Professional athletes may have one of the easiest times in their personal branding, but they need to take advantage of it, if they want to leverage their name, their skills, and the draw that comes from being on a pro team.
However, unless sportscasters on ESPN are talking about you going first or second in the draft, you’ve got an uphill battle to fight.
I was recently working with a young pro athlete who is still in the early stages of his career, and is starting to build his personal brand in the community. That’s smart. This is the right time to do it, and he’s starting at just the right time. But like most young athletes, you don’t have your own publicist or agent who can take care of these things for you. Or you have a team publicist who can lend you a hand, but you’ll end up doing most of this yourself.
These are the first five steps any new professional athlete, regardless of sport, team, or league, should take to grow their own personal brand.
1. Get a photo of you in action.
Whether it’s you on the court, the field, the track, or wherever — practicing or playing — get a photo of you “at the office.” You already want to be known for your particular sport, so make sure you make it part of your personal brand by making it your avatar on all your social networks. If you’re playing on a team, ask your team publicist for one. If you don’t have one, hire a professional photographer to help you out.
Make sure you get a good shot that lets people know it’s you — your uniform number, your face, or if you’re a race car driver, your car. (And frankly, if you can get a shot with you and your team’s marquis player in it — assuming that’s not already you — that’s even better.)
2. Be active on Twitter
Dan Clarke (@SpeedyDanClarke is an open wheel (IndyCar) and NASCAR truck racer in Indianapolis. He is constantly using Twitter to talk with fans who are following him (and who he’s following back), and to promote the different events where he’ll be driving. Whether it’s a race, a test, or even a course he’s trying out, Dan keeps his fans abreast of what he’s up to. The upside of this is that if he can continue to build his network of fans, he’s more likely to win sponsors so he has a ride this year, because he can show them his legions of loyal fans. Just like a book publisher who is interested in self-published authors who have already sold a lot of books, a sponsor would be interested in an athlete who can bring a lot of fans along with him or her.
3. Set up a Facebook PAGE
Not a profile. A profile is your personal page. That’s how you’re going to talk to family and friends. But you’ll want to keep your fans a healthy distance away, so set your Facebook profile to a pseudonym (e.g. use your first name and your mom’s maiden name) so only your friends can find you.
Your Facebook page is like a public profile, where you can interact with fans, but they can’t see the stuff you’re talking about with family. Be sure to communicate with your fans on a regular basis, so they can feel like you’re involved with them, but they’re not personally involved.
4. Establish a Wikipedia page.
As an athlete, you’re more likely to get a Wikipedia page accepted by the editors of Wikipedia than non-athletes will. Ask your team publicist to help you start it. Be sure they understand the rules of Wikipedia before you start the page: completely objective language. The copy needs to be written like a real encyclopedia. That means “really boring.” In other words, they can’t sound like the player profiles in the program.
5. Start a blog
A lot of people roll their eyes at this, because they hate writing, but a blog may be one of the most important personal branding tools you have. You need a blog as a place for people to find more information about you. Remember, you’re in this not only so you can become famous, but so sponsors can find you. So people who want to pay you a few thousand dollars to speak to their group can find you. So fans who want to learn more can find you.
Your best bet — hire a social media consultant for help on this — is to do the following:
- Buy your name as a domain name from GoDaddy or Domains.com. If you can’t get your name, get your name and your uniform number: DallasClark44.com, for example.
- Set up a free blog at WordPress.com. Better yet, get your social media person to set up a WordPress blog on an external server. (If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, just tell your social media person, “Erik says I need a self-hosted WordPress blog.” If they don’t know what that is, they’re not the ones to help you. Find someone who knows how to create WordPress blogs.
- Point your domain at your WordPress blog. Put this domain on your card (see #6) and on any information you share with people. Remember, you want to drive traffic here — Twitter, your Facebook page, and any other networks are all used to drive traffic here.
- Pick up the book Corporate Blogging For Dummies, and start writing about things in your professional life: training, practice, games/matches. Be sure to include photos and videos.
6. Create a Player Card
Some teams do this for their players who make a lot of public appearances. They create player cards that look like Topps baseball cards, which they sign and hand out to kids whenever they appear in public. If you’re not in one of those leagues, consider creating your own player card. Hire a graphic designer, hand them a few baseball cards, and ask them to recreate that. Put your social media properties on the back with your stats and very short bio.
While your card is not going to be a collector’s item that is as eagerly sought as a Johnny Bench rookie card, it’s going to be something that helps people remember who you are, and even how to get ahold of you later.