[Our pals at Studio Something originally posted this here but were kind to let us borrow the story and publish it here too... It's an insightful story with a lot of take-aways, so enjoy!]
Who the F**K are Studio Something?
A little story about how it started, who we are and what the point of this funny wee company from Edinburgh that started in an old Tapas Restaurant is now....
How did it start?
Studio Something began its life four years ago, under the moniker ‘Something Something’, that company began when Ian and I, Jordan, the founders, decided to jack in working as junior creatives at an advertising agency and take a punt on starting something.
In the time we had spent working in advertising, as ‘junior creatives’ our role was coming up with ideas day in day out, to advertise brands on TV, Radio, online and outdoor. Doing this, we noticed a few things -
‘It takes ages to ‘make’ anything’, The ‘small’ budgets thrown to the ‘juniors’ are actually decent sums of money and should not be scoffed at and also ‘our friends weren’t really watching TV’
With these three pieces of knowledge we concocted the idea of something, literally. We decided to start a company called Something Something.
SS - not a great acronym, we know - would create outstanding content for brands quicker, for any medium. We wouldn’t be ‘cheaper’, but we’d be extremely conscious about what a budget could pay for. Ultimately if your company had 30 thousand pounds to spend, we made sure you knew we were delighted to have your 30 thousand pounds of actual money, instead of it being on it’s way to the bottom of the pile in a big agency, as a ‘small budget brief’
We found a wee ‘office’, literally the closest one to our previous job, on our lunch break and without much thought other than ‘fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen?’ we signed up for a lease, bought two computers and two desks and got to…working?
We started out with the odd bit of film work here and there, in our young minds saying we were a ‘content company’ seemed a bit poncey for two lads working out an old Tapas restaurant in Leith, so we called ourselves a ‘production company’, it didn’t feel wrong, we did ‘produce’ stuff after all. But, from the very start we knew this was kinda’ underselling the purpose and vision we had for this ‘something’. We just had to nail down what that was?
What made us different?
David Hieatt, of the excellent Do Lectures/Reports said that a good way to find what your companies purpose is you should ask three things, What do you love? What is your skill? and What is the Zeitgeist? (something you’ve spotted that is changing that you think you’ve spotted first) and the intersection of those three points will be your purpose.
For us -
We Loved — quick moving ideas. We loved taking a brief, think of thirty ideas, kill 20, kill another seven, have three, kill two more, one idea. Ours. Safe. Now think of some more.
Our Skill — We could do this, we could think of LOTS of ideas, we could also make them, we knew how to work cameras, we knew how to direct, we didn’t need more layers. We didn’t need receptionists and fruit baskets. If you wanted ideas you could come to us, if you wanted all the other stuff? Well we knew there was agencies who could offer you that. We’d just left one.
Zeitgeist — We were watching established brands spend lots of money on one or two big TV adverts a year, but the interesting burgeoning brands us and our mates were into were talking daily to their fans. We took the educated guess that big brands might decide to stop spending all their budget on one big TV advert, one campaign, one chance at the goal. They had audiences on Facebook of millions, surely these ‘fans’ wouldn’t settle for one idea a year?
In short, we could come up with lots of ideas and we guessed that having lots of ideas rather than one big idea might be the future. That was our bet, a big company will look to do more regular content, they will fare the GIANT PUNT of one idea, one advert, one chance at making those who they want to attract laugh, cry, etc.
This bet paid off, after giving a talk on ‘creativity’ (we had no work on at the time) it turned out that the marketing manager for Tennent’s Lager, Scotland’s biggest beer brand and one with a rich of advertising heritage, was in the audience. She had seen something in our work that she liked and asked us if we would be interested in looking at a brief.
The brief — ‘We are not sure TV is working for our audience, what would you guys do?’
From this brief we created the most ambitious piece of work we had ever attempted, Wellpark.
It was a 45-part animated sketch series based in a fictional Scottish town, that would react to the world around it, it would be made to entertain the existing Tennent’s audience online and if any of the ‘episodes’ were doing well then it could be up-weighted to more traditional mediums like TV and cinema with more confidence in it’s success. Entertaining our audience whilst doing live testing.
This fully realised world spawned a number of weird and wonderful things — Binder, a spoof app that made worldwide news, an alternative Queen’s speech that went out on Christmas day, beer activated arcade games and even a spoof three hour radio show that we made just for the fun of it.
The campaign managed to achieve 3.7 million video views and had 17000 news articles around the world mention it, but most importantly for us research afterwards didn’t see it as an advert. They just liked it.
“It’s not really an advert is it? It’s just like a wee TV show”
We spent a few years working away, with this premise - give us a brief and we’ll give you what we think is the best answer to that brief. We’ll try our very best not to give you an advert back, we’ll try to give you something that makes people laugh, or cry, or think twice about.
Near the end of 2016 though we felt we had a decision to make, what was this company? Was it even a company?
We wrote, directed, produced, voiced, did budgets for, painted, cleaned the office…..was it actually a company or was it just two guys with a funny boy band name? We weren’t making huge amounts of money but we were working all the time. We had to work out if we were actually just two freelancers, if so we should get rid of any overheads and try to become a commodity as a freelance team, not masquerade as business?
