Andy Johnson – True Strength Podcast – Episode 7
As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Andy Johnson of Andy Johnson Media. The interview has lots of insights into how Andy succeeds, about strengths, weaknesses, mindset, and resilience. To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous podcasts and details of how to subscribe on our podcast page.
Andy Johnson dominant Gallup StrengthsFinder (TM) talent themes:
1. Developer: People who are especially talented in the Developer theme recognize and cultivate the potential in others. They spot the signs of each small improvement and derive satisfaction from these improvements.
2. Empathy: People who are especially talented in the Empathy theme can sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations.
3. Positivity: People who are especially talented in the Positivity theme have an enthusiasm that is contagious. They are upbeat and can get others excited about what they are going to do.
4. Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
5. Adaptability: People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to “go with the flow.” They tend to be “now” people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
6. Activator: People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
7. Ideation: People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
8. Restorative: People who are especially talented in the Restorative theme are adept at dealing with problems. They are good at figuring out what is wrong and resolving it.
9. Individualisation: People who are especially talented in the Individualization theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.
10. Achiever: People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive
Hi Andy, it’s great to have you here with us today. Can you tell us a bit about what you do?
Yes, it’s great to be here. It’s a variety of things really, I’m a one man band, my company is called Andy Johnson Media and for example I do quite a lot of media training, traditional media training with companies like the National Farmers Union and that can be with a group of people who have done no media work at all and are quite intimidated about it. So that is letting them know what the media are after. We go in and do real life mock TV and radio interviews with them, watch them back, analyse what they’ve done and most people cringe when they see themselves on telly for the first time or hear their voice, but generally it’s a very positive thing because by the end of the session, sometimes they’re a day long, sometimes half a day, you can see that people have really grown. And we give them quite a grilling which I quite enjoy as I get all Paxman-esque with them really and I’m not even in the same room, it’s called a down the line interview. You see them all the time on the news channels where it’s just some poor so and so staring into the barrel of a camera with no presenter with them or the presenter is back in the studio and they’re firing questions at them and they’ve got their ear piece in and have got to keep looking into that camera all the time and that can separate the men from the boys so to speak. So that sort of stuff and it’s media coaching as well because here we are sitting in Media City in the UK and in my 25+ years as a journalist and a broadcaster, it’s letting people know that what the newsrooms, which are very unforgiving places, what they actually want in terms of stories and what they want from guests. It’s not by any means a stitch up sort of thing, people tend to think the media are trying to make them trip up or make them look like fools. They’re not, the media need people. IF you think about it, right now 5 Live will be broadcasting 24 hours a day and we’ve got all the other channels back in London, Sky, the News Channel and whatever else, there’s a huge demand for content as it’s called nowadays and for people and it’s that sort of thing, letting them know. Because people get disappointed and say why haven’t they picked up on this story, and people will say, it’s not actually a story, but if you do it this way or if you pitch it to these people, try it like that. So there’s that element, I do a lot of event hosting which can be anything from black tie events to facilitating, doing sort of a David Dimbleby bit, for businesses about particular issues or Brexit or whatever else with a variety of clients. Hosting conferences and events for people. Making films still and that’s something that I’ve done for a long while as a filmmaker at the BBC. But that’s on the corporate side so it’s films for websites and I do bits and bobs of voice over work as well so it’s quite varied and that’s what I like about it. It’s meeting different people and using different skills and I’m the boss so it’s a win-win really!
So what difference does media training and media coaching make to people and organisations? What changes for them as a result of working with you?
I think initially there’s quite a big fear. I genuinely think they think that they can’t do television, “I can’t speak in front of the camera or a microphone”. They think they’re going to get stitched up, they think everybody in the media is out to get them and that’s not the case. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s not a walk in the park. We do some tough questions with them and we talk to people beforehand about particular issues they may be facing but I think it’s the fear of the unknown. But when they get into it and they realise how it works and the fact that the media actually needs them as much as they might need the media, or their organisation might need the media, and that the media comes to people because they have an area of expertise about a particular issue. If you think, every morning of every day, news organisations will have a meeting about what they are doing that day or the next day and some issues will come up time and time again and they are trying to think of different ways of doing it and a way of really engaging the audience and they want good people. There are so many clichés which I’m trying to get rid of and jargon which I try to beat out of people when they are doing media training but we talk in the media about case studies and all that means is, that they want to show somebody doing their job on the telly about what they are talking about so obviously if it’s a farmer, they’re going to want to see a farmer out in the fields in his tractor, if it’s the health service, we’re going to see a consultant or doctor or whatever but they want people who can talk about what they do quite naturally, who are not particularly phased by it and who will just illustrate it in the best possible way most of the time because it’s not in their interest to go back to somebody and it’s below standard and they’ve not asked the questions they should have asked, or they’ve not got the answers, so it’s a process really between two sets of people. It’s more of a collaboration really which people don’t realise but on the other hand, journalists are not there to be handing out free sweeties sort of things, it’s a job where you have to ask difficult questions. That’s the journalist’s role, that’s what they are supposed to do, asking questions on behalf of their audience, that’s the key thing. As I say to them, it’s all about the audience. Remember the audience when you are doing the media, you’re not talking to your peer group, we all exist in a certain little bubble, and work with people who do the same sort of thing quite a lot, so there’s a lot of assumed knowledge there. When you’re broadcasting to people, they can be switching on, turning their radio or telly on at any moment of the day, who have no idea about what you do so if you are going to start using terrible acronyms and all sorts of things that nobody understands apart from a select band of people in your office somewhere, then you’ve lost your opportunity. They’re going to switch off and say, what the heck’s he/she talking about and that’s gone. So it’s being able to talk to people out there. But certainly from a broadcaster’s and a journalist’s point of view, they need to know their audience as well and think, I’ve got to ask these difficult questions anyway because it’s a difficult topic, but I’ve got to ask the questions that the audience expect me to ask and don’t expect somebody to necessarily give you a free ride but by the same token, it’s not going to be really difficult. A lot of the media stuff is to find out, what do you do, how do you find out, it’s the who, what, when where, why and how that every journalist has drilled into them when they train and it’s getting the best out of people really.
