Podcast Advertising with Heather Osgood

In this week’s episode: Media planning and buying agency Bigeye interviews ad industry expert Heather Osgood, the host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook.

IN CLEAR FOCUS this week: Some of the secrets of successful podcast advertising are revealed by industry expert Heather Osgood, the host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook and founder of True Native Media. With the medium seeing a boost in listenership this year, Heather explains how her company connects podcast producers with advertisers, why she is excited about Spotify’s big investments in podcasting, and offers practical tips for media planners looking to add podcast ads to their buys.


Episode Transcript

Adrian Tennant: You’re listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, fresh perspectives on the business of advertising produced weekly by Bigeye. Hello. I’m your host, Adrian Tennant VP of insights at Bigeye. An audience-focused, creative-driven, full-service advertising agency, we’re based in Orlando, Florida, but serve clients across the United States and beyond. Thank you for joining us. Last month, National Public Radio and Edison Research reported that in the US, the overall share of time listening to music has been decreasing over the past six years – down by 8 percent – while the share going to spoken word audio has increased by 30 percent during the same period. NPR’s CMO, Michael Smith, revealed that his network’s podcast downloads are up 46 percent this year. NPR is not alone in seeing a boost in podcast listening. Podcasts now reach a hundred million Americans each month and attract increasingly diverse audiences. As more people have been working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, engagement with podcasts has increased significantly for both information and entertainment. Widespread adoption of podcast listening has meant that many direct-to-consumer brands have found success with advertising to niche audiences in this space. In a study published earlier this year, consumer insights company Claritas found that advertising in podcasts can boost brand awareness as much as 30 times the lift rates of other media channels. It’s no surprise then that eMarketer forecasts that US spending on podcast advertising will grow 45 percent to $1.1 billion in 2021. To talk about how brands and advertisers can reach audiences at scale through podcasts, I’m joined today by an industry expert. Based in Morro Bay, California, Heather Osgood has been selling advertising for over 20 years on radio, print, and trade show booths. But Heather was so passionate about podcasts that in 2016, she founded True Native Media, a firm dedicated to connecting podcasts with advertisers. Heather is also the producer and host of a weekly show called The Podcast Advertising Playbook, which covers topics that help brands develop and run successful campaigns to attract customers and generate business. Heather, welcome to IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Heather Osgood: Thanks so much for having me. I’m really excited to chat with you today.

Adrian Tennant: What was the insight that led you to found True Native Media?

Heather Osgood: I founded True Native Media because I became a bit of a podcast-obsessed listener! I sold a trade show production company that I had for about 10 years. And for the first time in my adult life, I had so much time to spend listening to podcasts. And the more I listened to podcasts, the more I consumed all of this audio, I was shocked to find that there were so few ad messages in podcasts. And when we look around the landscape of all of the media out there, what we find over and over again are ad messages. And so it seems strange to me that podcasts are almost like this island and, you know, while some of the very biggest shows had advertisers, most of the shows that I listened to, which I would classify as mid-level shows, did not have advertisers. So I took a look at the industry and I found that, yes, those 1% of top shows were being served by firms that were happy to connect them with advertisers. But then there were all of these, essentially hundreds of thousands of impressions that were going unserved without ad messages. And I just felt like there really was a hole in the market and I wanted to help fill that. And given my ad background and my experience as an entrepreneur, I felt that really founding an organization like True Native Media to really help connect those mid-level shows with advertisers was something that was really up my alley and something that I could really contribute. And so that’s why I founded the organization.

Adrian Tennant: What services does True Native Media offer? 

Heather Osgood: So True Native Media is a podcast representation firm, which means that we represent podcasts. So currently we work with about 70 different podcasts in the industry and our role is to connect those podcasts with advertisers. So we work with agencies, we work directly with brands, and go about getting advertisers in any way we can for those podcasts that we serve, as well as the advertisers that we serve. But really our focus is to try and fill the podcasts we represent up with ad messages.

