In the Spotlight: Sari Delmar
Day job: Founder & CEO, AB Co.
We first met Sari Delmar, founder and CEO of AB Co., in June 2015 at Midem in Cannes, France. Fast forward a few months later, we’re sitting with her chatting over coffee in Williamsburg, New York, about all things music, starting her own company, and her favorite things to do before she starts her day. Hint: she suggests setting aside 30 minutes in the morning to do whatever for yourself — yoga, read, write. Those are her go-to! What’s incredibly impressive about Sari (other than being cool AF IRL) is that she started her own company Audio Blood, now known as AB Co., at 18 years old. Although the journey hasn’t always been easy, Sari was able to learn from some amazing mentors to see an idea come to fruition. Now a marketing and communications company, AB Co. creates meaningful moments for artists, brands, and platforms. And fun fact…remember MySpace? You’re probably like, how could we forget Top 8? Well, Sari had her heart set on some bands from the early days and helped manage their MySpace profiles, answered fan messages, and uploaded photos — so she basically became a community manager before that was a ~thing~. Cool, right? We know.
ProjectNextUp: When you look at where you are now, what can you say about your journey getting to this point?
Sari Delmar: What’s interesting is I’m at the age where I can be retrospective and say, “Oh that’s what I did then to get me here.” But when I was going through it, I was really just making gut decisions and being a rebellious youngster — which of course I still embrace. Looking back I can now say, “Okay that all made sense!” At the time, though, it didn’t always feel like it did. Very early on I decided that I had to work in music. I was obsessed with it. I also quickly realized that my school career was limited because I was so obsessed with music and breaking into the industry — nothing was engaging me in the same way. I started interviewing a lot of bands and interviewed every band that came through my hometown. I wanted to be around the promoters, the publicists, anyone that could give me an insider’s look into this world. And writing happened to be my foot into the door.
From there I went to school very briefly for journalism. Eventually I realized that wasn’t truly what I wanted to do. I ended up getting an internship at a record label. I was there for a year, then I went on tour for a couple of months (I thought I was going to be a tour manager — quickly realized that was a no). Then I worked at a merchandise company doing marketing partnerships. What it came down to is I didn’t say no to anything.
PNU: You were meeting a ton of people through your different jobs — especially starting your networking when you were in college…
SD: I started databasing like crazy and always did a ton of networking. Every person I met, everywhere I went, I added to a database. I still do this to this day. I really believe everyone is so important, and you never know when you’re going to meet them. You never know when you’re going to have to fill a room in, say, Chicago! Your network is so valuable. This was something I realized and started at a young age.
PNU: You started your own company. Tell us a little bit about that process.
SD: Ultimately I got bored in my jobs very quickly. One day I decided that I was going to start my own company. I decided in December 2008, and in January 2009 I started Audio Blood, which eventually turned into AB Co. It started out as this realization: if I got five bands to pay me $100 each a month to help with their PR/marketing, I could pay my rent. I was like, “I know five bands. I’ll call them now.” That thrill of starting a company and the endless ideas that came with it were overflowing. All the road maps and the different people I wanted to bring in…I got so sucked up into it, and it was all so exciting. I also had this amazing community from the days I toured and the network of writers I knew.
Initially, Audio Blood was a platform where people submitted articles — it was pretty much open door. Anyone could send photos and reviews. But when the business evolved into AB Co., the community of writers, contributors, artists, and the rest of the network moved with it. The first few years of the company, the community was very helpful getting press opportunities for our brands and helping us move the needle. A few years into it I was asking myself, “Am I going to run a community program here or is this going to be a business? That was a hard decision because I realized if I was going to run a business, I was going to have to change the way I was doing a lot of things. It was a really interesting turning point for me.
I realized I would have to be ruthless. I would have to be a boss — I couldn’t be buddies with everyone. That was really important. But I said, “Yes I have to do this. Look at the impact I’ve made in such a short amount of time.” People loved what we were doing. They would come up to me and thank us for helping them find their careers. It was such an amazing feeling, and I decided then I had to become a boss. Along the way I sought out a lot of mentors. I knew I was good at PR; I was good at marketing bands. I built up a network of mentors, I read a lot, I taught myself, and implemented many new tactics quickly. Today AB Co. has a great company culture and the entire team holds their work to a high standard.
PNU: And AB Co. these days?
SD: Today AB Co. pushes boundaries, creating culturally-relevant and meaningful moments for artists, while connecting great brands, products, and platforms to diverse audiences. We’re a North American marketing and public relations agency, leading creative and strategic music and lifestyle programs, events, and activations.
PNU: What’s the most challenging part of starting your company?
SD: It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, which I’m lucky to say that’s the hardest thing I’ve had to go through. The most challenging part for me has been accepting my weaknesses as a leader and a person in my field. When I was younger I started this company on this high “I’m so good at everything!” The truth of the matter is, you grow up and realize you’re actually not good at everything and that you need to hire people to really crush it in the areas where you don’t excel.
