May 11, 2022

Brand Suitability In Podcasting with Ad Results Media

Brand Suitability In Podcasting with Ad Results Media

"We listen for anything that might not be brand suitable for our clients. So if there's anything that's said, within the ad, or around the ad that doesn't fit with our client's vibe, that's something that we also look out for." - Lindsay Smith, Vice President of Audio Insights at Ad Results Media.

I loved chatting with Lindsay Smith from Ad Results about working with their clients on brand suitability, otherwise known as brand safety. "We like to focus on the term suitability because, as an agency, we don't want to deem what shows are safe or unsafe. Instead, we want to match brands with suitable shows for their core values."


Lindsay shares her process for monitoring ad-reads and working with podcasts and clients to create high-quality ads that convert. We also talk about how brands have different suitability floors and how it's essential to recognize and cater to those differences to find success.


We also address the rise of dynamic insertion and how that affects brand safety or suitability.


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This transcript has been edited.


[00:00:15] Heather Osgood: Hello, and welcome to the podcast advertising playbook. I'm your host, Heather Osgood. And today on the program, we have Lindsay Smith. She is the VP of Audio Insights at Ad Results Media, Lindsay, welcome to the program.


[00:00:28] Lindsay Smith: Thank you so much for having me. 

[00:00:30] Heather Osgood: So Lindsay, we've been working with Ad Results at True Native Media for many years, but today's the first time you and I are chatting. I'm excited to dig into your insights and all of your knowledge. And you have been with Ad Results for quite a few years now, right? Yes. Almost seven years. Wow. So you have been in podcasting for longer than I have. And really, I would say seven years in podcast land is a long time. What made you kind of jump into this space? 


[00:01:00] Lindsay Smith: So my background is slightly different from most. I don't come from an agency background. I was actually working as a voiceover actor. And a theater actor and director here in Houston. And I was looking to make a career shift, and a theater acquaintance of mine said, "Hey, we have a position open here at Ad Results if you're interested in checking it out." I didn't know anything about agency life. It was a temp position, and I was only supposed to be here for a short time, and I'm still here seven years later. 


[00:01:34] Heather Osgood: Wow. That's impressive. And when I was looking at your career growth, it seems like you started in the traffic department and really have grown up a ladder at the company.


[00:01:47] Lindsay Smith: Yes. Yes. I started in traffic, and I was able to identify a few gray areas that we had as far as employee coverage is concerned. And I built out what is now our audio insights team, which oversees the quality assurance compliance of all of the ad reads and oversees our brand suitability initiatives.


[00:02:09] Heather Osgood: That's amazing. And I know that one of the wonderful parts of podcast advertising is this influencer marketing, organic and authentic ad read that we always talk about being so valuable. But on the flip side, when you leave the ad read up to the host to voice, there are issues that kind of come up with the ad reads. I know that it's just part of what happens. Not every host will do everything correctly 100% of the time. So is that part of what you oversee, or can you tell us more about that audio insights piece?


[00:02:46] Lindsay Smith: Yes. So much of what we do is collect the ad reads and ensure that they're running up to our standards and our client's standards.


[00:02:53] Lindsay Smith: We want to make sure that there's a strong endorsement there. We do offer creative direction. In the case [00:03:00] that there is a new host or someone who isn't super familiar with the product or service we are endorsing. So we will reach out, and we'll offer creative direction on how they can perform in the future.


[00:03:13] Lindsay Smith: And offer stronger endorsements. We also run the ad through our proprietary grading system, and it does get graded for our clients. And so they can take a look at that side of performance. And yeah, we also listen for anything that might not be brand suitable for our clients. So if there's anything that's said, within the ad or around the ad, that maybe doesn't quite fit with our client's vibe, that's something that we also look out for.


[00:03:40] Heather Osgood: So that has got to be so labor-intensive. And I know you mentioned having some proprietary software; how much of that work is done manually instead of through software? 


[00:03:51] Lindsay Smith: It's mostly done manually, honestly. I have a group of about 20 folks, and we are listening to thousands of ads every week, and it is pretty manual. But I think that having that human element is really important.


[00:04:05] Lindsay Smith: I know that some AI also grades ads, but I think that having that human element that can dive into context and content is important. 


[00:04:15] Heather Osgood: Yeah. And I guess before we get into deep, I'd love to ask you just a bit about Ad Results Media. Where did the company come from, and what is your presence in the market today?


[00:04:30] Lindsay Smith: We started as radio advertising and were dipping our toes into podcast advertising when I joined, which was about 2015. And they just take a unique approach to media planning. We have a vast data set of performance data that does include proprietary ad grading data from my team. We use a lot of that historical data, creating portfolio-based media plans that maximize performance [00:05:00] for our clients. I think that we have an interesting place in the ecosystem. We have a lot of relationships with podcast networks and podcasters. We try to offer that personal touch between our brands and our podcasts. We feel like we're central to the creator publisher, distributor, and seller-buyer ecosystem. So we're kind of that hub that allows us to create mutually beneficial outcomes for all stakeholders. 


