Top 5 Running Self Promoters

After our RunFan Radio interview with Peter Abraham this past Sunday during which Peter talked a lot about athletes as brands and what individuals need to do to market themselves, we thought it might be fun to research who’s doing the best job right now. We looked at social media presence, brand recognition, number and scope of sponsors and overall media savvy. We kept it narrowed down to American distance runners and here’s who we came up with as our top five:

5) Kara Goucher - With more than 90,000 Facebook likes and 41,000 Twitter followers, Goucher is the queen of social media among female distance runners. She’s been a fixture on Runner’s World (magazine and web) for years, has a blog on Competitor.com and has been featured in countless Nike Running ads. She’s also a “one-namer,” meaning all you have to say is “Kara” and runners know who you’re talking about. Finally, she is one of the few runners who has managed to bridge the gap and connect with the masses. As evidenced by her social media numbers, her reach goes way beyond your hard-core running fan and therein lies her value. Even though she’s into her mid-30s now, she still brings a ton of exposure to a major marathon and thus is still a very sought-after commodity.

4) Meb Keflezighi - Meb’s sponsors include Skechers, Garmin, Oakley, Power Bar, ElliptiGo, NYAC, Generation UCAN, CEP, USANA, Sony and Krave Jerky. Yes…Krave Jerky. No one has done a better job than Meb (and his agent/brother Hawi) in terms of thinking outside the box when looking for sponsors. Those companies get their money’s worth as well. Meb is NASCAR-like in his ability to plug sponsors at every turn. That often means throwing out links to his nearly 36,000 Twitter followers and his nearly 32,000 Facebook fans. Meb is also great at understanding his commitment to a race goes way beyond just running fast (though he does that part with amazing consistency as well). At this year’s Boston Marathon, which he wasn’t even running but was there for promotional purposes, he stuck around at the finish line cheering for runners for four hours and left only minutes before the horrific bombings.

3) Josh Cox - Josh’s last race that we know of was his 2:13, 14th place finish at the 2012 Olympic Trials. And yet, he is still one of the most recognizable runners in the country, especially to the masses. Read in his own words how his father told him early on that he was going to have to do more than just run to make it in this business. He heeded that advice and built the Josh Cox brand in a big way. We feel 100% confident that Josh is the richest 2:13 marathoner of all time, and that’s meant as a compliment. He’s not just sponsored by Power Bar, Garmin, etc; he’s a spokesman for them, the definition of a brand ambassador. Finally, he began setting himself up for life after running long ago by doing color commentary at major road races, speaking at marathon expos and much more. For pete’s sake he was even a contestant on ABC’s The Bachelorette! 

2) Lauren Fleshman – Her Twitter description says, “Oiselle Pro Runner, Picky Bar Creator, Writer for @runnersworld & spontaneously nutty chick. 2xUS Champ.” Sort of says it all. Fleshman, even in her days as part of the Nike machine, chose to create her own brand and was never afraid to speak her mind. Like Cox, she began setting herself up for life after running with the launch of Picky Bars, an all-natural energy bar company that she founded with husband Jesse Thomas and fellow runner Stephanie Bruce. Her RunnersWorld column, her own blog and her constant barrage of witty tweets have given her the unofficial title of best running writer out there today. Finally, the results of her unique partnership with Oiselle remain to be seen but by all accounts things are off to a great start and could be a model for the future brand/athlete relationships.

1) Nick Symmonds - Though this list is based on much more than running it still doesn’t hurt to be the second best in the entire world at what you do. Nick’s Silver Medal this summer in Moscow was a fantastic athletic accomplishment but it also gave him an even bigger platform to do what he’s been doing so well for years. He’s a self promotion machine…and that’s a good thing in our opinion. His interviews are honest and give a look into his actual personality (a welcome change from the “I just want to thank God” non-answers we see all too often). He also broke the mold last year with the release of his 2012 Training Log, which just happens to be our #1-selling item on RunFanShop. That was another glimpse into his life, which is what fans clamor for from their heroes, as was his outstanding diary this summer on RunnersWorld.com. In it he wasn’t afraid to call out Russia’s Anti-Gay laws which garnered him global media attention, as had his comments on the financial inequities of the Olympics the year before. But don’t let those two political anecdotes fool you. More than anything he’s fun and we think that’s what separates him. Check out his Beer Mile video with more than 83,000 views for further evidence. Now we just hope he releases a 2013 training log so we can have another best seller!

* In researching this post we found a number of other athletes doing a great job; Ben and Stephanie Bruce, Anthony Famiglietti, Shalane Flanagan and  Ryan and Sara Hall just to name a few. Hopefully many more will follow….




3 thoughts on “Top 5 Running Self Promoters

  1. Strong post, Ben. However, while social media should certainly factor into this, websites are the hub for athletes spreading their thoughts in-depth (blog, newsletter, etc.), promoting their personal brand, as well as their sponsors.

    Looking over the list, while a ton of followers is good and all, it doesn’t really mean much if A) the athlete doesn’t interact almost ever with their fans and followers and B) they aren’t ultimately driving them to their website or other relevant, personalized content.

    For example, Kara USED TO blog for Competitor, which also comes up as her primary website. She hasn’t blogged for Competitor since February 2012. The fact that she doesn’t have a website shocks me, considering she is arguably the most famous female distance runner in the United States at the moment. No website = lost value.

    As strong a personality as Nick Symmonds is, his website hasn’t been updated since the beginning of this year. His last News post came in February. The man is so outspoken on social media, which is terrific, but there is zero mention of his World Championship success on his website. His golden marketing opportunity to attract new sponsors, make more money and spread his brand is being lost.

    While I’d certainly rank Nick as the most vocal professional track athlete at the moment, Meb (or Ryan Hall) rank as the best known. Meb’s Olympic success and NYC success simply can’t be beat. He has a collection of sponsors, which help diversify and carry his personal brand forward, and he does a great job of speaking and making appearances often. Every athlete can learn from him. However, Meb’s website, where he has a section for his own words, hasn’t been updated since just before the Boston Marathon.

    What I am getting at is that while these athletes all have a good base of digital platforms to support and promote their personal brands, the vast majority aren’t using them effectively. Instead of looking at numbers, how about look at interactions with fans and potential fans. Stephanie Rothstein Bruce and Lauren Fleshman do a great job with this. Josh Cox blogs every so often (not nearly enough), but he does it at a more frequent rate than 99% of other professional distance runners.

    I’d love the opportunity to work with ONE athlete to build a proper website, that’s mobile friendly, ties to their active social media channels, where that athlete blogs at least weekly, utilizes video, shares their training and what life is like as a pro, actually interacts with fans and shares their personalities. The athletes in our sport can do so much more, giving themselves an increase in personal brand value, but either they don’t want to take the time to build their brand or don’t know how.

    There is a reason Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, Joan Benoit and Craig Virgin are still household names. Yes, they accomplished a lot, but they’ve developed their personal brands which has allowed them to make a career in the sport post-competition.

    • All good points Scott. Everyone could always be better…no doubt about it. I love all the “old-timers” you mentioned as well but I’d have to say their brands were built in a much different way and they didn’t have it near as hard as today’s athletes do. Running held a much higher place in the mainstream sports consciousness and therefore they got way more coverage back then they would today. – BEN

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