DIY Sponsorships: Pitching Sponsors, Setting Prices and Making Money for Indie Podcasts (PodCon 2019 Workshop)

You don’t need an agent or 30,000 downloads to get sponsors for your podcast. Learn how to write a great pitch, set prices for your show, find potential sponsors, and incorporate ads into your episodes—the right way. Whether you’re an industry vet or an enthusiastic newcomer, a solo podcaster or part of a team, you’ll gain from this audio replay valuable information and a plan for your own sponsor outreach.

Slides, templates, and audio from the session are available here.

Panelists:

  • Amanda McLoughlin, founder of Multitude (@shessomickey)

  • Krystina Rubino, head of offline marketing at Right Side Up (@ihavetoeatthat)

  • Lindsay Piper Shaw, advertising strategist at Right Side Up (@lpshaw)

  • Mike Schubert, host and editor of Potterless and co-host of HORSE (@Schubes17)

Additional Links:

  • Slides from the session

  • Krystina’s article on podcast advertising

  • Amanda’s article on how to get podcast sponsors

  • Multitude’s panel on podcast pre-production at PodCon 2019

This session was based on an article by Amanda McLoughlin. Read the article below, or access it here.

How to Monetize Your Podcast with Sponsors: Pitching, Pricing and Ad Sales 101

January 23, 2018

So you’re a podcaster and you want to make some money. You set up a Patreon and sketched out some merch ideas, but you hear that ads are where the real dollars are.

How do you do that? And how do you do it without ruining your show?

I’m Amanda and this what I do for a living. Let me show you!

I. Understanding Sponsorships

Sponsors usually have two goals in mind: (1) selling their product, and/or (2) increasing awareness of their brand (aka a “hearts and minds” campaign).

Both goals are frequently priced out and measured using CPM: cost per mille (‘thousand’ in Latin). This is how much sponsors will pay per 1,000 downloads of your podcast, views of your video, or impressions on your tweet/Instagram/Facebook post. Sometimes it will be a prescriptive way to agree on a price (“I’ll pay $15 per 1,000 downloads of your podcast), but more often it’s how sponsors assess the performance of their ad after the fact (“We paid $500 for this ad and it was downloaded 8,000 times. That’s a $6.25 CPM. NICE! Let’s renew that ad!”).

Another metric, and the one I prefer, is CPA: cost per acquisition. This is the number of sales or signups businesses get as a result of an ad. Sponsors will sometimes pay podcasters a referral bonus for each signup they get (“Your ad drove 20 signups this month, we pay $30 per signup, so here is $600.”), or use CPA as a metric to assess the ad a few weeks after it runs (“We paid $500 for this ad and got 100 signups. Wow, that’s a $5 CPA! Let’s do another one!”).

Small and mighty podcasts with highly engaged audiences should use CPA as their metric. When you punch above your weight in engagement, retention, and influence, CPA will ensure you get paid what you’re worth. Whether your show is downloaded 10 times or 100,000 times, you are paid by the results you drive. Bigger shows with high download numbers but a less engaged audience will likely get paid more by measuring in CPM — but if their ads don’t sell products for sponsors, they may not get repeat business.

And, great news — podcasts are really effective at selling stuff, spreading awareness, and building good reputations for companies. It’s an intimate medium where listeners develop real relationships with hosts, so when hosts recommend products in their own voices, audiences are more likely to try their product. Podcasts also have attractive demographics for advertisers, with listeners that are more wealthy than average (at least in the U.S.), according to Edison Research.

From the 2017  IAB Podcast Playbook .

From the 2017 IAB Podcast Playbook.


II. Pitching Sponsors On Your Show

How do I find people to pitch?

Look for other independent creators and small businesses! Your first sponsor doesn’t need to be a name-brand company — you can also look for businesses with a little money but a lot of creativity. Online businesses are a particularly good fit, since they can sell to listeners anywhere in your country or across the world (depending on the company’s shipping policies). Convincing a local brick-and-mortar business without an online store to buy ads with you may be a tougher sell, unless your podcast has very strong local listenership.

