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Home / Sports / How Serena Williams Became a Branding Tour de Force With Fierce Ambitions Far Beyond the Court – Adweek

How Serena Williams Became a Branding Tour de Force With Fierce Ambitions Far Beyond the Court – Adweek

Serena Williams' signature move has always been to show grace under pressure, to rotate away from the banal to the metaphysical, to firmly plant the feet in its most authentic, most inspired self. And so it comes as no surprise that a couple of days after the disappointing loss of Naomi Osaka at the 2018 US Open, she seemed extraordinarily upset by all the drama that had taken place about 48 hours earlier. While sitting down for a photo shoot and interviewing Adweek in a Hell's Kitchen loft in Manhattan, this year's Brand Visionary thoughtfully pondered his victories off the field.

"I feel like sometimes, for whatever reason, whatever I do is amplified and then I use it for my brand," says Williams. "I use it to promote affirmative messages, such as" you are strong, brave, proud, fantastic "and all those things that I feel like I can express not only tennis but also express myself in my fashion line and other products. "

In fact, by overcoming the familiar roles of the tennis champion or celebrity athlete, Williams is a business man, defender of the trampled, designer, investor, channel of parental councils, the icon on which millions of people project their expectations for African Americans, women and sports stars and, of course, a branding tour de force. Williams, 37, represents products in various sectors, from sportswear (Nike), tech (Beats) and drinks (Gatorade) to finance (JPMorgan Chase), and has collaborated on products with the home shopping network. In May 201

7, she joined SurveyMonkey's board. And in the same year, she was named president of the board of directors of Oath, bringing with it the determination to exploit the Verizon subsidiary platform "to make changes".

Williams has won 72 career singles titles, 39 Grand Slam titles and four gold medals Olympic.

The editor-in-chief of Vogue and Condé Nast Anna Wintour, Brand Visionary of Adweek 2017, says: "Any conversation about Serena's brand must start by noting its extraordinary results , not only what he has achieved, but how he has achieved it, with determination and perseverance and talent, power and inexorability, yes, but with a kind of grace both on and off the field … And to be so honestly sincere, as Serena has been, on the challenges of motherhood and tennis we talk about something more than just authenticity: it concerns the heart, trust and true courage. "

The most public culmination of Williams' success is perhaps Serena, a series of five-part HBO documentaries that deepened her professional and personal life, including her marriage to the internet entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, her dangerous pregnancy for life and the rough journey back to the elite competitive form after childbirth. The series has gone far in capturing the heart of its strong appeal. In turn tenacious but tender, tenacious but vulnerable, Williams reveals itself as a complex icon and cultural mark that resonates with everyone, from Boise football mothers to Harlem children and b girls. The 90s could have been "Be Like Mike", but Serena Williams is all the rage these days, the new archetype of the modern celebrity athlete who is moving from Cool Super Jock at Impassioned Citizen of the World.

"Serena is redefining what it means to be a celebrity athlete," notes Kristin Lemkau, chief marketing officer at JPMorgan Chase. "[Athletes] are no longer renting their names to companies, they are telling their truth, and to be our partner, we now expect them to believe in our mission … the days you just showed up are over, your part in our announcement and parts. "

Powers and power dressing at the French Open last August.

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Surprisingly, Williams achieved all this while he built an epic tennis heritage. Among other prowess, he won 72 career singles, 39 Grand Slam titles (23 of singles titles, to tie Steffi Graf) and four Olympic gold medals. It has been classified under n. 1 in the world for singles from the Women's Tennis Association eight times and has grossed over $ 88 million in career awards.

Steve Simon, CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, had a front row seat for Williams's evolution in a celebrity athlete from the corporate mindset and champion of social justice. "I've known Serena for a long time and she not only has a very keen entrepreneurial mind," she says, "she's very interested in doing the right things about social responsibility issues, be it motherhood, race, domestic violence or equality."

