One would be hard-pressed to wish for a more successful podcast launch than The News Agents, co-produced by Persephonica and Global. Not even a year old, the show is already one of the flagship products for media company Global, which also hosts and distributes the podcast, regularly topping the UK podcast charts and passing 24 million downloads within just seven months of release.
Its daily release schedule has helped form it into a habit for listeners, and the trusted gravitas of its presenters - veteran news broadcasters Jon Sopel, Emily Maitlis and Lewis Goodall - has been key to its rapid success.
In fact, the show has been instrumental in driving the considerable growth of news podcast listening across the UK, which has been one of this year’s most pronounced trends - as demonstrated by research commissioned by the broadcaster to support the show’s launch, which showed that 71% of listeners were planning to consume more news podcasts in 2023.
Global recently announced the signing of a long-term partnership agreement with global banking titan HSBC through its media agency PHD UK, which includes full sponsorship of The News Agents, as well as a one-month launch sponsorship of The News Agents: USA, a weekly spin-off show which debuted earlier this month.
While The News Agents offers a large reach for advertisers, HSBC UK’s head of brand marketing Sarah Mayall explains that one of the main factors that drew the brand to this podcast in particular was its ability to reach multiple different audiences and customer bases within HSBC’s environment.
“It fits across a number of our target markets. As a business, we're here for a broad range of customers. We think this podcast could talk to our retail customers and business customers – large or small.”
As part of the deal, the brand will be running both host-read endorsements and pre-recorded spot ads, but rather than just promoting a single product or service, Mayall says that the campaign will be used flexibly to promote different areas of the company’s business.
“Because it's a longer-term play, we'll be choosing campaigns as and when it's relevant to different parts of the business and our customers,” she says. “So as it talks to our whole customer base, we can flex that. And I think with the host reads we'll be able to reflect that too, so it won't be just one read for the whole time that we're together.”
This always-on approach to show sponsorship is somewhat unusual for podcasting, where campaigns often run in one-month intervals, with sponsors sometimes changing from one show to the next. However, Global’s director of commercial for audio, Katie Bowden says that this structure is based on the success of similar commercial models from the organisation’s broadcast radio arm.
“The value here is with the association of the podcast on a more long-term basis and particularly learning from our broadcast business,” Bowden said. “We have a whole wealth of research and data to really understand how to get the best out of an association. And I think with something as high-end as The News Agents, we knew that there was a lot of value in developing a longer-term association.”
“So particularly with HSBC, when we started speaking to them, the framework that we've created for them is quite agile, so they'll have the always-on association with the show, which from the research we've seen does a lot on brand consideration.”
Other financial services brands such as NatWest, Lloyds and Barclays have been active in the podcast space, but while HSBC has previously utilised spot ads in podcasts to promote initiatives such as its bank account for homeless people and its support for those escaping financial abuse, Mayall says the deal represents the first major foray into podcast sponsorship for the UK bank.
“We think it's a good media buy. It really builds into our mix. And I think when you look at the overall picture of what we've been doing, I think this brought something different to us. It's a high-quality podcast. It's very popular. It's very topical,” Mayall says. “It's a high-quality piece of work. And I think with the brand synergies, it just seemed to work really well.”
The partnership with HSBC follows the podcast’s highly successful launch sponsorship deal with BT Business. As with this campaign, BT’s partnership included a mix of host-read and spot ads, and BT Business marketing media manager Simon White told PodPod that the hosts’ engagement with the campaign creative resulted in a fantastic level of authenticity.
“We didn't want anything staid,” White says. “We literally told them what the product was, told them a few of the benefits that we wanted them to get through, and then they sent two or three copies back. We were rotating three or four copies across each month, so that the listeners didn't get too irritated. And it meant that we could put loads of different products out there. But they did it in a better way than we could have imagined; it was really good.”
The results speak for themselves; According to White, the uplift in intent to recommend BT Business went up by 110%, while consideration went up by 35%, which White says was “way more than we estimated”.
“When we're looking at things like that, we need context - so we asked Global what were the normal levels on this, and we've beaten norm on everything as well… we couldn't have wished for more.”
HSBC will be looking at similar goals, according to Mayall, with awareness, consideration and brand metrics being key points of measurement for the campaign. The company will be using similar measurement tactics to traditional cross-media studies, looking at uplifts through specialist surveys supported by data analysis company Context Labs.
Global will also be providing campaign analysis, Bowden says, measuring incremental uplifts in consideration via exposed and non-exposed surveys, the results of which will then be fed back into the partnership to further optimise performance.
“I think it's really exciting to get a partner where we can flex our message,” Mayall says, “that we can test and learn as we go, and have that ability to try new things. I have partnerships and sponsorship in other places, and it's quite set. So I think this is quite exciting - and it's something that a lot of people are really excited about us doing.”