Member Spotlight: Bob Starnes helps to market content that respects children, teaches them about faith
Brittany Klaus · May 26, 2020
Bob Starnes has a passion for children’s content that is full of fun and Biblical truths.
In his job as a partner at Brentwood Studios, which works with products like The Slugs & Bugs Show, Bob and his team strive to help create and market content that serves today’s families through a deep respect for children and how they spend their time.
“What kids and families watch or read matters, and it’s important that it’s a ton of fun, age appropriate, and intentional,” Bob says.
“If we cannot provide a fun and entertaining experience for a child and a family, then lessons or themes in the stories will fail to connect. It’s not about providing a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, it’s about seeing the sugar and the lessons as one and the same. This is a pretty challenging creative exercise, but it’s something families so appreciate. You know it when you see it.”
Brentwood Studios has partnerships both inside the Church and outside, and they range from larger entertainment companies to individual creators.
“I find it a privilege to model my faith no matter what our business context is,” Bob says. “Each day provides a new opportunity to demonstrate to the people around me what it looks like to follow Jesus.”
Recent projects that have Bob excited include a silly song album from Slugs & Bugs called Modern Kid, which debuted May 1. The Slugs & Bugs brand also released a 13-episode TV series called The Slugs & Bugs Show last year, available on DVD at SlugsandBugs.com and several digital outlets.
Brentwood Studios, based in Franklin, Tennessee, was started in 2007 “to advance the next generation of children’s entertainment brands that kids love and parents appreciate,” says Bob.
“Each story we work on does not have to be a Bible story, but the model of how Jesus lived is in everything, so whether it is direct, entertaining, or allegorical, it still comes from that worldview,” he adds.
Herschend Family Entertainment, the company known for Dollywood and Silver Dollar City, is one such brand. Six years ago, Brentwood Studios partnered with Herschend to launch an initiative with the non-profit Operation Christmas Child to provide Christmas gifts and core needs to kids around the world.
Each day provides a new opportunity to demonstrate to the people around me what it looks like to follow Jesus.
“We brought Herschend Family Entertainment together with Operation Christmas Child to start a new program called The Shoebox Challenge.”
The Shoebox Challenge has helped serve millions of kids all over the world.
“Every time I think about what’s been accomplished, I can’t help but get excited,” Bob says.
Before co-founding Brentwood Studios, Bob worked as vice president of licensing and publishing at Big Idea Entertainment, creator of VeggieTales, for many years. Prior to that, he was having an impact on children and families through his work in his own kids retail chain that was voted “One of the top up-and-coming retailers of the ’90s” which he won along with FAO Schwarz. Bob’s career also included Christian retail with Lemstone Books, and he was an executive with Target Stores.
A few months after Bob started Brentwood Studios, his oldest son, Brock, joined the venture and today is also a partner.
RightNow Media, Slugs & Bugs, The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson, Superbook, and The Nighty Nights by Michael W. Smith are just a few of the brands Brentwood Studios has partnered with and helped develop over the years.
Brentwood Studios finds partnership opportunities in a variety of ways. Bob and his colleagues watch the market every day to see what’s being created for kids in general as well as from a faith-based perspective. Invaluable relationships have formed over the years with producers, creators, and publishers, leading to many projects. Other times, Brentwood will be approached by people who want to connect them with a new children’s author or evaluate their current line-up of products to see what is missing, as they have helped to build and grow kids brands around the world.
While Bob works more on the operations side at Brentwood Studios, he also enjoys the creative aspects.
“I love hearing the dreams of brands and organizations and then together finding solutions that allow their brand to grow and impact families around the world. That is very fulfilling,” Bob says.
I love hearing the dreams of brands and organizations and then together finding solutions.
Another of Bob’s passions is helping those who will follow him.
“There are some amazing young entrepreneurs out there who need seasoned professionals to walk with them, appreciate their passion, and love them through the learning years,” he says.
Bob also has a heart for those struggling with a job loss, which he says happens more frequently in entertainment than in other industries.
“I most likely can’t offer them a job, but I can be an ear and possibly point them in some directions for the days ahead and then check back in on them,” he says. “That is part of how we serve together.”
One change in entertainment he and all of the industry has been dealing with is the switch from physical retail products, like CDs and DVDs, to digital streaming, a format that makes it difficult to maintain a profit. Bob is taking a positive approach, though.
“It’s a challenge,” Bob says. “But there’s a handful of us that are out there saying, you know what, we’re not going to complain about the problem. Instead, we’re going to be part of the solution. We have such a passion to be able to create content for our grandkids and their kids and others that we find the importance of it outweighs the risk that it takes for us to put a lot of money into this.”
In 2019, Brentwood Studios had a client list of over 50 organizations. In fact, the desire to work with such a wide variety of brands and platforms was the reason Bob and another VeggieTales executive decided to branch out on their own.
“VeggieTales was a wonderful place to be,” Bob says, “but in January 2007, we decided to start Brentwood Studios with the intent of helping all of the other kids’ brands that came to us for assistance in building their brand, but we never had enough time to do it well.”
They had their first client within 24 hours, and Brentwood Studios has remained busy since and making a difference in families with content that points kids to their Creator.