Evolutions is now in the history books. In addition to four days of great keynotes, panels and networking, a blockbuster announcement was made by Wondery CEO Hernan Lopez. Dan Franks is the brains behind the Podcast Movement operation. We checked in with Dan to get his take on how the event in L.A. went.
PBJ: Did Evolutions meet your expectations in terms of attendees and quality of speakers?
Dan Franks: We 100% exceeded our expectations in both of these ways. Our audacious goal was 1,000 registered attendees, but if I am being honest, internally we would have accepted anything north of 750 as a proof of the concept, especially since it was an event planned in about 6 months, versus our normal 12 month cycle. So to get close to 1,300 registered attendees was far and away better than we could have even hoped for.
As far as quality of speakers, it was extremely top notch. Now I will say that is certainly a very subjective answer based on who you are asking, what their role in podcasting is, experience level is, etc. Any time there are so many moving pieces, not every session is going to be the perfect fit for every attendee. However from sitting in the zoomed out position I do on the event, the quality of speakers and sessions was as good as, if not better than, any event we’ve ever produced.
PBJ: What kind of feedback have you received both throughout the event and as it concluded?
Dan Franks: The interesting thing for us about Evolutions, versus the longer running Podcast Movement event, is that we took a lot of chances and experimented in a lot of ways. So lots of feedback, both good and critical, is what we were hoping for. On the whole, the feedback has been really positive. Several long time (as in 6+ year) attendees told us this was their favorite event yet. A lot of it had to do with it being about a third of the size of the normal Podcast Movement, but I think a lot of it also had to do with some of that experimenting, and some of those new elements will certainly pop up in our future events!
PBJ: Biggest success from the event?
Dan Franks: I think just the overall sense of community we were able to maintain with Evolutions. Every time you change things up, whether it’s format, or venue, or any number of other things, the question is always how to make everyone feel like they’re still an important part of the whole. Between the venue common areas, after hours events, and general sessions, we definitely got the sense that everyone’s time together was put to good use!
PBJ: Biggest Challenge?
Dan Franks: For an event like ours, it’s almost always going to be logistics. We’ve been running events since 2014, and never once run at the same venue (or even the same city). So each event is like a brand new learning experience for us. From best utilizing the common areas and meeting space, to registration check in flow, to branding and signage, every time we do something, it’s the first time.
We love this challenge, and know our returning attendees love the variety and newness that each year brings. So this is not a challenge that is unexpected, or one we shay away from. It’s one of our favorite things to deal with each year!
PBJ: The Podcast Academy announcement.
Why is this important?
Dan Franks: At a macro level, any time you see folks from across the ecosystem joining forces to work together, it’s important to take note of. At a micro level, I think the specific stated initiatives and goals, which I know you’re covering in great detail, are great ones.
I think the most important thing now is that the individuals already involved stay true to those goals, and more importantly to do their best to bring in additional voices that represent the entire ecosystem.
PBJ: How in-the-loop were you on that leading up to Hernan’s announcement?
Dan Franks: Hernan and I discussed what he and the other founding members were looking to get started short term, as well as several of their long-term goals. As a member of the podcast community, it definitely piqued my interest. But on a whole other level, as an event producer who strives for our events to be both educational and newsworthy, I was excited for our event to be the place that the announcement was made.
The other big question we got quite a bit was around the awards element of the new Academy. Hernan did come to us very early in the process to make sure these awards did not conflict with anything we did or were doing.
For anyone unaware, Podcast Movement produced our own podcast awards from 2015 to 2017. We stated after the 2017 event that the awards were not something that we planned on continuing. So when Hernan came to us about any potential conflict with our awards, which will have been gone for 3 years by then, we did not see one.
PBJ Some veteran podcasters seemed put off by this announcement. Why is that and what would you like to say to them?
Dan Franks: From the feedback I’ve read and heard, I think a lot of the concern came from there being only a small number of people involved as founding members, and the fact that the announcement was pretty much not known by anyone until it was actually made.
I absolutely understand this concern, but have already noticed the reaction becoming much more of a “let’s wait and see” approach, versus straight opposition to it.
As someone who is also on the outside looking in, and not a member of the Academy or Board, I share the exact same approach. However, knowing many of the founding members personally for a good number of years, I am extremely optimistic that their stated intentions are true, and that they’ll have the ability to execute on those intentions.
In terms of what I’d say to those concerned, I would encourage them to either take the “wait and see” approach, versus bashing the idea from the get-go, or perhaps even explore what it takes to get involved and to help shape the narrative.
If the Academy ends up not working, there will be plenty of time to attack and dogpile, I just think that it’s not time for that now.
PBJ: When will the next Hall-of-Fame ceremony be held?
Dan Franks: Great question, I was hoping you’d ask! Anyone who knew we did an awards show for three years probably also know that we held a Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony for four years. While we took 2019 off from the ceremony for a number of reasons, we’ve always stated that we had no intention of them being gone for good.
The great news is that we already have some different ideas in motion, and I am confident within the next 12 months we’ll have already had our next round of Hall of Famers inducted.
We’re very excited that in the first four years we were able to honor many who helped get the industry started, and even more excited to continue to do so for many years to come!