What is popular on Etsy, Pinterest, and Tumblr with your crowd? Brainstorm some keywords you should search for, then set aside a few hours one afternoon to do those searches. Save links to promising companies and websites, and be sure to save particularly fruitful search strings for use later on. You might want to set up a search alert or saved search on certain platforms.

If you’re having trouble finding prospective sponsors, ask yourself: What would you be stoked to get a free sample of? What delights you? What would your audience freak out about if you Instagrammed it? Where would be an amazing place to visit, and who could help you get there?

Better yet, ask someone else. Ask your friends, collaborators, trusted listeners — heck, maybe even your non-podcasting friends and family!

What goes in a pitch?

It’s pretty simple: a pitch is an email to prospective sponsors with some information on your show and your pricing. One easy way to level up your pitch is with a slide deck. Businesses love slide decks. They look really official (branding!), they’re PDFs (fancy!), and they are something marketing people can forward to their bosses to justify spending money on your show (win-win!).

Take an hour or so to make a few slides about your show, your team, and your sponsorship rates. Save a “Master Template” version of your deck, then make a copy each time you reach out to a new sponsor. Like a résumé, you want to optimize your pitch for the person you’re sending it to. So if you have a movie review show, you might make one version of your deck where you hype all the movie-related aspects of your podcast for movie-related sponsors, and another where you describe it as more general-interest for non-film sponsors.

An example marketing deck from  Spirits Podcast . Grab the template  here .

An example marketing deck from Spirits Podcast. Grab the template here.

As for what to include in your deck, this is what works for us:

  • Title slide with your show artwork.

  • About Us slide with show description: summary, episode length, subject matter, format, hosts, reporting, guests, etc.

  • Our Listeners slide with audience demographics (Podtrac is a great tool for audience surveys), download statistics, and relevant anecdotes (messages, tweets, quotes about how much your listeners love you). If you don’t have demographic info, think about including stats on podcast listeners in general from Edison Research.

  • Pricing slide with your rates, and if you have them, alternative partnership ideas (more on this below).

  • Team slide with photos, bios, titles, and contact info for your team members.

Check out an example of how we format this information here. If you have a great idea for a creative sponsorship or alternative sort of partnership between you and a sponsor, add it into either your email or deck. This could be a product review, an ongoing sponsorship, a nontraditional and awesome ad read, etc.

How do I write a great pitch email?

After putting all this work into your slide deck, it’s also important to be thoughtful about how you write the email. You want to answer the questions the sponsor will likely be asking when they open your email: “Who is this? What do they want? Why should I care?”

Here’s an example of an email I sent to a prospective Spirits sponsor:

Hi [contact] -

I’m Amanda. I co-host Spirits Podcast, a history and comedy podcast focused on folklore, mythology, and the occult. We love [business name], and wanted to know if you might be interested in working with us to promote your stuff.

Our show is 40–50 minutes of a historian and her childhood best friend discussing mythology and folklore over drinks (get it? Spirits!), referencing everything from Star Wars to feminism to media theory along the way. Our past sponsors have included a custom Harry Potter wandmaker and a subscription cocktail service, both of which were huge hits with our audience. We think [business name] would be a great fit as well. And with [number] downloads and counting (around [number] weekly listeners), we know you’ll get exposure to a wide audience!

If you’d like to learn more about our show, you can try any episode that looks interesting to you: we have lots on classical mythology, local folklore, and urban legends. We often tie old stories to aspects of modern life, like our episodes oncreation stories during climate change and mental health in mythology. And if you just want to learn a bunch of cool stories for an upcoming party, we have you covered with 30 Myths in 30 Minutes.

I attached a PDF with some more information on our show and rates. We’re absolutely open to discussion, so let me know if you’d like to chat further about what a partnership might look like! If nothing else, I hope you enjoy the show. Thanks again for making such great [products].

Best,

Amanda McLoughlin

Now rinse and repeat! I like to do this in batches. Set a repeating calendar reminder to do sponsor outreach every week, two weeks, or month. Spend an hour or two researching companies to pitch, and on another day send a whole bunch of emails to those companies/creators. I like to do this one afternoon a month — with pizza. Everything’s better with pizza.