Adrian Tennant: In a recent episode of The Podcast Advertising Playbook, you identified seven of the biggest trends in podcasting – one of which is privacy. Since you recorded that episode, we’ve had an election of course. Voters in the Golden State supported Proposition 24, which will expand California’s existing privacy law to cover more sensitive data sets and establish a new state agency in charge of enforcing these rules for consumers. Can you tell us more about what you think it means for advertising generally and for podcast advertising in particular?

Heather Osgood: Yeah. So when we look at privacy policies, they obviously are certainly very important. None of us wants to have our identities exposed. And I think that it is such a timely and important message because I obviously do live in California, this forefront in the United States in terms of privacy policies. So it’s important for us to make sure that we are all aware of our privacy and what is happening. We enter the internet many different times a day, right, in different forms, through computers and smartphones and a bazillion different devices that we have now. And I think that it’s interesting in the world of advertising, because if you were to take what is happening in most of digital marketing, there really isn’t a lot of privacy that’s happening in most of those spaces. So there are obviously the occasions where all of us are chased around the internet by different ads when we are clicking on things. There’s so many insights and information out there about each of us. And when we look at podcasting, I think that it’s important for us to realize that while it’s certainly significant for us to be mindful of privacy and keep that at the top of our decision-making, we also have to realize that with podcast privacy issues, really the user agent and the IP are the only things that are currently being quote-unquote “tracked.” And I’ve had many conversations about how that is a unique identifier, and does that actually compromise your privacy? And certainly there is a case to be made that information can lead back to you as a person. So it is important for the podcast industry to really examine that information. And to be clear, not everyone in the podcast space is tracking that user agent and that IP information. About two years ago now, new attribution companies – there’s Podsights, Claritas, and Chartable – came out and those attribution companies really have done a lot for podcast advertising in that they’ve allowed us to see who has listened to the podcast, and then through the use of a tracking pixel, who has come to the website, who has made a purchasing decision, who has signed up for that newsletter, who has taken different actions on a website. So it allows us – really for the first time in podcast history – to track conversions, which is so important and so necessary if we’re looking to attract bigger brands and bigger interest from advertisers into the space. The challenge of course, is this privacy issue, because those companies do, you know, track the user agent and the IP address. So those are really important things for us to consider. One of the cases that has been made is that if we can really enter into the agreement at a player level about where our comfort is and being tracked, that is the best place to really implement privacy within the podcast space. Because obviously if you’re listening to a podcast, it’s an audio – you don’t have an option to click, “Yes, I’m okay with this”, “No, I’m not okay with this.” And so there’s that I think as an obstacle, but we all are listening to podcasts through platforms, whether we’re listening to it through Apple, whether we’re listening to it through Overcast or Stitcher we’re all listening through a platform. So if that platform can help us and give us that tool to say, “Yes, I’m opting in” or “No, I’m opting out” that I think really will be the move that we need to, I would say, regulate that privacy. And really, that does fall then within GDPR and CCPA and really those propositions, like Prop 24, those laws that are going to come about. When we think about that though, that requires all of these players essentially to get on board and say, “Yes, we’re going to integrate this.” There is a player called Overcast that has recently added a feature and I would recommend anybody go and check it out, just cause I think it’s interesting to look at. So when you go onto Overcast, that podcast will tell you are you being tracked, essentially. So if I listen to this show right now, am I going to be served ads? And am I going to be tracked? So it really is giving the listener then to say, “Oh, if I listen to the show, I’m going to be tracked and I’m interested.” I hope that kind of unpacks it just a bit, but I would definitely say that privacy concerns are at the forefront of conversation that we’re having in the podcast industry right now.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, on your podcast, you’ve also talked about the increasing domination of a handful of podcast apps, including Spotify. What do you think about Spotify’s well-publicized partnerships with Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama, and Kim Kardashian and its many content production company acquisitions this year?