Williams' last passion: the world of venture capitalism or, more specifically, the identification of promising African-American entrepreneurs behind them. "I invest mostly in women because I have found out that women receive less than 2% of the funds raised by venture capitalists, if I can … introduce these women with large companies to other people, I feel that, wow, we can do a little bit. 39, more noise, "says Williams, who has nearly 30 companies in his portfolio. His attention to African-American entrepreneurs is just as targeted. "There are so many African-American people who have great ideas," he says, and are often overlooked "because of the color of our skin."

Williams with her husband, co-founder of Reddit, Alexis Ohanian.

Getty Pictures

Williams' guidance and his proud sense of responsibility can be traced back to his father, Richard Williams, who insisted that she and her sister Venus at a young age be fearless, participate in life beyond tennis, to be socially aware but also a business expert. Mastering the principles of business, he learned Serena, would give her the financial freedom she needed to express her true self and support the causes in which she believed. She was 14 and had just become a professional when her father took her to negotiate her first major business contract, an endorsement agreement with Puma.

"He had me in the room with all the managers," he recalls. "I remember sitting at this huge gaming table and falling asleep because it was past midnight, but wanted me to participate in the negotiations and know the details of the business, to understand how things work and how to succeed in business."

First contract with Puma came amid other early endorsement deals, with companies like Avon, Wrigley and McDonald's. In 2003, Williams had signed a staggering five-year deal with $ 40 million with Nike. He was already developing a reputation for being very practical in shaping his image and his brand. Mindy Grossman, vp of Nike for global apparel and now CEO of Weight Watchers, remembers Williams, helped by the company's designers, hatches all sorts of funky ideas in his early years: from Nike athletic boots a pleated denim tennis skirt (with patent wicking technology). "Serena has always had the ability to have a point of view and experience it," says Grossman. "There is a clarity of consistency between what it represents and who it is."

The Williams sisters with their father, Richard Williams, in Compton, California, in 1991.

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Fast forward and Williams is, by his own description, "madly involved" these days in customizing his brand image for his interests and his sensitivity. Participate in the recent Paris Open of 2018, when he won the titles wearing an elegant and black Nike suit, a collaboration with the designer Virgil Abloh, designed to prevent blood clots that tormented her during delivery. The formal staging was promptly banned by the French Tennis Federation, a decision that Williams followed with a black tutu skirt designed by Nike. (While Nike wrote in a tweet: "You can remove the superhero from his costume, but you can never take away his superpowers.")

In May, he launched a fashion line, Serena, designed to enhance the women- a collection of 12 pieces ranging from chic to sexy clothing with prices ranging from $ 35 to $ 250. The inspiration for the line? "Femininity and strength", he says.

The Serena line marks Williams' first independent adventure, and like everything it does, it is fully engaged. "You have to have a plan in terms of revenue, and so far we've been sure to meet him every month, which is important for keeping the business going," Williams says. It does not hurt that you have high visibility friends who love the brand. Last month, Meghan Markle, Williams' close friend, launched a $ 154 Serena plaid, complete with a white shirt and black jeans, on a real tour of Australia with her husband Prince Harry, and the object it was sold out instantly.

With Vogue the artistic director of Condé Nast, Anna Wintour, who praised Williams for his heart, his trust and "true courage".

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In addition to carefully developing her own brand, Williams also finds time to help those in need The Williams Sisters Fund, co-founded with Venus, focuses on their home town of Compton, California. He established, for example, Yetunde's Price Resource Center, named for their half-sister, who was killed in 2003 in a drive-by by Compton: serving victims of senseless violence. Since 2011, Williams has served as Unicef ​​international goodwill ambassador, supporting the initiatives of the Schools for Africa and Schools for Asia organization and drawing attention to the rates of maternal mortality in the poorest countries.

"I have always taken for the oppressed or people who are not in a lucky position," Williams says. "I feel like the ship for this, for whatever reason, and I will continue to create that awareness and I will try to create true equality for all."

