Building Brand Partnerships With Professional Athletes: The Do's, Don'ts, Rewards, And Risks With Brittany Gilman


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Putting Your Brand In Professional Hands

There are a lot of factors to consider when partnering with a professional athlete to promote your brand. When building these campaigns, there are many do's and don'ts to keep in mind.

Recently, our CEO sat down with an expert in creating partnerships with professional athletes. In this blog, Hollywood Branded learns how to build brand partnerships with professional athletes from the expertise of Brittany Gilman, CEO of BG Sports Enterprises.

EP 262 Building Brand Partnerships With Professional Athletes The Dos, Donts, Rewards, And Risks With Brittany Gilman

A Little More About Our Guest

Brittany is the CEO of BG Sports Enterprises, where she builds brand partnerships and overall PR and personal brand building campaigns for professional athletes. With over 17 years of experience helping athletes dial in on campaigns that work for them, and a very impressive roster of over 500 athletes worldwide, including NFL, football, soccer, UFC, boxing, snowboarding, and other celebrity partnerships, Brittany has a very unique outlook into the world of bringing to life celebrity branded partnerships, including fashion partnerships, and has assisted in the development of a variety of celebrity clothing lines, as well as her own, SKR Apparel, where she uses her drawings for the designs.

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Interview Transcript Highlights

Question: What got you to where you are today? How are you in this industry where you are doing not only brand deals with celebrities, but you're actually helping these athletes develop their own personal branding so that they have more opportunities to make money off the field overall?

Answer: My story is really unique. I've been in sports my entire life, and I think that in retrospect looking back at my youth and everything that I've done, it all is kind of the perfect storm, and one step led to the other. It's actually really interesting, and before I answer your question, a couple of years ago, I was looking through this newspaper that I used to write in in high school. I was an editor and a writer and I was also an athlete. I had actually been interviewed in this particular article about my snowboarding, because I competed professionally for about five years, at a very young age. Prior to me being professional, I was being interviewed because I was a very successful high school athlete.

One of the questions was what do you want to do when you grow up? I said, "Well, I want to be a professional athlete. After that, I want to be a sports agent, like Jerry Maguire." It's very funny because I completely forgot that I said that. Several years ago when I was going through stuff at home, I found the article and I read that and I was just kind of, "Oh my gosh." Being a sports agent and doing exactly what I do was never, I mean I guess in that interview, I said that, but it never was a consistent goal throughout my professional career, like this is what I'm working towards.

It's just really interesting and being an athlete, professional athlete, and at the time I didn't have an agent, PR and branding was a very different industry back then. There wasn't a social media, I'm dating myself a little bit. I had to always find my brand partnerships and my sponsors and I had to figure out ways in which I could generate revenue to be able to pay to go to competitions. I'm a very much a learn by doing type of person, and in retrospect, that's kind of what happens. In college I wanted to be a strength conditioning coach, the first female in the NFL. That was my goal. So, I studied kinesiology.  I was competing professional in college. It was not an NCAA sanctioned sport. So there was no name, image, likeness, or anything like that, issues. Then I went to USC, Southern California, and did an internship with the Trojans football team, in the strength conditioning department. I did that for a year. Then I went to Auburn University, did that for a year, and got my master's in biomechanics.

t that stage I realized, "I don't really want to be a strength conditioning coach, because I don't want to be in the weight room all day." I wanted to live a more exciting life and  be more in the mix and still work with athletes, but in a different capacity. I had kept in touch with a couple athletes at SC that had signed with a sports marketing agency out of Santa Monica, which  I ended up doing an internship at for just a couple months. Then, I left the agency and started my own sports marketing agency. From there, it's just c'est la vie, that's been the adventure. I've literally learned everything as I went and acquired new skills based on our client's needs and changing dynamics of the sports industry and social media and digital monetization and events.

It's been a journey that's really flown by, but I guess just constantly trying to be innovative and bring extra value to our clients. That's kind of what has evolved into what BG Sports is today, an international sports marketing agency. We also have a startup, a tech startup, in the same space. It's just riding the waves of innovation and trying to be the one that sets the path. So long story, trying to make it short.


