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The Rising Star of Branded Content: Podcasts

Over the past few years, podcasting has grown from niche to mainstream medium that has a massive potential for increased growth with its deeply engaged audiences. According to Edison Research in 2018, 44% of Americans above the age of 12 have listened to a podcast. Podcasts offer a unique opportunity for brands looking to connect with consumers. They also present a way to engage with increasing smart speaker audiences that would prefer to listen to a podcast then turn on the television. Throughout 2019, more and more brands are embracing the medium in various ways, either as advertisers, sponsors or creators.

Courtesy of Edison Research

In order to delve deeper into trends in podcasting and the opportunity for brands, I spoke with Fara Warner, an award-winning author and journalist specializing in the art + science of storytelling in the digital age and new business models for journalism. She was most recently vice president and global content director of custom content at WSJ Custom Studios. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Things to consider before launching into creating podcasts

According to Warner, the first step in the podcast creation process is determining whether your brand has a great story for the podcast audio format or if it is just because podcasting is looming as the next big thing. Warner recommends that if you aren’t a regular podcast listener, try tuning in to the most popular podcasts that align with your brand’s mission or needs in order to understand why the medium is so engaging. Some brands might be better suited for “host reads,” in which the host of the podcast will read an advertisement during a break in the episode.

Podcasting is available across multiple different platforms, so breaking through the clutter with a unique story is challenging. Warner said, “Podcasting is no longer a niche medium where you’ll be the first or second or even 100th brand. Instead, determine if you have a big enough story that will engage with audiences or you may find yourself paying for distribution and audience in much the same way you do with other traditional forms of content and advertising.” In addition, measurement for podcasts remains in an early stage, only determined by downloads currently, so it can be difficult to know if your podcast has actually been listened to.

Types of podcast formats range from a traditional host interview to fictional or documentary style. If your brand feels as though a host interview style would fit best, searching for name recognition and social media following could aid in breaking through clutter. However, hosts may come with high talent fees, so looking at talent in-house could open up more opportunities. For example, Nike’s podcast, Trained by Nike, was sourced from in-house talent in addition to popular athletes and trainers.

What podcasting resources should brands consider?

While agencies are entering the podcasting creation process, Warner recommends working directly with a podcast production company in order to connect effectively with the target market. This creates the opportunity of working with the editors and producers who are already immersed in the world of podcasting and will provide the essential authenticity of storytelling. Podcasts need to be much more than a commercial for a product, and there are various ways to achieve authentic storytelling. For example, Procter & Gamble’s Chompers podcast is 2 minutes long and helps children to brush their teeth.

Media companies have also entered into the world of podcasting and offer opportunities for brands to align themselves with existing podcasts through sponsorship. Media companies can also offer more data and listening patterns on their existing audiences.

What are the typical costs?

While there is a low barrier to entry with podcasts, in order to create high quality content that will break through the clutter, brands need qualified editorial creative, talent, audio engineers, musical composers and a project manager. Warner said, “The range for creating a podcast episode can start at around $5,000 or even less and go up to $35,000 or more per podcast depending on the production,” and that is important to keep in mind whether a podcast fits into the current marketing and advertising strategy.

When determining wether to produce a short or long-term program, it depends on which format is chosen. Warner recommends to budget at least two to six months for creative conception and upload onto the platforms in order to create a solid program with enough episodes in order to engage an audience. The more people that are involved in the process, including agency and PR teams, the longer it will take. Finding an engaged audience is often the most difficult part of the process, so it is essential to create an audience development plan. “You could find yourself with a great podcast, but no one is listening because they can’t find it among the half million podcasts that are already out there,” Warner said.

What traps should brands know to avoid?

According to Warner, there are three major traps brands fall into when producing podcasts:

1. Assuming that simply putting the podcast on iTunes or other platforms completes the job. Discoverability is one of the biggest problems in podcasting today, so creating an audience development plan is paramount.

2. Deciding that just because podcasts are “cool” is a reason to create a podcast.

3. Overloading podcast production with too many people. Podcasts are simple to produce, and you can have some fun in testing the waters with pilot projects. Making more small bets on different formats, different ways to podcast, could be more useful than bringing in all your creative teams to create a podcast. They will just add time and cost to your production cycle.


This is the first in a series about branded podcasts. Stay tuned for upcoming articles featuring other experts and their role in branded podcasting.

If you’re interested in talking more with Fara Warner about her experience with podcasts, contact her at

Also, take a listen to the podcast she produced last year about 14 women running for political office in the 2018 midterm elections at, a journalistic storytelling platform that brings audio narrative and photography together to tell powerful stories.


About Reilly Parkhill

Reilly Parkhill is a Junior studying journalism and strategic communication at the University of Missouri, Columbia and a member of the American Advertising Federation.

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