Heather Osgood: I think that it is exciting to see that Spotify is making such a big play within the podcast space. Having been in this space now for nearly five years, it’s been such a fascinating experience to see the growth. Having come from radio and print, those industries didn’t have a lot of innovation or a lot of changes, so it’s really exciting to be part of an industry that is growing and changing so much. And I do think that it is a benefit that large corporations like Spotify are paying so much attention to the space, because in a lot of ways, it validates the value that podcasts in general bring to society as well as from an advertising perspective. There’s a reason that they’re investing in this: they’re not spending all these millions of dollars because they just want to support the industry; they’re doing it because they really see it as being a viable business opportunity where they can really come in and contribute to the space because they expect that space to grow. Now, I think one of the big questions that has been on everyone’s mind is how much censorship might be happening with some of these larger podcasts that they are controlling. And I think that is again, a very hot topic right now, given, you know, everything that’s happened in 2020. I think Joe Rogan’s show in particular, the show has been with Spotify for not too long. And there certainly have been comments and things that have come out about how is his content being censored and is that okay? Are we okay with that? Do we feel as a society that it’s good that it’s being censored? Because if we have hate speech out there, of course, we don’t want to propagate that. On the flip side, is it an issue with our rights and our ability to have a voice and have that heard? And then what is Spotify’s role in all of this? So it’s very interesting to me because the industry is answering big questions right now. They’re societal questions and of course that is being mirrored in what’s happening in the podcast space as well. I think that it’s really interesting that they are trying to have exclusive relationships with some big names, because of course, at the end of the day, it appears that their goal is to require that, “Hey, if I want to listen to Joe Rogan, if I want to listen to Michelle Obama, I’m going to have to go onto Spotify to listen to that.” And what does that do? And when we look at the open-source feel of the podcast space, which is really where podcasts got its roots in this very independent, open-sourced manner, how is that being impacted by bigger companies? You know, I think we have to take the good and the bad, and we also have to realize that the industry is going to continue to change and really, the way I see it, these are just the very beginnings of the changes that are going to be happening.

Adrian Tennant: Let’s take a short break. We’ll be right back after this message.

Dana Cassell: I’m Dana Cassell, Bigeye’s Senior Strategist. Every week, IN CLEAR FOCUS addresses topics that impact our work as marketing professionals, often inspired by data points reported in consumer research studies. At Bigeye, we put audiences first. For every engagement, through our own research, we develop a deep understanding of our client’s prospects and customers – analyzing their attitudes, behaviors, and motivations. We distill this data into actionable insights to inspire creative brand-building and persuasive activation campaigns – with strategic, cost-efficient media placements. If you’d like to know more about how to put Bigeye’s audience-focused insights to work for your brand, please contact us. Email info@bigeyeagency.com.

Adrian Tennant: Welcome back. I’m talking with Heather Osgood, founder of True Native Media and host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook. There are estimated to be around 1.4 million podcasts now. Not all of them are active and not all accept advertising. So for brand managers and agency media planners listening to this, can you explain what the options are for finding podcasts to advertise on or to sponsor?

Heather Osgood: You certainly can reach out and individually connect with podcasts. So depending on who you are, if you’re just a media buyer, if you work with an agency, if you’re looking to buy at scale, if you’re looking to buy Joe Rogan, or if you’re looking to buy “Alison’s Gardening Hour,” these are going to be very different purchases, right? And so you can certainly go and connect directly with the podcast, but I would say if you’re going to connect directly with the podcast, really you would be looking at either the medium to the smaller shows out there. If you are looking to go bigger, then you really would want to go to a podcast advertising agency. So there are certainly agencies out there that can buy on any show for you. And those are really good ways to go. Other options can be networks or representation firms. So a network is a group of podcasts, typically within a specific genre. So if you were interested in buying tech podcasts or true crime podcasts or business podcasts, you can find different networks or groups of shows and networks typically are going to help with the production of the show, the promotion of the show, they do a lot of cross-promotion between shows and within networks. And then they usually also handle ad buying. So you certainly can go to networks. And then the last choice is a firm like True Native Media, where we are a representation firm. So if you’re an agency, representation firms can be great for you because you wouldn’t necessarily need to go to an agency yourself. When you’re representing your client, going to representation firms that have all of the podcasts is a good way to go about it.

Adrian Tennant: What level of audience or download numbers do podcast producers need to be generating to be potentially attractive to advertisers?

