So You Want To Be An Ambassador?
It's that season again! No, I don't mean the season of shopping for holidays (that's another post for another time), but the season for Ambassadorship Applications! Before you open every browser window and apply to all the things, pause; should you really apply to that program?
Disclosure: I participate in several ambassador programs, and have worked with others in the past. (You can see them all on my Integrity First page.) No brands, races, or ambassador programs have asked me to write about them. In fact, no one knows I'm writing this post except the people quoted/shown below–they got a preview. Everything here is 100% my opinion–but I'd love to hear yours, too!
What's an “Ambassador”? If you grew up in the 1970s (or before), you remember tons of television commercial celebrity product endorsements. For some reason, people tended to have a better opinion of something if it had a celebrity endorsement–regardless of the quality of the product. While that is still the truth in some cases, celebrity endorsements are expensive and only available to brands with big dollars to spend. Also, most of us have grown a little jaded. First, we all know that the big brands are paying for “product placement” in movies and on TV (e.g. the Coca-Cola cups on American Idol, always set perfectly so you can read them). Second, many celebrities have started to endorse products and concepts that are not only disproven by science (e.g. that vaccines are a direct cause of autism) but also are potentially dangerous (e.g. pretty much anything any celebrity has recommended you put in your vagina). In recent years, brands and events have turned to their fans to help spread the word about their products and services. In a world where people rely on their friends and social media for information, this makes total sense–aren't you more likely to try something you know your friend just loves?
While every ambassador program is different, in general ambassadors have specific duties they perform in exchange for free product, a free race entry, swag, and/or other perks. The majority of the ambassador programs I have seen refer to their ambassadors as the ambassador team, but many also have special names for their ambassadors that are associated with their products. For example, the Honey Stinger ambassador team is called The Hive, and the Tailwind ambassadors are Tailwind Trailblazers. Most product ambassadorships last for a calendar year, so November and December have a lot of application deadlines. (Race ambassadorships may follow the race's “calendar year,” starting a few months after the race and ending on race day.) Some programs continue from year-to-year so once you're “in” you're in, though the majority don't auto-renew–you have to reapply every year.
Should You Apply?
Do I love the product/event? If you don't love it, don't apply. Period. Ambassador programs only work well if the participants legitimately like (and use!) the product, or are genuinely excited about the race or event (which doesn't necessarily mean you are a past participant). It's not just about what the company gets out of it though: it reflects poorly on you to promote a product you've never used, or to promote an event you have no intention of doing.
Do I have realistic expectations? Do you know what also reflects poorly on you? Sour grapes if you're not accepted! Every year I'm shocked to see tweets, blogs, and Facebook posts to the tune of “XYZ didn't pick me to be an ambassador. Again. They always pick the same people. Whine, whine, gripe. I'm never using XYZ product/running XYZ race again!” While these comments don't reflect poorly on the product/event/brand, they DO reflect poorly on the post-er. The majority of ambassador programs have a limited number of spots and far more applications than they have places. If you apply to a program and are not accepted, you have no idea why–and it might not have anything to do with you! Maybe there were a large number of applications from your geographic area, and preference goes to people in other areas. Maybe your strength is on your blog, but they really needed a Snap maven. Maybe your main sport is running, but the brand wants to branch out into other sports. Maybe it just wasn't a good fit from the team's perspective. Just like colleges, and jobs, and awards, you don't get everything you apply to. You're not entitled to anything 🙂
Am I willing to commit to that product/event for the year? There are really two parts to this. One, it should go without saying that as an ambassador, you do not promote competing products or events. If you are an ambassador for Pro Compression, for example, you should be perfectly happy to NOT be on social media or at events wearing any competing brand (and even give a thought to giving away those other socks). I wrote “it should go without saying,” but I'm saying it because while it SHOULD, it's one of those “common sense isn't very common” things. Are you really serving Health Warrior if your social media is filled with Trader Joe's chia bars? Two, if you apply for an ambassador program you should be willing and able to fulfill all of the requirements for that program. Detroit Free Press/Chemical Bank Marathon Ambassadors, for example, are required to work a shift at the information booth during the race expo; Represent Running Ambassadors are required to work a packet pickup (unless they are remote ambassadors). If you're unwilling or unable, don't apply.
What are the ambassador program's requirements? Every program has different requirements. You might be required to post a badge on your blog (if you have one), or to make announcements on social media channels to promote the product/event; create content for the brand's website such as a photograph, review, or blog post; wear branded gear to events you attend/compete in; work at an expo booth to promote the race; create a post-event review; serve as a leader for a warm-up run; work at the event itself to ensure it runs smoothly; or any number of other things. Sure, life happens, and maybe you committed to an event before you knew you would be seven months pregnant and on bed rest, or nursing a leg broken in a skiing accident, or taking in your brother's kids for the year, or laid off from your job and unable to travel to the event. Everyone gets that there are unforeseeables that might prevent you from fulfilling your duties and most programs will give you a pass if that's your situation. As a general rule, you should be confident you can do what the program requires. Read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand the requirements.
