Q&A: Mikaela Shiffrin on Turning Her Winning Streak Into Marketing Gold

Skiing champ reflects on life as an Olympian, both on and off the slopes

'The most important thing for me to be mentally prepared for anything is to be physically prepared,' Shiffrin says.
Photography: Matt Nager for Adweek; Hair, makeup and styling: Susan Wagenknecht

It’s prime cocktail hour at NBCU’s beachside cabana. The Cannes Lions festival is in full swing. Network executives are holding court, entertaining marketers and media mavens as the Mediterranean sun blazes, the rosé flows and live music wafts across the crowded wooden deck. Off to the side, quietly taking it all in is Mikaela Shiffrin, who, in a sleek red dress, could easily be confused as any one of the marketing pros, save for being the most obviously toned and fit person there. She is, after all, the current two-time reigning World Cup overall champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist, most recently winning the kamikaze-like giant slalom event at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Shiffrin, 23, is in town for panels and the promotion of her own brand—which could be characterized as confident, graceful and grounded. That special blend of approachability and athleticism helped land Shiffrin blue-chip sponsorship deals with the likes of Red Bull, Longines, Oakley, Visa and others.

Post-Cannes, between her unending workouts in France and tending to her nearly 600,000 fans on Instagram, Shiffrin recently paused to speak with Adweek, reflecting on life as an Olympian, both on and off the slopes.

Photography: Matt Nager for Adweek; Hair, makeup and styling: Susan Wagenknecht

Adweek: So, how was your experience at Cannes?
Mikaela Shiffrin: It was fun. What an amazing setting. I’d like to go back. I got to meet some pretty cool people—business executives, female bosses. It was a huge step for me to be there. It’s completely outside of skiing.

You’ve had a big year, switching from technical to speed racing, like the giant slalom. How did you get your head in that space?
The most important thing for me to be mentally prepared for anything is to be physically prepared. If I have really good training and I feel like I know what I’m doing, I’ve been skiing really well, I’m strong—if all of those pieces are in line, the discipline doesn’t matter. I feel like I know what I’m doing. It doesn’t really matter what comes at me. I’m going to be able to handle it.

How have you managed the process of toggling back and forth from racing to representing brands?
I’m really fairly fresh. I feel like I’ve sort of been taking a crash course through trial by error, posting on my own social media and seeing what works—but really just trying to stay true to my personality. It’s definitely been a pretty steep learning curve. It’s figuring out what pictures [fans] like to see, what comments do they like. For instance, when I post dancing videos people seem to like that, but I don’t have enough time to do it, so then I’m thinking, oh, my God, how do I get all this like trying to play to the likes and interests of my fans as well, which is a huge piece of it that when I’m skiing I’m just skiing; I’m just trying to ski fast and I’m just trying to win races. When you bring in this whole other side of it, this kind of business and marketing side, you’re trying to perform really to the likes of the people watching and that’s a different sort of feeling than I’ve ever had. I’m definitely trying to learn how to master that.

You have a ton of Instagram followers. Do you enjoy using other platforms?
I’ve actually been really enjoying Twitter lately. It’s really easy to show people a small glimpse inside my mind by simply liking a post or retweeting someone else’s post and writing a few words.

Do you fly solo on social media or does someone guide you? Tweets so easily can go sideways.
My mom, my dad and my brother are really good about just keeping track of what I do. My image has been fairly clean. I mean, I have sass for sure, I’m kind of a snarky person. I like to have fun. I have a voice, and I want to use that voice for the right things—for things that I’m interested in as long as it’s important to me and it’s doing good. I’m fine to speak out against bullying, for mental health awareness, for cancer.

This story first appeared in the July 9, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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