Monday, April 7, 2014

Is That Code for "Unemployed"?

Professional runners,

I know that being a profesh runner is hard, and I respect you for working your butt off and having loads of self-discipline and whatnot. Unfortunately, the employers of the big girl jobs do not. They think that “professional runner” is code for “unemployed.”

Employer: Oh. So you run? Like for a living? What do you train for? The Olympics? And you can do that?
Me: Yes. Yes. Races. Yes. Yes.
Employer: Huh. (This is when the employer envisions a life of a professional runner that lives at home in their parents basement who gets up and runs for fun every morning. Maybe a local Turkey Trot winner with some far fetched dream of the Olympics.)

Here’s how I put a spin on the 4 years I have been “unemployed”:

I am Phoebe Wright. I am a small business owner in sports marketing. My biggest client is Nike. I also work for Garden of Life and USATF.  Our target demographic is the running community.

The mission of my company is to connect with running communities to inspire healthy habits via exercise and diet. I want to inform and inspire people to train hard and reap health benefits. The more people get invested in themselves, the more they will invest in products that help themselves. Plus running gear is pretty cool. And I like shoes.

My main revenue comes from advertising space at national and international track events. This space is a 2 inch x 1 inch square located on the left shoulder of my skimpy racing singlet.

 My employees and myself determine the specific events at which we advertise. We take into account the cost, risk and reward of each said event.  

          For example:
          USATF Indoor Championships
          Travel expenses: $1,500
          Prize money:
             1st- $5,000
             2nd- $3500
             3rd- $1250
        Pessimistic Projected finish: 3-5 with a chance of DQ
        Conclusion: Go for the experience.  

My employees:
Consultant (Coach Danny Mackey)
Physical Therapist (Real Rehab)
Massage Therapist (In Health)
Secretary/Financial Consultant (Agent Ray Flynn)

I also work with other sports marketers (my training partners) in a mutually beneficial relationship. We exchange ideas. We share travel expenses. We pull our resources together to advertise to a wider number of people. Plus, I wouldn’t talk to many people on a daily basis without them.

I get the business game. I know how to budget. I know how to assemble a team with a common goal. I know how to assess risk and reward. I know how to invest and predict how the investments will pay off. For example: weekly massages always pay off.

I get the marketing game.
The days of disgenuine-appeal-to-the-masses advertising is becoming obsolete. People are attracted to personality. Personality is polarizing. Some people will love you, some will hate you, but either way you are getting noticed.

I get the health industry.
Having a business centered around fitness and health, I have amassed a large knowledge base in exercise physiology, human psychology (coaching), biomechanics, nutrition, and massage. My advertising space is determined by my performance. Therefore I know what factors affect performance.

I get the international game.
I know how to travel. I can improvise when travel plans go awry. And they ALWAYS go awry.  I know how to interact with people from different cultures, meaning, if Charades were a sport, I’d be World Champ. I am literally a pro in finding the cheapest route from one place to the next.

I have to take sole responsibility for the company. At the end of every year, I run statistical analysis on the progress on my company and make any necessary changes to make sure I am getting the maximal amount of results. (I look back at race results and decide what worked and what didn’t).

Like most small businesses, job security is rare. Even if I do my absolute best, I still may lose my clientele. 

So employer of big-girl jobs, I have been very employed (168 hour weeks) over the past 4 years.


  1. I would make one change: "Our target demographic is the running community" should be amended to "Our target demographic is 45-year-old moms."

  2. Don't forget you are also an entertainer!

  3. This does make me wonder how many professional runners understand the marketing goals of their sponsors. Do sponsors share that information with athletes? What would the athletes do with that knowledge?

    1. They don't. It's hard

      A common misconception is that our job is to solely run fast. That's only a piece of the puzzle. And I am just figuring this out.

  4. What a great post. I enjoy your combination of serious insight and humor. Here's hoping you have a great year in 2014!

  5. Great Post Phoebe!!! What I thought was missing is the comparison between profession runners and professional basketball or football players in the US. They are millionaires and looked up to by many around the nation. I think runners need to market our sport better and make people more interested in professional track and field. But maybe it's the nature of the sport that fails to attract the masses, however the masses are the key to success of any road race, so it can't be THAT boring. How do professional runners take on this role of marketing themselves and their sport to make track and field athletes similar to the level of professionals in other American sports? A nonathlete, employer or "regular" person would never question an NBA or NFL player's employment or salary because of their perceived success and fame. How can we fix this problem..?