Heather Osgood: In my experience, 10,000 downloads per episode, within a 30-day period is a really good number. Now, just to put it into perspective, hardly any podcasts out there actually get over a thousand downloads per episode. There’s lots of shows out there, but most of them don’t actually get more, truthfully, than a couple hundred listeners. So you do have to be really judicious and do your work and know exactly who it is that you’re working with when you’re looking at a podcast, because I have found oftentimes podcasters really don’t know their numbers. And if you’re doing embedded ad reads, which about half of the podcasts out there are doing, you want to make sure that they’re getting enough downloads per episode in a 30-day period. And like I said, that’s at about that 10,000 range. If they are doing dynamic ad insertion, and you can insert that ad into their full catalog, then we can look at, I would say, 20,000 and over is a good place.

Adrian Tennant: You’re not only involved in the representation of podcasts, but you also produce and host a podcast called The Podcast Advertising Playbook. What topics do you typically cover? 

Heather Osgood: So I created The Podcast Advertising Playbook because I wanted to share with the world – as you can tell, by listening to this episode, I could talk about this for hours! There are so many different topics to be covered. And so I started that podcast specifically to talk about the ins and outs: what is dynamic ad insertion, and how can that serve you? How can you find podcasts to purchase? When you’re looking at creating success, what does that look like? How can you track results? What does privacy look like? So we cover all of these important topics and I would say part of the most fun of producing that show is interviewing other industry experts. So we talk to people from these attribution companies, we talk to other brands and we see what kind of experience are they having in the podcast ad space? What have they done to perfect the results that they’re getting? So it’s really meant to be a place where if people are interested in learning more about how to utilize podcast advertising and make it effective, that they can go to the show. 

Adrian Tennant: Does the experience of regularly producing your own podcast help you relate to the challenges many podcasters face?

Heather Osgood: Oh, absolutely, yeah! I think it’s been great. So I want to say that we’re on episode 35. I will be totally transparent in that I have lots of help with the show. So my marketing team is very effective in helping keep me on the straight and narrow – and what I mean by that is actually producing those episodes because that’s one of the hardest parts about a podcast is you have to produce regular episodes. And I think, oftentimes, when people imagine starting a podcast, they think it sounds like so much fun and it’s going to be so easy or it won’t take that much time. And realistically, it is a lot of work. And so it’s been nice to go through the whole experience alongside the podcasters and really understand and identify their needs and concerns, firsthand.

Adrian Tennant: What are your sources of inspiration?

Heather Osgood: I really am inspired, I would say, by books and other people and what they have done. So I am definitely a podcast junkie, but I’m also an audiobook junkie. I listen to lots of audiobooks. I also read, but I can get so much more covered when I listen. And I like to hear the experiences that other people have had, especially as business owners, as entrepreneurs. So really for me, looking at what other people have been able to accomplish is really inspirational. Somebody said the other day, and I should remember who it was, but they said, “if somebody can do it, anybody can do it.” And I thought that was such a good statement because oftentimes in life, I think that we sell ourselves short, right? We look at our own shortcomings because we know those so much more intimately than anyone else. And we assume that we aren’t going to be able to reach our goals, or we’re not going to be able to get to the place that we want to get when in reality, we can, and I’m not necessarily one of those people that says you can accomplish anything. I’m definitely never going to become an astronaut. That’s just fine. I’m totally cool with that. But I do think that if we have big goals and big dreams, we can do it. And really, when we look around ourselves, when we see other people accomplishing great things to me though, that’s our example, that’s our roadmap. And for me, that’s the inspiration I need to create every day

Adrian Tennant: Of course, you’re a female entrepreneur and you had a company before True Native Media. What were your experiences like when establishing True Native Media compared to say your first company?

Heather Osgood: My husband and I actually established a few different companies, but the main company I was involved with was my trade show production company, Simply Clear Marketing, prior to True Native Media. And I founded that company with my best friend and it was an amazing journey. I think I was super blessed to have partnered with someone who had a very similar work ethic, who had very similar life goals, and her and I worked amazingly well together, which isn’t always the case, especially when you go into business in your mid-twenties with your best friend. But it really was such a good learning experience. And I think what has been so amazing about True Native Media is that I have been able to take those lessons that I learned at Simply Clear Marketing, and I’ve been able to apply them to True Native Media. And one of the most important things, I would say, the compass that I live my life by – but in business especially – is really this idea of starting with the end in mind. What is our goal? Where are we trying to head? if you don’t know where you’re going to go, then you can go anywhere. And if you’ve got a path for where you’re headed, it really helps you keep you focused on what is most important. And like I said, I feel like you can apply that to business, but you can also apply that to life. Where are you headed and what are you doing to get there? And that’s a main goal and a main objective for me at True Native Media.