III. Setting Your Prices

How Much Should I Charge?

We know that sponsors hope to spend between $15–30 on each person that ends up buying their product (CPA), or $15–25 for every 1,000 listeners who hear their ad (CPM). As I mentioned, CPA is often calculated after an ad runs for marketers to figure out how successful it was. They take the price they paid for the ad, divide it by the number of signups/purchases they got, and arrive at the CPA number. If it’s within their acceptable range, great — they might renew the ad! If not, you’ll probably never hear from them again. Most shows go through a few rounds of adjusting the price to find out what works and get to a reasonable CPA.

But, you can work backward to reduce trial and error and figure out how much you should be charging. I call this sick dance move the “Reverse CPA.”

Here’s how: Estimate how many people in your audience would realistically respond to an ad. There are a couple of methods you can use.

  • Assume a 1% response rate. Very often, around 1% of people who hear/see an ad will actually do something about it. A 1% response or conversion rate is what a lot of large shows end up averaging — so an episode with 100,000 downloads will yield around 1,000 signups for the sponsor. Take your number of downloads. Multiply by 0.01, and you have your number of expected signups. For a show with 100 downloads per episode, that’s one estimated signup.

  • Estimate your existing engagement rate. You can also predict what your response rate will be using ways that you already interact with your audience. If you’ve done surveys or solicited listener contributions to your show, count how many responses you got. Estimate how many listeners send you emails, tweets and messages for a given episode. Then divide that number by your average download total, and you have your estimated response rate. If your show gets 100 downloads per episode, and you get emails from 10 different people every time you ask for listener input, that’s a 10% response rate — well above industry standards.

My suggestion: calculate both, then pick a number somewhere in between those two guesses. For our hypothetical show above, let’s go with 5: halfway between a conservative 1% guess (1 signup) and the estimated rate based on existing listener engagement (10 signups).

Take your expected number of signups and multiply by the average CPA range: first by $15, then by $30. Boom: this is your range of prices for sponsorship negotiations! Now your small-but-mighty show with 5 expected responses should be charging between $75 ($15 CPA x 5 signups) and $150 ($30 CPA x 5 signups).

A screenshot from a convenient  CPA & CPM calculator . Bookmark this one!

A screenshot from a convenient CPA & CPM calculator. Bookmark this one!

Note that this $15–30 CPA range applies to the standard podcast ad read model: a quick mention of the sponsor before the episode starts and a longer mid-roll ad read. Sponsors may expect to pay more for a long ad spot in the intro, or less for an ad that only runs after the episode is over.

So now you know what marketers would expect to pay for an ad on your show — and more importantly, what kinds of results will make them think that the ad went well and lead them to want to book another one.

Am I selling myself short?

The “Reverse CPA” method leads to a pretty wide price range, and you can throw out whatever number you feel more comfortable with to start your negotiations. If you’re confident that a sponsor is a great fit that your audience will love, start your pricing discussion at the top of your range. If you’re less sure or want to make sure the sponsor says yes, quote the lower number.

If your ad ends up doing incredibly well, you can raise your prices! It is much harder to convince a sponsor to come back if an ad underperforms than to convince them to raise your rates when the ad does super well. In my experience, most sponsors expect to renegotiate prices every time they buy a new ad. You can set this expectation up front by saying something like, “Let’s start with a conservative price and reassess a couple of weeks after the first ad runs. If performance is as strong as I think it will be, we can agree on an appropriate rate for the next one!” Using language like this, I usually start low and work up to a higher CPA over time.

Don’t be afraid of “underselling” or “underpricing” your show — the only thing a marketer likes more than a one-hit wonder of an ad is a reliable source of repeat signups. If the sponsor is clearly a great fit with your audience, marketers will work with you to get to a fair price. And best of all, sponsors don’t talk to each other! No one will say “Oh, but you charged Sponsor A $100 last week, so why should I pay $150?” You get to reinvent your pitch and reset your pricing with every email you send. My advice: start low, establish a track record, and work up to a higher price.