Ultimately I pride myself on being a good leader and manager. With those skills you can really do anything. You can put good people in place, lead them, mentor them, and fill in those gaps for you. Learning how to be a good manager and leader is very different than being good at what your craft might be. If you’re going to succeed you truly have to embrace that and tell yourself you’re going to be a boss everyday, all the time. Even if you’re having a bad day, good day, it doesn’t matter because you’re setting the bar for people who are working for you. I learned a lot of this while running this company and growing up with it.
PNU: What was that pivotal moment in your company’s growth?
SD: I can highlight a million pivotal moments. I really believe that you’re always in transition. You’re not always comfortable. We need to be creating and laying out the groundwork for pivotal moments to be happening all the time. I look at every point in my life and realize that was a transitional point of my life. There was always a pivotal moment because I’ve always tried to find ways to improve the company (and myself). But one specifically that is good to highlight is meeting Benji Rogers from PledgeMusic. He’s played such a huge role in the company’s success, and I owe him so much. I met him in 2010 at Canadian Music Week and tracked him down at Midem. I thought he was so smart and approachable. He makes time for everyone, but he’s also so busy and in demand. I also loved what the platform, PledgeMusic, was doing. After a few meetings I convinced Benji to let us kick off his launch party for Canadian Music Week, and it was a huge success. We went overboard with it because I really wanted to prove to him that we should we working together forever. We renewed the contract and have been working with them for years. Benji has become a part of the advisory board, and is a personal mentor.
PNU: Where do you see the company growing within the next six months?
SD: I see AB Co. heading in the same direction that we’re already going but refining our client base a bit — more quality, less quantity. In Canada, our approach was to be the go-to, be everything music-connected, at festivals etc., and we’ve been really good at that. Since I moved to New York, it’s been about being more selective. Music tech is a big area of growth for us. We have a lot of clients in that space, so continuing to explore this realm and help companies launch different markets is top of mind. We’ll continue to work in the brand space and always connect it back to music and lifestyle. We’ll always work with artists and with music festivals. That’s the heart of it, and that’s what we love to do. But we’re also moving towards a model of having a revenue substituted by platforms and brands so that we can keep our artist rates friendly, be selective but be helpful. The direction we’re going is a more refined elite level.
PNU: You must keep busy. How do you handle that calendar of yours and get strategic about your week?
SD: Ultimately you can’t have FOMO! That’s un-needed stress and energy. Be in the moment in the conversation when you’re there, and not jumping to a million things or staring at your phone. I rely on my team to help me with my calendar. I’m really grateful for them! I also do a lot of yoga. I try to maintain a zen and clear mind. That means trying to go to bed at a normal time, so that when I do have days where things are back-to-back I can be on top of my game.
PNU: For those out there who want to start their own company or pitch their ideas, what are some of your tips? How do you source clients?
SD: I like to take the approach of never being too sales-y. People need to see that you’re valuable to them within the first few seconds. They need to trust you on a human level. I sit down with people and ask them what they’re up to, try to have a genuine conversation, and learn what they’re up against. Learn about their strengths — where do they find that they need the most support? Eventually they ask you to tell your story. You can angle your pitch in that moment to exactly what they told they need help with. That’s what I do. My job is to provide value to people. I see the first meeting with someone as starting a relationship. I want you to feel — just from our conversation — that you’re walking away with more value than before you sat down. My job is to hook them in. It’s about genuinely assessing what I can help them with. Be a connector. That’s one of the greatest sales asset, and that’s the most important takeaway. Provide value very quickly.
Most of our clients are ones that I’ve sought out. A lot of people have come to us, but we also do a lot of outreach. When you’re building an agency you want to ask yourself who you want to be aligned with. For AB Co., it's about us building our story through our clients. In an agency, if you only take what comes in, you lose your voice and eventually realize you’re working on projects not totally in line with your goals. It’s business development; it’s a creative direction for the agency. Ask yourself a few questions: How do we want to present ourselves? What does our roster of clients look like? Then go from there to source the clients that align with your efforts.
PNU: How do you start the day?
SD: In the morning I try to do 30 minutes for myself. Start the day off in a strong way. Do one thing for yourself, go out, get something nice for yourself, go for a run, do yoga. Whatever you do for yourself, it’ll set the bar for the day. If you’re ready to fight the day, it’ll lead you to crushing a business meeting. Find what makes you happy and make sure you do it. When 30 minutes is done, then I’m off to work and ready to commit to everything else. Figure out what allows you to do your best work. If you’re not doing your best work you’re losing money. Schedules change but make sure you’re putting aside some time for yourself.
PNU: What's your purpose in 140 characters or less?
SD: To lead and inspire extraordinary creative feats, challenge the status quo, and create positive impact in the music and marketing industry.