Mann Made Opportunities - Presenter Olly Mann
After a career freelancing behind the scenes in TV, Olly Mann has found himself in the media limelight. Found? Or put himself there? Olly's a writer for major publications, a national radio presenter, TV panelist and part of the podcasting elite. But how did all of these doors open for him? Not without knocking. And then pushing all of Olly Mann through.
One half of 'Helen & Olly' from long running, award winning podcast 'Answer Me This', Olly shares his story from making the most of the opportunities of university to making the most of every opportunity that's come his way since and going knocking for a whole lot more.
Here’s some of the key takeaway points:
You can’t just think people will find you and your work… you’ve got to tell people
Want something? Badger for it. Even now, Olly still goes knocking for opportunities. Be persistent. Really persistent.
Enter awards - important reputationally and gives you something to write about when contacting people for opportunities
As far as building your reputation online goes… you have to ask - if people like what you do, they’ll be happy to rate you/review you/give you press, etc
It's worth building your reputation, your 'personal brand' as it gives extra reasurrance to those hiring you
It doesn't matter if you think you're great or not, you have to put your work out in the world, believe you're great, it's up to other people if they like your work or not
Collaboration is really important - keep an eye out for people to work with; no man is an island
Don’t rely on just a few clients - if two big clients dropped you, could you still pay the bills?
Experiment - figure out what it is you like doing and what you're good at
Create the work you want to be known for, if you're not being paid to do what you want to do, make it as a side project and get it out there
More from Olly Mann
Who the hell is Steve Folland?
You know how everyone bangs on about how powerful video and audio content can be? Yeah, well Steve helps businesses make it and make the most of it. Find out more at www.stevefolland.com Track him down on Twitter @sfolland or lay a trail of cake and he'll eventually catch you up.
Hear from another freelance presenter: Gema Enseñat
Transcription of Olly Mann podcast - Being Freelance with Steve Folland
Steve Folland: Hey, how you doing? I'm Steve Folland. Thanks for downloading - This Time: What It's Like Being Freelance for presenter and writer, Olly Mann.
Olly Mann: If you think that you're only going to succeed by producing great work that's better than everyone else, and that, somehow, magically, you'll get picked up and noticed, that is a fantasy. You'd have to be an absolute genius for that to be the case. Otherwise, you need to tell everyone that you're great, even if you don't think you are. It doesn't matter what you think of your own work, you have to think that it's great, and then see what the reality is, as to how people respond to it. Once my foot was in the door, I needed to put all of Olly Mann through that door and shove him down everyone's throat.
Steve Folland: Hey, how you doing? Hope you're good. Here we are then with part two of season two of the Being Freelance Podcast, a year on from when I started it, January 2016. I actually recorded this interview just before Christmas with Olly Mann, who is a podcaster, broadcaster, writer, does columns and stuff in papers and stuff like that. You're going to hear that in a moment. I had a really nice chat with him. We did it then, because he's going to be a dad. I think he mentions it. He's going to be a dad in January, so yeah, we got it out of the way just before Christmas. Don't forget, beingfreelance.com is the website where you'll be able to get all the links from today's show, key takeaway points, and things like that. Also, check out all the previous guests, as well, that we've had. Don't forget to hit subscribe on whatever podcasting platform you might use, the likes of iTunes, and if you can leave a review, that'd be a bonus.
Steve Folland: Okay, let's crack on then, and chat to freelance broadcaster and writer, Olly Mann. Hey, Olly.
Olly Mann: Hello.
Steve Folland: Thanks for doing this. We'll come to what you do in a moment, but you're like podcast royalty, so thanks very much.
Olly Mann: Thank you. I'm podcast minor royalty, I'd like to think. Ira Glass, he's the king. Marc Maron's the Queen Mum.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so what, you're like Zora Phillips?
Olly Mann: Well, hold on a minute. I'd put myself at-
Steve Folland: Harry?
Olly Mann: I'd like to be Harry, yeah, if that's okay.
Steve Folland: Why don't we get started chatting about how you got started being freelance.
Olly Mann: Well, I was, I suppose, straight out of university into a series of contracted jobs, but I've never really ... I can't really tell you the moment I went freelance, per se, because I wasn't really conscious ... To me that was word that just always meant something to do with tax arrangements and wasn't particularly interesting. To me, the thing that was important, was I working on the kinds of things I was interested in? And then it just turned out, I suppose, that in the end I've ended up being freelance.
Steve Folland: What did you do at Uni?
Olly Mann: So, I did English Literature. But, really, I didn't. I really waisted that opportunity to read lots of books, and to talk to world experts on Coleridge. By instead, directing student theatre, and writing for the student newspaper, and doing all that kind of stuff. I knew right from then, from the age of 18, that my university career was really a chance to dabble in all these different parts so the media that I thought I might be interested in working in. But, I hadn't quite made up my mind which was the one for me.
