Why your company should be more like Brian Wilson
Running a business is hard but I truly believe that every agency should try to be a little bit more like Beach Boys’ leader Brian Wilson.
And by that I don’t mean gubbing a handful of LSD. I mean the chain of tough, calculated decisions he made in the lead up to creating (in my opinion) the greatest album of all time ‘Pet Sounds’. When running a business you need a ‘is what I’m building any good?’ barometer to judge your actions and choices against. ‘What does good look like?’. It’s different for different people. So many people love Steve Jobs. Jo Malone. The fella from Patagonia. Or that creepy Bezos guy. But for me it’s Brian Wilson and here are a few reasons why I’ve used him as a good barometer throughout building Studio Something
F*CK WITH THE FORMULA
The Beach Boys made hits. That’s what they did for a long time. They sang about love, cars and surfing. But Brian Wilson doesn’t surf. And he realised all his band were doing was making the same song over and over 10 times and calling it an album. He also looked across the pond at The Beatles and realised that they were making some revolutionary music. He realised his band had to up their game, adapt or die. Make a masterpiece. But not everyone got it, least of all his bandmate Mike Love;
“Don’t fuck with the formula, man”
Whether or not he actually said those words is up for debate, but the point stands that he was favouring quick money over the long term vision of the band. Our boy Brian didn’t care what Mike Love thought and we didn’t care what the industry thought when we quit our jobs and set up our own thing.
This tension point is a similar reason Jordan and I left our old job at a ‘classic agency’. We could see that they were making their money from 30 second TV ads, and we knew our mates in their early twenties weren’t really watching the stuff the agency was making. It was like how B-ri was forced to write songs about surfing but he didn’t even surf. We also saw the rise of the consultancy boom moving into the marketing industry. So we realised there was only value in a company that could both come up with the ideas and make them.
We decided to set up a wee company like no other. Against all the Mike Love’s in the industry telling us not to.
FIND YOUR OWN WRECKIN’ CREW
So Wilson had his vision for what he wanted to make but the rest of the band were touring their songs about cars and surfing and cars. So he realised he had to get a band together, sessions musicians. A lot of them.
It doesn’t take one person to make a masterpiece and it sure helps if the people you get to help have worked with better people than yourself.
Wilson used The Wreckin’ Crew who had worked constantly with the best producer around at the time and future murderer Phil Spector. They’d also worked with Bob Dylan and numerous other bands. Wilson’s thinking was that their experience could only help him make the album way better than if it was just the Beach Boys playing everything.
This is exactly what we try to do at Studio Something. Instead of hiring loads of folk to impress Tories who see the success of our company as being equivalent to its size.
“How many people are in the agency now, old chap?” — the worst folk
We like to hire specialists and create bespoke teams to work on briefs. This means we are constantly learning from the best in the business. Our wee agency might never work with Adidas, or win an Oscar. But we can work with people who have. Because, we’ve found, a lot of the best talent in the industry don’t want to work for the same company all the time. So having a close network of specialists and collaborators really helps us be way better than we could ever be on our own. And sometimes the rest of the band is off touring the world…
TAKE A PUNT ON FOLK
One thing I admire about Brian Wilson is that he is ambitious as fuck but knows his limitations. He knew he could write tunes but he also know he wasn’t the best lyricist in the world. So for Pet Sounds, his aural masterpiece and his apex of creativity, obviously he hired an experienced writer similar to what he did with the Wreckin’ Crew, right?
He hired a young British advertising copywriter called Tony Asher who was more used to writing jingles than concept albums. Why? Because he didn’t want to be given the same old words that he always got. He knew working with Asher might be a challenge but that was the point — people deliver more when you give them a chance.
And that’s what we try and do with the company, whether it’s with our freelance network or our staff. We like to give people a chance, take a punt and empower people as much as we can. For instance, we created an animated cartoon series with exactly 0 of the team ever having created an animated cartoon series before. And you know what? It worked out just great.
AND FINALLY, REMEMBER IT’LL TAKE A WHILE FOR PEOPLE TO CATCH ON
It’s been 3 years since we started the company and nearly every month I come home to my wife and have a freak out saying I’ll just get a job at a RANDOM ACRONYMN agency or something.
That ‘it’s hard trying to do things your own way’
That ‘maybe I’m wrong and I’m ignorant and arrogant rather than smart and confident. Maybe I’m Mike Love and not B-ri!’
But then I remember my wee pal Brian and his masterpiece Pet Sounds because, guess what?
It did NOT sell well. Oh, and critics didn’t really like it either.
Mike Love was probably delighted. They could go back to the formula right? Not for Brian. He tried to make the sequel Smile but infighting in the band meant it was left unfinished until years later. The bastards.
But try to name me another Beach Boys album that isn’t Pet Sounds? Name me your favourite Beach Boys song. It’s on Pet Sounds. Look at contemporary music — it’s all been influenced by Pet Sounds.
And that’s what’s happening 3 years later with us. Our old agency just bought a corporate videos company so they can ‘make stuff’. Bigger agencies are realising they can’t compete with consultancies. And I believe creativity, agility and innovation are the things that will make agencies survive in this climate.
So — it might have taken us a wee while but will always try to building our company as a Pet Sounds Company than a Little Deuce Coup Company.
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Studio Something is a creative agency on a mission, a mission to create one of the best companies in the world, by making things people genuinely like. This is a year of learning for us, If you would like to tell us why we are wrong, how we can improve, what we are doing right or if you too want to go on this mission. emailus. tweet us. Get on our mailing list. Whatever, just say hello