BITE Focus

Perfect podcast partnerships

Listening to a podcast is an intimate experience. So, unsurprisingly this attention has made it an increasingly attractive proposition to advertisers.

Kara Melchers

Managing Editor, BITE


The New York Time - OOH ads for 'The Daily' podcast
The New York Time - OOH ads for 'The Daily' podcast

I was relatively late to the podcast game. Well, compared to my early adopter friends anyway. But having discovered them properly about a year and a half ago, my commute has been completely transformed. I look forward to walking an hour to work. I’ve stopped noticing the broken pavements, weather that’s either too hot or too cold, and fume-filled streets.

I love that’s it’s become socially acceptable to laugh or cry to yourself in public. Or at least for me it has. And in my fervour to find the next S-Town or West Cork, I’ve had to stop myself from asking these outwardly emotional strangers what they are listening to.

Unlike the radio, podcasts have freedom. They don’t need to appeal to the masses; in fact in most cases, niche is better. Look no further than ‘The Pen Addict,’ two friends talking about pens and pen accessories. Scroll through their five-year-long podcast feed and you'll see there's a whole lot more going on than fountain vs. ballpoint.

Podcasts fit into our on-demand viewing habits perfectly. There are no time constraints and they can be revisited at any time. Hosts of independent podcasts have a greater freedom of speech because they’re not representing a media channel such as the BBC or NPR. And as they're not live there's less reason to be candid as the episode can always be edited. 

Listening to a podcast is an intimate experience. So, unsurprisingly this attention has made it an increasingly attractive proposition to advertisers.

In June 2018, a study by the IAB and PwC confirmed U.S. podcast ad revenue reached $314 million in 2017, an 86 percent upswing from the previous year. Although this is still relatively small compared to other media, for example advertisers in the US are expected to spend almost $70bn on TV in 2018, podcast revenue is projected to more than double in size, to $659 million by 2020, making it a format brands cannot ignore.

Host participation

The worst thing about ads is the inescapable fact that they interrupt our viewing. Yet as most podcasts are free to listen to, ads are an unavoidable way of funding them. Whilst some podcasters are content to intersperse their shows with unrelated disruptions, it’s becoming more popular for the host to deliver the brand message themselves in the style and context of the show.  

The most famous is MailChimp, or should I say Mail Keemp. Played at the beginning of Serial, the investigative journalism podcast from This American Life, the ad consists of Dana Chivvis, the show’s producer, recording various people on the streets of New York saying the company’s name, and getting it repeatedly wrong. It’s not exactly boundary-pushing, yet it spurred a host of memes and the email platform benefitted from the far-reaching success of the series.

Another favourite in the space is Adam Buxton. Working with Acast, a podcast hosting platform, Buxton is able to tag ads onto episodes for a certain period of time. That way once the episode starts it can remain ad-free. Famous for his quirky jingles, he likes to include the same creative character in the branded pre-rolls. “Wear your vegetable shoes with pride, no animals have died…” is a line from the latest ad for Vegetarian Shoes.

Partnerships beyond the pre-roll

In some cases hosts and advertisers like to take their partnership beyond the pre-roll. This works especially well if the podcast in question is part of a bigger media platform.

Girlboss, the community set up by businesswoman Sophia Amoruso, exists to redefine success for millennial women. Girlboss Radio is its voice. The recent partnership with Sephora Collection is a podcast series called #LIPSTORIES, a celebration of the brand’s 40-colour strong line of lipsticks, each inspired by a real-life story. Over six episodes, six influential and all-around inspiring female founders, creatives, entertainers and thought-leaders talk about their success and failures.

Back in the UK, the weekly podcast Business Unwrapped, is a partnership between The Week and Barclays Corporate Banking. A spin-off from the popular The Week Unwrapped hosted by Olly Mann, each episode invites a business leader to talk about the stories that travel under the radar, but have implications for all our lives.

Brands go it alone

In some cases brands don’t look to partner with media channels or existing podcasts and instead choose to go it alone. The podcast platform is ripe for experimentation, with relatively low production costs compared to other media channels. If you are a brand with a bit of cash, why not try it yourself?

General Electric has a history of successfully experimenting with new platforms, launching its first branded podcast in 2015. Called The Message, it sat under the umbrella of the GE Podcast Theatre platform. Along with its agency BBDO New York a second eight-episode, fictional sci-fi thriller podcast called LifeAfter was unveiled. Described as a ‘Her meets Ex Machina’ AI adventure, the hosts ponder the question of what happens to our digital identities after we pass and what role AI can play in the grieving process.

ZipRecruiter is a heavyweight on the podcast circuit. Ads for the recruitment site pop up across a suite of US shows from VOX’s Today Explained to Season 3 of Serial. Recently they have branched out to create their own series fronted by the entrepreneur and author Seth Godin. Akimbo: A Podcast from Seth Godin is a show about what it means to be successful. “No one wants to listen to a 10-episode podcast about how great ZipRecruiter is at finding a job,” says Lex Friedman, CRO of Midroll, the podcast advertising network. “But if we can create a show with someone like Seth Godin, that’s going to appeal to exactly the kind of people that ZipRecruiter wants to reach.”

The New York Times - The Daily OOH ads

The podcast ad

Call it meta but now some podcasts are airing their own ads, only to persuade people to listen to their show, which contains, yes, ads.

The New York Times is airing commercials for its podcast The Daily on television, Hulu and YouTube. The 15 and 30-second spots feature the voice of The Daily host, Michael Barbaro. The show became the most-downloaded new show in 2017 on Apple Podcasts with five million unique listeners per month.


We’ve recently seen the appointment of the BBC’s first podcast commissioner and the launch of a new app, BBC Sounds (still in beta). And with all sorts of stats that suggest podcasts actually improve our perception of a product, alongside their increasing popularity, it’s a media brands shouldn’t overlook.


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