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The Basement

Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Brian Phillips

Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Brian Phillips

Brian Phillips is CEO and cofounder of The Basement.

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s 40 Over 40 list?

I first felt a sense of dread at all of the ‘old guy’ jokes that were headed my way.

Then, proud to sit alongside such a distinguished group of professionals and to share the accomplishment with the agency and our clients. 

Sum up your journey to where you are now in fewer than five words?

Innovation requires effective collaboration. 

Three qualities you need to be successful and achieve longevity in the creative industries?

One part right brain. One part left. One part humility. 

Worst thing about the crazy last few months? Any silver linings?

Professionally, the worst thing is being unable to collaborate in person. The collision of ideas that happens when we’re in the same space is irreplaceable. One silver lining I see is an uptick in empathy, the new equalizer. All team members, at all levels and all personalities, are newly connected to each other, brought closer by our current situation. 

Best use of creativity you’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The “You Can’t Stop Us” spot from Nike is a defining moment in our history. This is a great example of our collective progress. 

What needs to happen to make the industry truly diverse?

The national decline in funding for art education is creating a massive void in the cultivation of young talent. We, as agency leaders, need to build and support programs that provide a safe space to educate and inspire this talent in our communities. Art education is critical for the future of diversity in our industry - without it, talented individuals will find other avenues in life. 

I believe our industry grows in diversity when agency leaders continue building collaborative environments where the strategic team can closely reflect the audience. We need to become curators of empathy. 

Purpose in business: A flash in the pan or the fundamental basis for the future?

Purpose in business is not a new concept. Toms Shoes ushered in a new wave of purpose driven business in 2006. It’s not a flash in the pan. I think there will always be those companies who get it and are good at it, and those who are driven strictly by profits. That will never change in a free market society.

How does the culture at your organization help you thrive?

We built The Basement’s culture as a collaboration of disciplines. In this structure, there’s no shining star. Everything done is a team effort, a group collaboration all driven by innovation.

If we took your team out for a drink, how would they describe you?

They’d say I’m humble.

Then they’d follow up with something like: “He’s a brilliant, innovation-focused leader who encourages calculated risk, integrity and craftsmanship. He produces award-winning work and fosters an environment where all team members can be their best selves.”

I’d hope they’d also tell you I work vehemently to stay out of their way. My job is to protect our culture, so that they have a solid structure to build the best possible work for our clients. 

Describe one piece of work you produced in the past 12 months that excites you?

My house has a storage area downstairs with a large concrete wall that I converted into a ventilated graffiti studio, one of my passions and my preferred creative outlet. I’m spending more time connecting to my early aspirations of being a muralist. I recently painted a microscopic worm holding a red balloon with Bart Simpson’s face and strangely, I’m really excited about the juxtaposition of these two subjects. 

Who's your biggest inspiration? And why?

Inspiration takes many forms for me and oftentimes it's not a single person, but concepts that I find in nature. The connection between animals and vegetation, the cycles that plants experience and how that impacts their surroundings, or the study of genetics and epigenetics. This is where my brain gravitates, and I draw inspiration by creating order of how I experience the world. There’s more in common between nature and the consumer journey than you might think. 

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry? Any tips for success you'd like to share?

We have five “stay” statements that define our purpose and culture. I believe these are applicable to most industries. Stay curious, stay ambitious, stay competitive, stay genuine and stay fascinated. Understand how innovation occurs and find your value in that process 

What’s in store for the future of your brand – and the industry in general?

The ability to scale the business is a huge opportunity for us. Despite the pandemic, we’ve been lucky to see both internal and external growth, a sign that we’re onto something. We’re deep into a journey of amplifying our positioning and philosophy and refining that for the future.

I see the industry embracing brand work with equal parts science and creativity, one of our core beliefs.

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