By HPRS Staff Columnist Christopher Mellott
The beginning of the year; a time for resolutions, and athletes announcing their acceptance into ambassador programs for various companies. They declare their ambassadorship with enthusiasm similar to those that have won the lottery.
Ambassador programs are simple. An organization provides the athlete something, and in return, the athlete promotes the company on social media. These programs seem to be everywhere. Every company, organization and even races seem to have their own teams of ambassadors. These teams consist of the back of the pack runners to elites, and everyone in between.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the idea of being “chosen.” You get the team logo, the invitation to the private Facebook group, a super unique coupon code and maybe even some free stuff. It is easy to want to announce it to the world. The rush is real. I should know I have been an ambassador for one or more companies for the last three years.
I am an ambassador for several companies and organizations going into 2019. I have used these companies products for years, and I paid full price for them until I became an ambassador. If I weren’t representing them, I would still pay full price for the product. These companies made a commitment to me, they selected me, and I agreed to represent them. I made a commitment to these companies.
I am not a social media influencer, or sponsored athlete, or anything else where I get a paycheck from any of these companies. I don’t get paid when I use hashtags or talk about a product I am using. I won’t peddle the wares. If I post about a product or write a “review” or even mention a product its because I use it and love it, and I want to share my experience with people just like I did when I wrote about my race recap of Badger Mountain 50 Mile Challenge. I won’t do a “sell” piece for a company. That’s not who I am. I am happy to add a hashtag to my social media. I may tag a company when I used their product, but I am not going to sell it. I show brand loyalty by giving a company my money or my time.
After being an ambassador for a few years here are some things that I have learned that may help you if you are interested in being an ambassador.
- Make sure that you actually use the products. If you have never used them, then don’t apply for a product you have no experience with. You won’t be able to promote it or provide an honest assessment.
- If you wouldn’t use the product without it being free or discounted then don’t apply. If it is not worth full price to you, then it is probably not a product you should represent. I stole this rule from a Facebook post I saw.
- Know the expectations of your role. If there is a number of posts you are supposed to do a month, what is the expectation? Ask yourself, “can I live up to those expectations?”
- Recognize that it is not a job, you are not a sponsored athlete. You are not getting actual money for this. You do have some commitment that you agreed to, but don’t make it your life. Being an ambassador can complicate running.
- Know when applications open and close. Keep an eye out for deadlines.
I love being an ambassador. I appreciate the discounts especially when I eat energy waffles like they are going out of style, but it is not why I run and never will be. Being an ambassador helps me accomplish my running goals, and that is why I choose to participate in it.
If you want to apply for an ambassador program, great! If not, also great! Being an ambassador has responsibilities and perks, and it is up to each runner to decide if it is worth it to them. If you choose to announce it on social media then so be it. I urge all of us to remember the reasons we run and not get caught up in the social media circus that ambassador programs can be.
From Sherpa John:
In my years of ultra experience I have been lucky enough to be an ambassador for a number of brands. I’ve had the good fortune of being an ambassador for: PowerBar, Darn Tough Socks, Headsweats, Haelium, Honey Stinger, Nuun, and Brooks. As both a runner, and a race director, I have had the unique opportunity to learn a great deal about how ambassador programs work (and don’t), and what their purpose is. As a race director and business owner, I have also created and administered an ambassador program.
I get it. You put in an application to be a brand ambassador and you wait on pins and needles hoping to get that acceptance email in your inbox. It is undoubtedly a big deal to be accepted by certain brands to be one of their ambassadors, and for others.. everyone gets accepted, so calm down Francis before you start shouting from the mountain tops how incredibly bad ass you are because Nuun or Hammer accepted you.
I have a few things to add to what Christopher has shared above…
Don’t apply to become a brand ambassador unless you clearly understand what the expectations are of you as an ambassador, and you intend to follow through with expert precision. Also, take the time to understand what the brand is truly selling. For example: I am currently a brand ambassador for a locally owned running store. I understand that these folks aren’t selling shoes and socks, they’re selling a lifestyle. As a brand ambassador for the store, I take on the role of also selling an active lifestyle and an awesome run community, and less “This is a great place to buy your shoes.”
Yes, you are on the front lines spreading brand awareness. Your primary role is to be visible, and provide visibility, for the brand you represent. In most cases, unless you’re truly an elite athlete, you have been selected as a brand ambassador due to the number of followers/likes you have on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Yup, you’re being used as a marketing tool based solely on the number of followers you have, as opposed to how awesome a runner you are. Brands want to know what races you’re running this year, not so that they can track and celebrate you performance, but because they want to see how high a profile the race you’re running in is. For example: There’s a huge difference between your running the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run vs. if you’re running in The Blackbeard’s Revenge 100. Which one do you think has more visibility for the brand that is seeking you hawking their brand?
Just because you have been selected as a brand ambassador, does not make you a share holder of the brand or partner of the company. While you may have a ton of awesome ideas, there’s a reason you work your current 9 to 5 and that you’re not a pack designer, shoe designer, electrolyte drink mix concocter, or a race director.. and the people whose brand you represent are. As Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson used to say, “Know your role.” HPRS had an ambassador program through 2016, at which time I ended it. I ended the program because too many ambassadors assumed an ownership mentality/partnership stake in the company that just wasn’t there. I also felt that hosting an ambassador program created a form of clique within the community. Knowing your role as an ambassador is huge. It is essential that you be the welcoming and informative face that the brand you represent wishes you do be, and not an over reaching egomaniac.
Yes, being a brand ambassador is exciting! Especially if you get to represent a brand that you’re truly passionate about. That should be the over arching theme, that you are an ambassador for brands that you are truly passionate about, and only brands that you are truly passionate about. Note: I did not say, “passively passionate about.” Celebrate your acceptance, but don’t let it stroke your ego in a way that ambassadorship is unintended. Hey.. have fun out there. It’s running…