What I learned… at the BBC, with Amplify’s Adam Heyhurst
Adam Heyhurst is head of broadcast at culture and experience agency Amplify. He started his career at the BBC, going from Strictly Come Dancing to producing wildly popular video content for Radio 1’s Live Lounge. What did Auntie Beeb teach him for his onward trajectory into agencyland?
Amplify’s Adam Heyhurst on his time producing TV for the BBC / K. Mitch Hodge via Unsplash
Hi, Adam. What does a head of broadcast do at an experience agency?
I look after broadcast production at Amplify. It’s my job to weave live and as-live content into the experiential magic Amplify creates. We don’t just point cameras at what we’re already doing; content and experiential are level-pegging in everything we do, and it’s my job to make that relationship seamless.
For broadcasting work, there’s no starting point more sought-after than the BBC, which is the first entry in your CV. What was it like walking into those hallowed halls?
I spent a decade and a half at the BBC. Joining at 22, I essentially grew up at Television Centre.
I started on Strictly Come Dancing in 2006 and worked across entertainment and events for five years. I went through Comic Relief, Dragons’ Den and Eurovision, and on to the Olympics, royal weddings, jubilees and funerals.
My most formative move came after a chance encounter with Radio 1 while working on Children In Need. Google had just bought YouTube and the incumbent breakfast host, Chris Moyles, was keen for his show to spill on to the small screen. I joined Radio 1 as their first dedicated TV producer, with a brief to ‘visualize’ mainstream shows at the network. There’s not enough space here to do justice to that adventure. My feet didn’t touch the ground and after three years, we were reaching 10 million viewers a week.
So you were one of the earliest producers of digital-only TV for mainstream networks...
I built out our livestreaming offer, starting with a (very ropey) single camera in a studio and eventually expanding to TV-standard multi-camera coverage of the Live Lounge and outside broadcasts of our events portfolio. Ultimately my remit and the team widened to include all other areas of BBC music and radio, a vastly diverse portfolio.
In 2015 I was asked to build a team to deliver events outside London. A remit to win the hearts and minds of a disenfranchised UK and carte blanche to take any part of the BBC to the street was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. We took Lewis Capaldi and an orchestra to Croxteth and the 1975 to Blackpool in symphonic brand extensions of the Live Lounge. We planted the star-studded global premiere for Doctor Who in Sheffield and celebrated the similarly stellar-casted concert for the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in Hull. Switching from ‘just cameras’ to suddenly worrying about toilets, tickets, fences and staging was the final chapter in a whirlwind journey that offered me a front row seat to history.
How stressful is it being involved in such big, complex productions?
So much of my career has been about change. I’ve always joined places on the precipice of great change.
Learning from those around me, while at the same time having a clear mandate to deliver something new, was a remarkable challenge. I grew up with ADHD, so pacing myself is a hard-learned skill. I want to do everything and more, right now.
Earlier in my career, I didn’t understand the resistance to what I saw as hugely exciting. I didn’t understand why colleagues seemed frustrated or didn’t like what we were trying to do. In time, I learned it was as much, if not more, about the perception of change than the change itself.
I’ve been lucky to have role models as managers. I think about the care and advice Jane, my first manager at the BBC, gave to me when I was completely unpolished. Ben, my first manager at Radio 1, helped me to understand the importance of empathy and accepting shades of gray. Joe, my manager as we expanded livestreaming, taught me how to reframe our missions to persuade stakeholders. And while I’m at it, if mum hadn’t sent me to theater school and shook some Canadian Ritalin out of the NHS, none of this would have happened at all.
I imagine constant change remains a feature of your work...
Yes. Whether that’s in our endeavors to be a great place to work, our business of delivering format-breaking work for our clients or creating unmissable experiences for audiences, Amplify is always looking for ways to be better.
My stakeholders may have switched from commissioners to clients at Netflix, Google, PlayStation and more. But whether I’m in a heated discussion in a TV truck, troubleshooting an unexpected development or diffusing disgruntled talent on an arena floor, empathy is the superpower that equips me to navigate stakeholders without (complete) alienation.
TV production at the BBC is a job kids dream of, but would you recommend pursuing that dream?
Live television will always be my first love – there’s nothing like it. Among the developing metropolis of streaming platforms, not one has taken convincing ownership of live. In times of crisis, in moments of national importance, in sport, in events and in entertainment, nothing beats television.
No one knows what’s going to happen next, but for the moment, when the world watches together, it watches on TV.
If you’ve always wanted to work in television, throw everything you can at it. Chase that dream. There’s honestly nothing like standing in a truck in the shadow of the Pyramid Stage [at Glastonbury], hearing the BBC One playout director counting you down to transmission.
And once you’re done with TV, you’ll be equipped for a career in experiential. The story of my adventure here is only, so far, two years in the making, but with clients and colleagues like Amplify’s, the pages are already filling faster than I can turn them.
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