Even before starting Motion PR more than six years ago, I worked with a client, Kristin Armstrong
, who was a world-class cyclist.
On Wednesday, 10 days before turning 39, Kristin won her second consecutive gold medal—the first-ever back-to-back gold medals for any U.S. cyclist—in the time trial in the 2012 London Olympic Games. I would venture to say it will be decades until anyone equals Kristin’s level of achievement in the sport.
I can speak at length about what working with an Olympian has taught me about dedication and determination, but I thought I’d share things I’ve learned about sports PR:
At the Olympics, there are limitations on media interviews.
U.S. Olympic organizations own the athletes during the games. Forget pitching the hometown media to do a remote phone interview with your athlete from across the pond. Athletes’ schedules are dictated by the U.S. Olympic organizations immediately before and after their competitions.
Also, the TV network (in this case, NBC) has exclusive rights to Olympians before any other media outlet. Even though this seems like a no-brainer, other networks want to speak to these headlining athletes. NBC gets the first pass, though.
Olympians are not dumb jocks.
The best athletes in the world usually have a point of view on marketing and PR. The savvy athletes observe marketing practices, social media, and PR coverage of their competitors and within their sport overall. My experience has taught me that athletes have ideas on how to work with sponsors and how to leverage their cachet and their interests. When I am offered an opportunity to connect a brand with an athlete, I invariably talk to the athlete to see whether they have other ideas, and they usually do.
We must consider the athlete’s strict schedule.
Working with an athlete is not the same as working with a celebrity. Olympians have full-time jobs of training, with regimented schedules that can limit the volume and the depth of their spokesperson work. So, when a startup emailed asking Kristen to judge entries for a contest—at no cost—that same week, we had to turn down the offer. The company said in an email, “It’d only take five minutes of her time.” Hmmmm, would that be before she wins a medal, after she boards an international flight, or in between media interviews?
Although there are exceptions, gold medalists are inundated with requests to stop by locations, but paying offers to appear at events should take precedence. Even if it’s for a nonprofit or a cause in their own backyard, athletes have busy training schedules and personal lives—and often their own favorite charity.
It’s important to approach athletes at an appropriate time and consideration of their other commitments.
The allure of product endorsements.
Many times athletes are offered complimentary products in exchange for the rights to her/his name, testimonial and/or likeness. This is popular in many sports, and for some brands, athletes jump at the chance to receive freebies due to their affection for the products. However, for a relatively unknown brand or a brand without a convincing value proposition, compensation is necessary in exchange for an endorsement.
An Olympian doesn’t need to try a new diet fad.
It seems like a simple concept, but athletes can get emails suggesting they try a miracle new health product to get in shape, in exchange for their endorsement. At the Olympic caliber of skill and experience, athletes usually have the basics of diet and exercise sorted out.
Kristin is now officially retired, but she will long live on in the cycling world and beyond. If you get the chance to work with a world-class athlete who can not only educate you on sports PR, but also inspire you to make the “P” in “PR” stand for persistence, grab that gold-medal opportunity.
Kimberly Eberl is the owner of Motion PR with nearly 15 years experience
in PR and marketing. The name "Motion PR" stemmed from her love of sports
as she's completed 62 running races and has several health, sports and