Image courtesy of Lauren Fleshman.
Even in the slick, corporate world of sports marketing, there’s still a sense of opposing convention and reading against the grain of profit margins, or, in other words, “going indie.” In which case, track and field star, entrepreneur, and 2016 Olympic hopeful Lauren Fleshman is not far removed from the many DIY musicians you can find all over BreakThru Radio, bucking offers from the mainstream in favor of a smaller, more personal kind of business.
Such was the motivation behind Fleshman’s sponsorship with the Seattle-based Oisielle, an independent women’s sports apparel company she started working for after ending her decade-plus stretch with Nike.
“This old model of sports marketing is it’s just cut-and-dry, [there is] no humanity in it,” says Fleshman of the transition last year. Without naming names, she cordially describes to BTR’s DJ Marie of the Sew & Tell podcast how the “old ways” fail to recognize the personal attributes of an athlete that may actually connect with the public enough to buy a product they endorse.
In short, major sports brands love medals. To them, success on the playing field is directly proportional to profit, which works for athletes whose chosen sport depends less on individual achievement. In the world of running, however, there’s seldom, if ever, a binary win-loss dynamic. When two football teams compete, ultimately, only one goes home happy; meanwhile, when six runners race in a mile sprint, the first-place winner could feel self-conscious about their quarter-mile timing.
Which is not to say that Lauren Fleshman isn’t an accomplished runner, that’s hardly the case. What’s essential to her appeal as the face of a product is the strong connection she has with her audience. Effectively communicative, she maintains a very successful running blog (with a rigorous attention to responding to user feedback) as well as her own small business — Picky Bars, a line of nutritious gluten-free and dairy-free training snacks.
Beyond being the star athlete with medals to boast, she’s a grounded role model who highlights both “the ups and downs” of being physically active. Having sustained some pretty serious injuries in the past, plus the glories of pregnancy, Lauren bares some candid yet cathartic nuggets of advice for those looking to bounce back from the bottom.
Take one of her blog entries on recovering from an injury, a March 2012 post titled “IT Band Hits Rock Bottom (if only this was about a rock group)”:
“Trying to fix a stubborn injury can be demoralizing,” wrote Fleshman. “And I’m not just talking about the crying in public, or getting passed by a nun with a limp while you stagger home from a failed run. I’m talking about the bare-ass nakedness of your weaknesses getting exposed in the effort to return to health.”
She may be currently training in the hopes of running a few sprints in Rio come 2016, but if there were an Olympic category for speaking truth to frustration from one athlete to another, Fleshman’s writing skills might be worth gold.
Check out this excerpt a little further down the page about confronting one’s own personal humility at the doctor’s office:
In no other area of my life will I pay money to have a person tell me straight to my face that I’m terrible at something, but when I’m at the doctor unsuccessfully attempting a ‘single-legged turn-a-ma-jigger’ I want him to say, ‘You suck at that. That’s the reason you’re injured,’ and when he does I want to jump up and give him a big fat kiss on the mouth, but also grab a hanky.
The comments section of the post is filled with dozens of responses, many of which are replied to thoroughly by Fleshman.
Sporting two successful independent brands under her own belt, she felt as though connection with her audience exempted her from the base “winning = sponsorships” formula. Luckily, Oisielle is the kind of company whose consumer-conscious brand fits perfectly with such an interactive personality.
Then again, a zeal for customer service wasn’t the only virtue that the company’s kindred spirits shared.
“Women are an endangered species in sports marketing,” laughs Fleshman, remembering her first visit to the Oisielle offices. “It’s pretty cool to walk into their headquarters and have it be women everywhere.”
For more with Lauren Fleshman, check out this week’s Sew & Tell podcast with DJ Marie, airing this Friday at noon on BTR. You can also check out here site, Ask Lauren Fleshman, here.