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Opinion

Seven Things You Need to Know When Working with Athletes

Athletes inspire their audience both on and off the pitch and William Soulier highlights seven key points brands need to consider when working with athletes on their next influencer campaign.

Britain is a nation of sports lovers. That much is undeniable. From Wimbledon and the Grand Prix to the Women’s Football World Cup and perhaps most exciting of all, the recent men’s cricket World Cup win, our eyes have been glued to our screens and don’t seem to be switching off anytime soon. 

As a result, our interest and anticipation have naturally encouraged a continuum of curiosity in the daily lives of the athletes who achieve these unforgettable moments and make it all happen. Their ambition, grit, and determination have fuelled a generation of influence as these talented athletes inspire their audience both on and off the pitch so they can also achieve similar success and live corresponding lifestyles. 

So, with this in mind, here are seven points that brands need to consider when working with athletes in their next influencer marketing campaign.   

Athletes may be limited in who they can work with

In general, athletes have a sponsor, which restricts the brands they can work with who align with the same vertical. However, whilst this can be limiting on occasion, for the brands who achieve these partnerships, they can build long-term relationships with these athletes and grow organic engagement throughout their careers to really capitalise on their target market. 

Pick the right talent for the right brand

Athletes are a great match for brands who are looking for credible talent in that vertical because they align with their audience requirements. For example, Moet & Chandon worked with Roger Federer and optimised his influence as a successful professional who appreciates the finer things in life, especially when celebrating the end of a tournament.

So, whilst he is far from your everyday ambassador, Moet & Chandon targeted his audience, consisting of people who also want to enjoy luxury moments, attracting the interest of his 6.7 million followers. However, brands still need to be cautious when working with athletes, as with any talent. For example, Israel Folau, who worked with Qantas, made homophobic remarks on Twitter. Not only was this damaging to the brand’s reputation, it certainly didn’t sit well with the CEO of Qantas who is openly gay. 

Be mindful of an athlete’s cautious approach

Athletes will tend to be prudent when working with new prospects, as partnering with the wrong brand can backfire. For example, if they work with a fast-food brand that goes against their healthy lifestyle, they will likely come across backlash, as discovered during the Subway reaction after the 2012 Olympics. Likewise, liquor, vaping or fast track weight loss brands may well be wasting their time targeting sporting talent. Remember though, this cautious approach extends to both parties. 

Be sure to support, guide and train

Athletes aren’t often native content creators, so they may need some more support and training on social media when working with a brand. They may also need to develop their presence in the early stages of working with them. Remember, first and foremost, their sporting talent is their primary industry trade whereas social media and influencer marketing is not. 

Authenticity is key

Whenever working with athletes, brands need to ensure that their message fits with their identity. Anything that feels inauthentic, or too sales-focused will be picked up very quickly and called out by their followers. In general, sporting talent are often seen as more authentic by their audience and they will be keen to keep it that way. 

Their audience is diverse

On scale an athlete is going to have a range of followers across multiple generations, this requires they appeal to a wider demographic across their content. Take Serena Williams who has over 11.3 million followers and inspires young girls who look up to her as a role model, new mums and a steadfast of tennis fans. She needs to relay with each market when working with new brands to ensure she correctly positions herself amongst their values and interests in order to best resonate with them. 

Athletes can assume celeb status

Some athletes can elevate their status well above and beyond their sport, and as such, take on celebrity status. This can be both a blessing and a curse for the brands they work with. For some professionals, their increase in celeb status may lose a degree of authenticity and relevance to their audience, not to mention their expensive fees. 

Ultimately, whether a brand is working with an athlete or any talent vertical, three elements will remain essential for a strong and successful influencer marketing campaign; authenticity, relevance, and credibility. Correspondingly, brands need to ensure they work with agency-signed talent only; talent who have real credibility and authentic value in their space and can align with a brand’s audience in a way like no other can. However, it is essential to ensure their interests align with the brand’s ethos and vice versa to ensure the messaging feels meaningful, authentic and real. This will ensure that the brand’s customers are compelled to take action and in time become its brand advocates. 

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