IV. Follow-Up and Follow-Through

What if they don’t email me back?

Let’s face it: sending excited emails to people you’d really like to work with, then never hearing back, can be a disappointing and exhausting experience. My hit rate has probably been 10% over the last few years — one response for every ten emails I send. So you’re not silly for getting emotionally invested in these outcomes! Your mileage may vary, but before we get into the nitty-gritty about email follow up, know that you’re not alone if unanswered emails get you down.

So, how do you write a good follow-up email? It can be hard to strike the right balance of politeness and persistence. You want to get an answer without being annoying — ideally in a timely manner, but not so quickly that the person hasn’t had a chance to even read your first email. My golden rules are:

  1. Follow up no sooner than one week after the first email. (Use a task manager to remind you!)

  2. Send only one follow-up.

  3. Leave the door open for future collaborations.

This last point is important! Your potential sponsor might be thinking “Not right now” instead of “No,” so always end on a gracious note that would allow them to email you back a year later without embarrassment. Something upbeat and general: “I hope we can find a way to work together, if not now then in the future! Feel free to send me a note anytime.” Or specific: “Totally understand if sponsorship isn’t on your radar right now, but if that ever changes, I hope you keep us in mind!”

Some of our shows ended up working with sponsors that initially said “No” or “Not right now.” As their budgets grew or they learned more about podcasting, they changed their minds. Always leave room for this possibility! As my mom always says, don’t burn bridges. Avoid badgering people with emails, using an unprofessional tone, gossiping about them to others, or criticizing their decisions. Be sure to leave a good impression — you never know what might come of it.

But will ads ruin my show?

Not if you don’t let them.

First and foremost: your audience likes hearing you get excited about stuff. The better the sponsor fits with your audience or subject matter, the easier it will be to get genuinely stoked about their product. If your sponsor is a business or product you love to use, let your enthusiasm shine through! Disaffection is for old-school newscasters.

The other cardinal rule of ad reads is to keep it short. Most companies with experience sponsoring podcasts will ask for a 15–30 second mention at the beginning of the show (“This episode is brought to you by…”), then a 1–2 minute mid-roll read in the middle of the episode. Companies that are newer to podcast advertising probably won’t insist on specific lengths of time as long as you get their message across.

Remember that you can negotiate anything, including the format that ads take on your show. Audio dramas and other shows that might not have room for a mid-roll ad break can do their reads at the beginning or end of episodes. Other shows with ongoing sponsorships may do nontraditional ad reads — something other than “Get 10% off Sponsor X at X.com/mypodcast!” Join the Party has an ongoing sponsorship with a local game store where we review products and have store staff answer listener questions. This way our audience gets valuable information enabled by a sponsor but not about the sponsor. Hear how we do it in this clip:

Know what else listeners really like? Sponsors that make a thing possible, then get out of the way. My favorite example of a sponsor underwriting a cool project in an understated way is The Message, an incredibly successful audio drama produced by Panoply and fully sponsored by GE. The only explicit evidence of the company’s sponsorship was a short mention at the end of each episode and in the podcast metadata, where the show author was listed as “GE Podcast Theater / Panoply.” (Behind the scenes, GE had some involvement in choosing the series’ subject matter). The show was great, the sponsorship was tactful, and GE liked the results enough to fund a whole new audio drama the following year. And GE isn’t the only company to get this message (heh heh) — sponsored content is getting more and more popular.

Get creative. Hold your ads to the same standard as the rest of your show.

This sounds like a lot of work.

Yeah, it is! A lot of podcasters end up working with an agent or ad sales company to do this on their behalf. But you can do it yourself, too, and I hope this guide makes the process less intimidating.

Sponsor relationships can be beneficial for everyone involved, but they’re not required to be a successful or profitable podcast. There are lots of other ways to make money with your show: Patreon, merch, work-for-hire on radio shows or other podcasts, and foundation/grant funding (AIR has great resources on those).

Good luck! Let me know if you have any other tips for successful pitches. And please, do share this link with folks who might find it useful. The more informed all of us are, the better and more transparent podcast ads — and ad pricing — will become.