Experts predicted that 2020 would be a big year for virtual events – but they had no idea how big. After government-mandated shutdowns and social distancing measures were enacted, live events throughout the spring and summer were canceled. Some companies planned to reschedule. But for those whose main business is live events, being able to pivot became essential to survival.
S&G client, Superfine! Art Fair, is already well-known in the art world for breaking down barriers for emerging artists and art lovers and bringing them together. Its challenge in the COVID-19 world was to find a way to sustain this model. We talked to Alex Mitow, CEO, to find out how Superfine! is adapting to a new normal where large-scale in-person events are no longer allowed (and possibly won’t be for a while).
As a company that produces in-person art events, how has COVID-19 forced you to rethink your business model?
In a lot of ways, the situation has made decision-making much easier. We’re an events company, we can’t have events, therefore we innovate. There are a lot of projects we’d been fence-sitting on for months, sometimes even years, and COVID-19 lit a fire under us and our team to pursue them.It’s increased our bandwidth drastically. Despite how horrible the situation has been for so many people, I can honestly say that as a modern company there have been silver linings for us, and in many ways, this has been a breath of fresh air. It’s easy to say that we’re now thinking digital, but we’re not only thinking digital, we’re monetizing it and providing our clients with the ability to monetize their own pursuits not in the future but now.
What new initiatives have you put into place to respond to a completely changed environment?
The first thing we did was create free weekly web masterclasses (webinars) that act as both a long-lead sales funnel for our booths in fairs from 2021 and beyond, and as a psychological reinforcement for existing and prospective clients. We’re telling them “You can do this!” and then we’re showing them how. Each week there are special guests ranging from CEOs of art-focused companies to high-level publicists to professional artist advisors. Not only is it good business, it just feels good to do it.
We’ve also launched a monthly limited capacity “deep dive” masterclass that covers a specific topic, like SEO, as it relates to artists and their business. When we announced this, we polled artists on our free webinar to determine the topic and the response was overwhelming — people are really excited to join us on this journey and improve their business prowess. That’s the first step in a new branch of Superfine! dedicated to e-learning and business services for artists.
Besides those webinars, we’re offering a full suite of Business for Artists training tools from a limited classroom-style boot camp to a full-fledged e-learning course with more than 20 hours of course material, quizzes, and long-term takeaways. There will eventually be business services for artists as well — social media management, SEO assistance, and digital marketing.
What have the responses been to the above new initiatives? Was there an expected response? Were there any surprises?
Honestly, we’ve known that our expertise through Superfine! and our extensive network are valuable for a long time and have been asked to do e-learning and courses for years, but it kind of took us aback how quickly artists saw results. One of our artists who’s participated in multiple Superfine! fairs did one of our webinars where we talked about best practices around commissions and e-mailed us two weeks later saying she’d sold four (!) commissions. And this is in the middle of the biggest pandemic we’ve ever seen. Even though this situation is hitting so many people so hard, there are still people who have their jobs, have money, and have reduced expenses. Those people are staying at home all the time now and thinking about how to take care of themselves and their homes. So, art and design are selling, and we’ve proven that. It’s nice and a bit surprising … to see people achieving real results, immediately, after participating in our e-learning.
Do you think that this new business model and approach will carry on even after shelter in place restrictions are lifted?
I absolutely do. I think that’s the other silver lining for businesses, artists, everyone right now. If you can figure out some creative ways to innovate and make money during these times, you’ll not only be more adept at conducting your regular business when this ends, you’ll get to take your new revenue streams with you. Not only has COVID-19 forced companies to immediately become more comfortable with using apps like Zoom and Demio to hold meetings and conduct their business, but it’s made end-users, other entrepreneurs, and students more comfortable with using these platforms as well.
I’m not suggesting that people will just sit in front of their computers all day when this ends; I actually think the opposite. If you subtract the one to two hours in commuting for education and work, people will actually end up with more free time as they economize by working and learning from home. That opens up a wide market for practically any company that can teach a skill or provide a service digitally. We’re definitely going to amp up promotions and infrastructure around our e-learning as restrictions ease, and my instinct is that it will stay a very viable wing of our business.
Do you think consumer habits will be different permanently after COVID-19?
Like I said before, I think it’ll go in two ways. People will realize they can economize their time by doing certain things like learning and working from home that they weren’t doing before strictly out of habit. Then, with leisure time I think people will appreciate and be more intentional about the time they do spend out in the world. I think the era of silly novelty will soon be behind us, and with it the milkshake topped with a thousand different candy bars. People have been cooking delicious, nourishing food at home, and while they may still keep cooking when this ends, I think a lot will also want to go out to bars and restaurants and art fairs. They’ll just be choosier with less gratuitous consumption. I actually look forward to that!
Do you plan to continue with your new business model after this crisis?
Absolutely! We’ll be running parallel models when this ends, and I really look forward to building an even healthier business that serves our clients even better than we’ve done before now and post-COVID-19. I think our clients feel the same way and will be just as excited about participating in art fairs where they can get real human contact and make sales, and streamlining their online channels to make revenue for them.