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Finding your angle, and trusting your gut

When choosing a theme for a project, when do you listen to feedback? And when do you ignore it? The answer might surprise you.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

It's been nearly two years since I launched The Creative Boom Podcast. Back in 2019, it was a terrifying leap into the unknown. Sure, I'd already dipped my toe into broadcast journalism. (It was what I studied at university and how I spent the first five years of my career.) But so much had changed since 2000, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of hosting a new show. Quite surprisingly, it transpired to be the most enjoyable and enriching experience.

What I never anticipated, as I dashed around New York City with a microphone in February 2020, was that the world would shut down only a month later. Suddenly, all my best plans felt pointless. How was I going to launch a podcast from my desk? Technology provided the solution. Zoom, SquadCast...various lights, better webcams and kit – that part was easy. But how was I going to get the same natural rapport with my guests without being in the same room? More importantly, how would I personally cope as Boris told us to stay home and I worried about family and friends?

Weirdly, podcasting became a comfort blanket. A connection to the outside world. It gave me a sense of purpose as we all became disconnected from reality.

Choosing an approach

When I first sat down and considered what the theme might be, I pondered the idea of coming up with a unique angle: one that no one else had covered. Perhaps something about work processes and project overviews. Maybe episodes around certain topical themes that impact the creative industry. So many great shows were already doing all that and doing it incredibly well. What could we possibly offer that felt fresh?

Back then, it felt as though people were struggling and, just like me, needed comfort. My gut told me that some creatives didn't want to hear from amazing studios about how awesome they were. Instead, they wanted authenticity. Ah, that dreaded word. But sincerely, that's how I felt. I wanted to make people feel as though they weren't alone. To offer warm conversations with other creatives, stepping away from work life to understand the real human behind the brand name.

After much deliberation and realising this theme followed the entire point of my platform, Creative Boom, its description became: "The Creative Boom Podcast is a show that brings you candid conversations with new and established names from around the world as we discover more about their creative journeys so far. Bursting with insider career tips, honest business advice and incredible stories, each episode offers warmth, wisdom and inspiration to help you in your creative profession."

How it's going

Two years later, as I approach our 100th episode, we seem to be doing something right. The Creative Boom Podcast enjoys 40,000 monthly downloads, is consistently at the top of the Apple Podcast charts for Design, and reaches a global audience from America to Australia. Guests range from emerging to established, with names such as Gail Anderson, Oliver Jeffers, Annie Atkins and Stanley Chow.

My kit has somewhat improved. Personally, I've gained so much experience from the show. I've met some incredible people and made some lovely friends. But it feels as though that whole pandemic experience has disappeared. The world is moving on. A hard edge seems to be creeping in again. And everyone has flung themselves back onto the treadmill, only this time, they're busier than before and feeling pretty fed up with all this impending doom we're being spoon-fed daily.

It's why some of the feedback from Creative Boom's annual survey this year felt a little raw. Three comments out of 600 respondents hardly make a total picture, but it was enough to make me sit up and take stock.

"Bored with creative journeys"... read one comment. "She has too much in common with some of her guests", read another. "Podcasts are self-serving, full of the usual bullsh*t", was the offering of someone else. Gosh, I thought. Are our candid conversations a little boring now? Have we overdone the heartwarming chats? Does our audience want something else?

The truth is, when you begin something like a podcast, you never really know what you're getting into or how people will react. You're entering the unknown. It's kind of like anything: you have to find the courage to give it a whirl and then see how it goes.

Don't be afraid to ask

Asking for feedback on any project is healthy and part of the process. It won't always be things you want to hear (and sometimes it's just unnecessarily spiteful or cruel), but it can be incredibly valuable.

On pondering these few comments, my immediate reaction was to consider changing everything. "We'll become like those other shows," I remarked. "We'll focus on the work. It'll be great." But the gut was turning. Something didn't feel right. That high-brow stuff elsewhere didn't feel like Creative Boom.

Meanwhile, a few timely emails trickled in. A highlight was from the publicist of the legendary American graphic designer Tom Geismar. He wrote: "Because your line of questioning wasn’t focused on graphic design detailing – which 99% of his interviews are based around – you actually incited Tom to tell stories about his life and career that even I, after having handled the firm’s PR for 14 years, haven’t heard. I learned several things about Tom’s career while listening to your interview – for instance, I had never heard that anecdote about using a door as a table with Robert Brownjohn. I also did not know that he considered Robert Brownjohn his mentor. That’s essential biographical material. I can tell you that your interview with Tom is unique and will stand out in terms of his professional biography."

One kind email doesn't make everything right. Nor do three bits of negative feedback make everything wrong. The lesson here is to take both the praise and the criticism with a pinch of salt, listen to your gut, and then sleep on it for a few nights. It's worked for me over the last 20 years. I've not always got it right, granted. But that's just the thing: how do you know when feedback is right, and you're wrong? The honest answer is you don't.

You can't please everyone

The other hard truth is, no matter what you do, not everyone will like it. Nor will they fully understand it. For instance, finding common ground with guests is a trick we journalists use to get people to open up. And although some people might find podcasts pointless, others find them valuable and a comforting companion during working days. If you don't like it, as they say, you can always go elsewhere.

In the context of The Creative Boom Podcast, my gut still tells me that discovering the real person behind the reputation is the right way to go. It taps into the spirit of Creative Boom and what our entire platform stands for. From Tom Geismar, the King of Logos, to Annie Atkins, the graphic designer for Wes Anderson movies, from international author and illustrator Oliver Jeffers to the renowned artist Morag Myerscough – some of these people have been interviewed a million times before but has anyone attempted to get to know the real person? And is it possible to have a unique conversation?

However, I will make a few positive changes next year. It will retain its original angle but with a slight twist. I'll reveal all when I launch our Christmas Special next month. I am thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow with this part of Creative Boom. And to the nice chap who left some rather unfriendly feedback? Thanks for giving me a little kick to improve the podcast and reminding me of our strengths and angle, as well as the importance of listening to one's gut.


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