[00:05:27] Heather Osgood: That's awesome. Yeah. And I think to me, one thing that is so wonderful about Ad Results is you have so much knowledge. You guys have been doing it for so long that you are able to help coach an advertiser through putting together excellent and effective campaigns because you know what's going to be effective and maybe what isn't going to be as effective.


[00:05:49] Heather Osgood: So, I think that really is an important piece. I know we talk a lot about how podcast advertising is influencer marketing, but tell me more about how you see it as influencer marketing. I'm just thinking through you sitting and listening to these different ads. Would you say that the hosts influence their audiences? 


[00:06:21] Lindsay Smith: Absolutely. Traditional social media influencers know how to connect to their audience through their visual content, but podcast influencers know how to connect and create that trust with their audience through their audio content. And audio has shown to be such a personally immersive medium. And so many listeners are tuning in during what they consider their me-time. So that makes it even more personal to them. I think the storytelling and that feeling like you're engaging with a friend is what draws people in. And, you know, we've also shown that the average podcast listener finishes 80% of the podcast that they're listening to. So as a brand, you're really in an excellent position for your service or product to be heard. The other great thing about podcasting and creating that influencer space is that their endorsements are authentic. We have a great team of creative writers who work closely with our media team and our audio insights team to help podcasters weave their endorsements into their storytelling. They don't always need that help. They're usually really authentic on their own, and listeners love that authenticity.


[00:07:26] Lindsay Smith: They're tuning in to listen to the hosts and talents that they trust. And they are trusting that experience that these folks are having with the products they're endorsing. But I just, the way the hosts can weave endorsements into their episodes, they do it in informative, creative, and often humorous. So I don't think that that can be found in traditional influencer spaces like an Instagram post.


[00:07:49] Heather Osgood: I agree with you. And I mean, I feel like it's so interesting because this connection happens between the host and the audience. And I love, I don't know if I've ever heard anyone talk about the idea that you listen to podcasts in your "me" time, but it's true, right?


[00:08:05] Heather Osgood: I mean, granted, I walk around the house most of the time with an earbud in, but I still would call it my "me" time. So, if I do an activity, I'm usually listening to a podcast because it makes the activity more enjoyable. So I like that connection; that's a perfect way of saying it.


[00:08:23] Heather Osgood: So you listen to so many ads. And I think one of the questions I get asked a lot is what makes up a good ad? A lot of the performance has to do with how good an ad read is. I can't even imagine; I'm just trying to think about how many ads you must have listened to over the years. What are your favorite ads? And what makes an ad something that you're going to listen to? 


[00:08:48] Lindsay Smith: So anything that ties into the overall content of the show ends up being successful if you're able to segue in from your content. I believe it's Here's The Thing; they do a great job of segueing from show content into the ad reads. And it's hilarious. And you can tell that they love their products and have an intimate knowledge of them. So they do some really great Movement reads, and they know all about the watches.


[00:09:24] Lindsay Smith: They know all about the sunglasses. And you can tell that they are not using copy to talk about the products. They just know them, use and love them. You can tell that the host is having a great time with it. Comedy hosts also tend to do an excellent job with their reads. I like it when they can just riff a little bit and be themselves. Those are the ones that perform really well on our end. As I said, you've got your segue; you've got intimate knowledge of the product. You enjoy the product and any humor; it's that's like the golden combination. 


[00:10:10] Heather Osgood: Right, right. I totally agree. One of the things that I always tell people is that you should try and start the ad with some sort of a hook or a story. I don't think that it's great to come out and say, this is an ad read because like the minute that you're like, thanking our sponsors or, okay, we're going to go to a quick break. All of that just essentially says fast forward. So now, of course, that we're trying to trick anyone. And at the end of the ad read, you can say, thank you movement for sponsoring the show. But we want to get people hooked at the beginning of the ad read. So they want to listen through, is that what you have seen?


[00:10:42] Lindsay Smith: Oh, absolutely. And that's something that we also offer as a word of advice in our creative coaching. Try to skip that branding at the top. I know you want to thank your sponsors, and I know that they're so crucial to the show, but just the spot is so much more engaging to the listeners. If you add that messaging at the end of the spot, instead, you can hook them in with a story. I've heard some great stories about Sleep Number about how hosts will be on vacation. And they'll talk about how wonderful their vacation was, but they just couldn't wait to get back to their Sleep Number bed. And that just, it hooks you right away. It just sounds natural. And part of the segment that they're talking about. 


[00:11:21] Heather Osgood: We just need to hook them in. I always tell my host that people have to listen to the ad. They can't take action if they're not going to listen. So I think that's key.


[00:11:33] Heather Osgood: Shifting gears a little bit. What do you think are some of the issues facing the podcast industry?


