America’s largest radio network’s embrace of podcasting pays off – and it’s great for advertisers

Kelli Hurley is the driving force behind Westwood One‘s foray into podcasting. Already America’s largest audio broadcast network – with 245 million weekly listeners through 8,000 radio stations – it made sense to offer high-quality on-demand content.

In 2016, Westwood One launched its own podcast network, focusing on original content.

It sold its first podcast advertisement for $400 in June 2016. It took a little effort to convince advertisers to jump on board with podcasting. Although there were some early adopters, many advertisers are kicking themselves for being too slow, Kelli says.

Those advertisers now “are regretting some of their past decisions because a lot of their competitors have gotten into space and blocked them out of a lot of programming that they would otherwise probably want to be a part of.”

Westwood One’s portfolio of podcasts represents the popular and broad interests represented in its stable of radio programming, like sports, politics, and entertainment.

Politics is very dominant, Kelli says: “We represent one of the largest political shows in the country, and – in turn – one of the largest podcasts in the country, The Ben Shapiro Show which falls under our partnership with the Daily Wire that’s been a huge success story for us.”

So why is podcasting popular?

Kelli says podcasting is attracting audiences for two reasons. First, it’s a different way of consuming.

“I think that you are finding a really engaged passionate listener that’s paired up really well with really great content and great storytelling,” Kelli says.

The second reason is the uncluttered advertising environment – and that’s great for advertisers.

Listeners, she says, “tend to respond more to the advertisements because the host is delivering them really natively and organically within the fabric of their show and thus exciting the listener to kind of be part of the revolution and part of the experience along with that host.”

She insists that host-read ads resonate more strongly than other ads: “The listener is listening to this great content. They’re listening to their favourite host and they don’t get a break where it’s cutting to a commercial.

“They may not even realize at first that they’re being fed a commercial by the host because it’s so seamlessly integrated into what that host is already talking about.

“So, it’s a really compelling listener experience and one that the listeners actually have – through all of our data and research claim – that they enjoy. Ads in podcasts when it is read by the hosts, they actually enjoy listening to them.”

Kelli’s advice for branded podcasts

Branded podcasts can work very well indeed, Kelli says, so long as it’s done properly.

“You have to have the right partner,” she insists. “You have to have the right model, you have to really take your time and go into it very strategically.

“I have seen some success stories with branded podcasts, absolutely. So, I think they can work. I think they do work, but you have to be very, very smart.

“You cannot just take your content find a great host slap out product and think it’s going to resonate with listeners.

“You have to give consumers and listeners and experience content that they need.

“Why should they listen to this podcast? What are they going to gain from listening to this podcast? and why should they come back to listen again?

“Because I think a lot of brands really do have really great information to share with consumers, that tells a deeper story, that’s more informational, educational.

“But they really have to find the right way to do that, so it doesn’t turn into an infomercial.”

What’s the future of podcasting?

Kelli is bullish about what she sees as tremendous opportunities in audio consumption.

” I honestly think it’s the most exciting time to be a part of audio. I think that we’re seeing such a resurgence through podcasting and in turn. I think that’s really fuelling more of an appreciation of radio and audio in general.”

And, Kelli highlights the new technology that’s revitalising audio consumption.

“Smart speakers are becoming so important in terms of discovery, [like] smartphones in-car connectivity.

“So, I think we’re only going to see audio continue to surge and continue to find more and more unique compelling ways to tell a brand’s story and reach consumers.”

Kelli Hurley,Westwood One

Chris Ashmore spoke with Kelli Hurley for Episode 2, Season 3 of Podcasting Essentials.