True Partnership. This is something we strive for with every single one of our deals on behalf of our athletes and partners. But, what does this mean, exactly? And why do we, and many, continuously run into roadblocks when it comes to seeing the win/win mentality in a partnership? There are three key areas we have identified where things seem to be falling flat and perhaps with a little effort on all sides, we will start to see more collaboration, compassion, and ultimately, success for all parties involved.
It all begins with that first phone call or email. Understanding a party’s intentions behind their interest in a particular athlete is key to evaluating what they are looking for out of the relationship. More than likely, they are aiming to drive awareness and ultimately lift sales. And all of that is great - unless it’s all they’re looking for. If the sole focus is more “me” vs. “we”, this immediately begs the question: do you actually care about THIS athlete, and if not, why should you expect the athlete to care as much about this project beyond the transaction and base deliverables? Have you done your research on this athlete beyond simply what their following is on social media? Do you know what they care about, what they stand for? Does that align with your core values and principles? Do you want to grow with them? Support them in their career and beyond? I guess it begs a number of questions, actually. These early discussions are key to vetting potential opportunities and determining whether it makes sense to move forward or not.
The partners that come to us with purpose, research, and questions truly ignite the flames early on. Understanding and appreciating the human element of working with athletes makes a world of difference when considering the different types of assets you can tap into. Sure, an athlete’s audience on social media is a great tool, but more partners should look at athletes as their consultants and liaisons into their world. Most athletes are incredibly connected and educated on the way partners can activate, but they rarely feel like partners care enough to tap into the years they have spent in this space. Really diving into who that athlete is as a person often uncovers substantial opportunity - ripe with authentic ways to tie them into the things that matter to your brand the most.
Once we’ve established a mutual benefit to collaborate - things move to negotiations, and we frequently see one common thread: the lack of negotiations. Any time two parties come to the table to form a contractual agreement, there should naturally be some push and pull on both sides. The expectation that either party should simply sign with no questions should never happen. Imagine approaching an A-list celebrity and saying, “Here is the contract, take it or leave it.” Yeah, they’re going to leave it. Why treat any other athlete that has built true credibility within their category differently?
Let’s say we make it through the contract seamlessly and we’re finally ready to execute. Brainstorming meetings are held, strategies are put in place, and everyone involved is excited at the creative possibilities of what can be achieved together. But one day, a call comes in, and a partner needs some content to go up a week earlier than communicated or they need the athlete to fly across the country for a photoshoot within a few days’ notice and no, this is not negotiable. Despite best efforts to plan ahead and stay on the same page, these things happen - we get it. Humility is often overlooked when the bottom line is held like a gun to everyone’s head. All parties need to ground themselves in the fact that there are people behind everything we do and obligations that take precedent. Just because an athlete is hired to work with a brand does not mean that they are working around the clock for that brand, or that they should be on call at any waking moment to jump on something out of the blue to fix or edit. They are people, too, with families and lives, just like all of us. Partners owe more respect to the time and efforts their athletes dedicate to the creative process because at the end of the day, great content is never rushed, and they will ultimately see better results if they put less pressure on quick-turn requests.
So, where do we go from here? The first step, we think, is rooted in education. If a partner has grown accustomed to certain behaviors or responses when it comes to talent, they have no reason to believe things should be done another way. It’s on managers, agents, and agency partners to broach these difficult, but incredibly important conversations with partners and their respective marketing teams to help guide them through the process. Ask the tough questions - what are they really trying to get out of this? Help them understand the importance of mutual language in contracts. Remind them to lead with compassion and empathy. Encourage them to be a difference-maker. Establish a foundation of equal benefit and reward - that’s where the true magic happens. Bottom line: communication and compassion not only go the distance in a partnership but they resonate significantly with your consumers and fans as well.
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