Katie Philo is a Londoner who turned her dream of moving to New York into a reality. But before that, she worked many different jobs in organizations big and small until she was sure of what she wanted to pursue –– digital media. Now, she’s the Social and Content Manager for Britbox, and host of her very own podcast, When I Grow Up. For a great story about a woman who has truly chased her dreams, read on!
Hello! Can you tell me a bit about who you are and what you were doing before this?
Of course! I’m Katie Philo, and I’m currently the Social and Content Manager for BritBox, which is a streaming service in the US and Canada. We like to think of ourselves as a smaller Netflix, but just for British TV. It’s a joint venture between the BBC and ITV. That’s really how I got into this role, because I had been working at the BBC in London for approximately 4 years, and the BBC is a huge company-- it’s the biggest broadcaster in the UK with a global reputation. It meant I had many opportunities to move around and work in predominantly digital content from Dancing With The Stars, to Radio 2, to BBC One, I worked on every single platform and channel you can imagine. That’s the beauty of a big company and set me up perfectly for my role here in New York at BritBox.
In your current role, are you behind the camera, editing the footage, or controlling the social accounts? What does your job entail?
Back at the BBC in London, and it’s the nature of any big company, we had big departments for everything - filming, editing, creative, social media, customer service, email and so on. That’s always the way I was used to working. So, in my previous jobs, I was very much executing in silo with a very clear set of responsibilities. Whereas at BritBox, because we are essentially a startup and small by comparison, my role is actually very diverse and spans many different disciplines. This is something that’s really interesting about digital roles and skill sets: it’s many different jobs in one -- especially in the context of a small team.
So in answer to your question, my current role has many different components. I’m running campaigns start to finish. I’m the owner and executor of the content strategy across all our digital platforms (predominantly Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube). And that’s in two territories, the US and Canada. I am essentially originating content tailored for each of those platforms for a busy programming slate of new and old shows. A huge part of my role is knowing the audience and what they like to consume, then feeding this into creative requirements. If we have a shoot coming up, I’ll be the person that comes up with ideas, questions to ask talent, fun social executions, devising the running order, all that kind of stuff. I also publish across all platforms, produce creative briefs, engage the community daily, and report on performance to fuel future creative decisions.
Elements of my past experience are invaluable, but there are lots of new things I’ve had to learn, such as managing budgets, paid social, reporting, and thinking about subscriber acquisition. And then also how I manage the community, communicate with them, and innovate in different spaces. To be in digital and in this kind of role, you have to be used to picking up new skills constantly, moving, and being agile, because it really is ever-changing.
You do so many things! Is one of them your favorite?
Sometimes, with jobs, our egos can get in the way. My ego would scream “I’m a creative, so if it’s not creative I’m not doing it!” I learned how to film and edit while working on Dancing with the Stars, and I love making stuff--that is where I thrive. In my job at BritBox, I wear many different hats and it’s hard to take on responsibilities that don’t come naturally. For example, building reports and analytics dashboards is something that I would not have considered a strength or something I enjoy. But if you’re constantly leaning in to the stuff you’re really good at, you’re not growing. I’ve really tried to reposition the way I think about less desirable tasks. In the case of numbers and reporting, I’m learning how building reports and delving into analytics can better inform my creative process. So, while I’d say content and creative is my main love, I’m trying to fall in love with areas of the job that don’t necessarily sit with my skills.
You were working with the BBC on two of their channels, but now you’re in New York. Is Britbox the reason you moved?
It’s an interesting story because I’m such a hustler. When I know I want something, I’m pretty single minded and won’t stop until I get it. So, for me, New York was where I’ve always wanted to move. This was pretty much informed by a career exchange that I had taken part of quite soon after I had graduated, around 2013. I moved to New York and I was working on a Reuters video platform. It was an amazing experience but it was just too short -- one year.
I’d always had this, again, single-minded ambition to work at the BBC, so I was quite content to return home to do this. In my mind, I always knew New York was somewhere I wanted to end up. Anyone trying to move to another country knows how tricky it is: to get a visa, the right opportunity, and then uproot your entire life. But because I knew that was what I wanted, in 2017 I made the decision to go freelance at the BBC, so I had more flexibility to pursue New York as a real option. It wasn’t obvious how I was going to do it, though, seeing as I was working at a distinctly British company -- the British Broadcasting Corporation!
I made it my make or break year. I booked a trip for three weeks to New York. I set up a meeting with every single person I knew and went in with my resume. It just so happened I’d emailed the President of BBC Worldwide in the Americas, Ann Sarnoff. She was very gracious and gave me a half an hour of her time. I was rather British, bumbling around and not getting straight to the point about why I wanted this meeting. She cut straight to it and was like, “Do you want a job here?” Obviously I said, “Yes, I do!!”
Britbox was in its infancy and they were in the process of building the team. It just so happened they needed a Brit with my skill set and someone who knew the content really well. It genuinely was a case of the right time and right place. I really believe you can’t just expect things to come to you. It took a long time –– I didn’t believe it was going to happen at times, but I finally achieved my dream of coming back to New York.
How does your visa work in relation to this job? Is there a time limit or is it permanent?
I think it’s a question that every British person I know here gets asked “When are you coming home?!” It’s a really tricky one to answer, because you’re torn: your friends and family are at home and opportunities in London could be vaster purely because you don’t have visa restrictions. One of the reasons I wanted to come to New York is that I feel there is something about American culture where anything is possible.