Adrian Tennant: Based on all the advances that you’ve seen in the podcasting industry this year, what are you most excited for in 2021?

Heather Osgood: I’m excited for continued growth. I would love to see us get to the $1 billion mark, which we’re slated to in podcast advertising in 2021. So I’m excited about that, but I’m also really excited  about the advancements in technology. I think that we’re going to continue to see a lot of this consolidation. That’s happening because we’ve had so many independent companies and they continue to pop up. It’s like every day, “Oh, look, there’s this new podcast company” and “that new podcast company,” right? They’re all over the place. But I think we’re going to continue to see a lot of consolidation because right now I do think we need some – like we talked about Spotify – I think they are obviously making this play to try to become a major player in the industry, but who are the other major players that we’re going to see pop up? And what does it look like to have some industry leaders? I’ve been talking to several people in the podcast space about creating a podcast industry association where we all meet together, we’re all on the same page. And we talk about common issues and things facing the industry because it’s so fascinating to be part of something that is growing so quickly. But when you put up there and you say, “Okay,  there’s 1.5 million podcasts out there.” Yeah? Well, there’s 600 million blogs out there. When you say, “Oh yeah, we’re going to reach a billion dollars in ad sales.” That’s awesome – but how many hundreds of billions of dollars are being spent in radio and TV? So even though as an industry, we really feel like we’re growing – because we are, and it’s exciting – when you put us up to other  mediums we’re really still in our infancy. So I really am excited to see how we can grow and how we can come together as an industry to help arm one another to really fortify us to grow.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, are we at a point where media planners should be thinking about integrating podcast advertising into buys?

Heather Osgood: So I think that when I consider podcast advertising, I often see that people don’t integrate it into their overall marketing strategy. And I would like people to approach podcasts in that way. I find oftentimes it’s like people just dipping a toe in the water, right? They’re like, “Oh, I hear podcasts are good” or “I hear I should try podcast advertising.” So they come in and I’ll talk to companies, even large companies sometimes were like, “I want to place two ads on one podcast” and I’m like, “That’s a bad idea! Let’s actually look at your marketing strategy. Let’s look at what you’re doing and let’s look at how we can integrate podcasts into that overall marketing strategy or at least your audio strategy.” So I do think that when people are considering podcast advertising, if you’re really wanting to see its value and if you’re really wanting to see if it can produce results, you’ve got to commit to it at a big enough level and integrate it enough into your campaign to really see true results.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, if listeners want to learn more about True Native Media, where can they find you?

Heather Osgood: They can find us at TrueNativeMedia.com. I’m also super active on LinkedIn, so if you’re interested in coming over to LinkedIn and finding me there, I do a live every Wednesday at 10:00 AM Pacific. Of course, you’ve mentioned The Podcast Advertising Playbook, which is available on any podcast-playing apps so you can go find that as well.

Adrian Tennant: Heather, thank you so much for being our guest today on IN CLEAR FOCUS!

Heather Osgood: Thank you for having me. It’s been a real pleasure.

Adrian Tennant: Many thanks to my guest this week, Heather Osgood, founder of True Native Media and the producer and host of The Podcast Advertising Playbook. You’ll find links to resources on the IN CLEAR FOCUS page at bigeyeagency.com under “Insights.” Just click on the button marked, “Podcast.” If you haven’t already, please consider subscribing to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or your favorite podcast player. And remember, if you have an Amazon Echo device, you can use the IN CLEAR FOCUS skill to add the podcast to your Flash Briefing. Thank you for listening to IN CLEAR FOCUS, produced by Bigeye. I’ve been your host, Adrian Tennant. Until next week, goodbye.

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