Question: That's awesome. We haven't really had anyone speak and dive in too much over the last 250 plus podcasts on sports and athletes. Tons on brand partnerships of different types, but the athlete is a different approach than most celebrities, and they have different things they can offer brands that differ from like a music artist, from a actor, or just a general social media personality. I think their approach is a little different because a lot of times they are more localized than nationalized unless they really are the top of the game in whichever team that they're playing for. Can you kind of dive in a little bit about what working with an athlete is, how it's different, how brands in this case, since we're looking at brand partnerships, should be considering them and the right ways to approach?

Answer: I think first and foremost, if you look at a brand, the brand needs to look at their objectives as a brand and see if their objectives match working with an athlete versus a celebrity. The thing about athletes is that if you think about their lifestyle and what it takes to be successful as a athlete, there are very specific things that you have to completely dedicate yourself to. Nutrition and recovery, health, wellness, mental health, and any type of brand in that space, to me makes a lot of sense, because without this particular category and without the athlete really having a strong hold on this category and being successful in this space, they're not going to reach that level of success.

I think that it creates very distinct authenticity in terms of working with the brand within that space. For example, a nutrition company, which with a celebrity relative as well, but with an athlete it kind of takes it to that next step.

Any celebrity can jump on and say, "Oh, I drink this water and it makes me great." But with an athlete, it takes it to that next step, that next level. Athletes are also extremely influential. Some celebrities are, but not all of them. I think that that also is something to take in to mind is that, people want to be, if you're thinking about fans and young athletes and people trying to achieve the same things that these athletes have achieved, they want to know what they're doing. They want to know what are their keys to success. That applies to celebrities also, but I just think that it really does boil down to the type of brand and what they're trying to achieve. Looking at the athlete, looking at their audience, the reach, the demographic, is it a fit? I think a lot of times in marketing some companies will choose to work with an athlete or a celebrity without really understanding the audience and the reach.

Also what's the actual, although you probably won't ever know the ROI, but there's certain athletes that have 100,000 followers and the followers actually listen to what the athlete is saying. They want to know the products they're using and buy the products they're using. Whereas another athlete, their audience may not be like that. They may just be NFL fans. And it's very difficult to know the difference between the two. I think that as much research and information as you can get in using a potential athlete is going to be beneficial for the brand to know, okay, is this a good fit, first and foremost, and are we going to get a good ROI with this? That's really important and it's not easy to do, but there are tools nowadays that can kind of help ease that process. I think the research is key.

Question: Working with athletes, usually are you seeing that they're the same issues that you might hit with celebrities, or are athletes a safer area for brands to go, or can there be more risks involved?

Answer: I wouldn't necessarily say that they're safer because I think it always depends on the individual. Some of the things that happen are difficulty in executing a campaign. For example, if we're talking about a social media campaign where the ask is not that much, it might be a brand that's going to send a product. They want a picture and a video of the athlete or the talent using the product and to post on their social media. Sometimes it's very easy to get and the athlete, is going to be very quick to create the content. Other times they won't. Sometimes you have to stay on top of them and you have to hit them up every single day.

I think that that's very difficult because you don't necessarily know how good a individual is as talent to work with. I think that it really boils down to holding the talent accountable, which doesn't always happen. I know on the tech platform that we're developing, that that's something that we do have on the platform is being able to look at a particular talent and see, kind of like Uber, like, "Oh, where are they ranked? Do they execute? Is it quick? Is it not?" That's something that in the past athletes oftentimes have not been held accountable. I've had issues with particular athletes that I would fly down to Texas for a meeting and then the athlete doesn't show up. There's really no way around that. It's really just doing your diligence, doing your research, feeling out the talent, feeling out the agent, and also as a brand making sure that you're not going to put all your eggs in one basket and you're not going to send this guy the money before they actually execute the campaign, that it's either going to be held in escrow or that there's something that you're not going to get screwed over, excuse my French, because that does happen oftentimes and not just in sports, but just celebrities in general.


