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Podcast Listening Is Becoming More Diverse. The Ad Roster Is Too.

Podcast listeners, once mostly white and male, look more like the full spectrum of America each day. The latest Edison Research data shows among monthly podcast listeners, the racial breakdown is a nearly identical match of the U.S. population overall. That is helping the industry attract another kind of diversity, one that determines where marketing dollars are being spent. But ad executives said Thursday at the IAB Podcast Upfront that more still needs to be done.

“Some are doing better than others right now,” said Kerel Cooper, President of Advertising at the media buying shop Group Black. “It’s one thing to pledge dollars, but at the same time we still have to get on the media plans and what we’re putting forth in terms of inventory still need to match up with the brand’s goals and missions and campaigns have to perform.” Group Black has brought dollars to podcasting from clients like Procter & Gamble and WPP’s GroupM by combining audio with display and digital video ads to hit those targets. “We’re trying to make sure we have packages for brands regardless of what platforms they want to use,” he explained.

Shantae Howell, Creative Director-Americas at Acast, said special events like Black History Month, Women’s History Month, and LGBTQ Pride help by forcing some brands to take stock of how they are spending their ad dollars. “Those budgets are coming in a bit more, but we are still seeing various situations where folks want to line with a certain month,” she said. But Howell said when they are packaging shows for a media plan, they try to convert the marketer into making that diversity initiative a long-running partnership that can grow over time.

Taking such an approach could help brands avoid what IAB Executive VP Sheryl Goldstein said could be a pitfall of simply showing up for a certain month and then disappearing. “That is noticed by the audiences that you’re trying to reach, and that’s the miss that brands don’t see necessarily,” she said. “That might even be worse than coming in. There’s a missed opportunity by not building a longer-term relationship.”

Howell said what works best in their effort is delivering an ad campaign that performs well. “Nine times out of ten they perform incredibly well,” she said, pointing to a Martell Blue Swift campaign that worked with the Guys Next Door podcast. It had a 258% lift in intent to purchase scores compared to competing brands. “That leads to more opportunities,” Howell said.

Omnicom Media Group Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Sara Porritt said one of the challenges for supporting podcasts created by Asian Americans is there are still too few shows to give brands the kinds of reach they often require. “That’s the work that needs to be done, and right now there aren’t that many voices that are elevated to that level and it’s up the industry to help make that happen,” said Porritt, who also hosts the Hear Us Roar podcast. She said it is also the “responsibility” of advertisers to support those shows reaching diverse listeners for more than just a season. “It’s pushing the brand and the client to say what is your intention for investing,” Porritt said.

Acast has more than 40,000 shows and Howell said as they bring shows in to the Acast Creative Network there is a conscious effort to increase representation. She agrees that brands need to be challenged to support series that both deliver scale and also offer a broader demographic. That often requires buying deeper, across a wider variety of podcasts, including some niche options. “It means giving a space for a big show on a plan so our advertisers can get that scale and our smaller podcasters can be supported,” she explained.

Porritt said it is also up to the marketers to do their own due diligence to see that what on first blush comes up short actually has the reach and scale needed for a brand. “We don’t need to lean on somebody else, we all have that capability,” she said.

That change in mindset may, however, require that marketers embrace different return on investment success metrics.

“It’s hard to expect a smaller publisher who traditionally over time has not received the resources to build themselves up properly to then say they need to provide all the measurement capabilities and everything else a top-tier publisher provides,” said Cooper. “On the buy side, there has to be some give and you have to understand that if you’re sending the media dollars to the smaller publishers, that gives them the investment they need to set up the proper infrastructure to grow.”

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