Olly Mann: And actually I think that was the right approach. I mean, not ignoring the degree, that was bad. But, definitely sort of dipping my toe in all these different areas. Because, as it's turned out, as you know, Steve, you can't really specialise in one area anymore, you have to do a bit of everything. You have to understand, for example, if you want to work in audio you kind of need to know a little bit about video editing, perverse as it may seem. And if you want to produce your own work, then you need to know a bit about graphic design, because it needs to look a certain way on the internet, and so on and do forth. Everything is all interlinked. So, I suppose, I just used my university time to do as much stuff as possible that I could on an amateur basis, on a student basis. And then learn my mistakes there.
Steve Folland: So, you had a vague idea that you wanted to work ... Well, more than a vague idea that you wanted to work in the media, but you didn't know what?
Olly Mann: Yeah. Exactly. And I still almost would say that's the case. There's nothing else really that I'm built to do. I mean, I'm hopeless with my hands. I'm useless at any kind of labouring. Strategically I'm a nightmare. I have no sense of direction. I'm not very good at bossing people around. I'm not very good at taking instruction. There's really ... I'm a terrible team worker. So, really, I was always heading into doing this kind of work. But, it was just a question of what. And so, I wanted to keep my options as open as I could, I guess.
Steve Folland: So, why don't we say what you do now, and then we'll reverse engineer it, or whatever the poncey-term might be. So, what do you do now?
Olly Mann: So, what I do now, is I'm a radio presenter, I suppose is what I would say to people's parents at parties. Because, that's the thing they'll understand the most readily. So, I nowadays, present, this is the mom friendly bit, I present Friday nights on LBC, the news talk radio station from 7 til 10pm and Saturday nights from 6 til 8pm. So, that's sort of the day job. But, obviously that's only two days a week. And I supplement that and indeed have only managed to get that job on radio by doing lots of podcasting, like you do.
Olly Mann: So I present four podcasts, one of which is the long-running, critically renowned comedy show Answer Me This and the other that I'm so most keen on at the moment is a show that no one's listening to yet called the Modern Man, which is a men's magazine show which is kind of my first solo project. But then I also present a show for the Guardian called Tech Weekly and I present all about the media called the Media Podcast. So I do that and I write stuff as well as columns and occasionally for corporate clients or whatever if I can do a bit of writing for tele and things and that really is for money, I suppose. I won't pretend that's my passion but I occasionally crank out jokes for people as well.
Steve Folland: So let's figure out how on Earth you got there then. What did you do after Uni?
Olly Mann: Straight after Uni, I was lucky actually because I had two opportunities, which I grabbed. One was, I won a Critic of the Year award for stuff that I wrote for the student paper from the Guardian Student Media Awards. The gold prize for that was spending a week doing work experience at the Observer. So I knew as soon as I had that ... And again, this is a philosophy I think I've pretty much stuck to since those early days. I knew as soon as I had that that once my foot was in the door, I needed to put all of Olly Mann through that door and shove him down everyone's throats.
Olly Mann: So I turned that week at the Observer into a month's work experience at the Observer and then into getting a column. So actually ridiculous, straight out of university, I had a TV column in the Observer. But I wasn't getting paid. But anyway, I did for four weeks write a TV column for the Observer. Not the one that Clive James used to write but the one that's in the OTV as it was.
Olly Mann: So that was all very exciting but I wasn't getting paid and so I had this other opportunity which I sort of fell back onto which was my particular college. I went to Oxford. My college, Oxford, had a sort of scholarship program I guess with LWT as was. Again, you got basically a month's work experience working on shows about people who go out and drink too much and spew up all over themselves in the street.
Steve Folland: So for people listening around the world, LWT is like a London TV channel but it's basically ITV, so commercial TV network type thing.
Olly Mann: Yeah, that's right. I mean, long and illustrious history. Made lots of great Saturday night entertainment shows that we all know and love. Blind Date, et cetera. The bit that I was working on was pretty much their graduate trainee department that made the really cheap stuff. I mean stuff like ripoffs of Ibiza Uncovered. It was Brits Abroad, post pub entertainment.
Olly Mann: So I was working in that department but that the good news was 'cause I had this scholarship, it was work experience but it was paid. It was a sort of paid internship. I got, I think, 200 pounds a week. So I was able to feel like that was a job. I mean, it was a minimum wage job I suppose and so I had that for two months and then again, I sort of translated that into pushing my way into the company and trying to get employed there. I ended up working there for six months.
Olly Mann: Weirdly, both those opportunities happening as soon as I left university and I was kind of trying to work out do I want to work in print, do I want to work in tele and having the classic dilemma which is they're both really interesting but at the moment, neither of them appear to paying any money. How long does that last for?
Olly Mann: So yeah, those were my first two jobs.
Steve Folland: So you're on the verge of print or telly. You've not got a job technically, properly in either and you don't know which to do.
Olly Mann: Yeah and then what happened is tele sort of chose me because you might remember sort of circa, what are we now, 2002? Grenada and Colton bought up LWT and they all merged and they became one ITV, one commercial network for the whole UK. And as part of that process, the department I was working for got shut down. But it meant that all of us, even though I'd only been on a monthly rolling contract for absolutely bugger-all, it meant that I was considered as a priority for any job in ITV that came up 'cause that's what they came to us with is redundancy offer to the people that'd been working there for like 6 years properly.
