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Brands Are Ditching Their Usual Influencer Marketing Strategies For NIL Deals

Marketing Brew - Brands Are Ditching Their Usual Influencer Marketing Strategies For NIL Deals

Brands Are Ditching Their Usual Influencer Marketing Strategies For NIL Deals

Ever since the NCAA gave college athletes the chance to profit off of their names, images, and likenesses with its NIL policy, brands have been lining up to court them. Almost two years later, though, some companies are finding that student athletes can be a bit hard to pin down.

Many student athletes don’t have agents or PR reps for brands to reach out to. Some aren’t used to checking their emails regularly (they’re Gen Z, after all—you have to slide in their DM's. And between academics and athletics, they are essentially juggling two full-time jobs already.

“We’ve had to relook at our marketing timelines and adjust to new factors such as the players’ academic schedule, practice, and game days,” Sara Tervo, CMO of fashion brand Express, which last year entered into NIL deals with Ohio State Buckeyes football players C.J. Stroud and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, told Marketing Brew in an email.

As a result, brands that want to play ball with college athletes might have to ditch their traditional influencer marketing strategies and write a different playbook.

“Whatever strategy you have for influencer…take it and throw it out the window, because it does not work in this space,” Danny Morrissey, co-founder of college sports marketing agency Postgame, told Marketing Brew.

There are plenty of perks to working with college athletes, NIL pros noted. For one, players can be “regional heroes,” Morrissey said, which makes them ideal for crafting winning local ad campaigns. Express, for instance, was “able to focus on more regional marketing opportunities where we can hone in on the fandom of a localized network with appearance days, local media outreach, and photo shoots,” Tervo said. The brand’s initial partnership with Stroud and Smith-Njigba resulted in 30 billion social impressions, she added.

Student athletes are also busy—really busy. Partnering with student athletes during the season can result in a more “elevated” campaign, but that also tends to be the toughest time scheduling-wise, Morrissey explained.

To alleviate some of that scheduling pressure, he advised brands to enter into partnerships with students before the season starts. Marketers might start creating content with a soccer player ahead of the season in late July or early August so that when the season kicks off, “you can then activate” with the players quickly, Morrissey told us.

Some brands seem to be embracing that kind of less-produced content: A fashion brand once specifically requested an athlete do a reshoot because the photos were “too high-quality,” Morrisey said. Brands should also prepare to be flexible.

”These athletes, they are busy, they have student commitments, they have athletic commitments, and they’re also just living life. The more that you can be engaging with them, flexible but involved, I think you’ll be successful.”

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