So you’ve come into this, you’re doing the media training and the media coaching amongst other things, and you mentioned you’ve got 25 years’ experience as a journalist and broadcaster?
Yeah, more than that. I start off in newspapers in Nottingham, the Evening Post and that was fantastic grounding. That was completely by chance – I’d done a Drama and English degree in Liverpool which I’d absolutely loved and I think retrospectively it has been useful for what I’ve ended up doing but I was lucky. I remember my Mum say, go and do something you enjoy doing and I’d done a bit of acting at school and I absolutely loved Liverpool, I think it’s an amazing city, and still love the city to death and had a lot of good times there. But basically I came out of it thinking right, what do I do next and I’d done some writing for the college magazine, mainly reviewing bands and stuff like that, nothing particularly high brow really. But I wrote off to local papers, I’d come back home, with a bag full of dirty washing and no money and the Nottingham Evening Post wrote back and said to come in and have a chat. Naïvely I thought, that sounds quite nice, and I think I’d got one pair of smart trousers and one smart shirt, I didn’t have a suit at the time, and I went in and it was a bit like going back to (for our older listeners) something out of the Sweeney, nice cop, nasty cop because the editor at the time was a guy called Barry Williams and I went into his office and he kind of peered at me under his glasses which were half way down his nose, and it was wood panelled office and quite an imposing place and he said “I don’t really care but you should wear a tie to an interview and I thought, oh my goodness, it’s an interview and I’d no idea! I know it sounds ridiculous but I thought they’d said “a chat” and I’d took them at their word and I kept getting pinged to a deputy editor all day who I didn’t particularly like. And because originally I’d come from a one horse town in Nottinghamshire called Newark and had no desire to go back there whatsoever, however they were launching a district edition of the Nottingham Evening Post about half an hour away from Nottingham and I think possibly my roots got me in. But I remember standing at Nottingham station and thinking oh no I’m going back there to work but it was the best break I could have ever had really because it was a broadsheet paper at that time and the only things that have ever happened in Newark before are that King John died of boredom there in the castle I think and that’s about it – probably a bit facetious but it’s not exactly the hotbed of journalistic activity. But you had to come up with stuff everyday so you really had to be on the ball, you had to go out and meet people, had to make contacts and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did eventually manage to the big office in Nottingham and from there I went into television at the BBC, worked in Nottingham for local BBC television there, East Midlands Today, worked down in London when BBC3 was launched at Television Centre and worked on a news programme there and went to Tunisia to cover the African Cup of Nations, did all sorts of interesting stuff and then ended up, which is fantastic because I loved doing a year in London but that was enough and I could never see myself wanting to settle, got the chance to work in Manchester for BBC3 and I’ve been based here ever since. I’ve worked all over the place but again I got a fantastic break, having worked at the BBC for quite a while, I got the chance to present the BBC1 programme Inside Out up here in the North West and that was amazing because there was so many news stories, documentaries on drugs, on terrorism, and one of the most fascinating ones was how drugs have changed the whole criminal scene in Liverpool from where it used to be. It sounds a bit clichéd but you know, sawn off shotguns and bank robberies back in the 60’s and 70’s to when drugs came and it changed the entire way that scene developed so some really interesting stories that you’d never get anywhere. That’s the think I love about being a journalist, you get to see things and be involved in things that you wouldn’t get in any other vocation really but then with the vibrant scene in the North West, because it’s kind of a magazine programme, it was doing stuff on, for example, 50 years since Sir Bobby Charlton played at Manchester United so I got to go and meet and interview the great man himself and Dennis Law. Of course unfortunately George Best had died by then, but I’d been trying to get Dennis Law to talk about Sir Bobby and thought I’d missed my chance as his daughter was in Manchester United and I phoned her up and she said he was just about to go on holiday and I thought I had no time as I needed to get it out to coincide with the anniversary of his debut for Manchester United and I was at home one night and a Manchester number came up on my phone and I thought “who’s this?” And then I get “Andy, it’s Dennis, it’s about Sir Robert”. It’s Dennis Law on my phone and I’ve got no-one else around me there and I was dancing around the room like a lunatic and I met him and he was nice as pie and I thought he’s a legend, and I hate the word legend as it’s so over-used and it’s become really diluted by the way it’s bandied about nowadays, but there you were with someone. And Jonny Marr, I did a film with him and that took quite a few years getting that done. This is not me trying to be big celebby but it’s the variety of stuff you got to do. I did other stuff like reporting back on News 24, I appeared on the Today programme and lots of interesting stuff and basically, I say