Olly Mann: They said, "if anything comes up within ITV, you can apply for it and we'll treat you preferentially." So for me, it was brilliant 'cause it didn't really feel like it was my career. I was still dabbling around but a job came up on This Morning, the daily magazine program for stay-at-home moms and I applied as a job for researcher on This Morning, and I think partly because I was on that preferential list, I got it 'cause I never would've been the kind of person that they would've employed at This Morning otherwise. Everyone else there was gay or female or both.
Olly Mann: So I was in, I was definitely the posh boy basically. The things I got given when I got there were science, antiques and royals. So yeah, so I worked on This Morning for two years, then I felt a bit frustrated that I haven't actually tried out everything I wanted to when I was at university. Like I said, there was a part of me that thought, "Do I want to be in theatre?" I'm interested in so many media things.
Olly Mann: So I wrote a play. I left my job to write a play, take it to Edinburgh Festival. It was whilst we were at Edinburgh Festival promoting that play that a podcaster interviewed me about the play. That was really the first time I'd realised just how easy it was to do a podcast as in technically easy. The guy that interviewed me, guy called Ewan Spence, still does a podcast about Edinburgh Fringe Festival every year. His equipment was a mini-disc player and some clip on mics and I just thought, "Well, I could do that and I should do that" because I used to really enjoy doing student radio and that was with my friend Helen Zaltzman whilst we were at university.
Olly Mann: So that is why, in December of 2006, I approached Helen and asked her if she'd like to consider doing a podcast with me. That's how Answer Me This.
Steve Folland: Wow, so you threw in your TV job to write a play and take it to Edinburgh?
Olly Mann: Yeah.
Steve Folland: Pretty gutsy. That's quite a thing to do.
Olly Mann: Well, like I say, I'm still not in the position where I'm 100% certain I know exactly what it is I want to do for the rest of my life. I think what you do is you construct a narrative, don't you, afterwards where you think oh, I was always destined to do this thing and there's the earliest sign. Of course, I was supposed to be a radio presenter. I remember when I was eight years old making cassettes for my mom and calling it Radio Karen.
Olly Mann: Well yeah, but that's probably a completely alternative narrative whereby I could say, "Of course, I always wanted to be a nuclear physicist." Actually, no, there is no alternative narrative where I'd be a nuclear physicist. But you know what I mean. There's definitely, in theatre for me anyway, it was always I loved theatre and I always thought maybe I want to be a playwright. That's still not gone. I could still write a play, I think. But I wanted to get it out my system and know that that wasn't the thing I wanted to do right now.
Olly Mann: So yeah, so that's what I did. But it doesn't ... It sounds adventurous but it isn't really. I was living in rented accommodation that I could afford, in London in 2004 this was possible, on the basis of the jobs that I had. I was on very short contracts anyway and I was still young. I was 24, I think, when I wrote the play. So it didn't feel like a risk. It felt like something I wanted to try and do.
Steve Folland: So once you started Answer Me This and clearly you wouldn't have known what that would end up becoming or how long it would last and things like that and certainly back then it wouldn't have brought you any money at all. Therefore, presumably, you had to find another job somewhere.
Olly Mann: Yeah, there was a constant succession of TV day jobs going on in the background. Yeah. So we always took Answer Me This quite seriously. You're absolutely right. We had absolutely no idea just how far it would take us or we would take it, but we always knew that we wanted to take it as far as possible. We weren't just experimenting. I felt there was really a strongly a opportunity. I looked across in America, what was happening and I was reading about bedroom bloggers and people who were making their own shows at home and I felt like there was an opportunity in the UK for someone to do that reasonably well because most of the things you'd listen to, the sound quality was terrible. It was just people just laughing at jokes that no one else would understand. We fell into some of those traps but we were aware of them right from the beginning and tried to deal with them as much as we could and make it as good as we could.
Olly Mann: So we took it quite seriously. We'd record for a night a week. We'd plan it for sort of an afternoon a week and then we'd edit it for an afternoon a week whilst, in my case, still doing a day job as well. So in my lunch breaks, be listening back to stuff we'd done and write and edit notes and spend my evenings working on it. So it felt like a sort of a third as much of a job on top of my job. But yeah, for money I was still doing stuff including at one stage, the job that I was at my most professionally happy I've probably I've been which was working as a researcher for the Culture Show at the BBC. I loved that job but you'll spot the pattern here in a minute. I got my redundant from that in 2008 or 9 I think.
Olly Mann: After that, Answer Me This was just at a tipping point where I could see that it might be possible to justify a career where I could say I was a presenter and not look like I was taking the piss.
Steve Folland: Now, I always wanted to be a presenter-
Olly Mann: You are a presenter, Steve. This is the internet, you see? Don't dream it, be it.
Steve Folland: But here's the thing though, right? So I ended up being on the radio but I know for a fact that it doesn't ... You can get to a certain point but unless you're going to force Olly Mann through the door and down their throats as it were, somebody else will do it instead of you. So at what point did you start thinking, "Yeah, okay I'm Olly Mann. I'm a presenter and I'm going to go knocking for opportunities" 'cause I'm presuming you don't end up doing, I don't know, paper reviews on the tele or the radio or whatever unless you're ... I don't know, maybe you've built up a network by this point or maybe you're just badgering. I don't know.
