Think you have to run elite level race times for a company to want to sponsor you? Think again! Local elites, age-groupers, mid and back-o-the packers can all get the backing of a sponsor if they want to. Companies that provide products and services for athletes are clamoring to have you on their team! However, instead of the typical sponsor-athlete relationship where a world or national class athlete exclusively uses the sponsors product in exchange for product and possibly other support of her training, the relationship between us average athletes and sponsors is different. We are expected to do more than run wearing a logo: we are expected to be “brand ambassadors.”
I am a proud brand ambassador for a company called Simple Hydration, as you might have gathered when I hosted a giveaway last month. I love being a brand ambassador and thought you might too, so today I’m going to explain the ins and outs of being a sponsored moral runner by becoming a brand ambassador!
What is a brand ambassador?
A brand ambassador is the other end of the many sponsorship relationships: there’s the sponsor company and then there’s the brand ambassador, the person who endorses and promotes a brand, product, or service. A brand ambassador might be paid by the sponsor to promote the brand (think celebrity endorsements, world-class athletes) or unpaid (think non-elite runners like me). From the sponsor’s perspective, a brand ambassador is a marketing tool to strengthen the relationship between consumers and the brand, product, or service.
Why do you want to be a brand ambassador?
If you answered, “Because, duh, I can get free stuff,” then Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200. If you’re focused solely on what *you* can get out of the relationship, then being a brand ambassador isn’t for you. Just like any good relationship, a good brand ambassador program is a working relationship between you, the brand ambassador, and the company. In other words, you both get something out of the relationship.
A brand receives value from their ambassadors by having people out in the world using their product, talking about their products and encouraging others to use the products. Brand ambassadors help to create brand awareness, which is particularly important for new and up-and-coming companies trying to get a foothold in the marketplace. Brand ambassadors are passionate about their sponsor’s products, actively endorse and promote them, and interact with potential consumers by giving testimonials, answering questions, and giving advice.
In exchange for the ambassador’s promotional services, the sponsoring brand will support the ambassador. The support can come in many forms: money; free products; discounts; reciprocal promotions (the brand promoting its ambassadors and their work). In a good brand ambassadorship program, you should feel that you’re contributing to and receiving from the company. Don’t let yourself get exploited. The terms of your ambassadorship should be reasonable and what you get should be in parity to the work you do for the brand. There have been reports recently that some brands are imposing unreasonable restrictions on their ambassadors.
I like being a brand ambassador because I really love the products that I endorse, love knowing that I’m helping the company, and being a part of a community of equally enthusiastic consumers of those same products. Thanks to being a brand ambassador I get to meet some interesting people and have opportunities to do cool things, such as an informal photo shoot. In addition, the fact that my own blog and social media platforms grow too is simply icing on the cake.
How do you become a brand ambassador?
There are many different avenues to becoming a brand ambassador. Many companies have formal brand ambassador programs. They accept applications once a year (deadline varies) and if selected, the position usually lasts for a year. There are healthy living lifestyle brands, such as Girls Gone Sporty (GGS) and Fitfluential, that also do brand ambassador programs. The difference is that companies like GGS and Fitfluential act as more of a middleman between the brands and the social media-savvy athletes. There are tons of possibilities for brand ambassadorships. To find one that might be right for you, the best thing to do is to think of any running-related product that you absolutely love. If a brand ambassadorship program exists, then you’ll find information about it on their website.
There also could be opportunities to be “unofficial brand ambassadors.” Long before Simple Hydration created their brand ambassadorship, I worked with Simple Hydration by writing reviews, hosting a giveaway, promoting SH by suggesting runners should use it in comments on other runners’ blogs, and interacting with them on social media constantly.
Additionally, for the last couple of years, I was an unofficial “race ambassador” for the Newport Liberty Half Marathon in Jersey City. In 2012 I ran that race and the 10K they do in the spring and wrote race reports describing how much fun I had and how great those races were. In the following years, a women who handles the marketing and PR for those races found my race reports and asked me contribute some posts in exchange for a free race entry. This year this informal relationship developed into an official blog partnership.
If companies do not have an official brand ambassadorship, you can try, through social media, to develop a working relationship with them, by acting as an “unofficial brand ambassador” and doing what an official brand ambassador would do. The thinking goes, that the brand will notice your evangelizing and potential to help them grow and will offer you an official position. This strategy is particularly effective for new brands and companies who are growing their brand awareness.
There are advantages and disadvantages in working with a specific company, such as Headsweats and Simple Hydration as I do, or with a lifestyle brand, such as Girls Gone Sporty (disclosure: I was once an ambassador for GGS), and many of those points have to do with personal preferences. While being an ambassador for a middleman like GGS or Fitfluential gives you more opportunities to try different products and services, personally, after a couple of months I realized that I didn’t care for it. I would far rather work with a company that sells a product I love, develop a personal working relationship with them, and endorse their specific product. Other bloggers I know really appreciate being given opportunities for new and upcoming products and trying what’s new and the latest. I don’t regret being an ambassador for GGS for a couple months because honestly without having tried it, I wouldn’t have known that it didn’t suit me.
How do you get selected be a brand ambassador?
- Be passionate and enthusiastic about their product, brand, or services.
- Don’t be equally passionate and enthusiastic about their competitor’s products. You do need to be somewhat exclusive.
- Have a decent level of social media presence. You don’t need to be on every social media platform and you don’t need to have huge number of followers (I only have a modest number myself), but you do need to be active on social media.
- Play to your strengths in what you can offer as a brand ambassador. There are many different types of influencers. Use and showcase your skills to your full advantage. Are you creative and a great photographer? Display their product in unique and interesting ways. Do you know people? Connect the product to new markets. Gifted with a glib tongue? Gab away about the product at expos. I’m more of an analyst. I provide feedback about new products, point out areas of strengths and weaknesses, and more importantly how to address those weaknesses.
- Interact with followers on social media. Companies want engagement. They know that when consumers feel personal touch, they are more likely to purchase the product or service.
- Be professional and courteous offline and online. Remember, you’re representing their brand and they do not want you to be associated with drama.
- Have a positive attitude. While you don’t need to be Pollyanna in every post, companies are highly unlikely to select you if you’re upset and angry at the world in every post.
Are you a brand ambassador or have you ever been one? Tell us about your experience! If not, are you interested in becoming one? Why or why not?
Disclosure: I am a brand ambassador for Simple Hydration (email for promo code), Headsweats (use code AFASTPACEDLIFE for 20% off for all regularly priced items), and an official blogger for the Newport Liberty Half Marathon.