Can I live with all of the ambassador program's restrictions? Again, it should be a no-brainer that you can agree to not promote competing products. Other restrictions vary widely by program. For example, the Bib Rave Pro Team members can only have a limited number of other ambassadorships. If the event's sponsor is Adidas, you might be asked to avoid wearing gear with competing logos while you work at the expo. Again, read the program description carefully, and make sure you understand what you can and can't do. If you can't abide by the program's restrictions, don't apply.
Do I have the time/resources/bandwidth to fulfill the requirements and do a great job? If you have a full-time job and a full life, consider how much time and energy you have to devote to each of the programs you are considering. Even if you can wrap your head around 12 different ambassadorships at once, and somehow not give your blog more badges than a Girl Scout, most of us do not have the time to put into that many ambassador projects in a single year. Be realistic about what your other commitments are and how you will balance them with the programs you hope to work with this year.
You WANT to apply, but will you do an awesome job?
Five guaranteed tips to be a rockstar ambassador!
First, Do All The Things. A great ambassador fulfills all of their requirements. Make a checklist and get it done! If you are required to work an expo shift or a promo booth, do the whole shift–seriously, sneaking out early isn't cool–and if the event is really hard-up for help, consider offering to do another shift. Some things don't have specifications, such as “help promote the race.” At a minimum, you should help spread the word for the big events (such as pre-registration specials, discount days, etc.), but think of that minimum as a floor, not a ceiling. The ambassadors might only be required to post one Instagram post, but creating two or three wouldn't be that much more work. Just like in a team sport, as an ambassador you should strive to be an asset to your team.
I have had the honor to be a part of the Represent family for two years. The first year I was a posting fanatic and helped at as many packet pickup as I could. This second year life got in the way and I was only able to volunteer once (as per the requirements) but I felt guilty for not posting about the race events as avidly as I did the prior year. — Ashley of Every Runner Counts
Second, support your teammates! Lots of ambassador programs have some kind of forum they use to communicate. It might be a private Facebook group, a Slack channel, or a dedicated members-only website. Some are chatty, others are quiet, but all exist to help the ambassadors help each other. Every ambassador group has a wide range of people in it who differ in beliefs, sizes, preferences, and experience. When a new runner posts their new 5k PR, don't ask if they crawled–congratulate them and encourage them to beat it. When someone is disappointed with a race result, don't roll your eyes and tell them to get over it–say something kind, or keep your mouth (keyboard?) shut. Kindness is FREE, spread that sh*t everywhere.
Third, view every bit of swag and every perk as a gift. Many ambassador programs provide little extras, such as extra products, or gifts from race sponsors. Chances are that you're not going to like everything–and you don't have to–but think of everything as a gift and mind your manners. I'm a vegetarian, for example, so I really have no use at all for a bag of KRAVE jerky. I'm not going to eat it (it's meat), and it's not authentic for me to give a shout-out or otherwise promote it. If one of my ambassador programs mailed me a box of KRAVE, I wouldn't mark the box “refused, return to sender” or make a big stink about how inappropriate it was in the ambassador chat group. Instead, I would ask the ambassador wrangler if it would be okay to pass the jerky on to a friend, if I should pass it on to another ambassador, or if the donor/sponsor/brand would prefer I return the package. Bottom line, you don't have to love and adore every race sponsor or every bit of swag offered to you, but you don't have to be a jerk about it either.
Remember that it's an honor to be chosen, and use this opportunity to better get to know the people working for your brand and your fellow ambassadors. I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had with the brands (trying new products, etc.). The experience with the people was a perk I didn't expect going in, and I've made some wonderful friendships along the way that will stay with me beyond my time as an ambassador. —Briana of mat.miles.medals.
Fourth, stay positive. Nothing says “bad ambassador” more than talking smack about the brand you're supposed to be representing! Be honest, but don't trash the product/event. It's okay to say you're disappointed about ABC, or that a new product offering isn't right for you. Frankly it can seem fake if you always absolutely adore every aspect of the brand/company/race you are representing.
Fifth, give honest feedback. (About the race, or brand, and about the ambassador program.) As an ambassador, you are in a position to hear feedback that the race director or brand does not. As Briana points out, “some brands tap into their ambassadors to get a temperature check of how a concept or idea might be received. Depending on the group, and your comfort level, you can elevate feedback to people who can do something with it. But remember to keep it constructive.” Finally, ambassador programs evolve each year, and the program managers are generally open to hearing about your experiences. What worked and what didn't? I was frustrated when one race sent us flyers and posters to distribute–two weeks before the race. I loved it when another group moved from Facebook groups to Slack. Sharing your positive experiences, and providing constructive feedback about the not-so-positive ones, will help support the race or the brand by making next year's program even better.
So…Should You Apply?
What's your experience as a brand ambassador?
Which ambassador programs are currently accepting applications?
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