Assaf Swissa is cofounder and creative director of Superdigital LLC, the Boston marketing firm best known for helping to make Patriots receiver Julian Edelman as big a star online as he is on the field. After just two years in business, Superdigital is earning a reputation for building athletes' brands. The company recently signed Red Sox slugger David Ortiz as a client. Swissa, 34, shared the secrets to Internet fame, and his plans for Big Papi.
1. Before enjoying his success with Superdigital, Swissa endured the disappointment of a startup that flopped. Boston-based Unreal Brands Inc. created healthier versions of favorite candies but, despite an investment from Bill Gates and the endorsement of Tom Brady, the treats didn't sell. (The company relaunched earlier this year without Swissa's involvement.)
"We got creamed," Swissa said. "Snickers and Reese's killed us. We just weren't ready. We thought we had all the answers, and we didn't. I took it hard."
2. Swissa feared his reputation was shot, but he caught a break — and the idea to market athletes on social media — when he met Edelman through an unlikely channel.
"My dad's his hair stylist. So Julian and I were friendly. We went to lunch [in 2013], and he says, 'I've been in the league four years, I've had some nice punt returns, but I'm probably going to get the league minimum [salary]. Should we start to do marketing stuff?' Normally, I might not have taken that opportunity, but since I was already on my ass, I figured why not?"
3. Since that meeting, Edelman has become a focal point of the Patriots' offense, and Swissa has helped turn him into a social media darling with 460,000 Twitter followers, far more than bigger-name receivers like Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions and AJ Green of the Cincinnati Bengals.
"We treat Julian the same way we treat our brands: content calendars, engaging content. We jump on trends. We pull in video. We treat his social media and his website like a company, and it's been working."
4. Swissa's success with Edelman helped him land Ortiz, but the newest member of baseball's 500-home-run club presents a different kind of challenge. Unlike Edelman, who was known as Wes Welker's backup when he started working with Superdigital, Ortiz is already a superstar.
"I'm not here to make David Ortiz famous. He's one of the greatest ever with tons of endorsement deals. What I am trying to do is make him a little more accessible to fans. I want to get his social presence to where it needs to be. He does an OK job, but I think we can get it to a great place. And then I want to make some awesome content. He's so personable and charming that I think we can do better on videos."
5. With a client roster that also includes Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel, pizza chain Papa Gino's, and athletic apparel maker Puma, Swissa is a busy guy. He's mulling an eventual split that would create separate businesses for corporate clients and star athletes, but, for now, he's come up with another strategy for staying on top of things.
"I gave up my car in August. I Uber everywhere now. I save money and, man, I am so productive in the back of that Uber car."