Giving birth to his daughter, Olympia, in September 2017, has dramatically altered Williams' self-perception and, by extension, his choice of messages and sometimes even the medium. For the Queen of the Queens, Beats by Dre commercializes the conflict that women face as they should choose between career and motherhood, power and traditional notions of femininity. The commercial, which featured a guest appearance by Nicki Minaj- "Now watch the Queen's conquest," he raped at one point – on the air as Williams advanced to the US Open.

"We spent an entire year waiting for the right time to talk about the personal conflict between motherhood and world-class athletes," says Jason White, Beats by Dre's marketing manager. "The first time we met on the idea, we sat down and talked while holding Olympia, Olympia was small, we talked for hours about the pressure, the joy and the desire to come back in. After Wimbledon, we all heard that The US Open was the time to say something. … As for the artistic direction, Serena signed everything and she made a big contribution, she even asked us to send her pink dress! "[19659029] JPMorgan Chase also broadcast a powerful maternity-themed announcement during the Open: #ThisMama showed Williams home with little Olympia and served on the pitch, with the lyrics of LL "Mama Said Knock You Out" by Cool J, who conveys the message that this sample is all but finished.

Some of Williams' best campaigns still simply draw on his highlight. A couple of years ago, with great fanfare, Gatorade commissioned a mural as part of his series of "Serena 21" art, which celebrated its 21 Grand Slam championships. The public art project, designed by the creative agency of New York Vault49 and painted at the corner of Kent Avenue and Grand Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, included 21 paintings of Williams' various achievements. "Serena's life is seen closely by her fans, so we tried to celebrate the milestones of her life," says Jeff Kearney, Gatorade's worldwide sports marketing manager. More recently, Williams and other athletes, including LeBron James and Odell Beckham Jr., have joined former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the monumental Nike commercial "Dream Crazy" celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of "Just Do It."

"Serena has always had the ability to have a point of view and to live it.There is a clarity of consistency between what she represents and who she is."

Mindy Grossman, CEO, Weight Watchers [19659010WilliamsisprovingthatinmanycaseshedoesnotneedsparklingcampaignstocommunicatepowerfulmessagesFewathletes-orcelebritiesforwhathappened-areasskilledasWilliamsinleveragingsocialmediatodeepentheirconnectiontofansandattractnewaudienceswhosharetheirinterestsandvaluesAndWilliamsdoessoapparentlywithoutrepercussionspostingon#MeTooandBlackLivesMattermortalityratesofAfricanAmericanwomenandgenderbiastoalargeaudience:almost11millionfollowersonTwitter10milliononInstagramandover5milliononFacebook

"In 2004 or 2005, we did not have these incredibly large platforms like Instagram, Facebook or Twitter that are on a global scale and we could not reach the amount of people we can reach instantly today," Williams notes. "Before, if we wanted to make a point, we had to call a press conference or meet a journalist and give an exclusive, but I feel like now, because I and others have this technology, we've been able to pull off things that I have always said, but on a larger scale. "

After the arrival of his daughter, Williams began sharing not only the triumphs but also the uncertainties, insecurity and tribulations of being a mother, using the #ThisMama hashtag and inspiring other parents to tell their stories and exchange tips for raising their children. "It's an opportunity for people to see it, first of all, they're not superhuman," Williams says. "They're just like them, and … sometimes I'm very sad to go to court."

This honesty only adds to its appeal to both fans and brands. "Serena is connecting outside of tennis and Nike fans to a larger base that may have nothing in common with her except that she is authentic and real," says Denise Kaigler, a brand strategist who has worked with companies like Adidas, Reebok and Nintendo. "He is connecting like a mother, an entrepreneur and a wife with ordinary people."

In the Manhattan loft, where filming takes place, Williams, tirelessly ambitious, pauses to consider the extraordinary opportunities and victories that await us. He says he is inspired by the idea that his best work is yet to come, that he will build more schools, give more power to women, win more tennis matches. These days seem to beg a champion – a champion of the people – and she has come to embrace that maybe she is.

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