Introducing Paradigm Insights #1: Talking personal branding with world champion Emma Igelström

We just introduced PDGM insights, a series of events where we discuss branding. Our first guest was Emma Igelström, a Swedish former competitive swimmer. In a discussion with Paradigm’s CEO Thomas von Krusenstjerna she talked about the struggle with identity that came after she quit her career – and about how establishing a strong personal brand has helped guide her to new success, on both a personal and a business level. 

Four-time world champion and eight-time European champion in breaststroke swimming, Emma Igelström began her impressive swimming career at age 14, which lasted for 10 years until she collapsed from exhaustion. She never went back to professional swimming after.   

For a person who is all about winning this was not easy. Emma felt lost, like many former athletes, and tried hard to find new goals in life.

“It was like giving up a huge cornerstone of how you think of yourself,” she explained.

Several years of a destructive lifestyle followed. She decided to turn everything around. In an effort to rehabilitate her image, she became a contestant on the Swedish version of the TV show Let’s Dance. But that backfired – instead of the positive coverage she was hoping for, the show seemed more interested in her failures, portraying her as excessively competitive.

“I realized that if I don’t take control of how I’m being portrayed, others will”.

By chance she ran into Thomas von Krusenstjerna from Paradigm. They started talking about branding, and together they made a strategy for building her personal brand. Using the same techniques that Thomas puts to work for companies, they set out to define who she is, who she wants to be, how she should present herself to the world and how she wants the world to perceive her.

“Thomas taught me the power of no and to be selective with the projects I choose. I’ve definitely seen a number of positive effects in my career. The projects I’m offered now are more in line with my values and I get better sponsorship contracts than when I was a professional athlete.”

Today Emma has successfully rebranded herself. In the past many saw her as overly competitive. But now she is recognized as someone who wants sports to be about joy and health, and who wants to change how women view themselves. This year she is one of the nominees for two different “Role Model of 2015” contests.

The 35-year-old is also reaping rewards in her personal life. She can now concentrate more on her family and has started the Girls Wellness Academy focusing on joy and health in exercising – her dream project. And she has set another goal for herself: the Iron Man world championship 2015.

“I am more focused now, and I’m having a lot of fun. But it has been a process. You need to live every day with the brand in mind because everything, from how you dress to how you interact with others – in person and online – can make a difference.”

Swimming career in brief

  • 4 gold medals in the world championships
  • 1 silver medal in the world championships
  • First female swimmer under 30 seconds (50 meter breaststroke)