Like so many preteen girls in the late 2000s, Olivia Rudensky was a massive fan of the phenomenally successful Disney Channel series Hannah Montana, which launched its lead actress, Miley Cyrus, to superstardom. Unlike those other girls, she channeled her overwhelming love for the show and its lead star into a bona fide career after launching the premier Cyrus fan site – and later Twitter account – at age 12. Just four years later, she was recruited by the star herself to join her Rebel Management team in Los Angeles.
“I’ll never forget the first DM she sent me,” Rudensky tells Billboard. “She said, ‘How’d you get your website to look so amazing? It’s better than mine.’”
This initial communication ultimately led to a years-long working partnership with Cyrus, who recognized Rudensky’s precocious understanding of the often-complex relationship between superstars and their fans very early on. After taking a hiatus from the Cyrus ecosystem to attend Syracuse University for two years, the now-25-year-old Rudensky dropped out of college her sophomore year to rejoin Cyrus’ management team, where she has spent the last four years leading creative partnerships and fan engagement for the singer. Among her many achievements: leading the highly-successful fan marketing campaign behind Cyrus’ 2020 album Plastic Heart and executive-producing the singer’s Instagram Live talk show Bright Minded: Live with Miley, which has garnered over 10 billion digital impressions.
Now, Rudensky is taking her knowledge of superfandom to the next level with FANMADE, a newly-launched fan engagement agency that boasts Cyrus (who is also an investor) as its very first client. Utilizing segmentation marketing – a more niche-oriented approach to targeting fans that eschews traditional marketing campaigns which are largely built around basic categories like age, gender and geographic location – FANMADE will develop top-level fan marketing strategies for both artists and brands. Partnering with Rudensky on the venture are co-founders and fan engagement experts Jaime Bilotti and Claudia Villarreal, who serve as the company’s COO and CCO, respectively.
In addition to Cyrus, the agency’s client list at launch includes influencer Hailey Bieber (whom Rudensky first took on as a client while in college) and the video-sharing platform Lomotif. For the latter, FANMADE executed a special activation at last month’s Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) in Las Vegas, securing Lil Nas X and The Kid LAROI for a surprise performance to promote the launch of Lomotif’s new entertainment and lifestyle network LoMo TV.
FANMADE is also dipping into non-entertainment brand campaigns with clients like Levi’s and Pottery Barn. That may seem like a curious move for three women who got their start in fan marketing for music stars: Villareal kicked off her career by running a One Direction fan account before nabbing a job with the group’s former record label president, CEO of KYN Entertainment, Sonny Takhar; while Bilotti held intern roles at all three major record labels before launching Fan To Band, a fan engagement company (and now FANMADE subsidiary) that builds virtual street teams for artists and helps mentor young superfans who want to work in the industry.
But Rudensky sees working with non-entertainment brands like Levi’s and Pottery Barn as a natural extension of her work with Cyrus. “I’ve always believed that way beyond the music industry and entertainment industry, everything has superfans — whether it’s Delta Airlines or it’s a product or sports,” she says. “There are superfans for everything. We’re starting to see that more and more, with social media allowing everyone to go off into their own niche environments.”
FANMADE is arriving at a crucial time in the superfan space, with so-called “stans” exercising greater power than perhaps ever before. To cite a recent example, Rudensky notes the inclusion of Taylor Swift’s 10-minute version of “All Too Well” on Red (Taylor’s Version) following a massive push by Swift superfans to release it. This week, the pressure paid off when the track debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the longest song ever to grace the top spot on the long-running chart. Of course, Swift is an anomaly — more than most performers, she has consistently demonstrated a preternatural understanding of her own fans — but that’s a rarity in the music business, Rudensky says.
“The industry really [doesn’t] understand fandom, and there is no [other] company that can talk to superfans and know what they want,” she says. “It’s such a missing market in this industry, because…everything in the entertainment industry is trying to service the fans. And no one dedicates enough time to understand that.”
Still, Rudensky has seen a shift as of late, with record companies diving deeper into the superfan space than ever before. To her, that’s nothing less than a validation of her life’s work. “The word ‘fan’ has been stigmatized for a long time,” she says, adding: “Now every label anywhere you go in the entertainment industry is like ‘Okay, what are our fans thinking?'”