Olly Mann: No, I was badgering constantly and I still badger constantly. So it interesting, the tele thing's interesting 'cause I've never really had any particular interest on being on TV. I think I'm good on the radio. I think I'm good at audio. I think I've got a good voice for it. I know that I'm articulate. I feel like I can do the job. I'm confident when I'm pushing myself. I don't think I'm the best but I think I'm competitive and I don't feel, like I say, like I'm taking the piss when I say "consider me as a presenter."
Olly Mann: On tele, I think there are other people that are better than me 'cause I think the skill, really, on TV is how you look and that's not necessarily about being attractive. I'm not doing myself down physically. It's just there's a certain charisma, you either have it or you don't. I'm not sure I've got it. I'm okay but I think there are other people that are better than me at it. So with tele, I always knew that it was something I wanted to do to promote myself, this is terribly wanky phrase, but as a kind of personal brand so that people identified who I was so that they then might employ me on the radio.
Olly Mann: That was always the strategy there and actually weirdly that continues to be the strategy. So I will harangue TV producers to get on their TV show, and if you're listening to this, please put me on your TV show. But really, that's so that my boss at LBC thinks ... 'Cause this isn't a comment on him, this is everyone in the radio industry. They slightly doubt the power of their own medium. They look around and think, "Oh, well he was on BBC 1, he must be important. He must be good. We want to keep him. We want to renew his contract because he gets to be on the tele. That was really the only motivation.
Olly Mann: So yes, I'm trying to recall whether I've ever been invited onto a TV program without me first sending at least ten emails asking if I could. I think it has happened maybe three times, but I mean the vast majority of the other times, 30 or 40 other times, it's been me saying, "Please, please can I come on your show?" Even if I've been on before, there's just so many people that want to do it and as I say, unless you've got something quite distinctive, if it's not charisma then it's ... I'm loathe to say that it's difficult being a middle-class white guy 'cause it obviously isn't. Everything is stacked up in your favour in a sense, but in TV terms actually, I do think it would be easier if I was a woman or if I was not white.
Olly Mann: I'm just another middle-aged, middle-class white guy talking about what's in the papers. There's a lot of me. It's quite hard for me to say, "Look, I'm the one you want to employ."
Steve Folland: If you were to just step out of the story for a moment and I guess give advice to people about pushing themselves, because in order for you to get in those position, you must've taken a lot of either silence or knock-backs. What advice would you give to somebody? What have you learned? Maybe there's a technique or something about how to make those opportunities?
Olly Mann: I think pick up hints and equally, be a bit autistic, sort of both things. So be aware of whether someone likes you and wants to book you. Be aware of whether you're an irritant to them but also ignore that instinct sometimes 'cause you want to harangue. If you don't harangue, you won't get the job. So forget about the social niceties you'd usually use if you were talking to a friend and because it's not that. It's a business conversation. Of course, be nice in the email but really you are saying, "I'd like you to use me." There's no point in shying away from the fact that's what you're asking. But equally, do pick up the hint sometimes. As do perhaps how that person likes to be contacted. I mean, I'll note sort of, not literally, but I'll make a little mental note as to when someone responds to an email. There are some people that like to do their emails at 9:00 in the morning. There are some people that prefer to do them at 11:00 at night. I'll then contact that person at that time because I know that's when they're in response mode.
Olly Mann: The other thing I do and this is a trick. This is a psychological trick. If anyone emails me pretty much or if I email anyone and they respond, I always then wait a day to respond back because the way I think of it is, I'm then in their thoughts for two consecutive days which makes it more likely that they're thinking of me more of the time. If you do it very quickly, if I say, "Oh hi, can I come on your show on Saturday?" And they write back and they say, "No", of course, I'm going to respond and say, "Oh well, hopefully next time. Fingers crossed. It'd be great to come on." But I'm not going to do that straightaway. I'm going to wait 'til the next day so that then I'm there in their head for two days running.
Steve Folland: Nice. Because here's the thing, this is a show about being freelance and obviously not just about being a presenter but I think this is relevant for lots of other industries as well 'cause I know, for example, we had a copywriter recently, Joe from Canada. He is plugging away at getting speaking gigs and doing webinars for really renowned marketing companies and stuff like that. It's all about building up that wanky personal brand, but the fact is it gives him extra status within his clients and for you, your clients are the people who pay you to present podcasts and your radio show and stuff. So we still haven't got to the bit where you get hired by OBC, I guess.
Olly Mann: No, we haven't got to that. It's a bit ... like all these things-
Steve Folland: It just builds up momentum.
