Sari Delmar started out like most of us in the music industry — as a fan. Before the 26-year-old built one of Canada’s leading PR and branding firms, the AB Co. founder and CEO had fallen hard for The Matches, a pop punk band from Oakland, Calif.
“They came to play at the El Mocambo in Toronto,” said the Barrie, Ontario native. “I immediately fell in love with them. At 16 I started an online zine called Audio Blood that was named after one of their songs. I got to interview the Matches a bunch of times and they were really supportive of the project and me naming it after their song.”
Fast forward 10 years and Audio Blood is now AB Co., a move that reflects the diversity of Delmar’s client base, which not only includes music but fashion and technology companies. AB Co. handles the PR and media for Canadian Music Week and is planning to open a New York office soon. At 18, Sari officially launched her PR firm, telling Amplify, “I saw artists needed help.” She added that she was able to shift her magazine into a PR firm because “I had built up this network of writers, so I was like ‘hey this could be a real business and not just me fucking around.'”
AB Co. started out being “very focused on artists services” and “working with a lot of Toronto bands. Indie Rock was emerging and we were lucky to be working with all of those artists” including Dinosaur Bones and The Darcys. “The Toronto music scene really started to grow and we began to work with bands from all over Canada, like The Balconies from Ottawa and some other bands from Vancouver.”
AB Co., is not just a PR company, Delmar explained. “We have expanded over the years to marketing and a lot of social media strategies as well as street-level marketing,” she told Amplify. The company has 11 employees split between two offices — Delmar said she will soon be moving to New York to run her company’s US headquarters.
“I think it’s time for the company to kind of spread its wings wide,” she said. “We want to offer our Canadian clients a bridge and help them figure out how to expand outside of Canada. If you’re in Canada, sometimes you can get trapped in there a little bit and not know how to have the tools to build your band or project outside of those walls.”
We asked her if her age was an advantage or disadvantage in the music industry. She told us that the answer lay somewhere in the middle. Being a young, small company allowed her to be agile. “We don’t have years of doing things in old ways and were able to shift and approach things in a fresh capacity,” she said. “We are music people even though we are young, we have a really wide cross-section of different experiences that our clients are able to benefit from. We’re also still really passionate and eager about what were doing. I know that I probably always will be. I don’t see myself ever getting jaded.”
The disadvantages, she said, are a lack of experience running a business. She said early on she trusted an accountant to handle the company’s corporate finances and taxes, a move that proved costly but ultimately survivable.
“Had I gone to business school or maybe worked under someone for longer, I probably wouldn’t have made some of the mistakes I made,” she said, later adding, “Ultimately that’s learning. I know a lot of people a lot older make massive mistakes as well. I think sometimes you just got to learn the hard way.”
Her advice to anyone trying to start their own business?
“It should be an equal balance of passion, business strategies and planning. I think that when I started the business it was 100 percent passion and I was like ‘I’ll figure out the rest later,'” she said. “And so I ended up having to learn on trial and figure it out, which has been really fun and such a learning experience. But there were moments when it cost us as well. When you are running a business, you’re the only one who is responsible for the outcome. And I think that you do have to know everything. You don’t have to be an expert, but you have to have a pretty basic overview of everything.”