Why Not Having Sponsors or a Title in my Podcast Artwork Is Setting Me Up For Long-Term Success

Those of you who heard my recent talk on The Overlap Technique know that I like to do things a bit differently. I began challenging the status quo vocationally, but beyond that I began to question common practices in all facets of what I do. I starting asking the “Why?” question instead of taking things at face value and doing things everyone did “because that’s what you do.”

seanwes-podcastMy podcast takes a few unconventional approaches. First, you may have noticed that the artwork does not have a title. People often point this out to me thinking it’s an oversight, but in fact it’s a rather calculated and intentional decision.

Everyone puts their show name in the podcast artwork, right? No one really questions it, it’s just what you do so everyone does it. People tell you that you have to have it if you want a chance of being featured in iTunes. Contrary to this oft-touted advice however, I’ve had no problem showing up in relevant iTunes business categories with varying prominence.

So why don’t I do it? It certainly couldn’t hurt, right? Well, I have a few reasons.

First, virtually everywhere you see podcast artwork, you also see a separate title of the show. When you have the title within the artwork, in over 90% of cases, it presents redundant information. To illustrate, let’s look at some of the most common places that podcast artwork is seen. I’m using Pat Flynn’s podcast for demonstrative purposes, but it’s really the case with any show. For the record, Pat’s podcast is excellent and I’m only using the artwork to help illustrate something here—not to say that he should to change it, as that would be detrimental to his branding at this point anyway.

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Do you notice a common thread? In every instance, there is a redundancy of information. Every image I showed above has the title repeated twice unnecessarily within a small space. Virtually nowhere will you find a podcast where the context the artwork is in does not also contain a title of the show. For that matter it’s the same with books.

“Word of mouth is what sells your product, not the cover.”

–Seth Godin

Free Advertising

Speaking of books, covers, and challenging status quo, Seth’s 2011 book, Poke the Box, has a rather unique face. You might observe that it has no title. Why is this? Seth answers in an interview (emphasis mine):

Our publishing company is powered by Amazon, our main source of interaction is going to be online. If a book is shown online, it doesn’t need to have words on the cover because right next to the cover are all the things you need to know if you want to buy it. That wasn’t true in the bookstore, but it’s certainly true online.

Once you get it, if it’s sitting on your desk and it has words on the cover, then everyone knows what it is. But if it doesn’t and someone sees it, they’re going to say, “What’s that?”

Sure enough, he’s right. I count 4 mentions of the book’s title within a few hundred pixels of main image (and that’s without it being on the cover):

poke-the-box

In another interview, Seth goes on to explain that when someone sees a book with no words on your desk they’re going to ask what it is, “and you just had a conversation about my book that I didn’t have to pay for,” he reminds us.

Back to my podcast. Virtually the only place I can think of that would not have the added context I’ve been referring to is in your podcast app’s main grid view—where you have all of your subscriptions:

podcast-artwork

If you send a screenshot of your grid like the one above to a friend to share a group of show titles, the recipient won’t know what mine is without having prior exposure to my brand, that’s true. However, if my podcast has had any kind of positive affect on you, you’ll likely go out of your way to provide further information. This means if you were recommending all 6 shows, mine would get special treatment or commentary from you, or possibly a followup screenshot like this (which gives the recipient even more context than the other shows got):

seanwes-podcast-app

It comes back to Seth Godin’s quote: “Word of mouth is what sells your product, not the cover.”

If I get someone talking, that’s a win for me. If my show isn’t compelling enough for someone to provide a personal note along with a recommendation, then they probably aren’t within my target audience anyway. I’m at peace with that. The number of 5-star reviews in iTunes for my show clearly vouches for the loyalty of my listeners.

Podcast Sponsorships

Everyone who has a podcast has sponsors, right? When was the last time you heard a show without one? If your podcast doesn’t have sponsors, it’s likely because you just started out or you plan to soon be implementing them. Rarely does anyone question the practice, it’s simply taken as a given. In fact, it’s almost held as an aspiration. Once you have sponsors, then you’re “legitimate”.

It’s not like your listeners can complain—where else are they going to go to hear a show without advertisements? Practically every show has them, and you very well can use that fact to your advantage. So longs you don’t overdo it, your listeners will likely stick around, albeit tolerating your pushing of advertisements. If you podcast, you have sponsors. That’s what you do.

Or is it?