I’ve been freelance 3 years but in actual fact I left in 2012 and was immediately asked to go back and had a fantastic gig presenting at London 2012 but people will have heard about all the cuts at the BBC and one of the first waves was coming through and there were meetings going on about it and because I’d done 17 years, and I’ll be honest with you, I was getting a little bit stale and thinking what my next move was and I was working in Media City which was fantastic and it was like going from BBC Oxford Road and beige corridors and going from 1973 to 2033 with all the colours and the glass and it’s been an amazing achievement I think. I mean hand on heart it’s brilliant what the BBC has done and we look now at how this area has been really energised by what has gone on with it so that’s been a great move. But personally I was getting a bit fed up really but I didn’t know that the chance was going to happen. I just happened to be cycling into work and this HR woman was coming the other way and she came up to me and said in a conspiratorial whisper “You can go if you like” and I thought “Oh my goodness, right” and then the alarm bells went as well as everything else because I’d got no plans, I hadn’t made any plans and I put it off for about a month, as you do, and I wanted to talk it over with my wife, and I hadn’t got a plan and I’d never done anything but work for other people. So although I say it was 4 years, I think it was only 3 because for the first year really, other than the Olympics which was a brilliant thing, I didn’t really know what I was doing, I was trying to set things up, and for a while I had a bit of a break because I was thinking, this is semi retirement and then of course the money dwindles and you’ve kitted yourself out with all the stuff and those were some difficult times to be honest because naively I thought, right I’m out there, I’ve got a website, I just sit back and wait for the phone to ring and it doesn’t work like that. But now, I think I’m happier than I’ve every been. There are ups and downs, any freelancer will tell you that, but the variety that I’m doing, and I think it’s completely re-invigorated me as a person, I’ve got such tremendous respect for anyone who runs their own business. I’ve got no ambition to be running some sort of media empire, I’m not wanting to be a Rupert Murdoch any time soon, I’m happy to be a one man band but I think it’s been the most amazing learning curve and I think I’m still on that. But it’s been the best thing that I’ve ever done and I’m glad I did it but couldn’t have done it without getting out when I did with a bit of a safety net of someone behind me. But absolutely, life is great now so I’m really enjoying things.
So can I dig into a bit more about you. So you’ve been a journalist in print, you’ve been a journalist and broadcaster, you’ve worked on the radio, I’ve certainly seen you on the TV loads of times, and now you’re on stage a lot and you’re coaching and training in the media, what skills do you bring to that? What is it about Andy that helps you succeed in those different evolving spheres?
I think when we’ve gone back over the history of what I’ve done, I do think there is an element of me, if I’m honest, that enjoys performing and I think that’s where the drama thing came from and I always thought when I did anything, and I didn’t do anything spectacular, but that sort of buzz when you come off stage was a real thing and I think that’s stood me in good stead because I’ve never been particularly intimidated standing in front of a particular audience or broadcasting live really. There’s all sorts of madness going on when you’re broadcasting live that nobody watching can tell but there’s all sorts of screaming in your ear and the programme could be falling down around you but you’ve just got to serenely sail through and focus on what you’re doing. And I like working with people as well so that helps I think. I think they are the main thing, I’ve just come back from working in London for 4 days at the Advertising Week Europe and that was a whole series of live broadcasts that were being streamed with all sorts of high up people and media people and sports stars and stuff but it was just something that I really enjoyed doing. It comes fairly naturally, and I don’t mean that in any boastful way, but it does. I enjoy talking to people, with that particular job I could be little bit irreverent, you haven’t got to be too, not that the shackles were on at the BBC but obviously it’s a different thing. And again, when I’ve done hosting events or whatever, I’ve never found that a particular problem, it’s always been something that is quite natural and I’ve enjoyed. So that helps and bizarrely, I think all the drama training helps because you’re used to getting your voice and all that sort of stuff and talking to people and I think it’s being as natural as you can as well. I don’t know about you, as you stand up in front of a lot of audiences as well, but if you go to events, the last thing you want to do is be bored out of your brains and looking at your watch and thinking what’s for tea tonight or what’s on telly? So a lot of things I’ve done, I’ve worked with great people like Weber Shandwick, it’s been trying to be interactive, so you’re getting into the audience, trying to get their views and we’ve done a few here at Media City and that’s far more interesting to be involved doing it and I’m sure is far more interesting to come and see and be involved in those sort of events rather than just being sat there and feeling like you’re in the classroom again and nodding away and thinking that you can’t wait to get out of here!
