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  • Dave Howard

2021 Bespoken round-up

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

(Content Warning: Self indulgence, lengthy sentimentalism, chin stroking)

We launched Bespoken in January 2020 - so this is doubly a time of year when we step back and reflect.

My overwhelming feeling, as I write this, is of gratitude.

I’m grateful, frankly, that we are all still here, still healthy, and still doing work that we love. (If you read my post from this time last year, or if you’ve spoken with me for longer than 10 minutes, you’ll know that my wife Amy spent much of 2020 receiving cancer treatment. She is now, thankfully, in remission and doing well).

Simply, I’m grateful that Bespoken gives me the means to support our family, and that (usually) working from home allows me to schedule my working day around school-runs, swimming lessons, and other such commitments.

I’m grateful that we get to work with kind, creative, talented colleagues and clients, on a technicolour array of projects.

“During the height of my own family crisis, there was nothing like this available to me. I would have given anything not to feel so alone. I hope many will listen to these humbling stories”. Apple Podcasts reviewer

My Family, Mental Illness, and Me, for the charity Our Time, heard from people who grew up in the shadow of parental mental illness. Dr Pamela Jenkins was our amazing host. It is a very special series primarily because of the amount of herself and her own childhood that Pamela felt able to share with guests.

We set out to make something modelled on (the brilliant and wildly successful) Griefcast, but we ended up creating something unique, wonderful and powerful in its own right.

It was beautifully reviewed in the Guardian and has been a Times Scotland podcast of the week. However, my favourite response was from an anonymous reviewer on Apple Podcasts, who said:

“During the height of my own family crisis 10 years ago, there was nothing like this available to me. I would have given anything not to feel so alone. I hope many will listen to these humbling stories”.

Heriot Watt University asked us to develop and deliver a podcast series that showcases their work and community in a fresh, fun, and attractive way. We created A Future Made, with a production dream team of Amanda Hargreaves and Jac Phillimore, and the on-air chemistry of Anna Ploszajski and reporter/producer Robbie Armstrong. It’s well worth a listen if you’re interested in STEM stories - and particularly if you’re wondering where to get your degree or postgrad.

Local Zero: "Leading the national conversation"

Clean tech and community sustainability podcast Local Zero has gone from strength-to-strength in the year that COP26 landed on its doorstep.

It has swelling listener numbers and a valued community regularly sharing their appreciation of the show on social media.

One audience member at our COP26 live event said the show is “leading the national conversation” on issues around net zero.

It remains a total joy to work with hosts Dr Rebecca Ford, Dr Matt Hannon and Fraser Stewart from Strathclyde University, as well as the whole EnergyREV team.

OnFARM, Scotland’s rural podcast, has been similarly engaged with the climate discussion, flying the flag for sustainable Scottish agriculture. With clients Anna and Monty at Scene and Herd PR and Marketing, we’ve also managed (carefully) to get back to this podcast’s core purpose; to get out into the countryside, telling the stories, and recording the sounds, of people living and working there.

My favourite OnFARM of 2021 was a day out at Europe’s largest ram sale, at Kelso in the Borders. You can just hear how overjoyed everyone is to get out and about in the face of COVID restrictions. You can also hear me accidentally nearly buy a Suffolk tup. I was narrowly out-bid (for which I am – yet again - grateful).

Other highlights in a busy year included:

  • Four new episodes of Scotland Starts Here, a joyous series sharing tourist hotspots in the south of Scotland, for clients the Union advertising agency.

  • A ten-part EYE on Yellow Fever series for the World Health Organization and partners, to raise awareness of the growing global threat of yellow fever. We made this one with the talented and kind Steve, Marina and team at Cardiff-based Bengo Media.

  • The excitement and glamour of the Grazia Life Advice and Grazia Beauty Life Lessons podcasts, for Bauer Media. This brought Claudia Winkleman, Huma Abedin, Katherine Ryan, and Sigrid (to name just a few) into our virtual workplace. We also produced the Why I Play mini-series with Grazia and Nike, as part of a fitness push for parenting platform The Juggle.

  • Climate Conversations, a series of convened discussions on aspects of global warming, for the Glasgow Science Centre and NERC (The Natural Environment Research Council).

