For Kevin Jagger, the value of a photograph is its reach. By posting a shot of himself sprinting up a hill or experimenting with specialized speed-skating equipment, the 27-year-old Vancouverite who quit his job as an investment bank analyst to pursue the Olympic dream, can reach his supporters and sponsors.
"As an athlete leveraging social media, your aim is to share your story and expand your audience," he wrote for a July blog post at longtracklongshot.com titled "Be your own PR rep: How amateur athletes can leverage Twitter to gain exposure."
Exposure can mean sponsorship dollars, an essential component to paying the bills and continuing the pursuit of each and every athlete who wants to own the podium.
NIKE'S NOT CALLING
Jagger funds his dreams by staying close to home, for the most part.
"Athletes that talk about sponsorship, they are talking about big, big brands: How do I get in front of Nike? And the best answer is that you don't. When they want you, they will come and they will get you," he said, emphasizing the inherent worth and word-of-mouth influence of family and friends over distant corporate giants. "Amateur athletes can and should be funding themselves from a very small base," he said. "If your aunt and uncle are following the blog and they cut you a cheque for 2,500 bucks, mission accomplished."
Jagger's primary sponsor is Provident Security, a home security firm owned and operated by his older brother. He also receives support from Outsourcing Things Done, CanWelBroadLeaf, Epta Fine Custom Homes and the real estate team of Marty Pospischil. Financing from Quantum Pacific Capital, a Hong Kong-based venture fund came through because of a connection through Citibank, Jagger's former employer. How'd they hear about Jagger across the Pacific? Twitter.
"It has to do with arming your supporters to have the ability to promote you on your behalf," said Jagger, who blogs frequently and makes a point of sending hand-written thank-you notes.
Jagger is setting the example. He's quickly becoming an online media coach and mentor to the fellow skaters who train alongside him.
TWEETING ABOUT EATING
The first way to draw eyerolls from Twitter followers and derision from those uninitiated to the micro-blogging platform, is to Tweet about your breakfast. That maxim doesn't necessarily hold true for athletes. "You have a gun to your head in McDonald's, what would you order?" These kinds of hypothetical situations, says Jagger, are fascinating to ask an athlete. "The decision that goes behind that is what people are actually really interested in. It's a constant process and food is just one example."
Trevor Turnbull, a sports business consultant, says Jagger is setting an example for amateur and even professional athletes. "It speaks to the fact that you don't need a massive audience to make an impact, you just need an engaged audience," said Turnbull. "The value the sponsors are looking for is partially in exposure, but it's really engaging with the audience, giving them a more behind the scenes look at the sacrifices that these athletes make to compete in their sport."