Were we a business? Or a couple of freelancers?
We made a choice.
We decided that we wanted a company, a business, a swelling group of people who we could help to achieve what they wanted. We didn’t want to just be fluffed up freelancers, we wanted to start ‘something’. Something that mattered and that could last longer than a couple of freelancers who would be ‘old and ‘more’ uncool’ one day. This was also in tandem with a thought that had been eating at us for a while -
“We spend a lot of our brain power trying to fix other people’s companies, what if we used that brain power to start our own companies?’
The rationale being that if big companies saw value in using ‘our thoughts’ to help them, then maybe those thoughts could be used to help our own, at this point, fictional companies?
We also wanted a company that would ‘send the lift back down’, we didn’t get a foot up or a leg in to this industry and barely even knew it was a thing at school so we wanted the company we created to be something that could offer opportunities to people like us who had ideas and wanted to make them a reality but no idea where to start.
In 2017, Something Something became Studio Something — a boutique creative agency and a pioneering ventures company.
The creative agency would work with clients who were good people that wanted to create great work that made people smile, laugh, cry, feel something.
Clients like Innis & Gunn who truly cared about beer, SeeMe who cared about how people talked about mental health. Red Bull, Channel 4. The Scottish Government. Clients who cared.
We realised with the right client we could do exactly what we set out do at the start, advertising that people liked, advertising that people didn’t even really see as advertising, if you have clients who care about the idea, with a product that we can stand behind and believe in.
The ventures side would be built to incubate interesting ideas and then turn those ideas into companies in their own right. It would do this by inviting interesting people with interesting ideas into the studio, it would give them free desk space and access to our creative time and any help or guidance we could offer them from conception of the idea through to business structure, funding and launching.
Where are we now?
In 2018 as we begin the year we have a pillar client with ambitions of growing and, importantly, that cares about great creative work, a growing team of young hungry creatives, our first venture — Welbot, beginning the year with a team of 3 people and on course to launch in March, a job with one of the world’s biggest brands due to begin in February and plans to expand the space we have to invite more people with ideas to join us and build Studio Something into the best place to conceive of and launch ideas into the world.
But most importantly for us, we have focussed what the purpose of Studio Something is, the thing that will guide us in what work to do, who to work with, what to judge ourselves against, what will keep us strong when it’s shit and as we grow what people who join us will buy into. Our purpose.
Ultimately, whether it is for a client or for ‘ourselves’ we deemed that the purpose of Studio Something will be to-
‘Make Something People Genuinely Like’
Five, incredibly simple, words, that we want to guide our company -
‘Make’ — we want to be a company that knows not just how to conceive of ideas but also how to ‘make’ them, to see them through, understand why things work, why they fail. We too often saw, in agencies, that they did the ‘thinking’ and then when the client ‘bought it’ they hired in someone else to ‘make it’. It’s not to say we’ll never hire specialists but as a principle we want to know that we can make what we sell. If it all goes to shit and we end up back in the old tapas restaurant with two desks and no clients, we need to know we can make what we sell.
‘Something’ — For us ‘something’ means ‘ideas’, we don’t want to limit anyone in our company to what they can think up or conceive of, the guy who came up with snowboarding, while watching people ski, just thought ‘what if you took one of those skis away?’ and he invented a sport. We want our company to able to come up with world-changing ideas, maybe even a sport. But we also don’t want to discredit the smaller things, the ‘toolkits we create for charities’, the tweets that help our clients tell their story. Something can be big. Something can be small, but something HAS to be an idea.
‘People’ — this is important to us, ‘people’ to us are our mates who couldn’t tell you the first thing about advertising but ‘love Paddy Power’, it’s our Mum who hasn’t heard about ‘content’ but will ask ‘did you see that Carpool Karaoke?’ it’s the taxi driver who asks you what you do and responds ‘like those hilarious Irn-Bru ads?’ when you say advertising. We didn’t go to art school, our best pals aren’t ‘ad folk’. We have to talk to our pals about real stuff so we want to make stuff for people like them and people like us. People. Not ‘audiences’, ‘tribes’ or ‘markets’. People.
Genuinely Like — To us this goes to the taxi driver, it’s easy to get numbers that tell you people ‘liked’ your work, but there’s another point, when people genuinely like it, not because it was punted into their feed but because it connected with them and they couldn’t help but be touched by it. It’s when that taxi driver says ‘see that Binder thing on the telly, some dafties made the opposite of Tinder’, its not an ad it’s something people genuinely like. You can tell when your work goes past ‘likes’ and into actually being liked. That’s what we are striving for.
Since that first day in the Tapas Restaurant we have won accounts we should never have won, lost accounts we should never have lost, ploughed money into people, ideas and dreams. We’ve won awards, we’ve met incredible people, we’ve been immensely tired and immensely lucky. We’ve also given our hairlines to the cause. It’s also no longer just the two of us, we’ve brought some incredible people into the company to make our work look better, to travel further and to make that idea of ‘ventures’ a plausible strategy.
With all this though comes a responsibility to start making it clear why Studio Something does what it does, and also fine tune how it does this, We can no longer get by on an intuitive nature between the two of us, we have to do more to learn how to properly turn this company into something worthwhile. To make something people genuinely like.
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.