By the time you’re reading this article, Roger Federer, the G.O.A.T. of men’s professional tennis, will have been crowned champion of the U.S. Open, or sent back to Switzerland in defeat by top-ranked Novak Djokovic. But, as I’m writing this, I know Federer has already won, because he is the darling of men’s tennis, nearly everyone’s favorite, and has piles and piles of money to show for it — game, set, match, Roger.
You may (or may not, I don’t know why you’re here) have noticed that this is a digital marketing company’s blog, and, if so, you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about a man known best for smacking fluorescent yellow balls at other men for a living. What makes Federer an interesting marketing case study is how directly his athletic qualities on the court translate to his branding and endorsement deals off of it. His precision, his consistency (64 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments and counting, a record), his SWISSNESS – every luxury brand on Earth wants to work with Roger, because what makes him special are exactly the things luxury brands want consumers to think makes them special. And, apparently, Federer wants to work with them too, as he is currently signed to ten major endorsement contracts.
As he’s matured as a player and a businessman, the companies he’s chosen to work with have come to fit a particular profile: premium, high-performance (except for the chocolate and champagne — I’ve never felt high-performance after that evil combination), elegance, and a long history of excellence. When you start rattling them off, you can see very quickly that these same words come to mind when describing Federer’s play.
None of this was by mistake. Federer has always been very self-aware, and, in spite of his large endorsement portfolio, quite selective about the companies he elects to pitch for. At the beginning of his professional career, Federer eschewed endorsement money in favor of waiting for the right offers to come along, ones that matched his values and sensibilities. When they did, he held on to them, signing long-term deals with large corporations like Mercedes-Benz and Nike. He has held up his end of those deals, maintaining his stature as one of the best players in tennis. His career remains unblemished by scandal, as he has chosen the quiet life of a family man, married with two(!) sets of twins.
What can we learn from Federer, besides how to look good dressed in white?
1. Be selective about who you work with, and don’t chase money.
2. Be consistently great at what you do, and opportunities to collaborate with companies that share your values will come along.
3. Once they do, avoid ‘scandal’, and work hard to keep your chosen partners happy.
With any luck, someone will be describing you using the same breathy reverence normally reserved for one of Federer’s forehands.