Leading With Your Heart and Following the Numbers

Jill Yarberry-Laybourn Executive Features, Marketing & Sales Leave a Comment

It took a leap of faith to get to SB Projects but now CMO Brad Haugen and his marketing team are bringing a scientific and analytical approach to marketing in the entertainment industry

Editor’s Note: Brad has since moved on to a new position as Partner at ATTN: in Los Angeles. At the time of our interview, Brad was CMO for SB Projects and the article reflects his time in that role.

Once a young graduate starts on the career hamster wheel, the beauty in naivety and the wonder that lies in the possibilities is often replaced with stay inside the lines methodologies and cookie cutter processes. So, it is extremely refreshing to encounter someone who still sees the magic in the world along with the endless and fun opportunities it has to offer. Brad Haugen, Chief Marketing Officer of SB Projects, still has that Walt Disneyesque persona and philosophy; in fact, one of his favorite quotes is from Disney, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.” Haugen admits he “…never really wanted to do things necessarily by the book or because other people were doing them.” And Haugen was also wise enough to listen to his father’s sage advice, “if you know where you want to go, and if you trust your instincts, the path will form itself. …I have always tried to live by that.” And, just like Dorothy in the enchanted world of Oz, he has found the yellow brick road which lead to the magical city of L.A., the Wizard-Scooter Braun and his niche in the constantly changing entertainment industry.

While Haugen always knew that he wanted to have a career that was creative, advertising and marketing weren’t really on his radar. “I was focused on music, theater and literature. …I involved myself in as many creative jobs as I could.” One semester towards the end of his undergrad work, he took a six week advertising course that highlighted the connection between “art and business.” “I loved that connection.” He also found an interest in the ad agency lifestyle. “You kind of get caught up in that culture because it is kind of cool; there is a reason “Mad Men” has been so successful–that mythology around ad agency life.” He went on to pursue a master’s degree in business and marketing. “There was never this, oh I want to be in advertising, it was more I want to be creative and work with creative people.”

After college he worked for few renowned ad agencies like GSD&M and Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH). The fast-paced culture and the recession gave him a “trial by fire” experience where his team of three dwindled down to himself. “People left, and they didn’t fill their shoes.” The experience might have been less than ideal for some, but for Haugen, it afforded him opportunities to learn a great deal about the business, including the processes, structure and technology. Likewise, he learned that there is an art to leading creative people and that creative can come from anywhere in the company.

Thinking with His Heart

While the work pushed him to be forward thinking and continued to challenge him, Haugen realized that something big–something important–was missing from his life. “I knew I was always meant to do something interesting, big, different, and…” most importantly, “good!” After socially following his buddy Adam Braun, who had started Pencils of Promise to raise funds to build schools, Haugen had a revelation. “It was one of those things where you realize what you want to do in this world… It is important to have a focused career, but you should never do that at the expense of helping to make your world, …a better place, even if it is just making a handful of people smile. I feel grateful…”

Working with Pencils of Promise was just one of the ways that Haugen’s has honored his father’s rule of “thinking with your heart.” Haugen chased his heart straight out of a paying job into working for free at SB Projects, a “diversified entertainment and media company with ventures integrating music, film, television, technology and philanthropy.” What made him take such a risk and follow his heart? “I have known ‘Scooter’ (Scott Braun -one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World and Adam Braun’s brother) since I was 7 years old. He was always the type of guy who went after what he wants, and he gets it. …so talented and so smart.” Braun wasn’t the only one influencing Haugen. SB Projects had just convinced Justin Bieber–sans the fame–to come on board as a client. “Justin Bieber was just at the very beginning of his meteoric rise. No one knew who he was. It was a big risk, like being the underdog. When I met him (he was just 13 years old), there was something about him… He has that IT factor. He lights up the room with this energy, vibe, this talent that is unparalleled.”

Making the Dream a Reality

The cast of characters wasn’t the only reason for the leap of faith, Haugen saw a chance to add value to the creative and marketing. ” I knew I was going to have to bring my “A” game all the time if we were going to accomplish everything we wanted to accomplish and that Justin wanted to accomplish and be able to deliver at a higher level than everyone else. There was a focus on excellence, on what was important in entertainment… There was something special about it.” Haugen also brought with him a background of structure. “Scooter is the visionary and can make things happen with blood, sweat and tears. I wanted to be able to help him scale and never miss opportunities and structure daily operations.” The two of them along with GM Allison Kaye have built an organization, a team where, “anything we want to bring to life can be executed.”

Art + Science= Purpose

While his team is clearly delivering on all levels, that isn’t enough for Haugen. He is looking to marry the art of marketing with the science of data and analytics. His team does use the data it has, but “–we don’t have a central platform that would provide a lot more purpose behind our execution.” From just the music end of the business, “You have record labels, tour promoters, social media, you have managers, everybody has some sort of data, but nobody has access to all of it.” His vision is to find a way to bring all that data together to make informed decisions, decisions with purpose that build their clients brands and careers in a way that doesn’t rely as heavily on instinct.

Haugen not only relies on instinct, but also on the abilities and creative genius of his team. In SB Projects’ case, Haugen has made sure to assemble a team of “doers.” His team doesn’t just have innovative ideas that “push the envelope on what is next,” they “make something happen versus talking about it. We have motion graphics, designers, (etc…) people who can generate results.”

Starting to shine is a bit of an understatement. SB Projects manages artists like Carly Rae Jepsen and Rixton, creates and produces films like “The Giver” and “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” and develops television hits, like the new “Scorpion” series. Looking at what he and his team have accomplished and where they are going, it isn’t hard to see why Brad Haugen is full of youthful optimism and a Walt Disneyish ‘anything is possible’ enthusiasm. “I want our business to be looked at as a group of people who used creativity to solve problems and impact culture that changed the media landscape…Doing things differently, doing things better; I always want to be known for that. If I don’t live up to that, I am not true to what I wanted to be.”  He is well on his way to building the legacy he envisions. Haugen and his idealism are a good reminder that following your dreams isn’t a fairy tale, it isn’t irresponsible; instead, in fact, it can lead a person down a yellow brick road to a dream career.


Making Your Own Luck

Haugen and SB Projects have their hands in all aspects of the entertainment industry: television, music, documentaries, not to mention that they help with tours, create the television shows and develop apps. “I don’t believe in blind luck.  I think you kind of make your own luck. We operate with a level of naivety; we don’t ever think we aren’t going to win. We get an idea, and we make it happen.” So, how can they be so good when they have their hands in so much?  “We aren’t arrogant to think we know everything, so we partner with really smart people.” The team doesn’t turn down a great idea because they don’t have the experience or haven’t done it before.  Instead, “if don’t know what we are doing, we bring people in that do…”

Photo Credits: SB Projects

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