INTERVIEW: Paul Riismandel from SXM Media

I recently read a fascinating article about the appropriate ad lengths for effectiveness in podcast advertising from Paul Riismandel, Senior Director of Marketing Insights for SXM Media.

The Podcast Advertising Playbook

I recently read a fascinating article about the appropriate ad lengths for effectiveness in podcast advertising. I knew I had to get Paul Riismandel, Senior Director of Marketing Insights for SXM Media (and the author of the article), on my podcast. I needed to dive deeper and learn more from him.


Because podcasting is an open-source medium, we often make assumptions about what’s happening in the industry.


We also use learnings passed down from veterans in the space without questioning the “correctness.”

When I first started selling podcast ads, I assumed that the more extended the ad-read, the more effective it was. So, I encouraged our podcasters to do ads for longer than 60-seconds.


Fast forward a few years to selling over 60,000 podcast ads; I know this is not the case. Because who is going to listen to a 5-minute ad? No one.


But, Paul found some even more eye-opening results that took me by surprise.

What was your initial findings about ad lengths in podcasting?

Paul Riismandel: We did a brand lift study with our partners at Signal Hill Insights. Our goal was to dig in and understand why things work. We decided to test the three different ad lengths (15-second, 30-second, and 60-second) and put them on par with each other. We recruited people to listen to podcast content that has these ads. Then, we test their recall. 


Did they remember specific attributes mentioned about the brand or product during the ad? We then compared this data to a control test. 


And the significant learning, there is virtually no difference between a 15-second and a 60-second ad read when it comes to remembering the brand in particular, which is terrific.


It wasn’t necessarily the finding I was expecting. And we equalized it. We used a producer-read or announcer-read spot because we know that host-reads are variable.

This is excellent news for companies looking for branding or brand recall. A 15-second ad is efficient. It will allow you to buy at a high frequency for a lower CPM. 


But, I was more intrigued by what came next in our interview. At True Native Media, we only work with host-read endorsement ads (very much like influencer marketing.) This type of podcast ad is incredibly effective for brands who want to make sales.


So, for example, suppose you’re moving a potential consumer down the funnel. In that case, you have to provide features, benefits, and how the product will solve the customer’s pain points.


This cannot be done using a 15-second producer-read ad. 

What did you learn about a 60-second ad?

Paul Riismandel: But the story doesn’t end there. We assumed that a longer ad unit works better, and it does. The more extended ad unit shines through if you want customers to understand the product or brand and what makes it unique. We tested it and saw a lift.


Listeners exposed to a 60-second ad we’re more likely to agree with statements about the brand compared to those who were not exposed.


So if we combine shorter and longer ad units, we can build awareness and move them down the funnel, closer to purchase.

The magic of podcast advertising is that, ultimately, it’s all about the goals you’re setting. So if your intention is brand awareness, maybe a 15-second campaign is all you need. 


If a direct response campaign is your focus, more time is needed to guide the customer to purchase. For example, you might decide that a campaign will start with branding and then move into direct response. I which case, a combination of ad lengths will be the winning strategy. 


My thoughts then moved to more variables that influence the effectiveness of campaigns—specifically, the creative and the copy provided by the brand.

How does the creative and the copy influence the effectiveness of the podcast ad?

Paul Riismandel: I looked at a campaign that was not driving conversions to a website. The data showed it was running at the lower end of the curve. I review the ad copy and listen to the ads. No one mentions the website; the host talks about the product and the brand, with no call-to-action. Therefore, consumers weren’t taking action. So the ad copy and call-to-action are critical. You have to tell the listener what you want them to do next. 


Advertisers don’t always know what their KPI is. We will have a kickoff call for research with, “what is your primary KPI?” And they’ll say, we have to get back to you. And you know, and very often it’s not that they don’t have a clue. They’re not sure if this one is awareness or whether they’re looking for something more like affinity. That informs not only your choice of ad length but also the creative itself. What type of copywriting? How do we make sure that we’re aiming it towards the correct result?


Often, the advertiser is very clear at the beginning of the campaign and says the brand recall is our number one priority. And then they say, “we’re a little disappointed we didn’t see more lift for intent to recommend.”


We can look at the copy, and it’s clear they didn’t get enough into the product. Brands must know what they want to accomplish, so the sales partners can help them refine that and turn that KPI into an actual podcast ad. 

I wanted to know Paul’s top three recommendations for brands who wanted to double down with podcast advertising to round off the interview. He shared his final thoughts with me. 

What are your top three takeaways about podcast ad length?

Paul Riismandel: Number one, know your KPI’s because they dictate the approach you should take with podcast advertising. Secondly, when it comes to creativity, get clear on your messaging.


Number two, don’t throw the whole kitchen sink at the host. Just give two or three benefits you want people to know.


Finally, make sure there is a call-to-action that is simple and easy for the listeners to do. Maybe you don’t want them to buy something, but you want to increase brand awareness.


Either way, make sure you tell the listener what to do after they hear the ad. 


I was so grateful to Paul for taking the time to share his findings and extensive knowledge with me. To hear the full interview and learn more, visit The Podcast Advertising Playbook.

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