Eyes on Everything: Our Interview with Malin Stenborg

As a producer, agent, and consultant, Malin Stenborg's job is to connect creative talent with clients in advertising, fashion, and beauty. She's so good at it that she's worked with some of the biggest brands out there, brands like Sephora, H&M, Acne Studio, and Brioni. 

Accustomed to working with clients and teams all around the world, Stenborg had to find creative ways to keep projects moving forward, even when it wasn't possible for everyone to be in the same room.  

Now the Director of Artist Management with NEER, Stenborg leverages her extensive visual acuity to elevate the quality and efficacy of every project, and when The Art Bay interviewed Stenborg recently, it was our goal to reach a better understanding of where that visual discernment comes from and exactly how it impacts her day-to-day work. 

Can you tell us about your relationship with the visual arts? When did you first become interested and how did this develop?

I have always been very visual as a person. It started very early. When I was around four years old, I used to make patterns with everything from candy to buttons. My father always took me to interesting museums every other weekend, and I started to use his camera to shoot when I was big enough to use it. 

My grandfather was a visionary and when he got really old he started to work with silver, creating everything from jewelry to vases. I am a huge fan of beautiful shapes and simplicity. I was actually about to apply for art school when I found myself working on a feature film instead! I just loved it, and obviously still do! 

I can be very particular when it comes to how things look, haha. I want to have my eyes on everything that represents our artists and our company, visually, from what we post on our Instagram, to our website. The order in which we post things, the placement of images within a presentation, where a logo is placed– each of these details matters. 

You’ve worked with so many clients. After a point, does your reputation bring in new clients as well?

Yes! I often give advice to younger people in the industry who ask me this type of question: be nice to everyone, even if you need to perhaps be a little more firm at times. Make sure you know what the client wants, i.e. research. Never “oversell” because then they get annoyed. 

Be delicate but also push. It's a fine balance, but when you get it right, the clients respect you and your opinion, and they start talking about how good you are with others. Positive word of mouth spreads from there. 

Do you find yourself having to balance the creative outlook with practical business concerns? And if so, would you say you have a talent for it?

That happens daily. You have to learn how to try to make situations work so that everyone is happy! I've had amazing creative projects come in, but when you look at the numbers they sometimes don’t fit with what the client is expecting. So you have to find ways to work around it and become a bit of a magician sometimes. 

There's a lot of work that goes into managing clients' expectations, especially the creative directors, because they are in the business of creating successful brand campaigns, but their finance teams are in the business of dictating budgets. And finance teams don't necessarily understand production and how much it costs to produce campaigns, especially nowadays in the digital/social media content landscape where there are so many deliverables across both print and motion. 

malin stenborg

Stenborg at an exhibit at Tate Modern

So very often, there are already internal issues from the onset within the company you are working with, then add on the external partners like production companies and artist agencies who are pushing back on their artists’ needs to execute the creative successfully, and that’s where all the real fun starts, haha! As the agent or manager of your talent, it takes skill and experience to be a team player, understand the limitations, come up with creative solutions, and ultimately ensure your talent and your client are set up for success. 

To answer your question of whether I have a talent for balancing the creative with the practical, yes. It's a talent of mine that I’ve become known for throughout my career for sure, and it's why I have a strong reputation in the industry.

Are there any particular aspects of your work that you find especially gratifying?

I absolutely love to get our talent big creative projects that they didn't see coming! Or a client they always dreamed of working with. I am always so gratified when I convince a client to choose a different talent than they initially thought they wanted because I know there is a better match for them and I can explain or prove why. 

And when the client loves the talent I convinced them to book and they love the experience and result of that campaign, they thank me and come back for more!

The best part is that it then becomes my talent that the clients want to continue working with, time and time again, because they are comfortable with them and know they are going to produce amazing results! I love when you can have amazing communication and trust with a client that produces beautiful results for all parties involved. 

All of this is why I love what I do so much. It's what drives my career. 

How often do you explore contemporary art and advertising work from other sources? Is this one of the reasons you enjoy traveling?

As often as I can! I absolutely love traveling. It's important to your personal education as well as your work. You get inspiration everywhere. Just when you walk around in Hong Kong and watch how people dress to the way they wrap big packages! 

Packages in Hong Kong

In Tanzania, they make the most colorful clothing patterns. In Bali, I saw this amazing little hut/art piece they built on the beach for someone who had recently died. 

And of course, it's great to visit contemporary art museums wherever you go in the world! Tate Modern is still a favorite!

Did the pandemic have an adverse effect on your work or was the transition manageable?

I think it was hard for everyone. But you had to be creative and think of ways to make it work, for both our talent and our clients' sake. And in the end, it worked out because, thank God, we all had the internet! I arranged virtual shoots where the clients were in one time zone and the talent was in another with someone holding the camera, while the photographer was in another country telling them how to angle it, etc. 

Crazy! And definitely not ideal but it worked! And then of course all the Zoom meetings with everyone! I think in a way that was nice. You got to know your clients a bit more as everyone was working from home. You felt a little bit closer to everyone else. 

And interestingly, when I first met Chandra, one of the partners at NEER, it was at the very start of the pandemic. I had been at a dinner party with one of the NEER talents who told me, “You have to meet my agent, you two would get along so well!” So he introduced us the next day and we had a great chat. 

Then all went silent for so long when the pandemic took its toll on the industry for a while, but in the summer of 2020, I struck it back up with her. One thing led to another and I’ve been working with NEER as their Director of Artist Management ever since. It's so wild when I think back on it all.

Can you share any details on what you have been working on recently?

There have been a lot of exciting projects coming in! I went to Paris, Amsterdam, and London for almost two months at the beginning of the season to meet and discuss projects with old and new clients. Those sales trips are now already starting to show results, so we have a lot of projects in the works from there right now! 

And we just finished a campaign for M.A.C cosmetics and a perfume campaign for Brioni which was so much fun and looks incredibly stylish! A Louis Vuitton job that is so beautiful, a Valentino cosmetics that is so cool - made with simple but elegant art direction and very cool camera work. 

And then there's another huge project coming up, but I'm not allowed to talk about it yet! We are busy. I’ve worked hard for it so it feels great, and I am very thankful for it.


[All images courtesy of Malin Stenborg.]

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