  • The Educators for Capita and BecomingX, the social enterprise run by Bear Grylls and Paul Gurney. This beautifully produced series explores perspectives on how schools can be made more fit-for-purpose.

  • Scotland Audio Network producer Q&A sessions with amazing people like Dr Cathy FitzGerald, Eleanor McDowall and Catherine Carr. (We run the Scotland Audio Network, alongside Bespoken, as a meeting place for Scotland-based audio and podcast producers, to network, share ideas, and be inspired).

  • Podcast training and development sessions for organisations including: Scottish Ballet, health think-tank The Kings Fund, internet safety experts SWGfL, and leadership consultants Waldencroft. (We now edit and mix The Kings Fund’s monthly episodes, and have an exciting new series in the pipeline with Waldencroft).

I have wanted to make BBC documentaries since I was small, so our BBC projects were always going to stand out as jewels, even in a busy year.

Able To Parent for Radio 4 spent time with young couple Emily and CJ as they weighed up whether to try for a baby, given Emily’s cerebral palsy and wheelchair-use. It was produced by Leeanne Coyle and is, for my money, the single best thing that has so far been made under the Bespoken banner.

We were delighted (but daunted) to get commissioned to make Black Hill, Bleak Summer, also for Radio 4, about the foot-and-mouth crisis that enveloped and scarred the UK countryside 20 years ago. I will need to write separately sometime about how personally important it was to me to make this programme, but I want to say a huge thank you here to those who contributed. They were people I’ve known all my life, and who shared with me stories from one of the most traumatic and troubled periods of their lives.

For the World Service, we produced Only Bleeding, exploring Sweden’s attitudes to menstruation. This was an original pitch from Stockholm correspondent Maddy Savage. Maddy is a superb journalist, and we were delighted when she asked us to work with her, to oversee production and sound design. It’s another beautiful listen, and a thoughtful approach to an important topic.

I’m most grateful in 2021 for the people around Bespoken, that have enabled all this to happen. Apart from those already mentioned:

Executive producer Mark Rickards, a constant source of sage advice and support.

Carys Wall, who has worked on every one of the above projects with energy and creativity, and has added a great deal to all of them.

Composer and sound designer Joel Cox, whose patience, skill and graft consistently gives the perfect aural identity to podcasts and programmes that we make.

Accountant Laura Dean, who keeps us right on the important financial things (thank God for Laura!).

Designer and branding maestro Carolyn Costley, whose creativity we regularly call on to generate stand-out cover art and visual assets for client projects.

Lynsey Moyes, Alex Fraser, Jac Phillimore, Cameron Mackay, Cameron Rickards, and Katie Williams, who have all stepped in at different times to help out, and have done brilliant work for us.

Harris the Labrador, Bespoken’s ‘lead producer’ (I’m going to keep making that joke until someone laughs at it) for making me take screen breaks.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all of you. (And I promise to take at least one of you for more walks).

So what does 2022 look like?

The five key words that come to mind all begin with C.

Creativity, Collaboration...

It goes without saying that we need to continue to be creative. Clients expect this from us as a minimum. But in 2021, it's often been hard to lift ourselves out of the day-to-day delivering of work, and to ringfence proper time to think, and to dream.

In 2022, we need to set aside more time to just be creative. You'll find us checking out museums, dreaming over a coffee, or bouncing around ideas with colleagues.

2021, when we've all been stuck at home, has also been a stark reminder of the importance of spending time with other people. In 2022, we'll spend more time actively being with, and working collaboratively face-to-face with, the talented and creative people in our network.

Consolidation, Confidence...

After two years in business, the time has come to finally recognise that what we do is working out.

We are good at what we do. Clients like us. We are doing okay.

There is now enough proof to convince even my anxious, imposter syndrome-riddled brain, that work will continue to come in.

It is time to put down roots; to consolidate our systems, and to have the confidence to put longer term structures and relationships in place. Don't be surprised if we expand our team or take on staff in coming months.

... a fifth C: either ‘community’ or ‘contribute’ (I couldn’t decide which).

The work we've enjoyed most has been the work that helps others, raises awareness of something important, or otherwise makes a positive difference.

In 2022, Bespoken will continue to make a positive difference. We will foreground this when deciding what work to pitch for.

It's going to be another exciting ride.

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