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Podcast of thousands

by Joe Gallop

EN speaks to The Podcast Show directors Jason Carter and Tim Etchells, whose contrasting industry backgrounds helped create a memorable launch event at the Business Design Centre with a stellar celebrity line-up.

Few launch trade events have made an impact quite like the Podcast Show, but then most shows don’t have Gary Lineker, Fearne Cotton and Louis Theroux on their line-up. 

Given the ever-increasing popularity of podcasts with what feels like half of the planet making them, it makes sense that the industry’s flagship show can attract such a stellar lineup of speakers. And there were a lot of them too – from popular pods like My Dad Wrote A Porno and The Receipts – to media industry titans such as the BBC’s Emily Maitlis and Nihal Arthanayake and LBC’s James O’Brien. 

After almost three years of planning and numerous setbacks, the event at the Business Design Centre (BDC) was able to attract the big names due to its strong network of media veterans behind the scenes. None more so than the show’s mastermind Jason Carter. The GetOnMedia managing director has a background in live music events and festivals, having spent 20 years at the BBC where he worked as head of events at BBC Radio, responsible for creating and leading events such as Radio 1’s Big Weekend. 

Working with SME London managing director Tim Etchells, a trade show veteran who has been in the industry for 35 years, the pair were able to combine the event’s essential ingredients. A ‘business festival’ is what Carter likes to call it, and certainly not your classic B2B trade show. Carter and Etchells got together in November 2019 to begin planning after the former had been working on the event several months prior. 

“We believe it’s a really good balance,” says Carter. “Tim is obviously so experienced in the exhibition world. Combining that with my background, we wanted to create something that had real energy to it. We wanted to make it as much a festival as a business conference.”

Etchells admits that it took him a while to get his head around Carter’s idea, but once he did, he realised “the time was right to change”. 

“Covid has been helpful for that, people are looking for new things,” he says. “What this business festival has done is create a lot of energy in the venue.”

He adds, “I’m not normally very arrogant but I arrogantly said to the BDC chief executive Dominic Jones that this will be one of the best launches at the venue this year.”

After being cancelled twice having been first scheduled to take place in March 2021, the two-day show – Etchell’s 11th launch at the BDC – finally opened its doors on 25 May to host 5,296 attendees.

The show had so much going on that the lineup of talks almost felt overwhelming. Adding to the event’s festival feel, clashes were no doubt unavoidable for some. While many trade shows only have one or two talks on at once, here you had to spend several minutes working out where to go next.

“Jason had a vision that he wanted to be really generous with the content,” says Etchells. “B2B trade shows are quite boring in that there’s normally only one seminar going on at one time. Here we’ve got about seven. It’s like looking at a menu at a restaurant, not knowing which one to choose.” 

The show was complemented its By Night events, promoted by SJM Concerts. The separately ticketed evening events, which were predominately B2C, saw the likes of DJ Annie Mac and comedian Grace Dent plug their podcasts at sold-out shows at Islington Assembly Hall and The Union Chapel. 

“We pushed it out as an international show and we certainly achieved that,” says Carter, who adds that CEOs were flying out from countries as far out as Mexico and India. 

“It’s got many sides to it – it’s got that grassroots element supporting new creators, but also the sparkle of big presenters, and also some serious business with big chief execs.” 

Defining the audience 

Etchells says his background helped in terms of defining the show’s audience, which was divided into three segments; podcast enthusiasts and content creators, senior members of the audio and broadcast industries, and brands and advertisers who fund podcasts.

“Those three audience segments were key to us and were clear in the way we have marketed it and in all the various talks,” says Etchells. 

He had already worked with Carter on a similar show, BBC Introducing Live at Tobacco Dock, which launched in 2017 and last took place in 2019. This inspired Carter to begin thinking about launching a podcast event. 

“The partners at that show included the likes of Spotify and in that time the conversation around podcasts was growing,” he says. “It became clear that there should be an event in Europe or outside of the US that brings the podcast sector under one roof. At a similar time I reached out to Tim and we thought we could create something with a gap in
the market.”

Etchells hails the various activations at the Podcast Show, claiming that brands such as Spotify – one of the first to support the event – produced one of the most impressive stands he had seen in years.  

He adds that the event “had to be at the BDC”, a venue that Carter also worked at previously. Carter says the venue was particularly well received by international visitors: “There was a wow factor with people from places like the US. It really was the right choice of space.” 

Etchells further hails the North London venue’s team: “Whenever we had to change dates, they found the right dates for us, they couldn’t have been more accommodating.” 

Year two show in year one  

The show is certainly one to look out for in the future as podcasts continue to grow in popularity. There are currently around 19 million podcast listeners in the UK and the industry has an expected ad expenditure of £80m in the next four years according to Acast CEO Ross Adams. 

As well as Covid-19 helping the podcast industry grow, Etchells says the pandemic also helped the show’s growth in its first year. Due to the long build-up to the event, he says they were able to host a “year two show in year one”.

“The plus is we’re probably much bigger than we would have been if it was two years ago. The minus from a business point of view is the overhead costs.”

He says along with exhibitors rebooking and requesting more space in 2023, audience numbers are likely to grow as the event becomes more internationally focused. 

Carter concludes with a note on diversity. A big focus for him was to deliver an open and diverse show, which was refreshingly evident among the visitors and the lineup of 350 speakers. As well as hosting major brand partners including Spotify, Amazon Music, Acast, BBC Sounds and YouTube, the show also offered £30 tickets for under 30-year-olds.

“It was really important for us to do that. That accessibility to as many people from diverse backgrounds as possible was super important.”

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