    1. I TOTALLY agree. How are people going to see me as a "professional" if my entire sport feels like it's an amateur sport? If people love Nascar and there is a channel specifically for Golf, there is no reason Track can't be mainstream with a little hype.
      Tennis, Golf, and Snowboarding did it right. I don't know what happened to Swimming, Track, Gymnastics, and Figure Skating.

    2. I know what happened. It's top secret and I can't share the knowledge. Need to first excommunicate all the cheaters. Then I will let you know the secret. ;-)

  6. I think you are spot on with the marketing assessment - hopefully projecting more personalities and seeing the recent controversies with the USATF ridiculousness written up in the WSJ with athletes taking strong public stands will get more people/personalities noticed and draw more fans to the sport so they can see what it is all about - I am also hoping we get to the point of that dedicated TV channel - it was cool to watch the NYC marathon live this past year and I am thrilled that many of my son's college track meets are live streamed, we are slowly getting there.....

  7. At the risk of getting slammed . . . I wonder whether part of the problem is that SOME in track appear to have contempt for fans. This is NOT directed to you, Phoebe. I don't know you, but I have enjoyed your blogs tremendously.

    SOME track people are just too cool for school -- they mock "hobby joggers," 45 year-old moms who actually buy the clothes and shoes that support the sport, etc. I can't imagine the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, etc. publicly doing this. They don't tell fans (at least publicly) that they are too slow, etc. to be fans. They don't tell fans that they should not play in local, pick up games because they are mere hobbyists. They don't publicly mock the "demographic" who buys tickets, gear, etc. I am not an elite, never was and never will be. I am an age group mid-packer -- I've qualified for Boston, but I am nothing to write home about as a runner. But, I am a fan. I don't need to commune with elites. I line up in the back at the start, along with other people of my speed. I train, and I set reasonable goals (placing well in my age group). I think it limits the appeal of the sport when some track people appear to have disdain for the midpack. (I am the dreaded demographic that Jon seems not to like -- a 46 year old mom).

    Not long ago, I went to a showing of a documentary about Joan Benoit called "There is no finish line." Joan was there, and on the documentary "tour," people could write in and explain how running had changed their lives to win a run with Joan. At each stop, Joan picked three people to be on stage with her to tell their stories. In my city, Joan picked a traumatic brain injury survivor, a women who lost her daughter to cancer who had raised thousands of dollars for research and a former smoker. None is close to being elite. She was generous to a fault with all of them, and honored their achievements. If Joan Benoit can manage to be welcoming and kind to runners pursuing their own, modest goals, with all of her accomplishments, well . . . I don't quite understand why others are so disdainful.

    This is NOT meant to be a rant. Truly, there are so many wonderful people who run -- elite (I am sure, though I don't know anyone) and non-elite. Just a thought, when considering why certain sports have a wider appeal.

    1. I agree. Elites sometimes go into selfish private land and only focus on getting faster. This is totally not encouraging or approachable to the people who love running for the sake of running.

      I try to make a point to run races with my aunt and dress up for Turkey Trots, but overall elites suck at putting away the pride and having fun with the public. You have my word, I will get better at this, and I will drag my elite buddies with me.
      Anyways. If you are in Seattle and feel like a run, I'm always down.

  8. Thanks, Phoebe. And, when I said that there are many wonderful people who run, including elites (though I don't know any) I meant that I don't know any elites! Not that I don't know any nice elites! I am sure most of you are perfectly nice :-).

    All of us middle and back of packers know that you guys have a lot on your plate, what with trying to get and keep sponsorships, make teams, win medals, etc. Going as fast as you can is your job, after all. I can imagine that fan stuff outside of running can be a physical and emotional drain and time suck -- the "selfishness" that you mention is really just a form of self-preservation, I imagine. Really, we really just want to run our own little races, and be fans on the side lines cheering you on!

    Take care and good luck in your upcoming races.

  9. I really enjoyed this post, Phoebe! While I already knew that professional running is indeed a "big girl job", I'd never thought about your sponsors' goals other than their athletes running fast. It was interesting to ponder that. I appreciate your honesty in saying that you are still trying to figure it out. Take care and please keep writing! :)