Absolutely and I think that is becoming increasingly an old fashioned way of doing things. We have the expertise at the front and they deign to share some of their wisdom with the crowd. This acceptance that actually the wisdom is in the room and there is a load of experience there and finding a way to surfacing that is so much more engaging.
And actually it’s like anything else as something can spark off of that – somebody will say something and you end up on a tangent that actually you weren’t expecting and it really works and it gets other people involved as well and everybody comes out feeling a bit energised as well rather than oh, where’s my coat, I’ve got to go to work now or whatever else. Because a lot of the stuff, probably the same as you, you do a lot of breakfast events so it’s quite a good time to catch people before they’ve got to go and do what they’ve got to do but the last thing you want to do is to be sending them off feeling absolutely, oh why did I bother with that, that was a waste of a day. You want to make sure that they felt part of it and they’ve got something out of it really. That’s the key I guess.
So I want to keep on digging into you and it’s interesting when we were talking about your Strengthsfinder results as well and we were looking at Developer, an ability to really get the best out of other people and an interest in other people. Empathy is one of your top talent themes as well so this kind of innate ability to know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Positivity, that doesn’t surprise me at all and Adaptability, the ability to be in the moment and cope with whatever gets kicked at you so as a journalist and broadcaster, they sound like pretty useful strengths.
Yes I think so and I do think that good journalists, it can be an instinct in terms of you know a great story or you hear something and your antennae immediately goes up and you think Cor, that’s a good line or that’s a good story, so there is that element to it as well. So you’re absolutely right because you can be thrown into any situation at any time. I’ve been forced out into what used to be BBC News 24 and is now BBC News Camera Live and events going on and people back in the studio probably know more about it than you do because you are standing in front of the camera telling people back home about what’s going on and you’ve got to be able to adapt then and by the same token, any sort of area in broadcasting and news, things happen and that’s what makes it such an exciting field to be in and there’s no state secrets here, we’ll go and Google something as a journalist and see what the latest line is on something or what’s happening and of course, nowadays with all the technology we’ve got, social media and stuff, things are happening all the time. Certainly in general news and current affairs you’ve got to be able to do that, you’ve got to be able to adapt, be able to seem quite calm and serene whereas you are actually anything but in that scenario. I think with people as well, a lot of the best things in terms of doing interviews, you’ve got to be a good listener, that’s essential. I think there’s nothing worse, and I say this all the time to people doing the training, don’t go in with 4 or 5 prescribed questions and just go 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. You’ve got to listen to what people say. You’ve got to be able to pick up on stuff and go that’s interesting, it’s a conversation. So you’ve got to be able to do that. Empathy, definitely I think because you are thrown into all sorts of situations, I mean everything from having to do stories which have been set up for us, for example, one of the most heart rending in a way was going literally hours after a young lad had died on the roads because we were doing a series of features in part of the East Midlands where there had been quite a lot of deaths in road accidents and this had been set up by the police so they had obviously invited us in, they weren’t just knocking on the door. So I’ve had to do that as well where you knock on the door which is never great. But it I just didn’t want to be there as there was this poor family who were in absolute bits as you can imagine only having hours before lost a very dear member of the family and also the technology is better now but even then it takes a while for the cameraman to set up and having to talk to them and that takes some doing really. I’m not bigging myself up really but you are thrown in to so many different situations and also you want to get the best out of people as well. A lot of the time people are a bit nervous. If it’s a politician or somebody to be shot at, shoot away at them, I’m more than happy to do that as that’s right but it depends on what you are doing. In other situations you need to relax somebody, you need to talk to them and actually it’s a real skill if you can do that and they don’t even realise, I mean they know they are going to be recorded but they are talking already and they are switched on. You will get a far better interview by doing that than by making them feel really interrogated or feeling really tight.
You mentioned getting the best out of other people, what about getting the best out of you? You’ve learned loads over the years about how to get the best out of yourself.
