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Advertising A Podcast, Part 3

March 16, 2020 · By · 10 minutes to read

A Podnews exclusive series by Sean Howard of Fable and Folly Productions, the creators of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and the improvised sci-fi dark comedy Civilized.

<< Here’s part 2…

In this installment, I share the results of experiments designed to gain listeners via cross promotion. This is about leveraging our shared reach as podcasts for mutual benefit.

We are going to cover three types of cross-promotion: promo ad swaps, episode drops and crossovers.

Promo Ad Swaps

The simplest form of a promo swap is where two show creators agree to insert a promotion into their public feed that promotes each others’ shows.

The above is an example of a promo we did for Oblivity. We did this in-character and ran it as a mid-roll in episode 205 of Civilized.

Promo ad swaps are straight forward and easy to negotiate. Identify a show that is a fit with your audience, something you are super proud to promote and that your listeners will enjoy.

Then send the creator a simple email such as:

Hi XXXX,

I create the show ZZZ and wanted to reach out as I adore your show YYYY.

Would you be open to doing a promo swap with us? This is where we each give a shout out to each others show in our podcast. I’m enclosing a link to a promo we ran for another Sci-Fi show, Marsfall that was a lot of fun and they were super happy with the results.

Sean

There are no rules beyond what you choose to negotiate. I do recommend you discuss how long you plan to leave the promo in place. The answer can be forever, but it can also be for a certain time period or even a certain number of downloads.

I recommend discussing a minimum time period after which you can both remove the promo should that be needed or pertinent. This gives flexibility to both creators should they sign some type of representation or network deal in the future.

Results of Promo Ad Swaps

Readers of this series will know that I strongly encourage measuring the effectiveness of any promotion in what really matters, the actual listeners created.

Sadly, there are not a lot of ways for a small, independent podcast creator to measure the results of in-feed cross-promotional efforts. Chartable offers a solution, but it is currently looking to partner with larger podcast networks, not individual creators.

Podcast host RedCircle has a solution for creating measurable cross-promotions that I find most intriguing, and we are exploring using the service with one of our podcasts, but we have not yet gone live. Read more about this on The Verge.

Without an ability to measure listeners created, we resorted to visually gauging the results.

Promo Type Date Results
Civilized -> Death by Dying In character mid-roll Jan 29, 2020 50 additional downloads on launch day
with daily fluctuations up and down
so hard to measure
Six Cold Feet -> Civilized Host read post-roll Feb 12, 2020 Aligned with an episode launch so
difficult to say what the impact was.
Civilized -> Marsfall In character mid-roll Feb 12, 2020 Saw a 20% bump in their numbers
on day one. That’s the highest non-release
day for downloads in thirty days.
Death by Dying -> Civilized Host read pre-roll Feb 16, 2020 Spike is larger than we would
have expected. See below.
Civilized -> Girl in Space In character mid-roll Feb 24, 2020 Saw a 50 to 100 download increase on
launch day. The following day saw a 35
to 50 download increase.

Small Bumps Can Create Magic

In the screenshot below, you can see a larger than expected lift starting on Feb 17. It turns out that we had made the top ten in the Apple Podcast Charts for Comedy Fiction.

While Apple won’t tell us exactly what led to our making the top ten charts on these days, we believe it was as a result of all the cross promo ads we had been experimenting with over this time period. Together they led to something larger, so don’t discount the small lifts. A concerted cross-promo effort can have tangible results for everyone involved.

Making a Good Promo

A host read promo is pretty straight forward. Contact the other show for some talking points they would like to highlight about their show and use those as a guide. Be sure to use your voice and highlight your love for the show you are promoting. I generally run the promo past the other podcast creator for any notes or corrections (there usually aren’t any.)

But what if the other podcast has requested a promo swap using an audio trailer? Something more akin to an advertisement. How do you go about creating something like this for your show?

If your show is interview-based, non-fiction or conversational, Eric Silver has a great piece on Five Steps to Making a Memorable Audio Trailer.

For an audio fiction show, much of what Eric lays out above applies, but accomplishing it can seem a little daunting. I had a short but inspiring Twitter conversation with Gabriel Urbina of Wolf 359 and Zero Hours fame where he suggests that the best audio fiction promos might be standalone pieces with a great example provided.

