Meet Chloe Straw, Managing Director of AudioUK

Dec 08th

What does the life of a Managing Director and Consultant look like in practice? And what skills do you need to work in this type of senior role? As the Managing Director of AudioUK, Chloe Straw has many years’ experience in the audio industry and her role covers aspects of management that affect audio professionals at all levels.

Chloe also balances this role with her own freelance consultancy work, advising both established audio creators and businesses wanting to explore audio content for the first time.

To find out more, Francesca Turauskis jumped on a video call with Chloe to talk about her career journey, and to ask her advice for people wanting to work their way up in the audio industry.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

FT: I’d love to start by learning more about your role as Managing Director of AudioUK. What does a day-in-the-life actually consist of?

CS: With AudioUK, one of the things that really attracted me to the role was that it was two-and-a-half days a week and also a really great, really interesting job. I’ve been part-time in various roles for 11 years, since my oldest kid was born, so that I could see my kids. I think someone once said to me, “no one lies on their deathbed, wishing they’d worked more.”

There’s no typical day, they’re incredibly varied. A lot of emails, and I do a lot of talking to AudioUK members – I might refer them to our legal and business affairs partners, Mint & Co, or to our HR company, We Do HR. We also introduce members to each other and things like that.

There’s a lot of meetings: it could be the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, to talk about policy and regulation; last week I went into the Spotify offices to look around the studios and talk about opportunities with Spotify and the independent sector; next week I’m going into the BBC to talk about Terms of Trade and the negotiations that we’re having with them.

I also do a fair amount of talks. So there’s something called the Westminster Media Forum, which is all about policy and I’ll speak at that on behalf of the audio industry, or I’ll talk at things like The Podcast Show. On Monday I hosted a webinar with YouTube Podcasts all about YouTube podcasting.

And a lot of the work I do is also reporting to the AudioUK Board, who have governance over AudioUK.

So it can be really high level meetings – but sometimes I’m the one that brings the banners in my car!

FT: And as a consultant?

CS: Since my youngest started school, I also do consultancy and that really varies on the clients that I work with. But I do a lot of work around looking at audio strategy, either for people who already make audio content or people who have no idea about audio content and want to understand the benefits that that might have for them.

FT: Can you give us a quick oversight of your path into the industry?

CS: I always wanted to work in audio but it felt really difficult to get into. When I started you could work for the BBC – although it was impossible to get a job there – you could work in commercial radio, or there was ‘indies’. And I think that a lot of people who got into radio then had either studied it at university, or had done hospital and community radio, or had done university student radio.

I was lucky enough to go to university and studied Physics and Philosophy and did the university radio station. I had a horrible time at university if I’m honest, but enjoyed doing the radio. Then I tried to get a variety of jobs and I remember endlessly trying to get a job at the BBC. But I ended up going to college in Lewisham and doing a ‘DJ and Dance Music Production’ course.

Then I spent a lot of time working in a pub and a clothes shop, and managed to pick up some freelance shifts with 1Xtra when it just launched – I’d do overnight shifts at 1Xtra and then get up the next day to work in the shop. I was quite tired but I so wanted to do it.

I was really determined but still couldn’t get in. And then I saw a job advertised at Somethin’ Else for a Broadcast Assistant. It wasn’t the dream job, because it was for a chart show and I was very specialist music-knowledge wise but I really wanted a job in radio, and wanted to stop doing all the other stuff. It turned out to be a lot of fun, which shows that sometimes you don’t have to stick to a really specific idea of what you want to do. I was so laser focussed on work, I think back now and my hours were horrible, I did quite a lot of overnights. I just didn’t have much of a life. My friends would go for lovely weekends away and I’d be like “I can’t afford it and I’ve got to work.”

I spent quite a lot of years doing that, and just really worked my way up at Somethin’ Else.

FT: Can you tell me what sort of job roles you had as you worked your way up in the industry?

CS: Yeah, so the different job titles that I went through were Broadcast Assistant, Assistant Producer, Producer and Exec Producer [Executive Producer]. I think Broadcast Assistant was a really nice introduction, you learned to take a programme from the very start of ideas development all the way through to the music programme, the script writing, the talent management, the pre-production, the editing of packages. If it was pre-recorded, which is similar to podcasts now, you’d do the editing afterwards, you’d do the social media around it.

But I think something that was really nice about Somethin’ Else was the training that you’d get. We used Cubase at the time and my Producer was really good at training me up on Cubase. And the same with script writing, you started off with script research and then you started writing scripts. You assisted with studio production and then you got to studio produce.

And then where I got to was Exec Producer, which is much less hands-on, but about planning and looking at story structures. It is a really interesting role because you get to do absolutely everything. The editorial role that you have is really important in terms of how it sounds for the audience. You’re also responding to commissioning briefs or coming up with original ideas, and you’re running the teams to develop those ideas and the teams that pitch them to clients. That was probably one of the most interesting things for me.

After an Exec, I went to become Head of Content at We Are Grape, a brilliant indie. And it was very much around helping to expand the podcast side of the business. Less hands-on exec-ing, but running a team of people in terms of business development and pitching, negotiating contracts, working with new commercial partners and things like that. And I really enjoyed that.

But then the job at AudioUK came up and I think I was really interested in doing something different.

FT: In terms of people building up their CV to apply for a Managing Director role, would you give any advice on what they should work on?

CS: Something that I’ve found really useful in the role is just a huge amount of understanding around how the industry works. I think historically it’s been helpful knowing how radio works, but knowing how podcasting and audiobooks work and all of that.

I think partnerships are really key. One of the nice things about working at indies is that you get to work with everyone in the industry. So I know the BBC really well because I made programmes for them, I know Spotify really well for similar reasons, I know Audible really well. And I’m not a networker, I must say this. At the International Women’s Podcast Awards I was like, “oh God, I’ve got to go by myself and I don’t want to.” But I think getting your toe into as many different areas as possible is really important.

Knowing how to put strategy together. Not everyone can do an MBA – I can’t do an MBA – but there’s free mini courses you can do. Having access to courses is tricky because they ask for a certain amount of time, which a lot of us don’t have, and a certain amount of money, which a lot of us don’t have. But I think there’s often little things you can do just to give yourself the confidence to go, “oh I do know how to do X or Y really well.”

I think just making sure you’re happy talking to people quite a lot. I’m fairly introverted – but I know that it’s important that I talk to people as well.

FT: The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day was equity, and Content Is Queen has been asking people: what does equity within podcasting and audio look like for you?

CS: I think there’s been a movement from equality to equity, which I think it’s really important. And I think that equality was giving everyone the same opportunities, but equity, for me, means recognising those opportunities that some people had and other people didn’t, and building up space where that’s made up for.

I think something that’s really interesting for me to think about is how we look at equity at senior levels in the industry. I think that there’s a huge amount of work being done by Content is Queen and Multitrack and a lot of people around entering the industry, which is brilliant. But it’s thinking about how do you bring that to higher levels in the industry? And I think that over time that will come, but how do we make that happen more quickly? So that’s something for me to think about.

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