Olly Mann: Well, it's again ... It's kind of like what I was saying about you can construct a narrative whereby this whole podcasting luck was immediately ... With great momentum heading towards a career where I was put on the radio. But also, I can construct a narrative where that wasn't the case at all and it was just luck and nothing to do with anything else. But essentially how that happened is, so Helen Zaltzman who I present Answer Me This with and I, as a result of us badgering people as soon as we ... We put ourselves forward for a bunch of awards and we won some. Then when we won some, I got in touch with every radio producer in the country and told them that we'd won some and as a result of that, they gave us lots of meetings. So for about a year, even though we were just essentially amateurs doing a show from Helen's sitting room, we went for probably 20 meetings with every radio production company, agent and everything else, trying to get on radio.
Olly Mann: At the time, this is kind of 2008, 2009, we want to be Adam and Joe. That was like straightforwardly what we wanted to be. We were 25, 26 years old. We had the kind of sick form sense of humor. We knew exactly who we were appealing to and we thought, actually, there was a space for us at that point on XFM or on 6 Music or maybe even on 5 Live when they were a being a bit like Hearted. The landscape shifted a bit. I'm not sure there is space for that anymore, but there was, I think, then. So we went round telling people, "Look, we're the next big thing." And weird thing was, it was almost true. What happens when you go to these independent production companies, you go in their sort of brainstorm room. There'd be a big white board and on the white board there'd be a lot of names. Lot of names, Steve.
Olly Mann: So it would say, I don't know, back then "Russell Brand". He'd be in big letters at the top, then you'd go down the list. George Lamb. About halfway down, Simon Amstel, somewhere between Lamb and Brand, and right at the bottom of that list, someone in the office would've heard of us and they'd have written on the whiteboard, "Helen and Olly?" So there was always, I think, we'd shown that we'd got a following and we'd won an award so there was enough enthusiasm for people to meet us and be like, "Oh, what are these crazy kids doing?" It was almost like the YouTubers now who've all just walked into big book deals and all the rest of it. We were just a bit ahead of that and we were with a demographic that now is in their 30's but then was in their 20's.
Olly Mann: So the older people, basically, at all of these radio indies didn't quite get what we were doing, but they thought we'd probably be worth meeting. Then we just had a series of these meetings where they all kind of said, "I really like you. I mean, I really enjoy listening to your show. It's great. It's really good. I really like it but you're not right for us." That's what everyone said and of course, you can't really argue with that. If they think, for whatever reason they can't market what we're doing, and what we're doing is quite ... It was quite unusual then. Again, things have changed a bit but back then, having a male-female relationship on air that wasn't built on sexual chemistry and we weren't married and it wasn't built on the fact that the man would lead and the woman would chip in and laugh at his jokes, but was actually a genuinely cool relationship between friends who are male and female who just happen to be mates. There wasn't any example of that on the radio anywhere. Colin and Edith maybe on Radio 1 for a bit but that was it.
Olly Mann: So they just weren't receptive to the idea, really. So anyway, this is very long-winded way of saying eventually, we managed to find Jonathan Wall who was the controller at 5 Live, who was interested in enough to give us a punt and he gave us our first radio show, which went down on New Year's Eve at 10pm, so it was the last two hours of the year in 2009, which in a way is a great slot but of course, is a slot that no one's actually listening to because they're out. So it's a good place to kind of experiment with new talent and they gave us a two-hour show for us to do our own thing. And we did and it went okay and we did a follow up in 2010 in the summer, another two-hour special that went out bank holiday Monday and then another follow up the following year in 2011 on bank holiday Monday.
Olly Mann: So 5 Live were giving us these two-hour one-off specials and as a result of that, when they were putting together their new show which was called "Saturday Edition" hosted by Chris Walburton and they thought of us as the internet experts, quote-unquote who could come on each week and explain something about web culture. That was perfect 'cause it gave us an opportunity to do our shtick. It showed that we sort of understood online culture to that audience who knew who we were but didn't quite know why we were important and it was an opportunity for us to practice doing live radio. After three years of doing that, I ended up having a meeting at LBC with James Rea who's now the boss of LBC and also all of news coverage for global radio and he said, "Have you ever thought about presenting a talk show?"
Olly Mann: The honest answer to that, and I should have said yes. You're supposed to pretend. You're supposed to pretend that your lifelong ambition is to host the breakfast show on whatever station you're going for a meeting with. But my honest answer was no. I thought he was having a meeting with me 'cause I thought he was going to say, "Do you and Helen want to do a slot on something?" Or "Would you consider, I don't know, doing an hour-long podcast for us or something?" I was not expecting him to say, "Why don't you come to our right-wing news talk radio station and host a three-hour through the night phone-in?" But that is what he thought that I could do. I just felt like I had to give that a go. So I said, "No, I've not tried that but I'd be willing to give it a go" and I ended up covering the overnight show for him and then 18 months later, got offered the opportunity to take that job as my job, five days a week, one 'til four in the morning.
Steve Folland: Awesome. A lot of that sprung out of the fact that you entered awards, and for that matter, even going back to uni, you said you entered an award and then that got you into the Observer and whatever. So I'm presuming you're going to recommend entering awards.