Well caffeine is always a good start first thing in the morning and I’m getting a bit low at the moment actually! Do you know, I’m not sure. I think I get a real buzz out of working with people, I like the variety of working with other people. I like to be busy, I know that might sound strange but I think that’s part of, and certainly when you start as a freelancer that can be up and down, as long as I’ve got something to be focussed on, the journalist in me having a deadline, journalists can be great prevaricators as well and put something off to the last minute till they know it’s got to be done for that particular time. I like to be busy, I like to feel that I’m involved in something interesting that gets me going and I think that’s it, and I think it’s the variety as well that I enjoy now. Not that I didn’t have the variety in my journalist job before at the BBC, but now because I’m doing different things and it’s for me and I think there’s an element of real satisfaction, realising that you’ve got something of value to other people because you’ve never had to analyse stuff before and that’s been something that’s been really interesting to me, we’ve mentioned part of what I do in media training and stuff, but when you breakdown what you’ve done, obviously instinctively for years, like going out and asking questions of people, making films, whatever, why you do that and why that works and that’s quite an interesting process and it is for me as I’ve never had to do that before and I think when you work for yourself there’s a lot of that kind of self analysis and obviously looking at things that people are going to be interested in and want to book you for. It’s opened up huge areas that I never would have delved into before in terms of the way I think or the way I approach things and certainly it’s a good motivator when you’re working for yourself as well because you haven’t got that safety net of the salary coming in on the 15th of every month and you know you’ve hopefully got the backing of an organisation behind you and stuff, it’s all down to you.
It’s the ultimate in performance related pay.
Yes, absolutely, that’s a very good way of putting it, it really is.
And one thing, in totally different industries, similar to you I spent 20 years working for large corporates and then left to set up on my own. I almost wish everybody could have a bit of time freelances or running their own business because you learn so much more quickly about yourself and just about the value of what you offer.
Absolutely, and the great thing with what I’ve been able to do over the years, I’ve been able to get into people’s lives and get into really interesting scenarios and stuff as part of my job which was fascinating in all sorts of shapes and forms but now I really realise what it’s like almost to work for a living. That sounds facetious and I don’t mean it like that but when it’s down to you and if we think now how much of our economy is down to small businesses and people and entrepreneurs and things, that I probably wouldn’t have given much of a thought to to be honest before unless I was doing a story about it, it wouldn’t be something that was on my radar, it would be very distant. But actually being in a really really creative place like Manchester and the North West, I think there is so much going on and I think that’s another thing that’s a real buzz as well. You get to meet and work with people who have that same kind of creativity and drive and that helps.
And again, that’s why it’s nice to be in On the 7th at Media City today because that gives the feeling of a real buzz.
So Andy, can we just talk a bit about what gets you out of bed in the morning and particularly big picture. What difference do you want to make on this world, what is it that drives you?
Well do you know, it’s quite funny, I don’t have any great ambition really other than to really enjoy life and to make a success of what I’m doing because everything has come quite late in a sense because personally I’ve been married 3 times, Jay and I have been married 5 years I think, and life is really good and I don’t mean I’m awash with money or materially in that sense because that has never really driven me and I don’t think there can be many journalists who can be driven by money because it’s never been a massively remunerated, I mean it’s a fantastic career and obviously the top few percent, but in generally it’s a massively interesting and very very satisfying career, so I’ve never really been motivated by money and I don’t drive a flash car or anything like that. We live in a 3 bedroom house in Chorlton which is lovely in South Manchester, but I think because I’ve got an element now of real contentment in my life which I’ve not had before and that doesn’t mean I’m resting on my laurels and certainly not with what I’m doing now because that motivates me all the time, it’s that I think I’ve been re-invigorated by taking the steps that I’ve taken to set up my own business, I think I’ve got a really great base with a really loving and caring relationship, two great brothers, live in a great part of Manchester, so really everything is in place and I don’t aspire to needing to own a bigger house because I don’t need a bigger house, a better car at some point might be OK but I’m not a petrol head or anything like that, so in terms of all those things, life is pretty sweet really. We’ve got a fantastic dog, we’ve got chickens, we’ve got a bit of the Good Life going on, I’m a very keen gardener so grow quite a lot of fruit and veg and stuff so that is something that is my therapy really because every year something will grow well, something won’t grow well but you know you are in rhythm with the seasons and all that sort of stuff and I’ve always been, from a very young child, quite an outdoor sort of person. I remember, and this is going to show my age, getting the Ladybird books, the Garden Bird books as a very small child and I used to play a lot of sport when I was younger and that sort of thing so that’s always been important to me. So all those sort of building blocks are now in place whereas before it was all a bit jumbled and could be a bit messy. So that’s really it but that’s brilliant and I can build on that, but I don’t want to rule the world or have a private jet, it doesn’t really interest me, it’s enjoying life as it is now and looking forward which I can do now to a really good life with Jay and what we are doing.
So without wanting to put words into your mouth, happiness seems to be the theme there. You talked about contentment as well.
