compelling pitch. Your pitch should introduce the potential sponsor to your podcast, as well as answer any questions they might have. You need to convince them that you have a loyal audience who trusts your recommendations. Explain who your listeners are and why they will be interested in the potential sponsor. What makes them likely to purchase or subscribe? What makes your audience a valuable demographic for the sponsor to reach? In what ways is the content of your podcast related to the sponsor?
Putting together a media kit is a great way to organize this information. You’ll want to include as much information as you can about your show and listeners, such as:
- Average monthly listeners
- Engagement metrics, like shares or subscribers
- Positive reviews of your podcast
- Listener demographics such as age, gender, income, etc.
- Ad rates
Most podcast hosting platforms will be able to provide you with much of this info. But you can also try going to your audience directly by asking them to answer a survey on social media or via your show’s website. You can also use the analytics tools on your show’s social media platforms to learn more about your followers, or set up a Google Analytics account to see who visits your site.
Your rates will usually be negotiable, but it’s a good idea to give potential sponsors an idea of your range, taking into consideration your audience demographics and the types of ads you’re willing to place in your show—pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll, host-read, etc.
Sign up for a podcast advertising marketplace
All of this marketing and ad sales work may seem daunting, but there are other ways to find podcast sponsorships that don’t involve cold-contacting companies. When you join a podcast advertising marketplace, you can create a profile for your show that includes a lot of the same info and numbers you might include in a media kit. Brands that are looking to advertise then search the marketplace and, if they think you’re a good fit, they’ll reach out. One drawback, however: the commissions these marketplace take can be as high as 30%. Popular podcast ad marketplaces include Podcorn, Gumball, Acast, and AdvertiseCast.
Join a podcast network
If your podcast has a large audience (in the 5,000–10,000+ range), you might consider joining a podcast network like Wondery, Earwolf, Headgum, or Maximum Fun. Once you join a network, the job of finding sponsors is essentially off your plate; the network does that work for you, taking a commission (around 30%) of the ad sales for your show. Podcast networks generally have minimum download requirements, so if you’re still building an audience, you likely won’t qualify, particularly for top-tier networks like iHeartRadio, NPR, or Gimlet Media. But if your audience is growing, it may be worth pitching your show to a mid-tier or smaller network. Pitching your podcast to a network is a lot like pitching to potential sponsors. Your job is to convince the network that your show is going to be an asset to their existing portfolio of content. It may take a little digging to find, but most networks will have a specific email address where you can send your pitch.
Bear in mind that once you sign a contract with a network, you may lose a bit of creative control. You may have certain content obligations, and you likely won’t be able to choose which brands and products you will have to endorse on your show.