Everyone has a podcast. That’s how it feels, anyway, especially during a year when many people took on new hobbies and side projects. Not every podcast has an audience, however. Building an audience in podcasting is hard, time-consuming work. From the outside, gauging a particular show’s audience is difficult due to the lack of a centralized podcasting infrastructure. Unlike YouTube, where view counts for videos are public, there is no such transparency with podcasts. The podcasting industry is notoriously quiet about their metrics. The more successful podcasts are especially circumspect about listenership, as many of them only share those numbers with advertisers.
This secrecy makes the podcasts a difficult medium to pitch for PR and marketing purposes. On the one hand, they’re extremely popular, but on the other, there are so many of them with such opaque audience numbers that it’s often impossible to know if a given show is worth the effort. Podcast interviews take time, preparation and sometimes training. Is spending time and effort researching podcasts, guessing listener numbers and pitching guests to shows that are likely already receiving dozens of pitches per week worth it?
In my opinion, it depends.
I have been on both sides of this question. In my work at Buffer, I routinely pitched members of our team as guests on various podcasts. I have also hosted two separate shows myself, only one of which took guests. Drawing on that experience, I can offer some guidance about figuring out if a podcast is worth pursuing and how to effectively pitch to one. That way, you’re not ignoring a potentially great podcast mention, but you’re also not wasting energy chasing opportunities that won’t advance your goals.
Is It Worth Pitching Podcasts?
Podcasting is no longer a niche community of folks. Instead, it reaches a large portion of the U.S. population and tends to keep them engaged. Currently, 50 percent of all U.S. homes are podcasting fans, and weekly podcast listeners spend more than six hours a week listening to podcasts. This data shows why public relations professionals have been paying more attention to podcasts in the last few years.
To figure out if podcasts are a good fit for your public relations strategy, I first recommend looking at your overall goals for the quarter or the year and seeing where it might fit in. Here are a few places that podcasting can help.
If you are trying to increase overall brand reach during a product launch or just generally talk to more people about your brand or company, podcasting can be a great medium. If you’re tracking reach in particular, you should be aware that you likely won’t know exactly how many listeners a show has, but you can guess.
Podcasting is not the first venue I would recommend for driving traffic to your site. It can help here, though, depending on the podcast. The trouble is that you'll likely only get one link from a podcast in their show notes, which listeners may or may not look at. Since this is kind of a high-stakes approach, you need to be prepared to make the most of it. Make sure you know exactly which link you want to use and conduct research ahead of time to ensure that the podcast does include links from guests in their show notes.
Improving Interview Skills
I’m lucky to be in a position where quite a few podcasts are interested in hosting guests from my company. Since we get so many requests, I often use a smaller podcasting opportunity to help a new spokesperson improve their interviewing and speaking skills.
As with many other public relations efforts, podcast interviews can have a positive impact on hiring. That’s because podcasts often reach niche audiences. For example, if you’re hiring for a data scientist position and find a podcast specifically for folks who work in that domain, that’s a great place to try and land an interview and mention that you’re hiring.
Is This Podcast a Good Target?
I’ve known executives who don’t want to do interviews on smaller podcasts because it doesn’t seem worth their time. I’ve also met people who don’t care about the numbers; they just want the experience of doing interviews. As with most things, though, the numbers aren’t everything. Some smaller podcasts have highly engaged audiences who take their advice seriously. Finding those audiences can be highly beneficial. Despite this, audience size comes up a lot in my conversations about podcasting with other public relations professionals, so it’s worth discussing.
Podcast listening numbers are a complex subject. There is no perfect approach to figuring out a podcast’s audience. I’ve had some podcasters share their metrics with me because they want to book an executive and are keen to prove that their podcast is large enough, but this is rare. More often than not, people in the podcasting industry are mostly quiet about their numbers, making it difficult to tell which podcasts are worth pursuing. Here are a few things I’ve tried:
Many podcasters ask their audience for reviews on iTunes, and only a fraction of that audience ever leaves one. If you see a podcast with lots of reviews, that means they have an audience that might be quite large and is definitely engaged. This approach isn’t foolproof, however. Sometimes a podcast might have few reviews because iTunes growth doesn’t matter to them, or they’re more focused on Spotify as a platform. Another possibility is that it’s a newer podcast, so the host hasn’t had a chance to ask for reviews consistently yet. That’s why I also recommend looking at the host’s presence online.
Research the Host
Some folks have already built up a fantastic audience on Twitter or through blogging and might just be getting started with podcasting. If you see that they already have an engaged audience, you can feel confident in pitching them. Even if they’re new to podcasting, the host will likely be able to share the episode and reach people through the other channels where they’ve already built an audience.
How to Pitch a Podcast
If it looks like getting podcast interviews is in your best interest, here are some best practices for going about it. I’m in the unique position of both sending and receiving many podcast pitches, so I’ll share what has and hasn’t worked from all of the pitches I’ve seen.
Listen to the Show
The No. 1 complaint from podcasters is that someone will ask to be on their show without listening to it first. This can be relatively easy to discover if you run a show that doesn’t take guests, but it can also be evident if the person pitches a topic that isn’t like any of their other episodes. If you’re going to pitch a podcast, listen to at least one episode first. To improve your chances even more, I recommend listening to multiple episodes to get a better understanding of the host and pick up on topics they’re likely to cover. Listening to several podcast episodes can be a time investment, so I adjust to a slightly faster speed and then take notes while I listen.
Research the Show
Like traditional media outlets, many podcasts tell you exactly how to pitch them on their website. Be sure to research them to see if there is specific information they’re looking for or something they want in the email subject line.
Send a Short Pitch
Short pitches are my personal preference, and they’ve worked well for me over the years. If you pitch a popular show, the host likely receives tons of pitches and other emails throughout a week. That volume of material to sift through means they’re more likely to read a shorter email. Some hosts might specifically ask for detailed information about the topic or guest you’re pitching, in which case a longer email is acceptable. Generally, though, the host only needs to know whom you’re pitching, why they’re a good fit and their area of expertise.
Keep an Open Mind About the Topic
I like to pitch a podcast with a couple of quick ideas for what the person I’m pitching can speak to, but I recommend keeping an open mind. The host might be interested in your guest but not your topics because they want to cover something very different. Being open to different ideas increases the likelihood of landing the interview.
Offer to Promote the Show
Promoting a show is especially helpful for smaller podcasts because a popular guest’s endorsement can help them get listeners. I always add an offer to promote the show in my pitch. It’s a no-cost way to increase the value of your guest’s appearance.
More Resources for Pitching Podcasts
If you are just getting started with pitching podcasts, there are a few great resources out there to help you find shows that will work for you.
Podcast Guests: This email list pairs potential guests and potential podcasters. It might be challenging to gauge the podcast’s popularity without researching, but there are some great podcasts on the roster.
Podcast Clout: If you have a budget for software, this is a comprehensive database of thousands of quality podcasts, hosts and contact information.
Facebook Groups: Several Facebook groups connect people looking to be guests on podcasts with podcasts searching for guests. One of the more popular groups is called Podcast Guest Connection.
Ultimately, although pitching podcasts can be a big-time investment, they present a unique media opportunity. I believe it’s a fun and potentially quite fruitful challenge to take on if you’re looking to change up your public relations strategy.