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Vox Media’s content studio is working on integrating its podcast advertising capabilities

Three months after the merger of branded content studios Vox Media and Group Nine, newly merged Vox Creative is using its various podcast ad formats to integrate audio advertising into advertisers’ campaigns or to sell advertisers already present in space, according to the vice president and director of Vox Creative. Yosef Johnson and executive audio producer Annu Subramanian.

In addition to the standard podcast ads played by the host and producer, Vox Creative offers three main types of podcast ads: one- to five-minute custom branded segments, custom series sponsorships (where advertisers buy all commercial breaks on select episodes) and standalone podcasts, where advertisers work with the Vox Creative podcast team to create and promote a branded show for the Vox Media Podcast Network.

“We have each of these tools in our kit so we can point them to an opportunity to level up, or something different that they haven’t seen before in the tool kit. A brand that may have already had success with video is now saying, “We’ll come back and do video and we’ll try audio as well.” So not only are we improving our native audio clients, but we’re also getting returns from all of Vox Creative,” said Subramanian.

Vox Creative has worked with about 300 advertisers in personalized audio ads over the past year, and 70% of those brands have spent on multiple podcasts, according to Johnson. A Vox Media spokesperson declined to share how it compares to the previous year. The Vox Media podcast network has over 200 shows. The team working on branded audio has doubled in size over the past year. There has been “little overlap” between Group Nine’s “key” advertisers and Vox Media, according to Johnson. Prior to the merger, Group Nine primarily worked with CPG and retail advertisers, while Vox Media worked with advertisers in the technology, media, entertainment and financial services categories, he said.

After speaking with Johnson and Subramanian, Digiday conducted a follow-up interview with Johnson to discuss how the two studios were combined in the merger. His responses are reflected below.

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

How did the creative studios of Group Nine and Vox Media come together after the merger closed in February, and what did each team bring to the table?

Our two studios were very complementary in terms of our offers. The Group Nine Brand Shop side was heavily focused on social media distribution, from an editorial and branded content perspective. We worked with advertisers to really leverage that scale that Group Nine had on social media. With that came expertise on the various platforms, be it Facebook, Instagram and increasingly TikTok and Snap. Social know-how was definitely a focal point on the Group Nine side.

On the Vox side, the team has certainly worked on social campaigns, but the Vox Creative team has been shaped in the way of Vox as a whole, which is premium storytelling and utility-driven content. With that came the Explainer Studio, which is pulled from the Explainer franchise, and presented to advertisers in a form-fitting way – along with branded documentaries. We recently had one that premiered on HBO Max. We are currently in production on a number of documentaries. Audio is another huge capability the Vox Creative team had, leveraging the Vox Media podcast network.

So when I say complementary, I would say that Group Nine played strongly at one end of the spectrum and Vox played similarly at the other end. We do branded TikToks and branded documentaries and everything.

Is the team emerging from Group Nine Brand Shop focused on Group Nine brands, or is it creating branded content across the entire Vox Media portfolio?

We mix it up. It’s all about learning from each other, from what has been successful in our respective business networks. We are definitely cross-pollinating right now. And I think that’s really what excites us the most. We just bring in the content expertise from our respective companies and train and teach everyone. Many skills are also transferable. We have people who may have come from production but are very knowledgeable about audio, who can now work on the podcast team and can help bring new ideas to that team and vice versa.

You mentioned that the goal now is to bring the strengths of Vox to the Group Nine brands, and vice versa. Can you explain how Vox Creative pitches these integrated campaigns?

We think about how our campaigns can cover different creative formats. It’s very common for us to have a campaign that has a personalized video, written elements and social elements. Likewise, there have been campaigns that have an audio experience as well as a hub experience as well as distribution promotion through media units. What we’re really looking forward to is bringing these elements together, especially with a focus on audio. For something like a custom podcast, is there also a custom video component that comes with it with small social elements to promote it and standalone content elements that live on social media? While we’re now looking at integrated campaigns with the full breadth of the Vox Creative offering that we’re bringing together between Group Nine and Vox, there’s just a ton more opportunity for audio to remain the hero, but either later supported by other content formats. This is something we are actively working on and talking about.

We see advertisers starting on the audio side, and maybe they start with a daily ad, and then maybe they go to a custom segment, maybe they go to a fully blown custom series. And then from there you venture into a video or a social. A lot of it comes down to the fact that our teams were separate companies and the advertisers they spoke to in those respective seats, who knew Group Nine for one thing and Vox for one set of things. And so everyone on our team now has exciting conversations to say, “Hey, remember how you did all that with us last year? We will still do more, but by the way. Let me show you this custom podcast we just did for Mattress Firm, and it fits perfectly with what you were talking about for your vacation strategy,” for example.

From some reports I made, it looks like publishers are giving advertisers longer podcast ads. Do you feature branded podcasts more than other podcast ad formats?

It’s not a choice. We definitely pitch them. We love our custom podcasts and you can do a really compelling job, as we’ve seen with a number of custom series we’ve done. But we always focus on the right format for the advertiser and start there. Daily ads are a significant part of our audio business. Advertisers see a ton of opportunities there. Doing a personalized podcast obviously requires a different level of time and investment and those make sense for a specific set of advertisers and opportunities and then daily ads make a lot of sense for a whole set of advertisers who are looking to leverage Vox Media. Podcast Network.

This article has been updated to include Yosef Johnson’s full title and to indicate that Vox Creative also sells standard podcast ads read by host and producer.

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