Authenticity is a key driver for podcast advertising success

IAB UK Podcast Upfronts highlights the importance of podcasters as influencers

Brands need to form authentic relationships with podcasters to connect and engage with their audiences in order to build a successful podcast advertising campaign, according to speakers at this year’s IAB UK Podcast Upfronts. 

The fifth-annual event took place yesterday at The Steel Yard in Central London, marking the end of the month-long IAB Digital Upfronts series. IAB chief marketing officer James Chandler, who was also recently a judge for this year’s British Podcast Awards, kicked off the event with opening remarks, talking about podcasting’s exponential growth and impact in the UK. 

“Podcasting in the UK is absolutely at the peak of its powers,” said Chandler. 

This year’s event featured sessions from a number of podcast companies and networks, including Sony Music, Wondery, Global, Octave Audio, Fresh Air, and Audioboom. Each session featured a Q&A with one platform’s big talent podcasters including How To Fail’s Elizabeth Day, The News Agents’ Jon Sopel, Pod Save The UK’s Coco Khan, Terribly Famous’ Anna Leong Brophy and Emily Lloyd-Saini, and many more. 

While last year's event saw a significant amount of discussion around audience sizes, listener retention and other metrics, this year's show focused much more on the premium nature of podcast content. 

Sony's presentation emphasised its stable of celebrity-fronted light entertainment podcasts, including Kathy Burke's Where There's A Will, There's A Wake, Rob Brydon's interview podcast, and the newly-relaunched Out To Lunch, while Octave Audio highlighted its deal with SXM Media earlier this year, which gives its clients access to talent including Conan O'Brien, Oprah and others.

The advertising industry has been under considerable pressure this year, with campaign budgets shrinking for many organisations, and although the IAB's latest digital ad spend report showed that podcasting was among the most resilient media channels last year, growing by 32% year-on-year, overall ad spend on podcasting still lags considerably behind larger formats such as search and social marketing.

Podcast companies and creators have been exploring a range of tactics to attract new advertisers; many - including Wondery - have formed partnerships with adtech companies like Barometer to allay potential fears around brand safety. Others have expanded into channels beyond pure audio, with video and live events proving particularly attractive for many podcast organisations.

Many of the speakers emphasised the importance of podcasters feeling personally connected with the brands their partnering with - whether they reflect their message or if they’re a personal fan of the products themselves - and how that translates to their audience.

In a session with Sony Music, Day - who will be part of the company’s podcast network starting January 2024 - spoke about working with Peleton and how the campaign which included host-read sponsorship reads, branded episodes, and live events, was very successful due to her existing love for its products which were already a part of her lifestyle. 

“I love working with advertisers and feeling enthusiastic about what I'm rating,” said Day. “[Peleton] came on board knowing that I already had this passion so we worked hand in hand to create something special and long lasting.”

Additionally, the sessions highlighted the trust that audiences have with the hosts of their favourite podcasts. Octave Audio’s Matt Rouse spoke about this in his session, with a video from I Weigh host Jameela Jamil talking about how she connects with her audiences and why they would be likely to trust her recommendations. 

“I don’t work with brands that I don’t love so much and I try the products before recommending them,” said Jamil. “I like [brands] that make people’s lives better and easier, especially for women. [My audience] likes when I sell things that can be a life hack for them.” 

With podcast platforms looking at podcasters as influencers, more companies are investing in celebrity and talent-driven podcasts, highlighted by the types of speakers that attended this year's event. Other companies that were not part of the IAB UK Podcast Upfronts have also proven to go down a similar route, such as Spotify, which recently announced that its latest original with comedian Trevor Noah will be released next month.

During a session with brand podcast production company Fresh Air, director of marketing and growth Richard Blake spoke about how important podcast advertising is for not just driving revenue, but for building brand awareness as “no one listens to a podcast by mistake”. Stats shown in the presentation also revealed that podcasts have the highest level of attention (65%) compared to other mediums such as TV. 

During the sessions, a number of podcast companies also announced news and partnerships that have either launched or will be launching soon. Global announced its new comedy podcast with stand-up comedian Adam Rowe and said that it was currently having discussions about adapting two of its podcasts - Hunting Ghislaine and Filthy Ritual - into TV, while Wondery announced that it is launching a partnership with Goalhanger next month, and Fresh Air announced that it was renewing its branded podcast for AutoTrader for season two.