I recently heard Jameela Jamil talking about this on Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete Podcast. She moved from being a presenter on BBC Radio 1 in London to pursuing an acting career in LA. I’m paraphrasing here, but she talked about how Americans are so embracing of people with ambition, drive, and who crave opportunity. They are open to the idea of people having several strings to their bow...I really agree with her. It’s common to be a multi-hyphenate here. To me, New York represents opportunity. I’ve done things I would’ve never done in London and I feel so inspired by the sense of possibility here. When it comes to moving home, I’m someone who forward-plans too much but I’m trying to learn to just feel my way through it and embrace the uncertainty. I think I will naturally know when and if the time is right to return to Blighty, or commit to staying longer term.
Would you say New York lived up to your expectations?
I call it a life bootcamp because I think--and everyone says to me--New York is a hard place to live, even for Americans. It forces you to confront a lot of tricky situations on a personal and professional level. Professionally speaking, there’s a level of rigor and commercialism that I wasn’t used to having come from the public sector...corporate America is really hard, but I can recognize it’s been good for me too! And on a personal level, I’ve moved three times and don’t feel fully rooted here. I also don’t have the kind of network I had in London, but I think it’s made me more independent and resilient, and that’s not a bad thing. Being away gives you a new perspective on yourself and life, and I am incredibly glad I’ve done it.
Switching over to your podcast When I Grow Up, when and how did that start?
I’ve always been someone who talks about doing something but never actually does it. When it comes to the media as an industry, we often wait for permission to create. I’ve definitely always been that person and seen my job as the means to facilitate my creative ambition. And I suddenly realized, “Well, actually, the internet and especially podcasting is such a democratic thing...anyone can do it.” I stopped making excuses for myself. I just said, “I’m going to do this.”
I made a resolution in 2017 to start this podcast. It took me a year and moving to New York to actually do it. But I definitely credit the move to New York with being the thing that got me going. A big obstacle was that I was worried about what people were going to think. Putting a podcast and, essentially, a part of yourself out into the world for people to consume and have an opinion about is terrifying. For me, that’s something that I really struggled with. So, this is one of the reasons--on a personal level--that I wanted to do it. It was also fulfilling creatively and it was scratching an itch that I couldn’t expect my job to. So, I decided on a name, I booked my first guest, and I rolled with it.
There’s a great Ira Glass quote which I love where he talks about how you have to be prepared to be bad before you can get good. Often people want the end result to be perfect. I’m one of those people. I really had to relinquish this idea of perfection and be prepared to put out things where the quality might not be great, or I might stumble on words, or say “um” far too many times. But I think the sense of accomplishment that you get from it, the sense of satisfaction, is worth it. And if you’re learning, then it’s okay to make mistakes.
What is the podcast about?
The premise is ultimately something that I think all millennials struggle with...this idea of having endless opportunities, but not knowing exactly what your purpose is or if there’s even such a thing as having a ‘calling’. We’re all comparing ourselves constantly. You could look at a LinkedIn profile and think, “Oh, this person that graduated with me has got everything set,” but you don’t really know what’s going on behind the scenes. For me personally, my career has changed, I’ve moved around a lot, I’ve tried lots of different things. And now, I’ve really started to embrace this journey of self-discovery and want my podcast to help other people to do the same.
It’s quite therapeutic talking to other people, learning about their mistakes, how they’ve learned to fail, and the many different threads that have come together to make their career -- which is often not just a simple linear success story.
How did you choose your first guest?
So, when I started thinking about who I wanted to interview, I started from a point of “Who do I know,” “Who has an interesting story?” or “Who do I know who would be open to talking honestly about their experiences?” My first guest actually was a famous presenter in the UK called Jeremy Vine. He was a contestant on Dancing With the Stars when I worked on it, and I was always really struck by how gracious and fun he was.
He’s someone I would be 100% intimidated by in any other situation, but because I was working with him, we developed a really good professional relationship. When it came to me asking, I thought, “Well, there’s no way he would consider doing my podcast.” But I DM’d him on Twitter and he was in! He downloaded Skype and learned how to use it for the interview. He was the perfect first interviewee. When it came to choosing future guests, I started with a name that I knew everyone would know, at least in the UK, and then I followed my interests. I took note of people I followed on Instagram or who I think are interesting or who I’d like to speak to, and just started contacting them. The next one was Lucie Fink who works for Refinery29. I also interviewed Man Repeller’s Haley Nahman after so many of her pieces resonated with me, especially those about moving from HR in San Francisco to writing in New York. The thing I’ve found with getting guests is, generally speaking, people are so gracious and generous with their time and usually understand the value of putting their story out there.
That’s great! How do you balance doing the podcast and your work at Britbox?
That’s something that I think anyone who has a side hustle or has lots of ambition struggles with: time management. It’s really easy to spend your entire weekend or evening doing your side project and neglecting a certain part of your life. For me, in the beginning at least, the podcast took a lot of time because I was learning from scratch how to edit, record, market, interview, research…it got to a point where I almost felt like I wasn’t living my life because I was going to my day job and then I was working for three hours in the evening on the podcast.
At one point I realized the pressure was self-imposed. I’m doing this for the love of it, and the moment it starts to become or feel like a chore, I shouldn’t be doing it anymore. So I took a step back and said, “Well, so who cares if I have a month off, or if I just release an episode every two or three weeks?” I released six episodes weekly and then I started to release them as I went, and it became so much more of a passion project again because it injected the fun back into it. If I had a weekly release schedule and sponsors relying on me, of course it would be different. But for now, it’s homegrown and a hobby, and I do it when I have time.
If you ever find yourself struggling to balance time between passion projects and work, I think it’s important to remember why you're doing it in the first place, not to put yourself under unnecessary pressure and to never sacrifice your personal life.
Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you’re explaining to your ten-year-old self.
Thank you so much, Katie! It was such a pleasure to speak, and truly inspiring to learn about your journey. Readers –– come back next week for an truly useful How-To from Katie Philo herself.