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Wonder Media Network Adopts Ad Model That Goes Against The Podcast Grain.

Four year old Wonder Media Network has carved out its podcast niche with a portfolio of shows that are largely focused on women and other underrepresented voices in audio, with podcasts covering mainly politics, business and culture. As it continues to grow its advertising business, cofounder and Chief Revenue Officer Shira Atkins says they will not follow the direction many other companies are going and open their ad inventory to programmatic sales.

“We doubled our business during the pandemic, both in terms of revenue and in terms of size of company. I feel like if you can find your niche, you can always find dollars, Atkins said. “And everyone is hip to podcast advertising now in a way that I think didn't exist a couple of years ago. It also means that folks have specific budgets that are allocated for audio and the easiest, most efficient way of funding that is often through programmatic, which I think is actually like a tragedy for the podcasting ecosystem writ large.”

Speaking on the Digiday Podcast, Atkins said she understands why major advertisers like Procter & Gamble likes the idea of using programmatic buying in order to target ads at a specific geographic region. It also allows brands to reach the so-called longtail of shows beyond the biggest hits. But Atkins sees a downside as well.

“This concept of efficiency that media planners are asked to find for their brands, often, I think it's actually laziness. And I don't think it's efficient to just scale shitty ads,” she said. “To have some announcer read it, and interrupts the podcast is a bad listening experience. And I think the ad tech still has a ways to go before even that kind of integration is good.” Atkins said that when a situation comes up when they need to do a programmatic component to something they are creating, they will partner with Art19 to execute.

Wonder Media Network also shuns dynamically inserted ads, which his is something that Atkins jokes makes her “feel like an old lady” whenever she is asked about it because the baked-in format is how podcast ads were placed for most of the medium’s history.

“It works for us,” she said, explaining that a lot of the ad buys the network receives come from advertiser budgets targeted toward women, African Americans and other diverse audiences. Those budgets are less susceptible to economy-driven cutbacks as well, Atkins said.

Flat Rates Rule Ad Sales

That model has also had an impact on how Wonder Media Network ads are sold. Rather than be based on CPMs like most podcast companies, it most commonly sells ads using a flat rate for a show. Atkins says they do offer some deals for brands to a year-long sponsorship.

Yet recognizing that some brands can’t or won’t do flat-rate buys, Wonder Media Network offers a limited amount of inventory on a CPM basis such as its Majority 54 podcast.

“We sell ads on that for $35 CPMs -- and the lowest will go on that is $18 -- and then we also do segments that are ‘brought to you by’ that have a higher CPM,” she said. “The truth is, we only sell CPM on one or two shows. Or when we haven't sold a sponsorship on a show that we need to release, then we'll open it up for CPM. But even in those cases, we tried to do flat rates.”

Atkins concedes some clients may find their sales strategy “annoying” but she thinks the CPM model can be “demeaning” at times toward the producers of the content. It has also made host-read ads more important for Wonder Media Network.

“It's essential. And for clients, it's typically a requirement,” said Atkins. “It's all about making sure that the listener feels comfortable and that they've developed a relationship with the host. And it's the most authentic way to tell whatever the auxiliary branded content component is.” She said when the network responds to advertisers’ RFPs, there is usually questions about other social media channels the host can extended the campaign into. “They want to make sure that whatever they do with her has like wraparound affinity,” Atkins said.

Half Of Revenue From Branded Content

Wonder Media Network iconoclast status is helped by the fact that it currently relies on branded podcasts and integrated content for half of its revenue. In that space, Atkins said more marketers are becoming realistic with what their goals are with fewer expecting to create a hit show.

“It’s nearly impossible for branded podcasts at this point, and so when we speak with our partners about their marketing goals for their branded podcasts, we try to let them know that this isn't going to get 20,000, 30,000 or 50,000 downloads per episode,” Atkins said. Instead, she tells the clients to focus on who is actually listening to the episode and the other metrics beyond download numbers. “We try to back into that from a editorial and also marketing perspective,” Atkins explained.

Addressing market conditions overall, Atkins said that it’s been more difficult to sell ads this summer than in the past, although summer is typically a slower season for advertising. “Summer is always slow, so it's hard to say. But it felt like a bit of an abrupt stop in terms of inbound RFPs from agencies,” she said.

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