The Ugly Math Of Podcast Cross-Promotion

Fishing where the fish are is a solid strategy, so using similar podcasts to promote your podcast is obviously a good idea, right? You bet! But like any marketing effort, what you put in determines what you get out.

The Ugly Math Of Podcast Cross-Promotion
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Cross-promotion has been a part of podcasting since there were two podcasts. From promo swaps to heartfelt recommendations to episode drops, there are myriad ways podcasters can grow their show by being exposed to the audience of another podcast.

There's little question as to the efficacy of these efforts. Efforts that make up the backbone of growth plans for large podcast networks like Wondery and iHeart and promotional campaigns used by some of the biggest podcasters who drop tens of thousands of dollars each month to increase the size of their audience.

It's natural to assume that what works for the bigger networks and the bigger podcasts can work for smaller networks and much smaller shows. Only on a smaller scale. And yes, that's very true.

But humans are really, really bad at understanding scale. And scale is reality.

Let me do some easy math to illustrate this point. Don't worry, there's not going to be a test at the end.

Ugh. Math.

By way of example, let's first look at a successful podcaster with the means to spend $10,000 a month on a paid cross-promotional campaign to promote their show. A successful cross-promotional campaign, mind you.

How many new listeners will that gain the deep-pocketed podcaster is a question you might be asking. And you are very smart to ask it. But for the purposes of this exercise, you actually don't need to know the hard return number. All you need to understand is that their $10,000 investment—and I know podcasters just spend way more than that each and every month—gets that spendy podcaster enough new listeners to make the investment worth it.

I'll come back and quantify that worth in a moment. But for now, let's just assume success was found for that podcaster at a cost of $10,000.

But you may not have $10,000 per month to spend paying other podcasts to promote your podcast on their podcast. You may not even have $1000 in your budget. Maybe $100 a month is more like something you could swing as a test.

Comparatively speaking, how will the success of your $100 cross-promo budget stack up to the podcaster who drops $10,000 on a cross-promotional campaign, be it a recommendation, trailer inclusion, episode drop, or something else?

About 100 times less successful. Or 1% as successful, if you want to look at it that way.

That might mean successful enough for you, I suppose. Or you might be able to do even better and rather than using your wallet to fund the campaign, you put in the work. Plenty of podcasters engage in cross-promotional campaigns by setting up promo swaps or other quid pro quo relationships in a variety of creative and fun ways. After all, it's not the money transaction that makes cross-promotional campaigns successful. It's being on the right show with the right message delivered in the right way. If you can achieve that by leveraging your personal relationships and creativity, well, that sounds like time well spent. Right? Well...

Podcasting Cross-Promo Results By The Numbers

Dave Zorhob, co-founder and CEO of Chartable—recently acquired by Spotify, shared some numbers at Podcast Movement Evolutions 2022 that help answer the question: How well do cross-promotional campaigns work for podcasters?

Chartable has a product called SmartPromos that measures podcast-to-podcast attribution. With SmartPromos, Chartable can count the number of listeners who came to your podcast after hearing your promo on another podcast. This service has been around for years and many podcasters and podcast networks use it. That means Chartable has a lot of data showing the efficacy of cross-promotional efforts of podcasters of all shapes and sizes, across many different categories.

Data that Dave shared during his talk at Podcast Movement Evolutions. Data that didn't surprise me. Data that will probably disappoint you. Sorry.

Churning through all of Chartable's data, they found that the new listener acquisition rate for cross-promotions was 0.75%.

Not 75%. Point-seven-five. Less than one percent.

That means if your promo runs on an episode of a podcast that was downloaded 1000 times, you'll get seven to eight new listeners to your show. Hey, don't blame me. Blame the math.

Of course, if you can get on a show that sees 10,000 downloads per episode, then that same math means you could see 70 or 80 new listeners. Yes, out of the 10,000 downloads. Again, direct your ire at the math, not the messenger.

But if you can't swing that and can only afford (or entice) smaller shows that get maybe 100 downloads per episode... well, you'll be lucky to get a single new listener to your podcast.

So why do podcasters do this if the math sucks so bad?

Should You Give Up On Cross-Promotion?

At scale, that math works fine and it doesn't suck at all.

Those 70 to 80 new listeners can add up to about 1500 downloads a month for a show that releases episodes multiple times a week. That's 18,000 downloads per year. And each of those downloads can be counted as valuable impressions that the podcaster can sell back to advertisers. Additional impressions generated by new listeners acquired for about $3 each. Additional impressions that have a value of $7.50 (or more) per download over the course of the year.

That more than doubles the return on investment when looked at over the course of that year. And that is precisely why big shows and big networks spend big bucks on effective cross-promotional campaigns. They do it to increase their available inventory so they can make more money running ads across their podcast and network.

If you're regularly selling out of your available ad inventory and need more new listeners so you can rake in more of that sweet, sweet advertising cash, then the math is in and it'll probably work for you. Go for it! You'll still need to put in the time and effort of finding the right shows, ensuring that they read a great promotion for you, and deal with all the other headaches that come with managing effective campaigns. But you already know how to deal with that.

If your show is on the smaller scale, or if you're not selling ads or have another hard outcome with your podcast that you can directly trace back to increased listenership, then the scale problem is real and probably out of balance for you.

But that doesn't mean that you should give up on running a podcast cross-promotion! A new listener or two is a new listener or two, with valuable, long-lasting benefits to you and your show. So sure, seek out cross-promotional opportunities when you can. There's no harm in that. Just understand the realities. And don't expect your listener numbers to skyrocket unless you've got big bucks to spend.

I shall be back next week with yet another Podcast Pontifications.


Podcast Pontifications In Your Inbox is written by Evo Terra. He’s on a mission to make podcasting better. Allie Press proofed the copy. Podcast Pontifications is a production of Simpler Media.

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