Question: What are some of the ways that you have seen brands really find a lot of success with working with athletes?

Answer: I think that creating those authentic campaigns that coincide with the interests of what the athlete already likes and is into, because not only does it make it easier for the athlete to really mean what he or she is talking about and really be a fan of the product, but it also comes across in the content as authentic. If you find a talent that is a fan of, a dog lover, or loves to cook, and you're a brand that is giving these puppy parties or whatever the case may be, you're actually providing value to the talent in a way that they're going to be authentic about receiving it. They're going to want to push this product because they believe in it and they enjoy it. It's finding that fit, it's like a dating service, and making sure that, "Oh, this makes sense." It's not easy to do, but that should be in my opinion, an objective for the brands. It's like, "Okay, we want that authentic talent."

Also understanding that different athletes are going to charge different things and you have to understand the ask. With anything you're dealing with a multitude of personalities, and everyone's going to be different, as I said earlier, but understanding that if you want a lot out of the talent, you're going to have to pay a lot, especially if it's a top tier talent. If you're working with a tier two, tier three, tier four, your money's going to go a lot farther. That's something that I also think is important is that if you're a brand and you have a budget, although it's very appealing to think, "Oh, I can work with this A-lister and have him talk about my brand." Okay, great, but what are you going to get from that? You're going to get a certain amount of posts and hopefully you'll get some ROI if your objective is to get sales out of it or brand awareness, but you can also use that budget with tier two, tier three, tier four, and also maybe not just athletes, but work with a couple of influencers, work with some celebrities, and kind of make that money go farther.

It's understanding that there's no set to achieve success with your strategies, but that to be creative and open to the idea that, "Okay, well maybe we take this $10,000 and don't just give it to athlete A but let's look at these target audiences and these target locations and maybe pick a couple guys and space it out a little bit and then build, leverage those off each other." Trying to not be so traditional, but being a bit more innovative in the approach.

Question: You used to hear about athletes that make so much money from brand deals and being on the field but then go broke at the end of the day. You have touched on it, athletes don't always come from very well-educated backgrounds where they have fundamental foundations in place and their coaches and their teams will, I certainly hear that today, they're trying to provide more services. It's less supportive and more about how the athletes performing on the field or on the court. You're providing a service where you're actually helping them figure out that next step to make their brand more polished. When you're working with talent directly, since that's one of your core that you're doing of a different approach, what are some of the things that you do where it's making an impact? How are you directing athletes and enlightening them on how to better work with brands?

Answer: One of the things I like to do with my talent is figuring out what their passions are outside of sports, because a lot of athletes, they've never had the time, or some of them even the thought of looking at "Well, what else am I passionate about?" To achieve that level of success in the sport, you have to focus solely on the sport. So that's one of the first things we like to do with our clients is talk about, "What are you passionate about? And have you ever thought of post-career?" It's very important to be realistic in terms of any sport career, because in the NFL, the average career is two to three years, with different sports it varies, but understanding, "Okay, long-term, do you have any other goals? Do you have other passions?" Then we try to work with our clients to aid them and assist them in possibly planting seeds now that will fruit later.

If it has to do with the restaurant business or possibly a philanthropic endeavor or clothing, we work with our clients to, first and foremost, educate them in that space, and, secondly, to help to kind of get the ball rolling. If you don't have a foundation already, but you want to start one, we're going to work with you to get that started and launched. If you're passionate about fashion, well, we're going to implement that into your branding strategy and we're going to work with you to launch a clothing line and also start attending events in the space. It's just working with them and educating them, which is key and not just doing things for them, but teaching them, "This is why we're doing what we're doing and I'm going to teach you how to run the business." If I'm launching a clothing line for a client, I'm not just going to plan on running that clothing line forever. I want to teach him or her, "Here's the tools. I want you to be able to do this yourself."

It's really just a matter of empowering and educating them and just assisting them in whatever other objectives, and if they don't know what those are, working with them to discover what those might be.

Check Out The Podcast!

Brittany has so much great information from her experience working with professional athletes, check out the podcast below to learn more about how to drive your business from her advice and expertise!

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