Serena Williams Reminds Us How Important It Is to Own Your Narrative

The strategic moves behind the global tennis star's major announcement that every marketer should note

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Serena Williams—tennis superstar, entrepreneur and mother—broke the news that she would be evolving away from tennis. The upcoming U.S. Open tournament will be her last game on the world stage.

As the news broke on social media, there was something that stood out: She owned her own narrative. She didn’t delegate her news or allow someone else to interview her. Williams shared her truth, her perspective and her thoughts on the next chapters of her life.

Marketers, take note. Here are three ways Serena Williams demonstrated how to control your brand’s narrative.

Find the right partner to share your news

Serena Williams could have chosen many ways to share her news. Every major media outlet would have fiercely competed to have a sit-down interview with her.

She could have directly shared the news with her millions of followers across multiple social media channels. Or, she could have chosen to take a less personal approach and have her team have a statement released to the press.

Instead, Williams went with a trusted partner: Vogue. She has been featured in Vogue and graced the cover a number of times during the course of her career. She decided to write a personal essay for the publication, trusting the outlet to let her publish the announcement on her own terms. Anna Wintour, the legendary editor of Vogue and a good friend of Williams, advised her on her wedding dress selection when she married Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit.

For marketers, this is an important reminder that while the news you want to share is important, choosing the right partner to deliver the news is just as important. You must trust who you choose to work with to share what you want to reveal.

Embrace different language

Williams reminds us that we can’t be afraid to own our narrative. And sometimes, that means embracing a different language.

In her personal essay, Williams writes, “I have never liked the word retirement. It doesn’t feel like a modern word to me. I’ve been thinking of this as a transition, but I want to be sensitive about how I use that word, which means something very specific and important to a community of people. Maybe the best word to describe what I’m up to is evolution. I’m here to tell you that I’m evolving away from tennis, toward other things that are important to me.”

By picking the word “evolution,” she takes control of her story to stop the media from running away with the message that she’s simply retiring and walking away. She is also thoughtful about why she doesn’t want to use the word transition, understanding how important that word can be to members of the LGBTQ+ community.

For marketers, Williams reminds us that we don’t have to embrace language because it’s “what always has been said and done.” She sets a new standard by shattering the stereotype of what it means to retire and shifts the narrative to evolving toward other possibilities and embracing other opportunities.

Don’t hold back

Finally, Williams teaches us an important lesson on not holding back. She writes, “Believe me, I never wanted to have to choose between tennis and a family. I don’t think it’s fair. If I were a guy, I wouldn’t be writing this because I’d be out there playing and winning while my wife was doing the physical labor of expanding our family. Maybe I’d be more of a Tom Brady if I had that opportunity.”

She continues, “And I almost did do the impossible: A lot of people don’t realize that I was two months pregnant when I won the Australian Open in 2017. But I’m turning 41 this month, and something’s got to give.”

Williams says the quiet part aloud. She shines a bright light on what so many mothers working outside of the home face. She shares her journey as a woman athlete and what her journey might have been like if she was “more of a Tom Brady,” if she was a man.

Williams’ news has reignited the conversation on the persistent inequities mothers still face in 2022, and that even Serena Williams herself is not immune to it. For marketers, it’s an important reminder that when you are going to share and own your narrative, don’t hold back. Vulnerability can be a superpower and spark conversation and change beyond the piece of news you share.