Definitely, without a doubt. I turned 50 on January 1st and I’m not a big one on ages and stuff but it kind of gave me a bit of a reflection I think, but I think now, hand on heart, I’m happier now than at any time I can really remember in terms of consistently happy because I’ve suffered for many years from depression and a couple of times have been very ill with it and had breakdowns and things like that and I think that now, because life is so good and the ???? to contentment is consistent but that’s a real boon to me and I can feel settled where I am and as I say, all the building blocks are in place, great relationship and very happy in what I’m doing and the fact that it drives me on because I suppose one of the things as a freelancer, you’ve always got that nagging doubt, in moments when it’s a big quiet then or I need to get something in for then, and that’s no bad thing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong in having that motivation, or the nerves or whatever, that’s quite a good thing and I’m sure top sportsmen and people have said the same, they need to have that feeling, they’ve got to perform. So that’s good and I’m not looking to hit a certain target or earn a certain amount of money, it’s just not the person I am now. Whether, if I had set up on my own earlier, it might have been different but I think I’m intrinsically a people person, relationships with people and the fascination of people have always kind of been more important to me than the more materialistic areas of life really so yes, in a really good place.
And it comes across and knowing you already, I think I can see that. I want to ask about your mindset. What’s it like to be Andy, what’s it like to be in Andy’s head?
Oh gosh! Like some sort of kaleidoscopic washing machine on a spin cycle a lot of the time! I have a lot of things going on. I find it very difficult to relax, I’ll be honest. That’s partly a side effect of the depression and things as well, that slight (which is a good thing) sort of paranoid, I’ve got to do better there or got to keep things coming in and keep all the plates spinning I suppose is the easy analogy. Quite a lot of whizzing around sometimes and I struggle to maybe set things out in boxes and think I’m tackling that first then I’ll tackle that. If there’s something in front of me, all journalists work to deadlines, we are a deadline breed, as a journalist you can’t miss, on pain of death almost, a deadline because it’s not called the 10.10 news, it’s called the news at 10 for obvious reasons so you’ve got to hit those deadlines and the same with when I worked in the press. So I think when you’ve got something to focus on, I’m very good. If there is quite a bit going on then sometimes I think I might grasp a bit of that and then a bit of that and I wouldn’t say that is a fault, it’s just something that I’m aware of and I think certainly when you are your own boss, I could probably do with being a bit more organised. I’m not too sure how I’m going to do it yet, I’m still working on that folks! So it’s quite busy in my head really, there’s quite a lot going on but I don’t think I get too stressed about it, there’s a lot pinging around in there, like the old ping pong balls bouncing off the walls sort of thing, but as long as I know that’s on tomorrow, I’ve got to deal with that, I tend to be quite focussed when I know I’m honing in on that and giving it my attention.
So what do you do for downtime? How do you manage to switch off your head, what do you do to relax?
As I was saying my big thing now, I used to play a lot of sport but I basically had a really bad ankle injury years ago playing football which has meant that I’ve lost count, maths is never my strong point, 11 or 12 operations and a new ankle joint fitted 5 years ago and more surgery in February so quite honestly sometimes I struggle to walk which is something that really bugs me as I still think I could score the winning goal for United, and I probably could but that’s probably another podcast altogether! I can’t run anymore so things like, I used to play a lot of football before, 5-a-side football, I can’t do that, so walking the dog, and this is going to sound like some episode of Last of the Summer Wine or something, but that to me is a tremendous mental and physical boost and I know you’re a dog owner so I know you will recognise that as well, and just that getting out, that time in the morning, bit of time to think about things, even with me to be perfectly honest I can hear the birdsong and think oh there’s a bullfinch over there and this time of year there’s a lot of summer visiting birds coming back again and I’m kind of into all that without being a really serious twitcher, always been interested in all that. So just taking him out for a walk, clearing your head, just enjoying that and I can get quite excited by seeing a certain kind of bird or hearing, or a flower, I’m quite in tune with all that sort of thing and that’s always been big for me. As I say, the gardening thing is huge. I grow a lot of tomatoes, fruit, veg, whatever else. Actually when I was away for a bit, I come back and I left my wife in charge (poor thing) of watering the plants and I’m a bit like, are they watered? And the tomatoes haven’t been watered this morning and sorry for how this may sound folks but that to me was a big thing and all the chickens in the garden, so I’m quite a homebody now because we’ve got all that there and I exclude myself out in the garden, I probably have the football on, if it’s the weekend I have the radio on, or probably not this season with United, but anyway we’ll sort of gloss over that, but yes, so that sort of stuff and my music, film, but gardening would be the main thing now and as I say walking the dog and chilling out with Jay really, that’s really nice.
I’m so with you on the walking the dog one as you said. I’ve tried meditation and mindfulness because I have a lot going on in my head in a really positive way, I’m always buzzing with ideas but for me my biggest downtime is getting out into Happy Valley with the dog, chilling out completely, leaving my phone at home or leaving it switched onto silent and then just watching the birdlife or listening to the sound of the running water and that’s my kind of mindfulness and it’s great.
