How we make billboards for our podcast

Inside a bubble

Mo Isu
4 min readJun 17, 2020

What is the billboard?


Billboards in the traditional sense are very familiar to most people. Except for people born visually impaired, we can probably safely assume that most people have seen a billboard in their lives. If you have seen a billboard, you can probably also define what it is. It’s a product advertisement, usually large in size for high visibility and is usually located in a place with heavy traffic. Many billboards are designed to pass across a piece of information quickly. Quickly enough that passersby can pick interest in the product after only a single glance. The idea behind a podcast billboard is pretty similar.

The term ‘billboard’, as it relates to podcasts, is something we adopted from Alex Blumberg (CEO Gimlet Media). You might also hear people use the term cold open (which we use to mean something else. See postscript.) What we call the billboard is the section of the podcast that you hear at the very beginning of an episode, usually before the opening theme or the intro.

Many podcasts have a billboard. It is such a widely exercised practice that it feels unnatural to just jump straight into the episode without first setting some precedence. Listen again to your favourite podcast, you will notice many people use the billboard to set expectations for the episode to come. In ‘How I built this’ by NPR, they are in the habit of featuring a snippet from within the interview to introduce the guest. The ‘views podcast’ by David Dobrik and Jason Nash opens with a joke.

The billboard of a podcast is quite similar to a traditional billboard.

1. It is located in a place with high traffic: The first couple minutes of your podcast have the highest amount of traffic. Not everybody that starts your podcast will listen to it which makes the next point important.

2. It has to garner consumer interest very quickly: Just like a billboard tries to sell a product in a single glance. In the podcast world, your billboard aims at getting the listener interested in listening to the rest of the episode.

Different people have different things to say about how you should make a billboard. In some productions, people make the billboard after they have put together the rest of the show. At inside a bubble, we write our episode in chronological order with the billboard usually being the first thing we write. To make our billboards, we have come up with a recipe. It’s something we did subconsciously for a few episodes and then started actively aiming towards. It, of course, took a few failed experiments but for now, this has stuck and we want to share it.

What is the recipe?

The simple recipe for the billboards we make contains two parts:

  1. A captivating narrative
  2. A snippet of the episode’s main content

To us, the billboard is a promise. A promise to the listener that we have an interesting story to tell. We keep in mind that we have a very small amount of time to make a convincing promise so the process is systematic. We need to prove that we have the ability to tell a good story which is what we do with the narrative. We also need to prove that the story is actually interesting and that’s what we do with the snippet.

We usually introduce the main content of the story by stating the stakes, featuring a strong emotion or telling an incomplete part of the story. Something to keep the listener around and wondering what, why, or how.

A good tactic we have found for telling a captivating narrative is to tell a story that’s a series of events. Telling stories as a series of events works perfectly for audio as a medium. A series of event is easy to follow, engaging and gives the listener a reason to keep listening, at least to the end of this series at which point we can then make the promise of a bigger story by featuring the snippet.

Our billboards are usually about 3 minutes long (one and a half pages of the script). The average episode we make falls around 30 minutes (8–10 pages.) For us, this is a pretty good balance. For your podcast, it might be a little different. The billboards in ‘This American Life’ are usually around 10 minutes long but their episodes are usually over an hour long.

We made an alt billboard for episode 6 of our ongoing season, you can listen to it below.

Thank you for reading this article, we hope it was helpful to you. We will be writing more articles like this for our Patrons on Patreon and occasionally share some on medium. Support the podcast to get all our future articles and more podcast bonus content.

Subscribe to our podcast everywhere you listen to podcasts. Inside a bubble is a crowdsourced podcast about social bubbles. Every episode, we bring your stories from different people around a unifying concept. We do this to show you how different or similar life outside our bubble is.

PS: Cold open is the announcement we make before the episode starts. We typically use it to engage with the audience and it is generally not connected to the episode itself.

Written by Mo Isu and Edet ekpo



Mo Isu

Writing what I can| Being Vulnerable and confused| Making podcasts