Podcast Upfronts 2023: What we learnt

Posted on Monday 23 October 2023 | IAB UK

Back for a fifth consecutive year, Podcast Upfronts brought together Audioboom, Fresh Air Production, Global, Octave Audio, Sony Music Entertainment, and Wondery at The Steel Yard for an exploration into the magic of podcasting

“Podcasting in the UK is absolutely at the peak of its powers, and if you’re sat there now, and you’re unsure, I guarantee you, by 5:30 pm today - you’ll be converted”, asserted James Chandler, IAB UK’s CMO, opening our last Digital Upfront of 2023. The audience of advertisers and agency planners was treated to an afternoon which focused on connection, storytelling, and advertising potential. Read our top six takeouts…


1. A new home for ‘How To Fail’

Sony Music Entertainment kicked off the day with a big announcement: author and broadcaster, Elizabeth Day, is moving her hugely successful ‘How To Fail with Elizabeth Day’ podcast to Sony Music Entertainment in January 2024. “I’m so excited about this new chapter”, admitted Day. “We’re going to have a crazy, beautiful new studio and even better guests. It’s going to be completely wonderful”, she continued. An elevated platform, a move towards creating mid-form content for YouTube, and the power of Sony’s guest booking team, means Day looks set to elevate the success of her podcast - all while retaining the fidelity of her core listenership.


2. Terribly good storytelling is essential

“The quality of our storytelling is what sets us apart”, asserted Jessica Radburn, Head of International Podcast Content, Wondery. Over the next 20 minutes, we heard how Wondery have created a rich landscape of homegrown voices and immersive stories to draw in audiences of all demographics and backgrounds. “This presents an unmatched opportunity for advertisers and brands to access our listeners in a more deeply emotional way”, she added. Anna Leong Brophy and Emily Lloyd-Saini, Hosts of ‘Terribly Famous’, shared with the audience how this extends into the advertising partners they choose to work with. The trust their audience has in them informs the brands they choose, preferring an old-friend-giving-you-a-useful-recommendation tone over generic, impersonal adverts.


3. Only connect (with your audience)

“I spent my whole career at the BBC, ensuring that no one knew a thing about me”, confessed Jon Sopel - journalist, broadcaster, and host of award-winning podcast ‘The News Agents’. Now at Global, Sopel has the latitude to share more of himself. “Suddenly, you’re free to offer opinions, and you bring people in because they feel they get to know you”. He also touched on the chemistry and connection between him and his fellow hosts, a theme echoed by Anna Williamson, co-host of ‘LuAnna: The Podcast’, and Spencer Matthews, host of ‘Big Fish’, who’s found the key to its increasing success is connecting with the guests. “The conversations are very honest and incredibly real”, he said. With episodes covering life-threatening illnesses, extreme poverty, and addiction, Matthew’s fearless approach to heavy subjects really resonates with his audience, underscoring the main takeaway from Global’s session: connection is king.


4. The age of the podfluencer

Coming from the world of print media, Coco Khan, host of ‘Pod Save the UK’ and feature writer for The Guardian, prioritised speaking with authority. But the media landscape has shifted, and the traditional forms of news don't hold the same appeal for younger generations, who’ve grown up with social media, influencers and podfluencers. “We’re in an age of authenticity”, she said. Increasingly, audiences want their news presented in an accessible way, with a human face and where appropriate, with a touch of humour. Successful podfluencers fully embrace this and have a unique ability to connect with audiences on a deeper level; Octave recognises the potential this holds for advertisers. “50% of podcast listeners trust advertising more if it's been endorsed by the host”, said Nadia Holmes, Head of Business Development, Octave Audio, echoing the afternoon's key theme of connection.


5. A roadmap to building new podcasts from the ground up

“A good podcast is a witty new friend, a good walk, a daily ritual - our job is to make that scary process oh-so-simple”, began Richard Blake, Director of Marketing, Fresh Air Production, as he spoke about the process behind creating engaging podcasts for their clients. According to the Fresh Air team, podcasts aren't all about reach - instead, focus on grabbing the attention of listeners by providing absorbing content. Michaela Hallam, Director of Content, mapped out the journey Fresh Air Production took Auto Trader on to create a podcast and reach new audiences, and James Sims Williams, Senior Creative, Auto Trader, gave two helpful pointers to those in the audience looking to do the same: “Get involved with the process, be hands-on from the start”and, to get the full benefit, you need to really go in big and commit to multiple series.”


6. No such thing as fast-forwarding

Bringing the curtain down on Digital Upfronts 2023 was Audioboom in conversation with Andrew Hunter Murray and James Harkin, co-hosts of the ‘No Such Thing As a Fish’ podcast. With 10 years and counting under their belts, the team uncovered the alchemy that has secured their podcast’s longevity: a solid format, fresh ways of thinking and a kinship among hosts. And when it comes to their adverts? “The dream you have is that people love listening to the adverts pretty much as much as they love listening to the show”, revealed Murray. To achieve this, the team works with Audioboom to create a new advert every single week, using their unique tone of voice to prevent fast-forwarding and provide value for their listeners.


Find out more about Digital Upfronts 2023 here.

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