Sponsorship is a big to do list item for many long-distance hikers. The daydreaming of free gear in exchange for hiking and being an awesome person has a magnetic pull that most hikers just can't seem to shake. While many of us dream it, fewer of us seem to pull it off. With the ever growing popularity of FKT (fastest known time) hikes and the explosion of ultrarunning in the recent years, sponsorship is mostly a thing of the past for amateur athletes. Something that is becoming more and more mainstream, however, is the brand ambassadorship. This post will outline exactly what that entails on your end and will help you figure out how to get it.
Sponsorship vs. Ambassadorship
Sponsorship for most companies means free gear and comped race entries for athletes they consider to be elite. Some companies will offer only sponsorships and only to elite athletes, while others will offer different tiers or sponsoring - i.e. - one free pair of shoes for some and unlimited free shoes for others, etc. A sponsorship means you'll be getting your stuff for free in exchange for repping the brand. A brand ambassador is essentially the same thing, but usually means you're getting discounted (sometimes deeply discounted!) gear you're buying out of your own pocket. Every single company is different and each will have their own definitions on their ambassador applications.
What is a Brand Ambassador?
A brand ambassador needs to be a fan of the product they're representing. Since most of the time you will be spending money on the product out of your own pocket, you need to really like the stuff. I have yet to see an ambassadorship offering monetary compensation to athletes who are not elite, so most of you reading this post will be falling into this category. You definitely aren't going to be getting paid to compete. You need to be a super fan who has no problem telling someone why that particular piece of gear or food item is the best.
The Importance of Social Media
With social media ever more present in our lives, the opportunities to represent companies you love is easier than ever. If you are following a brand on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Tumblr, etc. you know just how important images are to a brand. Often times, they will share images of their customers in their gear or eating their food if you use a specific hashtag. If you aren't participating in social media, it's going to be tough to convince any companies to let you represent them.
What Companies Want From You
Again, all companies are different, but being a brand ambassador isn't all about the perks. There is some work involved and ultimately you'll have to decide what is worth it for you and where you'll draw the line. Many brands will expect you to be active on social media with brand-specific hashtags, tagging, and most importantly - interaction with others. If you post a bunch of photos, but don't take the time to respond to your comments, you'll more than likely be turned away. Altra Running, for example, requires that I write posts for their blog on their website and post with their hashtags twice a month. Some brands require more posting, some require more writing, and some require you to review and give away products. This is why I say it is so important to be passionate about the brand you'll be representing. If you don't really like their stuff, it's hard to think of original posts to write and photos to add to your accounts.
So Tell Me How to Get Free Stuff Already!
So this stuff doesn't sound too bad to you? Now you're ready to show off the gear you already own and get some cool new stuff while you're at it? Great. Here are the steps you need to take to start becoming an ambassador:
1) If you aren't already, start following the brands you love on social media - on ALL platforms. Even if you don't understand them, sign up for them and starting "liking" away.
2) If you're already doing the above, become more active - use specific hashtags and interact with your commenters.
3) Watch your brands for ambassadorship announcements. This step is so important. Many brands now actively recruit for ambassadors. In fact, every brand I work with I have applied because I've seen an announcement on Instagram. Yes, EVERY brand. They will tell you exactly who they are looking for and what is expected of you.
4) Apply through a link on their site and be HONEST. My social media numbers, as compared to a lot of other hikers and runners, are not that impressive. My interaction and my writing, however, tend to get me noticed. It also helps that I apply with niche brands and smaller companies whose products I am truly passionate about.
5) Expect rejection. You're not going to be a perfect fit for every company.
6) When all else fails, or your favorite company isn't accepting brand ambassadors, contact their social media person. Write them an email about what you're doing - i.e. - running 50 marathons in 50 states in 12 months, thru hiking an obscure trail, etc. - and see if they'd be willing to send you some product in return for some social media love. It never hurts to try!
I hope this post helped you see the differences between sponsorships and ambassadorships. Do you represent any of your favorite companies? I'd love to see what you would add to this list. Leave me a comment or get in touch with me on my Facebook page to have the conversation!