Absolutely and I think the other thing I’m learning because it’s quite strange when you’ve worked for other people all that time, that kind of office mentality is almost drummed into you in a way and there is that lovely freedom now where, obviously you are working and stuff, but if you’ve got a day when you’ve got nothing on, then it doesn’t matter necessarily, it’s like you can have a bit of downtime and you’re in charge of it and it’s not like you’ve got to be back in the office in half an hour or in 5 minutes I’ve got to back behind my computer, and even now, that’s quite a glorious revelation to me really and I’m still getting used to that because I do think we get conditioned to how we live and how we work and that kind of downtime, I mean I’ve got some great friends, a great friend of mine who is a freelance cameraman so we meet up for a coffee quite regularly and have a good chinwag, and having that kind of freedom is such a huge boon as well when you are working for yourself, it really good so yes, I’m with you on that, I think you’ve got to take time. It doesn’t matter where you work, you need to take time doing something you like, get away from it and I think you’re right, I’m getting worse and worse, I didn’t used to be, but switch the phone off, don’t be looking at the screen all the time, talk to somebody for goodness sake as well, or have a conversation because I think we are losing the art of that in a way because we communicate so much by phone and tablet nowadays and computer but yes, big advocate of that, get away from things, get some relaxation because you come back feeling refreshed and you can look at something differently can’t you, because life is pressured and stressful and stuff intrinsically, you do need to give yourself some time.
That perspective shift can be powerful sometimes, when you just come back into something and look at it from a different positon.
Yes, although I have thought, I haven’t had time to do it which is the ultimate contradiction in terms, that meditation might be a good thing for me and it’s been recommended to me, and of course living in Chorlton where it’s almost the law that you go meditating as long as you carry a copy of the Guardian with you at all times as well! Yes, so that would be something I would like to try I think and I think would be quite good for me as well.
I can put you in touch with some people that can help and that can be really powerful for some people.
You talked a minute ago about the art of conversation and how a mate of yours, the cameraman, and you meet up for a coffee which brings us neatly onto support networks. What is your support network like of people that you can bounce off and spend time with and look out for each other?
Very good actually, I’m very lucky. For a start and most importantly at home, Jay and I chat through things all the time and she’s in the process of setting up her own business so that will be great. She is a very talented maker of clothes and whatever and she’s a nanny at the moment and so she’s got a ready-made audience as she’s making clothes for infants from 0-6 years out of Liberty fabric and I think that’s going to be great, or I’m hoping it’s going to be great as I’m going to be a kept man, so there’s no pressure on her at all, as long as I can retire in a couple of years that’s fine! I’m in the middle of 3 boys, I say boys but we’re all getting on a bit now, but they are great I mean when I’ve had my real downtimes, they’ve been there for me straightaway. In fact I was with my older brother in London earlier on this week and yes, a good network of friends really and all those people are people who I can, if needs be, just go and have a beer or a coffee or a bit of fun with as well, it’s not all confessional time, it’s just having those people you can just relax with which I think is really important and switch off and just have fun.
What about your work support network, what’s that like?
Well, that’s funny as because I’m a one man band, I think the only, I don’t think it’s a downside, but it can be and it certainly was when I started off, can be quite isolating when you work for yourself I think initially because when I am around, which isn’t often, my office is just the third bedroom at home which is fine because I can go into clients’ places and hotdesk there or whatever or because everything is so mobile now, you’ve got everything on a phone or a computer. But I think that physical interaction sometimes, bouncing an idea of somebody in the room or going up to somebody and saying how about this or what do you think about this, but with the modern world as it is, the social media support network is there. Certainly I’ve found and I’ve found absolutely essential and have been fantastic as well, has been the time that people will give you, people that I’ve met, as is the modern world now, you tend to hook up with people on something like Twitter first and then physically meet them once you’ve made that connection, and there are so many people that I’ve had help from, advice from or eIntro’s from, or just going out for a cup of coffee with someone, no more than yet and that’s not to be under-estimated, I’m very much into all that, that time of actually meeting somebody face to face and I think initially I fell into the trap like a lot of people did of “Got to get something out of this” and you think, no you’ve got to be yourself, relax, chat to somebody and get to know people and organically things may or may not happen but you’ve not lost anything by meeting somebody and I found the generosity of people in the North West in the creative world and beyond actually, has been fantastic because they’ve recommended other people or they’ve introduced me to people and that’s how things have grown and I think that’s how people build relationships now and it does take time and it’s not going to happen straight away but people have been absolutely fantastic with their time and thoughts and as I say, maybe opened their contacts book if that’s been the context of the conversation. And that’s all there as well so it’s great really, it’s almost like an invisible support net isn’t it, social media, it can be I think and that’s one of the very positive things about it.
