Is Bronze Best? Turning Olympic Triumph to Treasure.
Now that the Olympic torch has been extinguished, it's back to bagging groceries or banging nails for many athletes. Coming from humble beginnings and modest means, the window of opportunity for most to convert their athletic successes into better earnings and a long-lasting legacy is slim.
Of course, while some of the more prominent gold medalists and recognizable names – think swimmer Caeleb Dressel and track athlete Sydney McLaughlin - will not have to look far for endorsement deals and opportunities, for silver and bronze medalists the road to converting success in sport to financial gain can be much more difficult.
The irony? Silver and bronze medalists are often MORE marketable than the person with the gold.
Why is it that second and third place finishers often end up leaving a lasting mark long after the competition is over? What sets them apart? How does an Olympian get started on their own marketing journey?
These second and third place finishers are often humble with a hunger and drive fueled by the shadows cast by that first-place winner. This, paired with a “keep your head down and work” mentality, allows them to have the focus to brand themselves properly and to find their niche more easily.
Think about show business and the hit TV show “American Idol”. There are a lot of examples of first-place winners having their moment and quickly being forgotten, but many runners-up continue finding success. A great example is Taylor Hicks, winner of the 2006 show, who now occasionally plays a set in his restaurant, Saw’s Juke Joint, in Birmingham, Alabama. Meanwhile Runner up Katharine McPhee went onto a movie and TV career finding super stardom along the way and let’s not forget about Adam Lambert, Season 8 and Jennifer Hudson in 7th place in Season 3.
Marketing and ego go hand and hand, so how does that silver or bronze finisher get that first opportunity? How do they discover their brand?
A good start is to pause for self-reflection.
What are my values? Integrity, honesty, fair play?
What do I care about? Endangered species, climate change, social equity?
What am I involved with? Volunteering at the local food bank, walking dogs at the local shelter, welcoming newcomers to the campus?
Once you have a better sense of who you really are and have it documented, you must go out and try it on for size. Go to an event and start talking to people. In America, when you meet someone new, you will almost always be asked, “What’s your name and what do you do?” Practice. Prepare to communicate with more and more people.
Then you can tweak, tweak, tweak until you have it down and see it registering with your target audience.
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR OF PROFESSIONAL HELP
Now that you have some sense of who you are and what you offer, who is the first person that you as a successful Olympian should connect with to begin the marathon journey to leveraging your fame?
Many would suggest talking with a solid marketing consultant. Invest in yourself, just as you did when finding the right coach, the right gym, the right training partner. Start with an introductory session to find the right fit.
The session should not be more than $300 - $500. In comparison, a single college course in many schools is $5,000. Some large agencies will even meet with you for one hour or so without a fee.
It is best to plan for a two to two-and-a-half-hour session. The first half hour to 45 minutes should be about getting to know you. The final hour is focused on the nuts and bolts of what you need and want to accomplish. The marketing professional needs to know who you are as a person. Your personality comes out fast if the right person is asking the right questions.
Smaller to medium sized agencies are more diligent in their focus on you. They won’t generally have thousands of clients, making you more than a number. Look at the individuals within a company. Look at the team you might work with, not just the one rock star they introduce you to first.
Walk away with a clear strategy. It’s not about the next gig, it’s about your legacy long-term.
I recommend that you record the session as well as bring a family member or a friend with you. They can help act as a filter and also help you remember everything that is said. Make sure it is someone who not only has your back, but someone who will be honest even if it’s uncomfortable. This person might see or hear positives you miss, or they may even have the sense that someone or something is not the right fit for you.
Be open to a marketing professional that is going to push you out of your comfort zone a bit and perhaps even get under your skin on occasion. This can be a good thing. You don’t want someone who is there to coddle you with “Good job! You are great. We will do whatever you want.”
You want someone who is willing to push you. You want someone to tell you the truth, which may be hard if you are used to having your ego stroked and your accomplishments put on a pedestal. You are paying them to help you reach your goals, let them do what they do best; helping you create the strategy that highlights the best you possible.
A great marketing professional knows their job is to make sure you are very focused on a long-term goal and have a vision for a bigger plan.
CAUTION – RED FLAGS
Many times, Olympians are approached by opportunists and con artists. If someone feels like the wrong person for your team, listen to your gut.
