With its reach and accessibility to a massive and captive audience, radio’s embrace of podcasting is helping take the burgeoning medium into the mainstream. Many radio groups are now aligned with podcast publishing platforms – or have simply gobbled them up – while they are also aggressively promoting the platform, often resulting in increased downloads and chart-topping success.
Indeed, podcasting is big business… for radio. Just last week Entercom acquired the remaining 55% of Cadence13 it didn’t already own, along with Pineapple Media, following in the footsteps of iHeartMedia, which in September 2018 purchased Stuff Media. Hubbard Broadcasting was among the radio groups that burst out of the gates early, picking up a 30% stake in Podcast One back in 2015.
These complementary audio forums now live side by side at several radio groups, which have the reach and assets to bring podcasting to a new, larger audience. “Sometimes we will joke and say ‘there are very few fans of podcasting, there are actually only super fans.’ What that means is if you listen to podcasting, you listen to a lot of podcasts,” Conal Byrne, President of the iHeartMedia Podcast Network, tells Inside Radio. The super fans are one part of the company’s marketing plan when introducing new podcasts or new seasons of established programs. The other is the 850 radio stations and more than a quarter billion monthly listeners the company has access to.
“You want to first and foremost talk to the people who like the medium,” Byrne explains. “When we launch a new show – say, a business-themed program – we will use all of the podcasts that we have in that genre, or just loosely contextually related, and we will serve an ad in those podcasts and promote the show.
Byrne, a podcasting industry vet who came to iHeartMedia with the company’s purchase of Stuff Media, says being a part of the largest radio group in the country has been a game-changer. “It lets us talk to the other two out of three people who may not be listening to podcasts yet.” And talk they did. Prior to the on-demand debut of the new season of Disgraceland, the company aired the episode on 150 classic rock and spoken word radio stations the night before the podcast published.
Wheeler Morris, Manager of Hubbard Radio’s Corporate Podcast Strategy, also uses built-in super fans of the Podcast One network along with the reach of the radio group to build awareness of the company’s podcast offerings. “We do quite a bit of on-air promotion and partner with Podcast One,” Morris says. “We promote in our other podcasts, using ad insertion as well as baking them in.”
Hubbard and Podcast One recently renewed their partnership and at the same time announced the launch of “22 Hours: An American Nightmare.” The original true-crime program is produced by the company’s all-news giant WTOP Washington and based on the 24-hour in-home hostage situation and eventual murder of a DC power couple, their 10-year-old son and housekeeper. The program provided another avenue of promotion as people attached to it were highlighted with on-air interviews on the popular DC news outlet. “Depending on the show, we encourage as much cross promotion as possible,” Morris notes. Byrne concurs: “That’s generally what we do when we launch a show. We pull all the levers.”
Staying In Your Lane
A key to the promotion of podcasts, these experts suggest, is staying in your lane. Disgraceland, a true crime podcast about musicians behaving very badly, not only had a full episode debut on some classic rock stations, but it continues to get a nudge from within the format. “We will promote a show like Disgraceland in the ad inventory of a classic rock format but we might promote a show like ‘Committed,’ which is about amazing resilient couples and marriages, in the CHR format category,” Byrne says. “We will go down the list of formats and try and tailor which shows and genres fit with each format.” The exception is a mass appeal show like the flagship Stuff You Should Know podcast, which may get a multi-format campaign.
Morris employs a similar strategy at Hubbard, staying within format categories “with some across the board promoting.” Promos are sent to all markets with “format suggestions based on the brand,” he says. “We might promote a true crime podcast on a morning show on a hot AC station, because they appeal to the same audience.”
The efforts appear to be working. The WTOP-produced program “is our first real aggressive step into the scripted true crime world and it has been going well,” Morris says. “It is up to No. 2 on Apple and has been pretty much top 10 for eight weeks or so. We feel good about that.” The podcast debuted with 2.3 million downloads.
iHeartMedia is also reaping the benefits of strategic promotion with its podcast network. “We are trying a lot of different stuff and at the end of the day what we want are the downloads of the show to grow,” Byrne explains. In the case of Disgraceland, “the show was driving about 300,000 to 400,000 downloads a month. We launched the new season within the iHeartPodcast Network, we pulled all the levers and the show went to 2.2 million downloads, month-over-month. It wasn’t a gradual growth; it was literally month over month. When we saw the chart, we were like, wow, this stuff really does work.” — Jay Gleason