More Promo Examples

There is no limit to the creativity you can bring to podcast promotions. Here are some more examples:

Where to put the promo

Promos are generally included in one of three places: as a pre-roll, a mid-roll or a post-roll. A pre-roll happens right off the top before the episode officially starts. A mid-roll interrupts the show. A post-roll generally comes at the end, just before or after the credits for the show. Post-rolls have a bad rap as many of us stop listening to our favourite shows when the credits start.

My limited investigation has shown negligible difference between a pre-roll or mid-roll promo. That said, I did learn that it is exteremely important to be very clear with all parties on the type of promo you are running. If they are running a pre-roll and you run a post-roll, they may be less than pleased. This is easily avoided by just communicating with the other creator in advance.

And as in everything regarding podcasts, experimentation is critical to find out what works with your audience and show format.

Episode Drops

An episode drop is another form of cross-promotion where two shows agree to drop an episode into their public feeds. Listeners to your show are introduced to a new episode of another show and vice versa. An example of this is where Dumbgeons & Dragons dropped an entire episode of The Broadswords into their public feed as shown below. While an episode drop in your feed won’t tend to get as many downloads as a normal episode, it will still significantly outperform most cross-promo ads.

A case in point would be this episode drop we are running with Vast Horizon from Fool & Scholar Productions. Vast Horizon is a super fun sci-fi suspense podcast. They dropped episode 1 of Civilized into their feed on Mar 13, 2020 as shown below.

The numbers are still rolling in as I am writing this article, but the impact in new downloads for Civilized is off the charts. I expect we will continue to see the impact of this episode drop for quite some time. As Vast Horizon attracts new listeners, they will come across our episode in their feed. This is the single largest download day in the history of our podcast.

Episode drops can be a little more difficult to negotiate. Podcasters can feel a little strange about dropping an episode of another show into their feed. I’ve found it helps to have a relationship with another creator before raising the idea of swapping episode drops.

When you do drop an episode of another show in your feed, it’s good practice to put an introduction on the episode, letting your readers know why this is being shared with them and why you think they will love this other show.

As with cross-promos, these don’t have to be forever. You can negotiate a period of time or even a number of downloads you will deliver and after that, you can remove it from your feed.

Crossovers

A crossover is the most intense form of cross-promotion in audio fiction, and even in the podcasting space in general. This is where the creators of two (or more) shows come together to weave their two worlds together and create something larger than the sum of the parts.

A single crossover episode can be dropped into both feeds such as these brilliant examples by Death by Dying and the SCP Archives and We Fix Space Junk and The Amelia Project.

I spoke with Evan Gulock from Death by Dying about their experience. “The crossover was posted both on the SCP Archives feed and the Death by Dying feed, two days apart. The crossover was posted on SCP Archives first [and] the day of the release our total downloads for the day in comparison to our average doubled. The next day it doubled again. Then when we released the crossover on our feed, and our downloads shot up a couple thousand.”

Evan went on to say that he expects this crossover to continue to generate returns and that while it requires a lot more work, “it gives people a better chance to engage with a show they might not be familiar with through a show they already enjoy.”

I also spoke to Philip Thorne from The Amelia Project. They have worked on three crossover episodes to date:

All of which generated a lot of positive fan feedback and corresponding spikes in download traffic, but the most successful to date was the SCP Archives crossover episode. “I assume that’s because it introduced us to a new audience (horror fans) who weren’t necessarily familiar with our show before.”

Philip emphasized that “crossovers have been by far the most successful way of growing our audience.” But he cautions against using them only as a marketing tool. “Each crossover came about because of a story we wanted to tell or a group of people we were desperate to work with. I think it’s important that crossovers are underpinned by a creative impulse and have a strong artistic reason for being. Then the increase of listeners it brings is a wonderful bonus!”

Let’s Get Promoting!

Cross-promotion is one of the most cost-effective and proven ways to get new listeners for your show. They can also be done entirely in trade with little or no money changing hands.

My conversations with podcasters has led me to believe that we are currently under-utilizing cross-promotion. While a good number of shows are exploring cross promotion ads, not as many are exploring episode drops and crossovers, which can offer far greater return on your investment.

More to Come!

In part four of this series, we will be looking into channel marketing, which I am starting to see as one of the most impactful and untapped areas for growing prodcasts into sustainable ventures.

Coming soon…

—Sean Howard is a speaker, author, podcaster, audio fiction producer, marketer and photographer, and has been making podcasts since 2011 at Fable and Folly Productions, the creators of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and the improvised sci-fi dark comedy, Civilized.

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