International Women’s Podcast Festival founder says her first event almost led to bankruptcy

“I don't want to ever lose that much money again,” says Imriel Morgan

Imriel Morgan, founder of the first International Women’s Podcast Festival, says that the first podcast event she launched almost caused her company - podcast network ShoutOut - to go into bankruptcy. 

“It was a tremendous success in every conceivable way except financially,” said Morgan on the latest episode of PodPod. “We lost so much money to the point where we might've had to declare bankruptcy for the company.”

“It was like 20 grand, which for a lot of businesses and brands is not a lot, but for us, we were making no money. I was working part-time in a social media job. My partner's working part-time in a social media job. We borrowed money from friends and family. So to lose their money, all of our savings… Everything we had went into that company and went into that festival, so to lose it was a huge, huge, huge blow.”

The event, which took place in 2017, was ShoutOut’s first ever podcast festival, which brought together and gave representation to people of colour across the UK podcasting industry. Morgan co-founded the network in 2015 to provide a space for inclusive voices and took the role of managing director until she left in 2019. While the festival was popular, with around 800 people in attendance, it failed to generate enough revenue to cover its expenses.

“We got a lot of love and adulation but nothing really translated into pounds and pence in the bank. I don't want to ever lose that much money again,” she said. 

“We were very new to event planning, festival making, everything like that, and so we went in very blindly, and there were consequences for that… It was a huge learning opportunity and a huge moment of reckoning for me - and we're never going to do that again because it's just too risky for us.”

After leaving the ShoutOut Network, Morgan founded Content Is Queen, a podcast community and production company, in 2020. The company is behind the International Women’s Podcast Festival, which first launched in 2022 after a successful debut in the UK. 

Learning from past mistakes, Morgan funded the Women’s Podcast Festival through sponsorships with other companies and podcast platforms, rather than independently. Acast was the first UK lead partner and first sponsor of the festival, as well as Pinterest which was the event’s global lead partner. Other podcast platforms that have participated include Global, via its digital advertising exchange (DAX), and Spotify. 

This year, however, the International Women’s Podcast Festival had to be postponed due to lack of sponsorship. The announcement of this was made in May this year ahead of The Podcast Show, but Morgan said she knew it wasn’t going to happen as early as February.

“The writing was on the wall that there was already going to be shifting in budgets, and people were choosing to allocate their funding to other events and activities for that year,” said Morgan. “They explicitly told me that they had given their budget to another event.”

“We knew that from last year it was an uphill battle and then this year those conversations kind of went in a similar direction of ‘we just don't have the budget for this’ and it's like, that's interesting, because I then went to the events that they did invest in, and it was like watching burning money - so it was very frustrating and definitely a bit of a slap in the face.” 

Following the announcement, Morgan gave a presentation at The Podcast Show with UKAN talking about phase two of the Equality in Audio Pact, which focuses on taking actions to improve diversity rather than just setting goals, and released an open letter to the industry asking companies to ‘say less, and do more’ when it comes to being more inclusive.

“Our guiding principle at Content is Queen is inclusion is a process, not an outcome, and your participation is essential,” said Morgan. “I am not a perfect DEI person, our company is not perfect and I'm saying that as someone that's on the front lines and could be called out at any moment just like any of these other organisations.”

“We have to just go through the motions, so someone is going to be missing from the room, but someone also needs to recognise that someone is missing from the room. The reality is we need the producers and the behind-the-scenes part of the audio industry to be just as representative and as inclusive as who's in front of those mics and on the cover of artwork and who's popping up on the billboards.”