Never pay to play. You should not have set up or administration fees for an accountant, agent, lawyer or others. The classic red flag comes in the form of something like “Join our firm and we’ll get you in with Disney. All we need is a $5,000 investment from you to get started.”
There are deliverables you do pay for, of course, and reasonable expectations of fees for work performed and contract obligations fulfilled. Make sure what you are paying is legitimate by asking for, in writing, a clear list of tasks/services to be performed, deliverables, and timelines.
Do not give away money and do not give away your name or likeness. You are the number one priority, protect yourself.
You are going to make mistakes. It’s okay to have your pity party but be prepared to move on. Use your mentors and close, trusted confidantes to find new resources. Do your homework so you can avoid those situations in the future and mitigate those mistakes.
If you hire someone, plan to check in with them weekly. If something is going wrong, it’s easier to address when it’s just started then when it’s already a disaster.
Do not take equity in a company as compensation. There are too many factors that you cannot control. Unfortunately, there are bad people with bad intentions across all industries. Do your due diligence and protect yourself from the start.
POST OR PERISH
The next step after choosing your marketing team is to capitalize on the power of social media. Sadly, many Olympians do not.
There is an assumption that “all kids'' are on social media. In truth, many high-level athletes, especially males, are not. Even when they are, it is sporadic at best.
You must know how to use social media and choose the platform that makes the most sense for you. It’s not just about growing any audience. It’s about growing the right audience. The app you choose must align with the people you are looking to target.
Example: Maybe you choose to be on Pinterest. Some people will say, “Pinterest is so old!” But, guess what? Some of your products may be targeted to people who scroll it daily. Even if it is “old” for you, it might be exactly where your target audience spends their time. Learn the app, figure out how best to use it, and then get into a rhythm.
It’s not always logical to have a presence on every platform. Figure out which one (s) is best for you and use it fully.
Once established on social media, many athletes will then look towards the speaker circuit. Name recognition makes this a logical progression.
Warning – your first presentation is probably going to be awful. It’s okay.
Audiences tend to get bigger and bigger and every single time you speak, you will become more of an expert at performing the task.
How do you build up to that? Research the style and timing of other speakers. YouTube has endless clips. Figure out who is going to help you get there, and then practice, practice, practice. That should be easy for a world class athlete!
The best part about presenting is that usually the venues are colleges and universities, and the events are typically sponsored by local, regional, and national brands. Exposure opportunities with speaking engagements are tremendous and getting in front of a potential sponsor is incredibly important in establishing your ability to be a potential expert or spokesperson for their brand.
As you work social media and begin the speaking circuit, aligning yourself with the right mentor can be hugely beneficial. They can open doors for you and help you make important connections.
Your mentor can help you navigate the path you are on to brand yourself and earn those speaking engagements and sponsorships.
Your mentor should also help you build out your team by identifying who else can help and figuring out ways to get them to work with you.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN
Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, said in a recent Oprah interview “I was everywhere but I was nowhere”. She was stuck in the castle while the press ramped and distributed untrue content about her. She cannot control the tabloids.
Simone Biles, the American gymnast, had her face plastered everywhere while dealing with her mental health concerns. She could not control what the media said, or how often they made her the main topic. Luckily, she didn't even know it was happening because her focus was on trying to get back out to compete again.
We cannot control all content. Read that again.
What you can do is manage a few critical things where you do have control. If you are tagged on social media, you can arrange to have it untagged or removed. If “Aunt Betsy” posts a picture of you, her favorite Olympian, asleep and drooling on the couch, ask her to remove it or untag you. Her intentions weren’t bad, she really thought she was being cute, but how your likeness is used matters. Guard it fiercely.
LIKE THE GIRL SCOUTS – BE PREPARED
Be prepared for any situation. Be prepared for any questions that may be asked. Work with your team to develop a list of tough and not so tough questions – practice answering them. Then, practice them again.
Be cool and composed. Good day, bad day, doesn’t matter. Do the interview, present at the conference, share the post on social. Lose it in the privacy of your car and with your team later. Pick up tomorrow and start again.
Olympic medaling was a long, hard journey. Ready for the next one?
You’ve got this.