Anna Boniface offers advice to help athletes navigate the changing world of sponsorship.

For the past year, I have been incredibly lucky to be part of the Saucony Hurricanes Racing Team. I am not a world class athlete. I’ve had one international outing and a few decent domestic performances, yet I’ve had sponsorship opportunities due to forward thinking, a strategy and marketing myself.

Sponsorship has changed. The boom in social media and the emergence of the ‘influencer’ has seen a shift towards the running community wanting to engage with everyday runners with a relatable story.

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to be billboard anymore. In fact, all you need is a camera, a story and savvy social media skills.

Athlete vs. influencer

Many elite athletes racing the diamond leagues and marathon majors all don the same singlet and racing shoes, leaving little room for personality to shine through. To a lot of the running market, these athletes are nameless, no matter how talented they are.

The ‘influencer’ is a personality. With daily accounts of their running and personal lives, you feel like you know them, despite never meeting them. As humans, we mimic those who inspire us. These everyday heroes are the running role models and brands have caught onto this.

These runners who grace the cover of Runners World with 10K + followers on Instagram clearly have great business minds. No doubt, its an incredibly time-consuming process. Arguably, athletes in the pursuit of the international stage should be too busy training and recovering to have their head constantly glued to their tablet.

Yet, the reality of the digital age is sponsorship opportunities are becoming less about how fast you run but more about how many you followers you have.

It frustrates me seeing talented athletes sidelined for opportunities, but athletes need to take ownership of their brand in order to be more appealing to the running community.

So what can be done?

Business mentoring

Could successful businesses mentor prospective athletes in marketing and creating a brand? With incredibly limited lottery funding, national governing bodies providing education to help athletes get further support from sponsors could help them make the transition in their athletic career.

After all, some funding for a training camp or medical expenses can make the world of difference to an athlete on the brink of a breakthrough.

Be a role model

Elite or recreational, every runner is relatable. Share your running anecdotes and experiences. We all go through the same highs and lows, no matter what level you are.

It’s also important to show your personality, perhaps with a trademark that makes you stand out (For me, it’s my race day hair, backward hats and running with my thumbs up).

Engage with followers, show your personality with jokes and banter but always remain professional. Twitter arguments and Instagram rants are off putting. Always inspire to be the example athlete.

Be strategic

Having savvy social media skills can go a long way. Being strategic with timing, hashtags, tagging and posting relevant and creative content will ensure maximum coverage.

Research what time of day and week the target market is active on social media (e.g. after club training or Sunday long runs) and find popular hashtags relevant to your posts.

Social flattery

Perhaps there is a particular brand or company you are trying to engage with? Flattery goes a long way to get on someone’s radar. Research the company well including their history, values and key market to find a good discussion point.

Platforms like Linkedin can be useful to find influential people to tag in a social media post or a blog complimenting their products. I’ve done this using a blogging platform called Passle, which utilises twitter and quotes from articles to maximise the blogs impressions over social media.

Self belief

When engaging with potential sponsors it’s important to be confident and have self-belief. Uncertainty doesn’t sell or promote anything. It’s essential to make them believe in your goals and ambitions to be willing to support you.

You also need to highlight what you can do for them and show how you can promote their business. Have your own marketing plan around your racing and training schedule with ideas of potential social media posts to promote their brand. Be innovative.

Do you have other skills to offer? For example, athletes classically have transferable qualities to business (dedication, hard working and focus) Could you give a motivational talk to inspire their employees?

Represent what you’re passionate about

Don’t pursue something for the sake of being able to write “supported by….” on your bio. Think carefully about how a sponsorship opportunity (e.g. kit, financial or nutrition product) will benefit you as an athlete.

Only get involved in something that you believe in. Research the company and their product so you can give genuine advice to other runners.

Get the balance

Training, nutrition, sleep and recovery is the priority. Spending hours staying up late on social media and worrying about how many likes you got on your latest post will no doubt hinder performance.

Carefully consider the terms of a sponsor and the time you can commit to this. I’ve recognised this lately in myself and the impact social media has on my sleep hygiene. I now limit my social media with a 9.30pm curfew and allocate specific times for blogs and social engagement.

For the aspiring athlete, it’s not just a kit drop or financial backing that benefits them. What I find most beneficial about being supported by Saucony is having a team that believes in me and being part of a group of athletes that inspire me.

For athletes trying to make it to the next level, the small things make a big difference, but mostly having others believing in you can add to the formula of success.

RELATED: Susie Chan on running and influencers

Anna Boniface features in the ‘Fast 10: class of 2018’ and over the course of the year will share her running journey. You can read Anna’s previous posts here and further information about the ‘class of 2018’ can be found here.

Are you a fan of Fast Running? Then please support us. For as little as the price of a monthly magazine you can support Fast Running – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.