I decided to do it differently. No sponsors.

No sponsors? Why? Let me give you an extreme example to make my case. If you want business cards, there are many places you can go to actually get them printed for free. However, they will have an advertisement on the back. This trade-off certainly allows you to print business cards if you have no money (essentially paying you in print credit to advertise to your audience), but it doesn’t say much for the impression you’ll make when you hand one of these ad-bearing cards to a potential client. You look cheap and that experience does affect your brand perception.

Similarly, my website gets hundreds of thousands of page views a month. I could very easily monetize these page view by putting ads on my site. However, I don’t do this. Neither do I have sponsors printed on the back of the shirts I sell.

My website doesn’t looks like it gets hundreds of thousands of pageviews a month, does it? That’s the point.

Apple could make a lot of money if they engraved every iPhone with an advertisement on the back, but it would not have bred the kind of rabid loyalty that results in the cult following they now have had they done so.

It’s about quality.

My brand is heavily focused on quality and providing value. Yes, I have hundreds of dollars a month to pay in hosting and server costs. But I’m not looking to make that up in sponsorships. To me, that’s the equivalent of living paycheck-to-paycheck. Yes, you’re covering your bills right now, but where are you going? How are you setting yourself up for long term success?

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The Community

I’m all about the long game. While I don’t have sponsors, I do have a way for listeners who have gotten value out of the podcast to support what I do. I created the Community. The Community is, at its core, discussion forums where we go deeper on the topics discussed in the podcast. It’s for freelancers and entrepreneurs serious about growing their business.

We stream the podcast live to members, and engage in real time chat that influences the direction of the show and also provides a way to engage with like-minded individuals throughout the week. We have monthly hangouts, and I even produce a weekly video show called Recharge every Saturday where I share tangible insights, edited for relaxed, weekend consumption.

To further drive my brand’s focus on providing value, I don’t accept donations. I don’t want to ask for handouts, I want to provide value. Instead of soliciting donations, I provide even greater value through The Community. The only time I accept money is when I’m providing tangible value in return. Could I get away without doing it that way? Would people still give me money if I accepted donations? Of course. Could I instead use sponsorships? Sure, but by not doing it that way and taking an alternative approach, it underscores the focus of my brand.

The Long Game

I’m not here to tell you you’re doing it wrong if your website has ads or if you have sponsors on your podcast. I’m simply sharing my story in the off-chance that it encourages someone and lets them know that you CAN do things differently. You CAN challenge the status quo, and the traditions, and the conventions, and the “because that’s what you do” practices.

You don’t have to follow the beaten path, and it’s healthy to ask “Why?” instead of taking everything at face value.

Yes, you can get away with sponsors. Yes, listeners will tolerate them. Yes, you’ll make money, and yes, your audience will usually stick around (it’s not like they really have a choice).

But I guarantee you my listeners thinking higher of the quality of my show than that of others because of the absence of such advertisements. Maybe you can’t put a price on that, maybe you can, but I’m playing the long game. I know this investment in my audience, and my relentless dedication and commitment to providing value will come back tenfold if I’m patient.

The loyalty I’m breeding is creating diehard fans that support me unconditionally when I give them the opportunity to do so. It’s the kind that comes from investing in people, and giving away so much that people will be begging to pay you back in whatever way they can.

Rather than flirting with the line of what my audience will tolerate in order to monetize, I focus on providing so much value that they look for any opportunity to support me. It’s good old fashioned relationship-building.

That kind of loyalty is the kind you can’t buy with marketing and advertisements.

Book

Speaking of giving things away, I’m setting aside 3 months this summer to write a book titled, The Overlap Technique. It’s calculated steps to pursuing your passion full-time vocationally (think “doing what you love” but without the clichés). In the book, you’ll find down-to-earth-practicalities that break down everything that’s required, step-by-step.

I’ve taken the time to speak personally with dozens of individuals to find the hardest thing about pursuing their passion and supporting themselves.

Many replies came back including fear of failure, lack of money, time management, and balancing family life. We’ll be tackling them all, and of course another big one, “Where do I even start?”

Here’s the kicker: I’m giving it to you for FREE.

Am I crazy? Maybe. But I’m not afraid to ignore the common rhetoric and do things differently. I’d love for you to join me on this journey as I share everything I’m learning with you as I go.

Subscribe below for educational content from me on a weekly basis.

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By Sean McCabe

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