British Podcast Awards Thoughts
Coming to the end of any project makes you think about how it went, and why.
It’s been a busy old time with one of my side projects, the British Podcast Awards. We had our big ceremony on Saturday - the culmination of around 9 months work. Of course, our plan - The Roundhouse had booked and paid for - wasn’t meant to be, so we did a very fun livestream instead.
In the middle of April we had a chat with our production company, Create, suggesting that we’d like to do a stream that includes all the nominees on-screen and handing out the awards live on winners’s doorsteps. It wasn’t bad for a less than three months turn-around in a pandemic!
So here are some things that popped into my head, which are hopefully interesting for anyone doing events or organising a big project.
I think vision is pretty important. I’m a big fan of starting at the end. What would the press release say about your thing? I read somewhere that’s how Amazon comes up with the objectives for their new endeavours. It’s not a bad trick.
Do you have a clear idea of what you’re doing and why? If you’re working on someone else’s project, can they communicate to you what it is that they want?
We are exceptionally lucky with the Awards. There’s just me and Matt Hill that make the decisions. We have no bosses, or committee. Let’s do this or let’s not do that is pretty quick. But feeling comfortable making the decisions comes from trust. Firstly trust in yourself, are you comfortable making the decisions, have you got knowledge and experience to be relatively confident in what you’re doing?
I think experience can come through primary or secondary sources. On the primary front, I have definitely been involved in lots of Awards and entered a load too. But (secondary) I’ve also watched a huge amount. BAFTAs, Oscars, Comedy Awards, Radio ones too. That’s valuable experience as well. Again - thinking from the end - I know what I want to see on the screen, from seeing loads of ideas before. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I have the skills to deliver it, but I can communicate what I want it to be.
The other part of trust - is trust in your partners. Me and other Matt have lots of discussions, but we’re also pretty confident in each other’s decision making. We also work with some great people who we mainly leave to get on with it.
It’s made me think a lot about work teams and how high performance ones usually have vision, trust and swift decision making.
One of the biggest surprises of the night, was how many children we saw on screen. Of course, in hindsight, it’s obvious. We were joining nominees in their homes in the early evening, so of course the kids were up. We also sent out 500 party boxes with branded hats and streamers, perfect for family fun.
It’s not something that you ever see at an Awards show, in the glitz and the glamour of a dark room, with dinner jackets and sit down meals. But it was lovely and helped hugely with the atmosphere.
It made me think about the usual divorce between work and family life. Lockdown has meant that children are often a feature of Zooms and that divide between work and home personas has become a little more porous.
We talk a lot in podcasts and radio about authenticity, but outside of parenting podcasts and an occasional mention on the breakfast show, its pretty astounding how little children play a part in it, especially when so many listeners currently have or have had them.
No matter that it’s been around for ages, podcasting is still new, indeed the vast majority of the country still don’t partake. As it’s a new thing there’s a huge amount of excitement and positivity in the sector. I don’t think I’ve worked on anything where there are so many yeses frequently given. Partnerships, celebrity support and lots more - there’s a huge amount of goodwill.
It’s also something that everyone is still learning how to do. There are very few superstars of podcasting. Everyone, famous or not, is pretty much still in the same boat. This generally makes everyone pretty humble - and therefore pretty straightforward to deal with.
I think this is part of the reason why dotcoms all seem new and shiny whilst legacy companies can seem slow and plodding. For established firms how can they enthuse the excitement of new and create some discovery in their operations?
My main job’s been in radio for 20 years. I think one of its issues is that the sector’s become incredibly efficient. Particularly in commercial radio. This means it operates, well, on very few staff, generally, working pretty hard. There is very little give in the system to allow people to do anything new, and all the regular stuff is so practiced that there doesn’t seem to be a need for any innovation (outside of new cost efficiencies). If you ask them, most bosses had much more fun when they were on the shop floor, than the people they look after do, today.
I don’t think it’s any surprise that all of the commercial radio groups have had real difficulty creating successful podcasts (or indeed any digital products). A lot of people thought that because they ran successful audio businesses that they could transition to this new medium. The twin problem is that there is such little give in the system and, in the most part, the teams have been trained to operate the radio machinery very well but little else, with limited freedom to learn.
I don’t think radio’s going anywhere fast, but if these groups want to grow and remain relevant they’re going to need to evolve their content production model to be better positioned for the future.
My last bit on the Awards, and work in general, is that good stuff happens when you put lots and lots of effort in. We had a strong production operation of around 60 for the live show, it’s been well supported by a PR team for Carver PR, and a lot of assets, particularly video and social, were prepped in advance. On Awards night it was mainly executing the plan.
Of course we made plenty of mis-steps along the way. We are after all, a small start-up with few day to day resources. However, if you’ve worked on it this year with us, in any capacity, your efforts have been hugely appreciated - not just by us, but from all the people smiling - presenters, producers and families - on the night, in their homes and on their doorsteps.