After finishing a successful NCAA Division I swimming career at George Washington University, Jessi Stensland entered the professional triathlon circuit in 1998. Her first professional win came in 2001 on one of the toughest bike courses on the circuit, at the St. Kitts International Triathlon.
Since then Stensland has had 20 career wins both nationally and internationally, as well as success as a video producer and endurance performance specialist.
We spoke to her recently to get her thoughts on what it takes to market yourself as an endurance athlete, and tips for how pro athletes can best approach the private sector when looking for sponsorship.
Q: Jessi, you've done a great job not just marketing yourself as an athlete but also as a brand. Can you maybe talk about a few things as far as the promotion marketing side of being an endurance athlete.
A: Number one, realizing that it is a business is huge for people. One thing that really helped me when I was thinking of it in those terms was having worked for the Rock n' Roll Marathon.
They showed me how similar an elite athlete is to a running race when it comes to sponsorship. You've got this race and you've got the audience at that race: that's the 30,000 runners or the triathlon world.
Sponsors and companies want to reach that audience. The race is simply a way to reach that audience. It's the same with an elite athlete.
Q: What are companies looking for in sponsoring an athlete?
A: If you're thinking of running for a company, they don't really care if you're a great person. They need to spend their money and time on reaching the audience that they want you to reach.
What helped me was to just place myself within that world of business saying: "All right, if I'm going to be confident and want to market myself, to brand myself, to get monetary support to do my sport I have to reach people. I have to make an impact."
"I have to not just have them read my logo on my race outfit but actually speak to people whether it would be a product, something I use, something I do and be really good at that as well".
It helps your sponsors in the business world when they come across someone who understands that they are trying to sell a product and make an income.
That is how I started my cover letters. It was like: "How can we sell more bikes? I want to help you with that. I know this is what you have to do."