Hillary Ross220

As America slowly returns to normal, so is podcasting, at least in terms of advertising. That’s according to Hilary Ross, VP of Podcast Media at the ad agency Veritone One. She’s already seen multiple clients tiptoeing back into the podcasting space. “We are definitely over the hump,” she tells Podcast News Daily. We recently caught up with Ross for to get her take on where things stand right now. An edited transcript follows. 

Podcast News Daily: From where you sit, where do things stand in the podcast ad market today?

Hilary Ross: Despite all of the craziness and the uncertainty going on in the world right now, there’s this nice little solace in continued growth and stability in the podcasting space and to see in the past couple of weeks there’s starting to be stability in the numbers and things are resuming to pre-pandemic figures. Obviously, there are some ups and downs and there are some genres that are taking some bigger hits than others, but holistically, as an industry, things are positive, and the growth is still there for the long-term. Podcasting has been through a lot. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in the past and this is something that shows this industry is strong and resilient and will be able to make it through, despite all the craziness right now. I see that as a silver lining and a glimmer of hope is the positive message that I’ve been focusing on.

PND: What’s your take on where advertisers’ minds are right now?

Ross: Throughout this whole thing our advertisers have had to make a handful of pivots here and there depending on what industry they are in. Certain industries have obviously been hit harder than others and there are some industries that have excelled their investment and reviewed podcasting with a new energy throughout the coronavirus pandemic. There are three buckets of brands. One that’s had to pull back and pause due to limitations in the workflow, distribution and product flow. And then there are the other clients that have held constant throughout. And then there is the third bucket that has really upped their investment and participation in the space because their products and offerings are more relevant than ever right now. 

PND: What sort of advertisers are spending more?

Ross: We’re seeing increased advertiser spend from verticals like health products, working remotely, mental health, home fitness – there are a lot of verticals that have really increased the stuff that they’re doing from an advertising perspective. But there are others that have had to make pivots or pause temporarily and every one of them has the same mindset that once things calm down, they want to reengage immediately. 

PND: Is there any difference between the direct response “DR” and brand advertisers?

Ross: Throughout the past couple of months, we definitely have seen the DR advertisers that we work with spending. There are a lot of verticals renewing or increasing their investment commitments to the space. Those that have product lines or services that are very relevant. In those cases, we are seeing a lot of DR advertisers increasing their investment in the space. In terms of brand advertising, it really depends on the brand. There were a lot of brand advertisers in the transportation, travel, and retail spaces that were coming into podcasting in recent times and there’s been a pullback in those verticals due to the nature of everything going on with the pandemic and the nature of their categories.

PND: Are you finding the impact has changed and as more states open up that we’re into a new phase for podcast advertising too?

Ross: March is when we really saw a lot of the immediate adjustments to advertising campaigns. April was a little bit calmer, but there were still some moves and changes. And now in May, things have definitely started to stabilize, and we are definitely over the hump. For the podcasting industry, it seems like listenership has resumed to pre-pandemic figures and that people are adapting to their new normal. During the early stages of the pandemic normal routines were disrupted, and people were gravitating towards heavy news content and coronavirus-specific content. Now what we are seeing is people are settling into this new normal and they are re-establishing their routines and are seeking out content that is less news-centric and is more escapism-oriented, which is something that podcasting has always provided whether it’s comedy, fiction, or storytelling. People seek out content that’s something that they are passionate about or interested in learning about. I think we’re starting to see some of those listening trends resume.

PND: What does that mean for ad sellers?

Ross: Some clients who had to make some pivots in the early stages of the pandemic are coming back in and reinvesting.

PND: Some podcasters have seen growth all through this, but others didn’t. Was that a factor in decision-making?

Ross: The way our media team buys is that we have guarantees in place on delivery. So, if download numbers are up or down, there’s a sense of reassurance for our clients [for] when they do invest in this channel. There were some questions that arose about the impact of the coronavirus on the podcast listeners, however I don’t think it had a direct impact on advertising dollars spent.

PND: Does it matter that not every state has reopened in quite the same way or level?

Ross: Most of the clients we work with are national brands. However, we did see some of the stay-at-home orders in specific states did have an impact on distribution and production and the fact that some brands weren’t able to have warehouses open. That did have an impact on their ability to spend on advertising in the podcasting space. Now that the restrictions are being lifted and the flow of business for a lot of our clients is going back to this new normal, we are definitely seeing that have a positive impact overall.

PND: Weekend listening is growing but some weekday numbers are lower. So is that a wash for advertisers?

Ross: We’ve always known from the Edison Research studies that a large portion of podcasting listening takes place at home, and people are at home now more than ever. As they settle into their routines and settle into their new normal, podcasting hasn’t taken as big a hit as a result of less commute time. They are listening, it is just the times are a little bit different. But from an advertising perspective, I don’t think it has a direct impact, but it just speaks to the long tail of the medium. 

PND: There’s also new podcasts to pick from.

Ross: What we’re seeing from a media buying perspective is that there’s been no slowdown in new shows launching throughout all of this. There’s even been a lot of celebrity-oriented shows from individuals who might have been working in television or on a movie production and they were shut down and they launched a podcast and now have a new creative outlet that they’re able to do from the comfort of their home. That’s one unique thing that podcasting has going for it in that hosts can record anywhere. Podcasting has hit new milestones creatively despite all the other macro forces happening in the world right now.

PND: Forecasting the rest of the year has become impossible, but do you have any thoughts on how the rest of second quarter will shape up for podcasters?

Ross: We’re going to start to see things pick back up in June and into third quarter. We’ve already had a multiple of clients tiptoeing back into the podcasting space and reinvest in shows that they may have had to pivot from in the immediate aftermath of the coronavirus. I would predict that we are going to start to see things pick back up come June and Q3 from both direct response and brand advertisers in the podcasting space. In terms of how this will play out big picture, I see the podcast industry being very resilient. Podcasters, podcast advertisers, and hosts are very flexible. It’s a very creative industry and I think people are going to find unique ways to make it through, whether it’s creative positioning, changing the formats or content, or the release cadence of their shows.