[00:11:38] Lindsay Smith: We spend a lot of time talking about attribution and brand safety. Attribution, mainly because there are so many different ways to measure podcast advertising, marketers and brands need to be open to how they want to fit that into their KPI frameworks. Measurement and attribution must be shared accountability between the agency, the client, and the tech company. And they're just so many ways to measure right now. And then, of course, brand safety is a massive conversation. There's been explosive growth in the industry and the news being the way it is and current events, brand safety is paramount, especially as more clients enter the space. So I think that we will have that conversation more and more often.


[00:12:29] Heather Osgood: How can you ensure brand safety? From my perspective, gosh, we didn't talk about brand safety until two years ago. I don't know; maybe you could add some light there. Perhaps it's been longer. We know podcasters are podcasting because they want to have a voice. They want to be able to say the things that they want to say. And sometimes those things might align well with a brand, and sometimes they might not. And I don't always think that it's easy to tell, especially in today's day and age, when maybe somebody will take a left turn, and they're going to do something that you didn't expect. So, in your opinion, how long has the brand safety conversation been happening? 


[00:13:43] Lindsay Smith: We started having this conversation about a year ago. To put an exact date on it, it was April 2021. I remember because I was on vacation and got a phone call - "What do you know about brand safety?"


[00:14:03] Lindsay Smith: And, so that's kind of when the conversation started happening for me. And that's about the time that our clients started coming to us and saying, "Hey, we want to be sure that we're aligning with shows that align with our values." And so that's when we started conceptualizing brand safety or brand suitability, I should say. We like to focus on the term suitability because we don't want to deem what shows are safe or unsafe as an agency. Instead, match brands with shows that are suitable for their core values. And so that's really when that conversation started happening for us. I've noticed it ramp up within the past six months. 


[00:14:50] Heather Osgood: How does a brand navigate this idea of brand suitability or safety? 


[00:15:05] Lindsay Smith: Well, I think it's important to note that brands will have a different brand suitability floor. We have brands that have no problems with profanity and brands that want to stay away from profanity entirely. It just does not match with their vibe or values. And so, I think that that's one of the ways that we can come into play.


[00:15:30] Lindsay Smith: You know, we intimately know our clients, and we have that vast relationship with podcast shows and networks. So we can be the ones who can focus on crafting that appropriate relationship between brands and talents through our media plans. But, as I said, we focused really on suitability. So what areas or topics do our clients find unsuitable for their brand?


[00:15:52] Lindsay Smith: And from there, we can marry their values and goals with shows with the same goals and views. So yeah, it's always successful with a combination of the right tech and human review, which is where my audio insights team comes into play. We've worked with some great tech partners to build out a tool on the back end that we use to identify different buckets and keywords. And then my team comes in, and they. Look at those keywords, and they say, okay, what's the context behind this? And does this still align? Even though this keyword pinged, does this still align with the brand?


[00:16:31] Lindsay Smith: And so I think having an agency and partners you trust to vet the suitability is one way that advertisers can find shows that align with their core values. 


[00:16:49] Heather Osgood: Great. Great. So obviously, dynamic ad insertion has become much more of a thing in recent years, and I think one of the nice parts about dynamic ad insertion is, let's say, you run an ad on a podcast for a month, and after that month, your ad has gone. So today, that podcast and its content align with you. But in six months, that host takes a turn, and suddenly you're not aligned with them anymore. It doesn't matter cause you're not advertising on the show anymore. There are certainly upsides in terms of a long tail for results with embedded ad reads. But, your ad is still associated with that podcast until the host decides to remove the ad from the podcast. And they have to do it in a manual way. So, what would you advise an advertiser to do if perhaps they had advertised in a podcast six months or a year ago? And at the time they liked the show. And now they feel like they don't have alignment, but their ad is baked into the episode?


[00:18:01] Lindsay Smith: Well, it's essential to take a step back and look at everything objectively. Look at the content of that show that you were in a year ago. Look at performance. Look at the demographics from that show who were the listeners. And from there, use that information, that data, to make a call that's right for you. If you want to pull the spot from that show, you should feel empowered to make that call. Overall, brands should feel empowered to make whatever call is best for them.


[00:18:40] Lindsay Smith: Because we want to ensure that the values and everything is aligned and that it's still suitable at the end of the day. It's still a suitable match for them. If it was a year ago and it was a right match, it's probably fine. But if they've taken a turn now, maybe it's time to reevaluate the relationship, but that's up to the brands to decide. We're 

Lindsay SmithProfile Photo

Lindsay Smith

Vice President of Audio Insights

I have been active in the podcasting industry for the past 9 years as a host and voice-over actor. For the past 7 years, I have had the pleasure of working on the agency side with Ad Results Media where I built out the agency's creative and Audio Insights teams. I currently lead an incredibly talented group of Audio Insights Coordinators and Specialists who dive deep into the performance of ad reads and their resonance with audiences.