Business

Executive of the Week: AG Artists Founder Andrew Gertler

Andrew Gertler
Allison Michael Orenstein

Andrew Gertler

When Shawn Mendes’ latest album, Wonder, debuted atop the Billboard 200 this week, the feat put him in rare company: he became the youngest male artist ever to top the chart with four regular studio albums, besting none other than Elvis Presley by some six months and just one week older than Britney Spears for youngest of all time regardless of gender.

It was another milestone for Mendes in a career that’s already been full of them, as the 22-year-old (22 years, four months, two weeks, to be exact) has emerged as one of the brightest young pop stars in the music business over the past half decade. And in lockstep beside him has been his longtime manager, AG Artists founder Andrew Gertler, who earns the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

Gertler helped helm a different type of rollout campaign for Wonder, one based not on ticket and merch bundling -- which have recently been barred from counting towards the Billboard charts -- and more on creative limited-edition, direct-to-consumer products that fans could dig into within different editions and packaging of the album, as well as a Netflix documentary that showcased a different side of the artist. The fans rewarded the creativity: of Wonder’s 89,000 equivalent album units, 54,000 came from album sales, or 61%, impressive in the streaming era.

"Our goal was to make collectors’ items that fans would not only be able to enjoy as keepsakes for years to come, but also items that gave them an additional experience beyond the music while they were home in quarantine," Gertler says. "Something tangible -- which has been a bit of a lost art that's now seeing an amazing resurgence."

With Wonder, Shawn Mendes becomes the youngest male artist to have four regular albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200. What key decisions have you made to help him achieve that feat?

It’s hard to pinpoint specific decisions, as there are so many along the way. It's been more of a mindset -- to always make decisions with longevity in mind. Managing an artist like Shawn from such a young age, it's not an easy task to balance his career success while also protecting a balanced life for him. Even if that looks like smooth sailing from the outside, it's often more of a bumpy road behind the scenes than most people realize. The hardest decisions, but also most key we've made, are the things we've had to say no to, or how selective we've needed to be with Shawn's time in order to maintain that life balance for him. Now more than ever, we're trying to create space while he matures as an artist so his career can continue to grow.

Wonder launched with a number of creative and outside-the-box merch and direct-to-consumer packages. What went into the development of those, and why did you do that this time?

We started planning this album cycle just as there were significant changes to Billboard's chart rules on album and merch bundles, but the reality is that fans still want a compelling experience when it comes to merchandise and D2C during an album campaign. So we put our focus into making the most compelling music products possible. Our goal was to make collectors’ items that fans would not only be able to enjoy as keepsakes for years to come, but also items that gave them an additional experience beyond the music while they were home in quarantine. Something tangible -- which has been a bit of a lost art that's now seeing an amazing resurgence.

From designing a collectors zine edition of the album with tons of exclusive photography and journal entries, to an actual playable Wonder collectors card game within the album package, everything was done with tangibility and an at-home experience in mind. With production deadlines, some of this took months and months of advance planning and it was not an easy feat. My hat goes off to the incredible teams that helped pull it all off, between Island's incredibly dedicated staff, our head of marketing, Justin Stirling, Shawn's creative director, Connor Brashier, and the rest of our teams who poured their blood, sweat and tears into making this all happen.

How else did you approach the marketing and rollout of this album compared to previous releases, and why?

Recording and rolling out an album during this time is obviously a new challenge. We are so accustomed to having Shawn out there in the world, playing shows and interacting with fans. It was really difficult trying to replicate that experience. Since we knew that we couldn't do that in real life, we centered everything around how we could most closely replicate the live performance experience for fans online. Shawn spent the majority of his time rehearsing and perfecting performances, and we centered the campaign around that. From our Wonder Residencies, to an incredible livestream experience -- which we opted to do for free in order to have no barrier to entry for fans -- the focus was all on how we could bring Shawn's live performances and shows to fans stuck at home.

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How did the Netflix documentary factor into that promotion plan?

When we originally started filming the documentary, it was going to be something we released as a standalone between album cycles. Our goal was always to show a snapshot of Shawn's life, who he is and how he's growing. A real coming-of-age story and portrait of him as a person, more so than a traditional biographical documentary. When the stories started unfolding, what we ended up capturing was this real transition period for Shawn, between the last album's tour and the recording of this new album, as well as this period in his life where he was really coming into his own. With COVID, the documentary hit some natural delays in the edit, and as the album came together, it felt right to roll the two out alongside one another. The story that took shape really mirrored the story Shawn was telling on his album, and that felt true and authentic to him.

Given touring is still shut down and without a tour to support the record, what comes next?

We're really focused on how we continue to drive the world of Wonder into 2021. That likely will come from a mix of more experiences for fans, plus more music videos and new content. Shawn and I are also focused on some incredible film and TV production projects and continuing the work of his Shawn Mendes Foundation. A blessing in disguise through this all has been how much time we've been able to devote to giving back and I expect that'll only continue in 2021. We do have an internal task force meeting every week, between our management team, promoter team and agency, plus consultants, to determine when we can get back to touring. We really are hopeful that with the vaccine there will be a Wonder tour, it’s just a matter of when it's safe and the world and industry is ready to get back to live events.

How did the pandemic change the momentum you guys had built up over the past several years?

It's really been an adjustment period for us, in terms of the pace we're so accustomed to running at. For six years, everything was full speed, full throttle. In a way, this was the only way that we were going to slow down. I've always been the manager that travels 200-plus days a year, so having some time at home to spend with family -- and Shawn experiencing the same -- was a silver lining. But it was also such a change of pace we were not at all expecting this year and that change ended up giving both Shawn and I the ability to shift our perspective.

Even with longevity always in mind, we realized we were sometimes running too fast -- what was most important for both of us was our sanity, our families and our health. We took the opportunity to really reframe what we choose to put our effort and time into. And that’s still a process, but hopefully we'll be coming out the other end better for it, and therefore better able to serve our fans as well.