Like you, I’m a big fan of strategic lattes and just getting out there and having coffees with people, not for any hidden agenda, for the sake of getting to know them but we had a conversation offline about support network because I know we were both in the same position of coming from large corporates where your support network is all around you but when you set up and work for your own, you’ve got to create it.
Yes that’s it, you have. It’s a strange thing when you work for any big organisation and obviously mine was the BBC, yes you’re right, it’s all there although strangely enough, going off at a bit of a tangent, I did feel with the politics at the BBC and the way things have changed, that wasn’t there as much towards the end in general and I’ve spoken to quite a lot of people about that and I think that maybe that’s where the organisation has changed. But yes, you’re right, things are there, things are in place, and yes, you do have to, yes you are on your own, create that, but the lucky thing or the great thing is that people are there. If you reach out to them, you are yourself, then I’ve found people have been very generous in return and that’s the support networks out there in the modern world now, so the combination of family, friends and people who have become friends through social media, it’s there you just have to seek it out. But also I think the important thing is that you can help them, even if it’s just you having a chat with them and you say “Well what do you think about talking to so and so”, it’s there, it’s a two-way thing I think and hopefully I’ve been able to give as much as I’ve got out of it really.
So final few questions are just to get you to reflect about what advice you would give to somebody in a corporate environment as they prepare to go freelance and work for themselves?
Be yourself, don’t try and be what you think other people want you to be because I think there is a danger sometimes that you could go to a networking event if you like and just hand out business cards like confetti and expect there to be a huge return straight away. It just doesn’t work like that. Pick and choose which networking things you go to. I think it’s very important, the word itself has some kind of stigma around it I think and basically it’s just meeting people and having a chat with people isn’t it, it’s more or less than that really but I think what I did was I didn’t actually target events that I went to and I went to quite a lot and some of which weren’t worth me going to and you do realise that through a process of elimination. Talk to people, just get out and meet and talk to people, have those, as you say, strategic lattes, with people. That’s the brilliant thing about we are so connected these days as well and people have been very generous with their thoughts, so get out there and talk to them. Think about what you want to offer. I think that maybe initially when I started off, my spectrum was too wide and I just thought well, I’ve done this sort of stuff at the BBC, people are going to come flocking to me, it doesn’t work like that. You have to re-establish yourself, you have to be offering something that obviously people want as well and think about where you are going to achieve your customer base as well. But my principal one would be to be yourself. Don’t put on an act, don’t think that you’ve got to be somebody else. Be yourself and things tend to grow pretty organically from that.
I agree wholeheartedly with that. What advice would you give to somebody maybe really early on in their career or students who are hoping to get into journalism or media?
Well this will be no great surprise that it’s incredibly difficult now. I’ve done and still do bits of lecturing up at Salford and I’ve done some this year at UCLAN in Preston and it’s like anything else, if you really really want it, go for it but you are going to have to fight tooth and nail now because it is so competitive. It is quite dog eat dog and you will get rejections and you will feel, why am I doing this? But if you want it enough, go for it and the good thing is that at least now, although it’s not easy to get in, we have got places like Media City on our doorstep in the North West whereas beforehand you had to traipse down to London and get to see people. There are people here now. It might not be easy to see them but don’t give up, don’t start stalking people and getting yourself into trouble but you’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to be determined and if it’s something you desperately want to do, keep at it because the chances are very slim, it’s difficult but if it’s what really drives you on, go for it and if I can help people then I’ll help them.
And final bit of advice question, is if you could go back and speak to your younger self. So you’ve mentioned how old you are, go back 30 years, speak to 20 year old Andy Johnson, what do you wish you’d known then, what would you say to yourself?
Don’t rush into getting married might be one of them! Not that I ever did rush folks but that’s another podcast altogether! You know that’s a really good question. I think I would say, try and find contentment in your life, without trying to sound like some sort of Maharishi sitting on a hill somewhere in Cheshire. Yes, try and find contentment, value the people that you love and just try and enjoy life really because I don’t know how many business statements I can give out to people really, it’s about yourself, it’s about finding that contentment within yourself and once you find that, I think things tend to flow from that as well really and I wish I’d not got involved in that tackle in 5-a-side in 1989, which wasn’t my fault folks, I was cropped! So that would be the one thing that I really would wish I could go back and change but other than that, yes, be yourself, love the people that you love and make sure they know you love them because life is quite short and what have you and find that contentment in your life because if you get that, you’ve got it sussed I think.
Brilliant, so if people want to connect with you and find you online, where can they find you, where do you hang out?
Brilliant, Andy Johnson, just to say thank you so much for being open, honest and just sharing your reflections and it’s been really great to be with you this morning.
It’s been a blast Ian, thank you very much.
And it’s been the easiest person I’ve interviewed as I’m interviewing someone who is a professional journalist and broadcaster so…
Yes, I can waffle on folks, I can talk. You’re going to regret this with about 5 hours of editing to do now but never mind. It’s been a pleasure.