“Entertainment value and relatability” | Iona Stephen on Women’s golf
.The latest instalment of our Inside Track interview series with athletes we talk to Iona Stephen, fresh from her 450 km cycle ride in aid of the Big Change Charity. Having documented the journey extensively through social media, Stephen also finds time to tell caytoo why she finds ways to add value to brand sponsorships, even when away from golf, and some lessons for other athletes.
caytoo: How would you sum up the current health of women’s golf?
Iona: On the whole, the message in women’s golf is really positive. However, the professional tour, particularly in Europe has been in a bit of trouble for the last couple of years. It’s disappointing and something needs to be done quite quickly. Having said that, there are a lot of positive moves being made to align the women’s tour with the men’s, which in turns brings more exposure that will allow it to grow.
This year we had the GolfSixes Tournament which sees men and women actually competing against each other. That is seriously groundbreaking. It may be slightly lower profile for the men but for the women it’s one of the biggest opportunities to get exposure and show off their skills at that level. Hopefully more opportunities like that will arise for women.
caytoo: What does the women’s game offer sponsors?
Iona: Women’s golf has great entertainment value. Women have a lot of skill, personality and relatability. If a sponsor was working with women’s professional golf, they’re sending a message to the world that they’re able to tap into a wider market. There are women out there who want to engage more in women’s sports.
caytoo: Are sponsors missing any opportunities in women’s golf?
Iona: There is definitely an opportunity for sponsors to engage with the women’s game at the moment. The players are enthusiastic, passionate and there is great morale, particularly the European players that need the help right now. Perhaps the sponsors aren’t aware of that.
“There has been some fantastic media created
and all the players are incredibly grateful for the support.
Therefore, they’re passionate about giving back.”
There was a tour launched in Spain last year called the Santander Ladies Tour, sponsored by Santander Bank. With that partnership there has been some fantastic media created and all the players are incredibly grateful for the support. Therefore, they’re passionate about giving back.
caytoo: What experience do you have with working with personal sponsors? How did you make this happen?
Golf is naturally a very sociable game. As a professional, I’ve had the opportunity to mix with potential sponsors, but you do have to stick your neck out and say, ‘look, I think we could have a good relationship.’ Golf generates that kind of environment for those conversations to happen and I use that time wisely to help build the kind of relationships that would help me develop as a professional.
caytoo: What is your unique selling point and what do you offer sponsors in return?
I’m a professional golfer, a people person and have time and expertise to share. I also have a social media presence so have value to add in that light as well.
“You do have to stick your neck out and say,
‘look, I think we could have a good relationship.”
caytoo: What sort of brands/sponsors are most relevant to you and why?
I currently have partnerships with Nike and Garmin. Nike is the leading sport apparel brand worldwide and working with them actually inspires me to be a better athlete. That’s a sign of a good relationship. The same can be said about Garmin. Last year I was involved in their Beat Yesterday campaign which is all about improving and striving to improve on your journey, not in competition with others. That was a very authentic relationship which fitted well with my values, training and sponsor relationships.
In the future I’d like work with performance and nutrition brands. I naturally speak a lot about it on all my social channels. I’ve done a lot of reading and research myself and have had a high awareness of the importance of it since I was back in school. Forging a 2-way partnership with a nutrition brand would mean I build an authentic voice whilst getting to represent a brand I believe in.
“In the future I’d like work with performance and
nutrition brands. I naturally speak a lot about
it on all my social channels.”
Form Nutrition are a fantastic protein and supplement company that use only high-quality ingredients for pre, during and post training. I’ve seen good results with them. I’ve also recently started looking at Totum, a hydration company which sources the minerals you need to replace in your body from the sea. They’re marine based minerals and I’m experimenting with them at the moment, seeing if I notice an effect on mental and physical performance.
caytoo: What are the challenges you face in attracting sponsorship?
Iona: The challenge is finding value for the brand you want to work with. I think that the traditional appeal of sponsoring an athlete in golf was apparel; a bag and a cap. Today, I feel the real value for a brand has changed and is in a social media presence. Especially when female exposure on television is relatively low. I’ve always tried to think about that very practically, how can I offer a brand real honest value?
“I’ve always tried to think about that very practically,
how can I offer a brand real honest value?”
caytoo: How do you use social media to boost engagement?
Iona: I use Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and they all have a different use because you can engage with a different audience through each one. In a few years, the new social media platform called Vero might be massive and have a brand new audience. So I’m conscious to roll with it so be prepared to have a voice at that point. Instagram is massive at the moment, especially with the launch of Instagram TV. I’m also starting out on YouTube. Social media is a real skill and i’ve really invested a lot of time into learning as much as I possibly can.
caytoo: Do you have any help with the commercial side of your career?
Not really. I’ve read a lot and listened to lots of podcasts. From a commercial side of things, I’ve had help from my manager with any relationships.
caytoo: Are there any key lessons from your experience for other athletes looking for sponsors?
Iona: My advice to athletes is to try and engage in social media and not see it as a chore. It can be a love / hate relationship but the opportunities that can open up because of it are quite vast. The modern day athlete has a lot of balls to juggle from social media. Before, athletes didn’t need to think about more than performing. But now it’s invaluable if you can invest energy into building a healthy relationship with it that won’t interfere with your performance, even during your off-time. It was a challenge in the beginning, but I’ve found the more I use it the easier it has become without being distracting.
“My advice to athletes is to try and engage
in social media and not see it as a chore.”
The other key lesson is how important it is to decide how you take advantage of any down time to improve the commercial side of your career. I use mine to develop new skills and network with new people as much as possible. You never know what may come out of it. Rugby player James Haskell is a prime example of the former. Having being left out of an England tour, he undertook a 12-week music production course online and ended up DJ-ing in front of 4,000 people. It’s that commitment to never stop learning, understanding, being curious, asking questions, trying new things to get ahead.
caytoo: What’s your prediction for the upcoming Ryder Cup?
Iona: Home soil, European course, Europe are going to win.
If you’re a brand interested in interested in sponsoring Iona, contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org.
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