Olly Mann: Yeah, I think I am. Yeah. I mean, Helen takes a different view actually. She thinks that we were slightly ripped off. She thinks that, in the case of the Sony Awards, which is the award that we won for radio, for doing our podcast, she thinks that the tickets were overpriced. The whole thing's a bit of a ripoff. You shouldn't have to pay to go to the event once you've been nominated, that it didn't bring us anything direct. But I disagree. I think it didn't bring us anything direct but it did make lots of opportunities for us. It was important reputationally. It gives you an excuse. It gives you something to put on that email when you write to people. It's not the only thing though. I mean, for example, you can put on an email to someone, "Don't know if you've heard my podcast, but we were Critic's Choice in the Telegraph last week." You may have only got that by asking the journalist at the Telegraph.
Olly Mann: I think the important thing is, whether it's entering awards or whether it's getting press coverage or actually just whether it's as simple as getting reviews on iTunes or whatever the equivalent is for your industry, getting reputation online, I think asking for it is the important thing. You actually literally have to ask and then people who like your product if you're doing a good thing genuinely will give it a go. If it's good then you've got a chance, haven't you?
Steve Folland: It's worth hearing, though, because the British sentimentality of us is like, "Oh, well I won't ask. I don't want to make a fuss. I don't want to big myself up." But if you don't, somebody else will be doing it to themselves so yeah, totally.
Olly Mann: Yeah, it's just too competitive an industry to have those principles unfortunately. You've got to do something else. If you think that you're only going to succeed by producing great work that's best than everyone else and that somehow magically you'll get picked up and noticed, that is a fantasy. You'd have to be an absolute genius for that to be the case, otherwise, you need to tell everyone that you're great even if you don't think you are just so that your average work can get seen by anyone. But the great thing about the internet is that opportunity really is there that once it's out and people try it for them to make an honest assessment themselves about whether they like it. It sort of doesn't matter about your level of confidence in what you produce. If other people are enjoying it then they're going to tell their friends, they're going to download it, they're going to share it, they're going to do whatever to it.
Olly Mann: So actually, it doesn't matter what you think of your own work. You have to think that it's great and then see what the reality is as to how people respond to it.
Steve Folland: How important do you think the collaboration has been to your career? 'Cause obviously you're doing solo stuff now but Helen and Olly, for a long time, fed into that story.
Olly Mann: Definitely. I think it's a really important lesson with all freelancing actually, and this is something that isn't relevant to podcasting or presenting or whatever is knowing who to work with. That's a skill in itself. Sometimes you meet producers in tele or whatever and you sort of try and work out what it is exactly that they do and often, all they do, all they've ever done before they go to member's clubs and snort cocaine for ten years, all they've done is they've spotted talent in someone, spotted talent in someone else and said, "You two should meet each other." That's it. That's often all they've done. But that is a skill like being able to recognise who is good at their job and thinking, "I could work with them, I could collaborate with them" is a skill.
Olly Mann: So Helen Zaltzman, I think, is a genius. I knew that she would be great as a podcaster. It hadn't occurred to her until I'd mentioned it to her. Now actually in the long run of things, it may have occurred to her eventually because her brother Andy Zaltzman went on to do his own podcast, the Bugle with John Oliver, which was also great and maybe she'd have realised then that she had the potential to be a podcasting superstar as she is now. But I spotted that potential in her and I remembered that we had a dynamic together when we were doing student radio. I suppose she'd spotted that potential in me by inviting me onto her student radio show when we were 19 or whatever.
Olly Mann: So recognising that collaborator was really important and then equally, all the people we worked with on the show. Martin, who's now her husband, who writes a lot of our songs. Various comics that we knew. Josie Long, Matthew Crosby and others who came along and did jingles and idents for us for free. Talented people we asked to do stuff with us. My girlfriend is a graphic designer so she did our logo which has always been very distinct. Choosing the people you work with is really, really important and that's the case with the stuff that I'm doing now. So my new show also technically a solo project as you say, the Modern Mann. M-A-double-N, so my name's in the title. It's all about me, not my collaboration with others, but actually the format is every week, I speak to a guy called Ollie Peart about trends that are going on. I speak to a sex expert called Alex Fox and it's produced by a guy called Matt Hill who I met at the Guardian.
Olly Mann: All of those are collaborative choices. I'm working with Matt because I think he's the best podcast around. I love his other work and so if you meet someone who you think, well, they're really good at their job, again it's kind of having the confidence to say, "Well, they might want to work with me. I'm good enough, they might want to work with me." And half the time, they might.
Steve Folland: So as part of that, maintain ... People talk about their network but that's what it is. You must have pretty extensive network. Do you deliberately keep fluffing people or is it left to chance? I'm getting the impression that probably nothing is left to chance but-
Olly Mann: Yeah I mean, I don't want to sound like I'm some sort of ruthless, career-focused machine. It's just the reality of the particular thing that I do. I think if I was in a different kind of area of industry, I wouldn't be so proactive about it but you literally don't have a choice if you want to be on the radio and on the TV, it is so competitive that there is no other way to do it. This is the only way to do it as far as I can tell. So do I maintain my network? Yes, but I'm not sure it's that conscious. It's all the things that other contributors to your show have said in the past, which is that if you're good at this, then you meet other talented people who are good at what they do. They're interesting to you 'cause naturally they've got similar interests to you.
