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No. 075 Why Podcast Advertising Works (and How to Get Started), with Glenn Rubenstein
2nd November 2016 • The Showrunner • Rainmaker Digital LLC
00:00:00 00:29:58

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Up until today, we ve exhaustively covered the topic of podcast sponsorships and monetization. But each time we ve covered it from only one perspective — the perspective we know as showrunners.

Today, we are talking to an absolute expert in podcast advertising.

In fact, our guest spent years selling podcast ads for TWiT. As the Director of Marketing, he ran strategy and implementation responsible for selling ad spots across 20+ podcasts with more than 70 million annual downloads and streams.

Our guest today is Glenn Rubenstein of Adopter Media, a full-service podcast advertising agency, and in this episode we discuss:

  • Why podcast advertising works
  • What you can do to make your ads more effective
  • How to package and present your show to maximize advertising revenue

Listen to The Showrunner below ...

The Show Notes

The Transcript

No. 075 Why Podcast Advertising Works (and How to Get Started), with Glenn Rubenstein

Voiceover: Rainmaker.FM.

Jerod Morris: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Welcome to The Showrunner, where we have one goal: teach you how to develop, launch, and run a remarkable show. Ready?

Welcome back to The Showrunner, the podcast for people dedicated to creating remarkable audio experiences for their audience. This is episode No. 75. I am your host, Jerod Morris, VP of marketing for Rainmaker Digital, and I will be joined momentarily, as I always am, by my T-shirt-wearing co-host, Jonny Nastor, the host of Hack the Entrepreneur.

But first, this episode is brought to you by Acuity Scheduling. Acuity Scheduling makes scheduling meetings online easy. Clients can view your real-time availability, self-book appointments with you, fill out forms, and even pay you online. To learn more and get a 45-day free trial, visit

Jonny, how are you doing today?

Jonny Nastor: I’m doing excellent, and I’m wearing a T-shirt. It all fits.

Jerod Morris: Big surprise. So hey, are you ready to talk about profitability, increasing the profitability of our podcast and teaching our listeners how they can do that as well?

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, I’m excited about it. I was just thinking about that as you read that excellent Acuity ad spot.

Jerod Morris: I am, too. We’ve spent a lot of time over the last 74 episodes discussing the fourth pillar of a remarkable podcast, which is profitability. While podcast profitability doesn’t always have to be direct in the form of money paid by sponsors for ads, generating revenue directly from your show certainly isn’t a bad thing when it’s done in a smart, savvy way.

You and I have tried to share some of our experiences doing that. Our guest today actually helps showrunners earn revenue directly from their show, and he’s here to lend his insight on how we can all improve the direct profitability of our shows.

Jonny Nastor: Yeah, this is going to be fun. Today’s guest is the founder of Adopter Media, a full-service podcast advertising agency. Prior to starting Adopter, he was selling podcast advertising at TWiT as the director of marketing. When the opportunity arose, though, to be part of the CEO’s recently formed in-house sales effort for podcast advertising, he ended up there and ended up directing marketing strategy for 20+ technology shows with more than 70 million annual downloads and streams.

Glenn Rubenstein: Hey, thanks for having me, guys.

Jonny Nastor: It’s great to have you, man. It’s great to have you. It’s fitting because the reason why I mentioned Acuity is because your company, Adopter Media, has been the company that we’ve worked with now at Rainmaker.FM to get Acuity on with the show. It seemed very fitting to have you on here.

Glenn Rubenstein: Yeah, well, thanks for having me. I appreciate it, and yes, full disclosure, I did work with Rainmaker.FM and Acuity Scheduling to place that ad.

Jonny Nastor: Right, but that’s not why you’re here. It’s just fitting, but I thought it was worth mentioning, too. All right, so what do you say? Should we just jump into talking about some podcast advertising?

Jerod Morris: Yes, let’s.

Jonny Nastor: Let’s do it.

All right, Glenn. Well, we’ve spent a ton of time in the past 75 episodes, and through The Showrunner Podcasting Course, talking about podcast sponsorships, but can we start simply with just, could you tell us why podcast advertising works?

Why Podcast Advertising Works

Glenn Rubenstein: Well, in short, it’s really about connections. It’s about the connection that you have as a podcaster with your audience. What you’re doing is essentially opening up that connection to brands, businesses, and services that you believe in and sharing those with your audience. When done properly — in a really honest, straightforward, and transparent manner where they are labeled as sponsors — what you’re doing is creating a powerful recommendation and endorsement for these products and services that will resonate with your audience.

