for creative entrepreneurs

Flexing with the times – an interview with Superfan’s Abby Downing

We’re all trying to figure out how to run our creative businesses in this new normal. Learning how to adapt—and fast—is one skill we’re all having to learn. In an effort to help us all learn how to adapt from one another, I reached out to Abby Downing, partner and Creative Director of The Superfan Company, a creative agency specializing in marketing-driven merchandise, packaging, and live event strategies that engage Superfans, headquartered in NYC. If ever there was a firm having to adapt some of their services in a hurry, it would be Superfan.

Abby herself is located in Charleston, SC, but the rest of the team is located in NYC. So working remotely and over video chat is nothing new for her, although her regular trips up to the city for face-to-face meetings have certainly been curtailed. But that’s the least of their problems right now. Having specialized in helping artists engage their fans and monetize their work through live events, I can’t think of a harder hit segment of the marketplace to be serving.

Artists, of course, want to engage their audiences, even when they can’t have direct engagement at live performances. And for the first few weeks of the shutdown, “living room concerts” were one way for them to stay in touch with their fans. But that venue soon became saturated, and while the engagement part of the puzzle can be solved in some of these ways, the more physical connections and monetization aspect have not really been explored.

Genuine Concern is Great Marketing

In talking with Abby, one thing that came through so clearly was that she was more concerned about her clients, colleagues, and partners than she seemed to be about her own practice. While their work is clearly impinged, those that she has been working with (venue owners, festival organizers, artist managers and producers) have all hit a solid brick wall. Many of the artists, particularly bigger names, will get through this. But all those who serve this industry, all the supporting jobs—the managers, organizers, roadies, backup musicians—they don’t have nearly enough personal resources to weather a storm that could be months, maybe even years, before things return to normal.

And so when Abby reaches out to these colleagues, partners, and clients, the first thing she wants to know is how they are doing. And the second thing is, what do they need right now, and how Superfan can help. Her concern, and her relationships with her clients, comes first. The business relationship comes second. This genuineness and personal connection has always been a major part of Superfan’s “marketing” approach. But even calling it a marketing approach paints the wrong picture. Marketing, at its purest and best, should always be about communicating that you care about your client’s welfare, their businesses, their growth—and how you can help them achieve it. No doubt, when things do begin to turn around, the approach Superfan took, in seeking to help their clients in a time of need, will have built tremendous goodwill, and strengthen those relationships in the future.

A Focus on Flexibility

The second thing that stood out from my conversation with Abby was her focus on flexibility in this crisis. Like most creative entrepreneurs, The Superfan Company works primarily on a project fee basis. Usually, these would be significant projects with a lot of planning and coordination involved. But now they are deliberately using the word “flexibility” in any engagements with their clients. Rather than just big projects that encompass a wide range of services and deliverables, Superfan is willing to help out clients with much smaller projects and fill in wherever they can help.

They understand that this is uncharted territory for everyone so being creative, brave, and experimental is a must. Abby and her team are currently in discussions with several large events who, after moving their in-person gathering online, are now looking to engage fans at home. Navigating this new normal in partnership in a flexible, creative manner with clients is something Superfan prides itself on.

Generosity That Proves They Care

One way they are serving their client base is by brainstorming fresh ideas for fan engagement and freely sharing these ideas with producers, managers, and organizers. Under normal circumstances, the ideas and strategies are the most valuable part of what they offer, and it’s appropriate to get a contract signed before serving up that value. But, given this set of circumstances, Superfan is offering ideas proactively and providing support services as needed to help clients, wherever they are, meet their fans where they are. They are also considering smaller retainer-based engagements to remain as flexible as they can for their clients.

Transparency Inside the Firm

While Superfan is a small boutique firm, with only four women on staff, it’s still extremely important for all of them to stay in touch on a daily basis. Morning Slack calls help them to all stay connected, talk through any challenges, or even just pick each other up when the weight of this abrupt change hits them afresh. The same care and concern that the company shows its clients and partners goes double for how they support each other.

“Sometimes support is simply showing up. Showing up on daily calls, showing up with a thoughtful email or sharing a new idea …not because someone asked me to but because I think it will genuinely help. To me, and to my team, showing up, being brave and having flexibility are the most important things we can do right now.”

A transparent management style is helping everyone cope, adapt, and think flexibly and creatively about how to pivot where needed, and serve their clients however they can.

Even with a small team, these interactions are extremely helpful. Unfortunately, if you’re a freelancer, you might really be feeling overwhelmed. And with no one to bounce your thoughts off, you might be getting dragged down deeper into anxieties. With the same generosity that Abby is showing their clients, she is happy to “visit” virtually with any solopreneur readers of BizCraft for Creatives that need a fellow creative entrepreneur to talk to. We all need to hold one another up in times like these. Abby can be reached through Linkedin or on instagram @abby.downing.

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