Olly Mann: So it's natural that you'd be friends, that you'd be on Facebook, that you'd take in interest in each other's work. It doesn't feel to me like I'm manipulating people and I see that separately to the people that I harangue to be on their TV shows. Those people are just drones with an email address to me. I am just absolutely working them. But there are other people that I have friendships with that I'd like to be able to work with in the future and I don't see that as anything underhand. It's natural.
Steve Folland: Yeah, so I didn't mean to sully it or make it dirty-
Olly Mann: No, no, no. That's all but there is an element where, and again, it's quite a British approach isn't it, to even think of it in those terms but people do. People are like, "Well, you're using this person." But no, I don't feel like I am with anyone.
Steve Folland: I think it's very true though that when you make friendships, then you don't have to have a CRM to make sure you stay in contact with people or remember things about them. You just naturally stay in touch with them because you like them. I think it was Stephanie Posovich, previous guest, who said she doesn't network. She makes friends and I quite like that. How has all of this sort of played out? The financial side of it. The actual practical business side of it?
Olly Mann: It's not my natural, like many people that you talk to, it's not my natural strength. I didn't get into doing something creative because I wanted to be an accountant and it's frustrating in a way. Weirdly, I quite enjoy some days sitting down with my Google document and working out what I've been earning and it's always a pleasure to actually invoice someone, obviously. But there's increasingly amounts of days where I'm just like ugh, I don't want to see ... I don't want to try and find out what this person's contact details are to try and chase up 50 quid for appearing on a show that ... It's quite tedious. So I'm not a big fan of it but I suppose the only advice I'd have from the point at which I became a full-time writer and broadcaster rather than someone who has a hobby, did a bit of writing and broadcasting whilst holding down a day job, is just have as many balls in the air as possible.
Olly Mann: So I'm in a position now where even if half of my employers decided to fire me overnight, I'd still be able to pay my mortgage and that's really all I've ever considered from that point of view. The amount of money that I earn is varied, hugely. I mean, when I was doing five days a week on LBC, it was the overnight show but I was being paid the same rate as a presenter that I would be for presenting during the day. In fact, weirdly, overnights are quite important to LBC because it's the only time during the day where they're number one in London because obviously, if you're awake at 3:00, you kind of would rather hear someone talking than just hear some records. So actually, it's a really important slot to them.
Olly Mann: So when I was doing that, I was earning an insane amount of money. More money than I'd ever think I would earn from talking for a living. But I chose to tell my boss, "Look, I'm going to chuck this in by the summer unless I get a different job within this company because I love what I'm doing, but it's ruining my body. It's ruining my relationship. It's going to affect my mental health and everything else. There's some things more important than the money that you're earning." Then he moved me to the slot that I have now, which I absolutely love, but obviously I'm doing two shows a week, so I'm earning 2/5ths what I was out of them, which is a big chunk when it's actually a creative career.
Olly Mann: So I've had to fill a lot of gaps. I suppose what I'm saying is, I haven't made decisions based on money at any point, I don't think.
Steve Folland: You said about filling gaps and you've mentioned creating your own podcast now, the Modern Mann. This really intrigues me because basically, yet again, you're not waiting for other people to come to you. You're creating something. It feels like you're creating something that you want to do. This could be a radio show. It could be a TV show. Hey, it could just be a podcast which gets lots of listeners and builds up and makes loads of money that way or whatever. It's showing different sides to you perhaps than the serious radio stuff or the totally comedy stuff.
Steve Folland: So yeah, I just love the fact that you're able to create that content to create what you want to do. Is it a really deliberate thing like, oh right, this is where I want to get at. What can I create now? I don't know.
Olly Mann: Sort of. I mean, yes it is but again, it's that use of terms like deliberate and strategy kind of gives it a sense of thinking about everything, which wasn't really there. It's not as calculating as that. It's just that I was 24 when we started Answer Me This. Once you've established a format of a show and it works in a particular way and you've got a certain rhythm, and again, I think this applies in worlds of freelancing that aren't anything to do with broadcasting but in the case of a podcast, once you've established a show, then you don't want to change that format when it works. You don't want to mess with a hit.
Olly Mann: So essentially the show that Helen and I are cranking out now, I mean it's now fortnightly instead of weekly. It's now 45 minutes instead of 35 minutes and now it doesn't have a sketch at the beginning. It's basically the same show, though. And guess what? I'm not 24. I'm 34. I'm nearly 35. I'm going to be a dad in January. I live a different life, actually, but I love playing the part of Olly on Answer Me This. It's really fun. It is, of course, part of my personality. But in the meantime, I've been presenting three, four, five hour long election coverage specials for LBC. Interviewing Nigel Farage or whatever. It's a very different side of my personality that I've been projecting there and I felt like there was somewhere in the middle, exactly as you said, for me, which reflects slightly more closely who I am now and I wanted an outlet for that.
