A proper onboarding will help propel your ads to reach best in market performance at maximum viable scale.

By Kyle Jelinek

At Oxford Road we have a saying, “We just want the ads to work.”

To accomplish this goal, we bring together Messaging, Media, and Measurement. One critical piece of Messaging is tailoring it to the medium. For Podcast, the proper onboarding of hosts is perhaps one of the most essential components of a successful podcast campaign. Unfortunately, it’s also a step most new advertisers in the space don’t fully understand and many miss altogether.


verb (used with object)
To go through procedures to effectively integrate (a new employee) into an organization or familiarize (a new customer or client) with one’s products or services.

A properly onboarded host is an empowered host. The work begins the moment you sign on to advertise on his/her show. You probably already know this, but this process is only for host-read commercials—preferably where the host(s) exceeds the guaranteed 60-sec length. Done well, this proven process will empower the host (s) to speak freely about your company—all while you’re providing lane lines so it’s clear what they can and cannot say. Host onboarding is more than just jumping on a call with your talent and making sure they understand copy points (the script). Done correctly, a proper onboarding will help propel your ads to reach best in market performance at maximum viable scale.

Fusing the Brand Bond

The ultimate goal of this whole exercise is for the host to make a deep and personal connection to the product or service. After all, the most powerful words in the advertising lexicon are, “I use this and you should too.” You must uncover why your product has meaning for the host based on their past experiences or those of their friends/family. You could call this connection between the host and your company the “Brand Bond.” But this doesn’t have to be a magical Sword in the Stone moment. Because it’s their job to sell the shows, network partners and show producers can usually help you find an angle that works. For an agency like Oxford Road, we oftentimes have show representatives reach out to us saying, “XYZ podcast host is a huge widget fan, and you should advertise the USA Widget company on the show,” making the process even easier.

Finding the Brand Bond is easy if the host is a bonafide sneakerhead, and you are selling sneakers. Things are harder if you’re selling a children’s product but the host has no kids. If you’re confident you still want to test the program, you have to find other ways in. Have the host talk about their nieces and nephews or their close friend’s kids, or when they were a kid. There’s almost always a creative way to connect the host to the product and provide a unique POV for why they are making the endorsement for your brand.

Have Them Experience the Product

The all-powerful phrase, “I use this and you should too,” should be followed with, “Here’s why…”

This is their Story of Why the host is connected to the product or service and is recommending it to his or her listeners. If you’re an established brand, you may already have legions of hosts who are passionate about your product or service and can wax poetic about the benefits of your brand. For these advertisers, we can easily find out which hosts are already fans and you’re off to the races. This, however, is the exception. For most companies, you’ll have to introduce your business to hosts who have no idea who you are or what you do. This is easier if you have a product or service that is relatively inexpensive—simply send hosts a box of your goods and let them talk about it first-hand. However, things get harder if you have a very expensive product or an intangible service that the host may not be in a position to use immediately, despite best intentions.

For Advertisers with High Consideration

We once launched a successful podcast campaign for a high-ticket product whose price tag was over a thousand dollars on average – obviously, not something the client was willing to blindly send to every podcast host out of the gate. For this client, we only sent product hosts with large shows that had considerable spend volume. It was worth it for the client to spend the extra money to ensure these “larger” hosts were speaking from personal experience.

For the mid-tier and smaller shows, we initially skipped the step explained above. Only after the show exceeded the client’s KPI goals, did we send the product to the host. By incentivizing the host(s) based on performance, were we able to limit the client’s exposure and produce some fantastic results from shows who did everything they could to make the ads work.

For Service-Based Advertisers

Things are even more challenging if you’re offering a service that not everyone can use. For these types of companies, it’s important to get creative on how to get hosts to experience your brand. While you can’t demand hosts sign up for an insurance policy, or buy a house using your real estate website, you can make sure they get a quote or sign up to receive free updates online. We work with an insurance company who evaluates your current policy and shows you how much money you could save by using them. So, before a host can start talking about this company, we ask that they get the quick quote to get acquainted. It’s surprising how much content comes out of this alone.