Again, if you do that well, that’s going to be the most effective way for companies to advertise their products and services. They’re putting them in hands of people that are going to use them, have a personal experience, and give that endorsement — and in essence, becoming an ambassador for that brand.

What that boils down to, Jon, is that, if you’re talking about Acuity Scheduling and you’re talking about the service that you’ve been using, when you talk about that to your audience, to them, that should be more engaging than hearing a standard ‘pre-produced, prepackaged’ ad that they would hear on TV or radio. You’re doing something that’s honest. You’re doing something that’s meaningful. And again, your bond with your audience is really what you’re taking advantage of to make that connection on behalf of the product or service.

Jonny Nastor: Glenn, you mentioned products that you believe in. How important is it for a podcast host who’s going to do an ad to have actual experience with the brand and be able to make a personal recommendation from their experience?

Obviously, there are lots of different opportunities to do ad reads for a lot of different companies that you may get. How important is that for there to be some kind of personal experience there, as opposed to just reading copy that gets sent over?

What You Can Do to Make Your Ads More Effective

Glenn Rubenstein: Very, very important. I think what we’re finding more and more now that podcast advertising has just really blown up this year it was estimated going into the year there was going to be over $60 million in podcast ad revenue.

I think when all is said and done, it’s probably going to be closer to $100 million for 2016. I think that with all this money that’s falling into the space right now, what you just said, there are a lot of podcasters that are simply like, “Hey, get me one sheet with some info, and I’ll just do the read and basically stick to what you want me to say about your product or service.”

I think offering that personal endorsement, that personal experience, is really the way that podcasters can rise above the fold and stand out to the crowd. What you’re doing, again, is treating it more like a piece of content even though it’s labeled as an ad. It’s going to fit with your show. It’s going to be in your voice, and it’s going to be communicated in a way that will resonate with your audience.

That personal experience, if small podcasters out there want to know how they can give themselves an edge in getting ads and compete with the larger networks, committing to that personal experience and the first-person account is definitely a huge way to stand out in the crowd.

Jonny Nastor: When you answered both of these questions, you’ve mentioned clearly labeling them as ads. Is this a disclaimer and necessary, or is this something that helps the whole sponsorship?

Why the Disclaimer on Ads Is Necessary

Glenn Rubenstein: Well, it helps in the sense that it’s transparent and honest, but as far as disclaimer, the Federal Trade Commission has been pretty clear about — whether it’s social media or any form of new media that we’re seeing that has already been infiltrated by advertising — in seeing that these things are clearly labeled as such, so the audience knows you’re being paid to talk about something.

I think that, again, the bond with the audience, I mentioned this in my book, is that it really is sacred, the connection you have with The Showrunner audience, people listening to this right now. You want to be honest with them and let them know that this is something you were paid to talk about, but that you also believe — so I think it’s twofold. One is that you’re giving a clear disclaimer that it’s a paid sponsorship, but two, it also is in your best interest to talk about your sponsor policies with your audience, talk about the fact that you only advertise products you believe in.

Not to tell tales out of the class here, but there have been a couple of podcasters in this medium who almost jokingly, but not so jokingly, will go on and on about, “Oh, hey, we’ll advertise anyone that gives us money to advertise, and we’ll advertise it.” These are some larger names in podcasting.

What’s funny is, if you look at what’s happened, if you were to follow these trajectories of these shows, they after a while have trouble getting ads because their audience doesn’t trust their credibility. So I think you want to be really clear with your audience about what your sponsor policy is, and then mention that.

Use that to your advantage to talk about how these companies that they you will take money from pass that test, that it’s something that you believe in, and are comfortable communicating to your audience. You’re comfortable endorsing it and putting your name behind that product.

Jonny Nastor: Glenn, you’re kind of leading into this next question that I want to ask because I think, if you are not transparent and if you take a really short-term, myopic view of podcast advertising, you could potentially really ruin your relationship with your audience and make yourself a much less fertile ground for advertisers to want to work with. Why does podcast advertising fail? When it does, what are some of the through-lines that you’ve seen when it doesn’t work?

Why Does Podcast Advertising Fail?