Olly Mann: I sort of can't have too much fun on LBC 'cause it is a news station at the end of the day. You can make the alt-right comment but you can't decide to have an hour-long phone-in about what color are your pants. On Answer Me This, we deal with some serious questions. All kinds of issues come up that range from illness to death to incest and goodness knows what. But we treat them in a comic way because that's the format. There's only so much we can say that's serious on that show before we're not doing our show at all. I wanted a show where I could do both. On the Modern Mann, I can be serious about serious stuff and I can be funny if I want to be.
Steve Folland: Okay, now I always do this thing where I ask you for three facts about yourself. Make two true, one a lie. Let me figure out the lie. What have you got for me?
Olly Mann: Okay, I once tweeted as Keith Lemon. That's fact number one. Fact number two, Steve Wright once prank called me as Ray from Glouster on my LBC show and I didn't know it was him. And fact number three is I briefed the actor Andrew Lincoln whilst dressed as a meerkat.
Steve Folland: Oh man.
Olly Mann: They're good facts, think.
Steve Folland: Keith Lemon, celebrity ... See, I think you worked on Celebrity Duece-
Olly Mann: I did.
Steve Folland: Even though we didn't talk about it.
Olly Mann: I alluded to writing knob gags.
Steve Folland: Yes, so that's covered. But did you tweet as Keith Lemon? So it would have been possible. Maybe it was job to, or does he ... Steve Wright phoned you up. So Steve Wright is a big famous DJ. Would he be phoning up your LB- ... Have you been on his show, though, as a gadget type, tech type guy? You-
Olly Mann: Yeah, Helen and I before our 5 Live gig were doing the internet bit on the Big Show. So yeah.
Steve Folland: And Andrew Lincoln as a meerkat. All of these could be true. I don't think Steve Wright prank called you. I don't think Steve Wright prank called you as Ray.
Olly Mann: Well done. That is right. He did not.
Steve Folland: Yes!
Olly Mann: But he does, apparently, prank call Clive Ball. It's been 10 or 20 years since, but apparently he used to. Before the internet, he used to call Clive Ball at 1:00 in the morning on LBC and pretend to be someone like Ray from Glouster. He does a series of voices. He's an LBC fanatic.
Steve Folland: Which is excellent 'cause that means you were dressed as a meerkat, which is pleasing to know.
Olly Mann: This is what happens when you work on a magazine show, you see. This Morning, it's juggling multiple items. So Andrew Lincoln was in to talk about his new film and we were also doing an item about Meerkat Manor for which, in the pre-title's joke sequence, I was dressed as a meerkat. Fern Britton looked up from her seat across the Philip Schofield and he turned into a meerkat, which was me.
Steve Folland: Well, so you've been Philip Schofield as well.
Olly Mann: I have, that's a better way of putting it, in a way.
Steve Folland: Excellent. Listen, thank you so much for your time. Olly's up to so much so go check out beingfreelance.com 'cause there'll be links to all of the different shows. The media one, the tech one, the modern man, Answer Me This of course as well and what you're up to on LBC.
Olly Mann: Thank you. And if you like it, tell your friends and then employ me.
Steve Folland: But before I let you escape, if you could your younger self one thing about being freelance, what would it be?
Olly Mann: Probably that collaboration point, actually. Be on the lookout for people you can work with.
Steve Folland: Short and sweet, I like it.
Olly Mann: It's the most important thing. It's the most important thing. No man is an island.
Steve Folland: Nice. I say, doing my podcast on my own in my dining room, I might add.
Olly Mann: Yeah, but you emailed me. That's an example.
Steve Folland: Absolutely. It's true, I'm not just sitting here talking to myself.
Olly Mann: Exactly.
Steve Folland: Olly, thanks so much. Really appreciate it.
Olly Mann: It's a pleasure. It's a great show. I really enjoy listening to the show.
Steve Folland: God bless you, sir.
Olly Mann: Particularly, may I say, Ollie Newport who was on a few weeks back.
Steve Folland: Oh, a few months back.
Olly Mann: Or was he?
Steve Folland: Wow, yeah, yeah.
Olly Mann: A few months ago, yeah. He turned to an Answer Me This book signing in December 2010, dressed very distinctively. He was wearing one of those animal hats. In 2010 there was thing for cool teenagers with floppy hair, wore hats that looked like they had cats on their heads. Do you remember that?
Steve Folland: Oh, right. Yeah.
Olly Mann: Anyway, he was wearing one of those and he came up. See, i was interesting to his episode because he was very forthright then, like he was 18 then and he came up and he said, "I'm a big fan of show. I'm Ollie Newport. I do stuff on the internet." And I remember his name purely from that encounter and then I saw it in your list of contributors.
Steve Folland: No way!
Olly Mann: So there you go. Networking.
Steve Folland: Totally, and he's doing all right for himself.
Olly Mann: He's doing very well. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Steve Folland: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Nice. Also, okay, well if I ever bump into you, I'll grab my elephant hat I've got or the monkey one. I've got a choice actually. That's the good thing about having kids.
Olly Mann: It's all about standing out from the crowd.
Steve Folland: All the best. Being freelance. Thanks Olly.
Olly Mann: Thank you Steve.