What I learned when…with Adam Heyhurst

Amplify's head of broadcast started his career at the BBC, going from Strictly Come Dancing to producing wildly popular video content for Radio 1’s Live Lounge...

Published by: The Drum
Written by: Sam, Anderson
Date: 31/03/2022

The Drum > Tell us a little about who you are and what you do now.

Adam > 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.

I also take the lead on complex multi-camera or connected content projects where the broadcast itself is the subject of the brief or where we’re using significant outside broadcast infrastructure or specialist cameras.

The Drum > OK – but you haven’t always done that, have you? Tell us a little about a role from your past and who you were when you took it.

Adam > I spent a decade and a half at the BBC before moving to Amplify. Joining at 22, I essentially grew up at Television Centre and my time there fits into three diverse chapters.

A fairly typical rise through the ranks of TV, starting on Strictly in 2006 and working across Ents/Events for five years; from Comic Relief, Dragon’s Den and Eurovision to The Olympics, Royal weddings, jubilees and funerals.

My most formative move came after a chance encounter with the seemingly unattainable Radio 1 while working on BBC Children in Need. Google had just bought YouTube and the incumbent breakfast host, Chris Moyles, was keen for his show to spill onto the small screen. I joined Radio 1 as their first dedicated TV Producer, with a brief to ‘visualise’ 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 ten-million viewers a week.

Reach is addictive and I was always seeking more. I built out our live streaming 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 OBs of our events portfolio (such as Radio 1’s Big Weekend, Ibiza, 1Xtra Live and The Proms). 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 take any part of the BBC to the street was an opportunity I couldn’t resist. We took Lewis Capaldi and The Philharmonic 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 decriminlisation 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 ultimately offered me a front row seat to history for a huge part of my life.

The Drum > Tell us about your early days in the role and how you went about learning the ropes.

Adam > I shared that whole story to illustrate how much of my career has been about change; I’ve always felt I’ve joined places on the precipice of great change. I found 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. In the earlier parts of my career, I didn’t understand why there was so much resistance to what I saw as hugely exciting and obvious. I didn’t understand why existing 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.

In support of overcoming those challenges, 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 grey. Joe, my manager as we expanded live streaming, taught me how to reframe our missions to persuade stakeholders. And while I’m at it, if mum hadn’t sent me to theatre school and shook some Canadian Ritalin out of the NHS, none of this would have happened at all - so a big shout out.

The Drum > What did the role teach you that you’ve taken with you in your career since?

Adam > When I was asked to jot down these thoughts, I thought I’d rest on a poignant broadcast or a witty but causative showbiz anecdote. But ultimately, what’s served me better than anything else I learned at the BBC is empathy. It was a lightbulb moment in my mid-twenties and it’s stayed with me ever since.

The Drum > How about today: do any of the lessons from back then still help you make decisions now? How do you think your perspective was informed by that role? And how, if at all, did it change you?

Adam > It’s as true as it ever was that I work in an environment where we constantly deliver change. Whether that’s in our endeavours 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 (what a dream). But in pursuance of our goals, whether it’s convincing clients to spring for an idea, supporting a colleague through a tricky situation or rallying a team around a mammoth project… whether I’m in a heated discussion in a TV truck, troubleshooting an unexpected development or diffusing some disgruntled talent on an arena floor, empathy is the superpower that equips me to navigate all the stakeholders without [complete] alienation.

The Drum > Finally, would you recommend to someone that they should do the kind of work you did back then?

Adam > Absolutely. Live television will always be my first love, there’s nothing like it. What’s interesting about the developing metropolis of streaming platforms is that 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.

The World Cup Final, Wimbledon, Strictly Final, I’m a Celeb, The Olympic Games, Eurovision, Royal Weddings, The Queen’s Speech, Remembrance Day, the Marathon - the list goes on and on.

Even appointment-to-view shows like Line of Duty, Bake Off, Love Island and Mrs Brown’s Boys (don't laugh, it was one of the most-watched shows on UK television) unite unbeatable audiences around their TVs for a shared moment in time.

No one knows what’s going to happen next, of course. But for the moment, when the world watches together, it watches on TV. And if you’ve always wanted to work in television, throw everything you can at it - chase that dream. There is honestly nothing like standing in a truck in the shadow of the Pyramid Stage, hearing the BBC One playout director counting you down to transmission. I’m sure that’s why they call it on air*

*(it’s not).

What’s more, once you’re done with TV, you’ll be equipped for a career in experiential; there’s extraordinary skill set crossover. 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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