Glenn Rubenstein: Well, the biggest, most obvious ones are it’s just a bad fit for the show, a bad fit for the audience. I notoriously point to just some of the more interesting reads that I’ve heard over the years.

There’s one famous example — and this, again, isn’t throwing s*** at anyone — but I’ve heard people marketing infrastructure monitoring for IT, monitoring for your net apps and making sure that everything is running smoothly, and keeping that up and running — whether it’s your web server, whether it’s your applications, getting those first notifications. That’s an important product or service that we can all agree people in IT and software would need, that sort of infrastructure monitoring.

I heard an ad for this on the Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast. Now, nothing against Stone Cold Steve Austin, I’m a huge wrestling fan. I actually host a wrestling podcast in my spare time, but I could hear, when listening to Stone Cold do the ad, he had no clue what he was talking about. He was just going off a piece of paper and sort of doing a spiel. He was struggling to keep up and talking about all these different things in terms of malware alerts, JavaScript, and just all these terms that you could tell he didn’t really have a handle on what he was talking about.

So that’s number one — you want to make sure that you’re advertising on a podcast that makes sense for your product or service. Now, this can make sense in two different ways. One is the subject matter of the podcast, so we can probably agree that Stone Cold Steve Austin and his subject matter — talking to other people in professional wrestling and sports entertainment — is probably not a subject matter fit for IT.

But you could make an argument, and I would be curious if this is where someone got that idea, that, “Hey, maybe a lot of IT guys love wrestling.” It’s a heavy male audience. Software engineering is a heavy male profession. Maybe that was a good idea demographic-wise to do that ad. I’ll give them some credit there in saying that maybe the demographics of that ad made sense when placing it.

That being said, the other ways that campaigns can fail is, you can have a brand-new startup because … and let me tell you, I deal with this a lot. I have a lot of startups that are calling me, emailing us and my agency, saying, “Hey, we’re a brand-new company. We want to test podcast advertising, and we hear that it’s really the place to be right now.” These companies are so young that they really don’t have a proven business model.

If someone wants to advertise on your podcast or you want to advertise on a podcast, make sure that you’ve tested it out a bit first. You can be in those early stages, but you have to know what your pricing is worth, what’s going to really convert and compel an audience to sign up for your product or service. If you have a handle on that and you have a handle that your pricing will work, then you have a much higher likelihood of having podcast advertising work for you.

What you don’t want, and I’ve seen this fail before, someone will be like, “Hey, we’re still experimenting with the pricing. Podcast ads, we’re putting some money into this. Let’s test a more expensive pricing on this and see if it works, and then if it doesn’t work, it’s not that the podcast ads didn’t work. It’s just that your pricing was all wrong.” But there’s also some things that maybe are a little less obvious. I do talk about this in my book under the reason why some podcast ad campaigns fail.

The Less Obvious Reasons Podcast Ads Fail

Glenn Rubenstein: One, and we’ve see this trend a lot, if your company has some avant-garde way of spelling your name, this is an audio medium. You have to be able to break it out for people and let them know. Think about it. You’ll notice in the ad you did for Acuity — and, again, props to them, they’re a great company — the average person might not know how Acuity is spelled, which is why you start with the ‘A-C-U-I’ so that way people can understand that. You want to take that into account. If you’ve got this sort of funky name and people don’t know how to find just by hearing it, that’s going to be a problem.

Another one, and this is a huge, huge landmine. Look, any podcasters out there, if you have a sponsor, the number one thing you have to tell them when figuring out what the offer or incentive is going to be for your audience we all know it’s the free trials, the percentage off, etcetera, etcetera. We hear them on every podcast ad. You have to make sure that whatever they’re offering your podcast is as good or better than other incentives they’re running through other channels. Podcast audiences are so smart. They’re so on top of things. They’re going to Google and make sure they’re getting the best ad.

If you’re listening to The Showrunner right now, you love this podcast, but you can’t tell me that, if you can’t get a better deal somewhere else using a different offer code, using a different coupon, you’re not going to go with that. That’s just sort of the basic human mentality in the 21st century of how we dictate which coupon or promo we use. We want the best deal.

That’s something that I see, oh my god, all the time — sponsors that want to mess around with that. They want to say, “Oh, hey, maybe we’re spending a little more on podcast. It’s going to cost us a little more per conversion. Let’s not give them the best offer.” Then they wonder why it