What do professional athletes and brand partnerships have to do with the future of social media? In this interview, we’re talking about building human relationships in a media vortex with Athelo founder Andrew Stallings.
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Athelo is a Sports Consulting firm built to help niche professional athletes score opportunities, sponsorships, and collaborations through personal brand development, storytelling, and the rare “human-first” approach.
In this episode, Ross and Andrew dig deep to find meaning in marketing – a beacon of light and familiarity in a stormy sea of “data”-driven campaigns and doing it for the ‘gram.
Here’s what you don’t want to miss:
1. Data is the enemy (sometimes)
As marketers and business owners, we know that data helps us make decisions and automate our processes. For Andrew and the team at Athelo, however, “data is the enemy.” Andrew explains that challenging the data is where creativity happens. Instead of playing the short game of creating partnerships and opportunities based on perceived ROI or previous engagement stats alone, Athelo works with brands and athletes to craft partnerships that are holistically beneficial and will lead to bigger, better things in the long term. Part of Athelo’s ability to see the 10,000 foot view is an effort to think beyond money.
2. Marketing is about more than money
Ross explains money as the flipside to marketing. We understand that marketing brings in leads that convert to sales and bring in revenue. That’s a given. However, the larger nuance to marketing isn’t that simplistic. In marketing, the quickest avenue to a sale can often be a bad move that leaves audiences alienated and uninterested in further messages from you. Ross discusses Seth Godin’s concept of “permission marketing” here and offers some excellent advice on thinking community-first instead of sale-first on social media.
3. Work *with* clients vs. working *for* clients
Andrew and Ross are both from the South and take their Southern hospitality very seriously. Many of Andrew’s athlete clients are in niche positions and struggle to get enough attention and care from large agencies and busy agents. Athelo’s process steers away from representation and securing high dollar partnerships from a distance – instead, they collaborate with their roster of athletes and brands. Andrew credits Athelo’s collaborative and highly available approach for their success and ability to differentiate in such a big-ticket industry.
Ross and Andrew both take an educational angle toward business and talk about the importance of helping athletes and entrepreneurs learn and develop, not just tick boxes.
4. Mixed-industry partnerships don’t have to be mismatched
Ross inquires about the complexities of matching athletes to non-Sports brands for opportunities and partnerships. Andrew’s explanation is simple: it’s all about the goals. Athelo wants to know: What does the athlete stand for? What does he or she want to be known for? What matters most? On the other hand: What do these brands need to promote? Who are they trying to reach? What’s the story? When there’s a connection to be made, Andrew and his team get busy creatively making that connection.
Ross and Andrew discuss how this is the key to anything. Today, marketing is less about promoting products at all, and more about telling a story that audiences can connect to. Kobe did it, and we can see the impact that a life like his can have outside of sports. Athletes, like brands, win big with audiences when they demonstrate that they’re about more than just one industry or one goal.
5. The future of digital is analog
Both Ross and Andrew take turns asking each other one pointed question about the future. Ross asks “what are you excited about right now” and Andrew asks “do you think content and storytelling will pivot away from social media?” Though very different questions, their respective answers brought up an interesting foray into (and critique of) our collective dependency on social media and technology. The thesis is that we’re all overwhelmed. We all want to build more human relationships and less transactional ones. We all want less content, better content, and more opportunities to experience the world screen-free. The consensus is that the future will be built on the backs of companies and individuals who support human life offline while still enhancing it digitally. See also: Capital One Cafés.
Key Takeaway: Make your marketing matter to real human people
If you hope to build a winning personal brand like Athelo’s roster of athletes, build relationships with incredible influencers and talent like their roster of brands, or learn how to do your own marketing the human-first way like Tricycle’s clients get to do, put people first. It’s not that simple at all, but… it also is.
This is your reminder that marketing is not about the channels, the tactics, or even the revenue. If you want to grow your audience this year, don’t be overwhelmed by marketing: it’s just a series of conversations between two voices who are getting to know each other.
Build their trust. Offer value. And don’t be afraid to think outside the social feed.