The Host Can’t or Won’t Use Your Product

Make friends of producers and staff. Send product to the entire studio if you can. We once launched a podcast campaign for an alcohol company using a host that doesn’t drink. We had him share the product with his office and coworkers and his endorsement was essentially him talking about their experiences. This show ended up being one of the most effective podcasts the client had ever experienced. Even if the host is using your product or service, working with everyone on their team will make them evangelists for your business too!

Whether it’s easy or not, you must find a way to get the host (s) to experience your brand first-hand before they start talking about it. Your advertising will sound more authentic and response should follow accordingly.

The Host Brief

At this point, most advertisers send the hosts their talking points and hope for the best. However, sending your copy points is just part of what you should be doing. The Host Brief is a document that tells the hosts everything they need to know about your brand or service and, more importantly, tells them what they can and cannot say. It usually has 3 parts; a company/campaign overview, copy points/script, and a list of “dos” and “don’ts”.

The company/campaign overview should be a simple paragraph explaining what you’re trying to accomplish in this campaign and provide an elevator pitch on what your company is all about. While we’ve seen these come in all shapes and sizes; from a few sentences to 10-page booklets, generally the shorter the better. If you think the host is going to read your 15-page brand book, you’re sadly mistaken. Keep it simple and use this as a preamble to the campaign.

The next portion is copy points. We’ve written countless articles on copywriting and just last week, announced the launch of our Audiolytics™ Master Class which starts next month—so we won’t spend too much time here—but keep your copy short. For podcast copy, mention the main points and let the host fill in the gaps. The host (s) should be given enough room in the copy to customize the main points in their own unique voice.

Finally, your brief should include a list of “dos” “don’ts”. Common points include things like: do mention the URL at least 3 times, don’t mention competitive names within the spot, do include mandatory disclaimers. Essentially, breaking any of these “commandments” necessitates a make-good from the host so it’s important to be clear and well defined and in writing. Just in case the host(s) don’t get it right, make sure the details of your agreement with the network predetermines free media when one of these rules are broken. To enforce this, you’ll need a feedback loop where you listen to every air check and circle back with networks for make goods or optimizations when things go wrong.

Just like a good resume, do everything in your power to keep the host brief to one page. Thomas Jefferson put it this way, “The most valuable of all skills is to never use two words when one will do.” And Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ‘Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” Fill your brief with the right words, and only the right words. Brevity, clarity, and potency set the host up for maximum personalization which delivers increased performance. After all, you’re buying their Brand, which is their unique connection to their audience, and it ultimately serves your ad’s performance to set the host up to tell their Story of Whywhich adds their unique flourish and personality to the read.

The Onboarding Call/Meeting

Finally, a quick call with the host or the show’s producer should be conducted just before the launch of the campaign. You are not going to become friends with Joe Rogan. Frankly, hosts at his level rarely make these calls at all. But, if you do manage to get a show’s host to join this meeting, make it count. Now’s a good time to show you are serious about the relationship. Let the size of the show determine how high up the ladder you want to go, but using C-level execs and company founders will help get the talent excited.

In our experience with marquee podcast properties, 75% of the time you’ll be speaking with the show’s producer, but that doesn’t make the call any less important. The onboarding call is your opportunity to confirm that the host (s) have received the product or tested the service, reviewed the host brief, and provides an open forum for the show representative to ask any questions. This is also your last chance to reiterate the “do’s” and “don’ts”, and encourage the host(s) to personalize their reads as much as possible. But remember, the number one way to set them up for great personalization is a brief, clear, and potent Host Brief.

Everyone is Onboarded, Now What?

Even when you’ve implemented these proven best practices, some hosts will do no more than simply read your copy. Many can’t or won’t stray from the copy in front of them no matter how much prompting they get; but your efforts are not in vain. Proper onboarding has helped facilitate hundreds of host reads that go for minutes longer than they were contracted to deliver, oftentimes making the reads become part of the show itself. That’s the magic of podcast and radio, and it can only be accomplished by proper talent onboarding.

If all this sounds great but a bit daunting, and you’d like assistance in onboarding hosts for your upcoming campaign from a partner who has literally done this thousands of times, click HERE to speak with a knowledgeable member of our team.

Kyle Jelinek, Director of Client Strategy at advertising agency Oxford Road.

Onboarding stock photo by Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock