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The world of podcasts is booming – research shows there are around 750,000 shows, and 30 million episodes to catch up on. 

But if you’re a new podcaster and you want to find a sponsor, there is no blueprint to follow. I learnt this when I launched my own podcast, An Honest Account, this month. I will share how I found my sponsor and look to other podcasters to see how they got theirs off the ground.

The most obvious reason to have a sponsor is to make money, or at least cover costs. Freelancers already do so much work for no financial return – why would you want to do more? Another reason is credibility – having a sponsor gives you and your idea some validation, especially in a swamped podcast market. Third, if the sponsor has a large platform or social media presence, it’s free promotion for your show.

The good news is that most podcasts, no matter how wildly popular today, usually have to start from a more modest monetary beginning. 

Take Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast, which landed her a book deal after one season. Day got her first sponsor, Moorish, before the show aired by sending the company a DM on Twitter and saying how much she enjoyed eating their smoked chickpea hummus. Since then, Day has paired up with sponsors including Fourth Estate, which published her memoir, and her favourite wine bar in London.

Another interesting example is The High Low, a pop culture podcast by Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton which now has over 200,000 listens a week. Sykes told the Always Take Notes podcast in April that Sykes found their first ever sponsor, River Island, back in 2016.

“They paid us hardly anything,” she said. “The sponsor paid Dolly. The studio was already there […]I t didn’t make money but it didn’t lose money. And I loved doing it.”

What was first known as the Pandolly podcast ran for five months at The Sunday Times, then the duo launched the independent High Low podcast in February 2017, securing sponsors such as Google for a six-month contract. Sykes said their process was to search for trusted brands, emailing as many as 40 at a time, setting up a few meetings and pitching to them. 

“I’m not interested in doing work that doesn’t pay,” she said. As the podcast has grown, an agency now deals with sponsors.

While How to Fail and the High Low pair up with brands that might fit in with the aspirational, lifestyle choices of its listeners, other podcasts will work with sponsors that pertain more directly to the podcast content and audience – that can include a niche or an industry.

An example is called ‘Is This Working?’, a podcast about modern work culture, co-hosted by Anna Codrea-Rado and Tiffany Philippou. After a couple of episodes starting in July, the pair signed up with Worksome, a recruitment platform, for two episodes. (Codrea-Rado told me the deal came her way through a helpful PR, so building a network in your field helps.) As Codrea-Rado and Philippou discuss issues like productivity, time management and burnout, it was a neat fit.

But what happens if you want a sponsor from day one and therefore have no listener numbers to show them? This was definitely the case with me. By highlighting whatever platform you have – on social media, a newsletter, media appearances, industry contacts etc – you can illustrate the potential for growth. 

Finding a relevant sponsor is also about spotting a gap in the market. As a financial journalist, I’d known for years that there was a lack of money-related content, especially for women, that wasn’t focused on being ‘thrifty’ or avoiding telephone scams. I then learnt that investment apps have on average 25% women customers. I wrote to Moneybox a few months later, laying out my idea for the show – a money podcast aimed at millennial women – along with details on where I would host it, how I’d promote it and what I would spend the sponsorship on. Luckily, they were interested.

And whatever you do, sign a contract. I would highlight a few points to include, which has benefitted both parties:

  • A get out clause in case you fall ill or have an emergency
  • An understanding that the sponsor has no editorial control
  • A firm date as to when sponsor payment is expected
  • Ascertaining whether you can recruit additional sponsors or not
  • Deciding which listener data you share with the sponsor

And then it’s up to you. Like any other creative and commercial project, making a podcast is an enjoyable and challenging experience, even if it’s not always a smooth ride. It definitely helps having the weight and financial support of a sponsor behind you, especially when you’re getting started. It also shows you’re serious about turning that hobby into a business. Good luck finding yours.

An Honest Account is on iTunes and other platforms.

 

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