How podcast networks are making their own rules for political advertising—and how they differ from one another

Because the FCC doesn’t regulate political advertising in podcasting, the rules are left entirely up to platforms and networks.
article cover

Francis Scialabba

· 7 min read

You’ve probably heard your favorite podcasters endorsing products of all kinds (*cough* Athletic Greens *cough*). It’s less likely—though not impossible—that you’ve heard them mention political candidates or issues.

Political advertisers, including candidates and advocacy groups, have expressed interest in podcasts, according to several network execs, but not all networks want to play ball. And because the FCC doesn’t regulate political ads in podcasting, the rules are left entirely up to platforms and networks.

Companies including iHeartMedia, Wondery and Vox declined to comment on their policies for political advertising. Among the networks that did speak with Marketing Brew, approaches to political advertising ranged from careful interest to all-out bans.

Open for business

Audacy-owned podcast studio Cadence13 has accepted political ads for as long as it’s been ad-supported, including during the 2020 election, Lizzy Roberti, head of partnership strategy, told Marketing Brew. The network has run ads for cause-based organizations like the Truth Initiative, for the CDC, and for the JFK Library Foundation, but not for individual candidates thus far, she added.

Cadence13 “definitely” sees a boost in ad revenue and listenership for shows that discuss political news during election seasons, Roberti said. The decision of whether to accept political ads is largely in the hands of the hosts, she explained.

At the start of each election year (including midterms), Cadence13’s partnership management team and ad ops team do a “run-through” with all of its content creators—be that for Cadence13 original podcasts or for podcasts from other hosts or content providers that Cadence13 sells ads for—and asks if they’d be open to reading political ads, according to Roberti.

“Outside of a really small handful, for the most part, the answer is always: ‘On a case-by-case basis,’” Roberti told us. “It’s really business as usual as it relates to host reads in that they have the opportunity to say yes, or to say no, or to ask for more information.”

On the addressable side of Cadence13’s ad business—ads that run across the entire network that are bought based on audience, according to Roberti—hosts and content providers can also opt out of allowing political ads in their shows.

Cadence13 works with the Spotify Audience Network (SPAN) to offer addressable advertising as well. Similarly, SPAN enables podcasters to opt out of running ads in certain categories, including politics.

Spotify suspended political advertising in 2020 amid criticism over the spread of misinformation on its platform, although the company is once again allowing political ads, Protocol reported this year. Apple Podcasts’ content guidelines don’t mention anything about political ads, nor do Google Podcasts’ policies.

Taking a pass

National Public Media, the exclusive sponsorship arm of the NPR network, does not accept sponsored messages that include “views on public issues or references to political candidates or elections.” But it’s “constantly” getting inquiries about them anyway, President and CEO Gina Garrubbo told us.

“NPR does not take political advertising on the radio because of government regulations around the stations, but chooses not to take political advertising in podcasting,” Garrubbo explained. NPR doesn’t run political ads on any platform, including online.

As a result, “NPR loses out on millions of dollars on the podcasting side, but I think NPR decided it would be not appropriate for a news organization to do that,” Garrubbo said, adding that , “vitriolic political messages in that environment” could be “upsetting and jolting, I believe, to the NPR audience.”

David Plotz, host of Slate’s Political Gabfest, said he “will do an ad for almost anything,” but that he’s never read a political ad on that show, despite encouraging Slate to sell them.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

That being said, “I don’t think the host should perform political ads,” Plotz told us. “They could either have the candidate’s voice or they could have a producer do it.”

Acast also doesn’t run political ads in the US, Jeremy Weiner, its US agency partnerships director, said in an email.

“Current inbound demand has been relatively low, whether for candidates or issue-related campaigns,” Weiner said, but added that “we do anticipate a rise in interest for political ads” in the run-up to the midterms.

Weiner said Acast has conducted internal research that indicates podcast listeners prefer political ads on podcasts to radio, and that “while Acast has not historically offered political ads to be sold within the Acast Marketplace, we recognize that podcasting as a medium is shifting in that direction.”

Playing it by ear

Execs from other podcast networks told us they’re starting to see increasing interest from political candidates and issue-based organizations, and though they’re open to these opportunities, some don’t have formal policies in place yet.

Plotz, for instance, is also the CEO of City Cast, a national network of daily local news podcasts. Plotz handles ad sales for the network, and said he’s received inbound inquiries from local candidates in Chicago and Salt Lake City, the latter as recently as this summer.

Neither of those deals panned out, according to Plotz, but when City Cast does start running political ads, they’ll all be read by someone other than the host, like a producer.

“So much of what makes podcast advertising so good is host reads, hosts giving either explicit or implicit endorsement to products,” Plotz said. “When it comes to politics, it’s a different ballgame…We wouldn’t have our hosts doing a political ad because that feels somehow different than the host reading an ad for a car dealership.”

Shira Atkins, co-founder and CRO of Wonder Media Network, a podcast company known for its political and social-justice content, is thus far taking the opposite approach. WMN mostly offers baked-in, host-read ads, and that has carried over to political ads, according to Atkins.

The network has received pitches from PACs and candidates, like a prominent 2020 presidential campaign, which reached out in January of that year, Atkins told us. She suggested a branded-content campaign developed by WMN, but the campaign was looking to run a preproduced spot.

“We’re used to seeing political ads on TV, but we’re not used to seeing them in audio,” Atkins said. “Political ads are so fake, so I think that if we were given the opportunity to run something more branded, or that we could really offer on our own and really control the narrative, we probably would have said yes, but it just didn’t feel right for our audience at that time.”

WMN has run ads from groups that endorse political candidates, Atkins said, including Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, and Fair Fight Action. When Planned Parenthood sponsored a season of The Brown Girls Guide to Politics, various members of the organization appeared on the show and took time to “bring up candidates that they were really excited about,” Atkins explained.

While political ad dollars aren’t flooding the podcast space the way they are CTV, as the industry continues to grow, its political ad policies will likely continue to evolve and solidify, even if they differ across networks.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.