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Trails Collective

Brand Ambassadorships and Remembering Your WHY

Many runners are brand ambassadors these days.  With cool perks such as product discounts, free gear, and potential visibility (read: social media fame), all in exchange for helping to advertise a product they already believe in, it’s not surprising to see so many athletes gravitate toward brand ambassadorships.

Companies that may use brand ambassadors to help market their products include those selling nutrition, running gear, shoes, and even races.  Organizations working to increase gender representation or diversity in the outdoors may also have an ambassador program.  Some running stores also use ambassadors to help boost sales and introduce more potential runners to this lifestyle.

Levels of support.  Many brands seek out pros (professional runners), elites, midpack and back of the pack runners.  Many companies have multiple levels of support that vary between their pro, elite, and rest-of-the-pack athletes, but typically include runners of all abilities to better market products to runners of all abilities.  Some of these athletes may also be influencers, underrepresented runners, or runners with a diversity platform.  Chosen ambassadors may have a large following, and this increased visibility benefits the brand.

Types of ambassadorships.  Some brands sell “team kits,” in which you purchase a set of gear, and this purchase automatically places you on the team.  These usually have limited slots but purchasing a kit guarantees you a spot on the team.  Some brands do not require purchases but are super selective.  It’s harder to get in but athletes accepted into these programs receive personalized treatment, though these athletes may be expected to more formally promote the brand and lifestyle on their social media.  Other brands let almost everyone in, but with hundreds of ambassadors, commonly only the pros, elites, and running influencers with huge platforms supporting these brands are noticed and reshared by the brand.  PSA – If this is not you, remember this: it has no bearing on your ability as an athlete.  It’s easy to get caught up in this need for attention on social media when you see others’ accomplishments recognized more than yours.  Don’t.  Remember your WHY.

Are you running and sharing your words and images because you get attention, or because it brings you joy?

I have represented several brands ranging from nutrition to clothing to increasing diversity in the outdoors, but eventually I burned myself out trying to get enough photos wearing enough branded gear to represent each brand (read: advertise for them).  I would then feel guilty when I didn’t post and tag a brand for several weeks.  I found myself beginning to stress about what to wear on my runs and getting photographs, when the whole point of a run was to run.  Ironically, when I did get to post on social media and tag the brand, I found that some brands rarely, if ever, reshared my posts, which over a period of months began to sting just a little, as I watched other ambassadors’ posts get reshared.  For me, it became a vicious cycle of guilt, excitement, disappointment, and burnout.  It even led me to question my own worth and value as an athlete, if the big brands were not taking notice.

For a time, I neglected to remember my own WHY.

All this can impact an amazing running experience.  It’s too easy to lose sight of your purpose and the beauty surrounding you on your runs when you’re preoccupied with your GoPro and which brand is on your shirt or trucker hat on a given day.  “What am I going to say in my post?”  And don’t forget those hashtags!  Remember your WHY.  I’m guessing it’s not to have weekly photo shoots and modeling contracts.  Amiright??

However, it’s worth noting that ambassadorships do have their perks.  Still, after having represented several brands over the past couple of years, I feel it’s critical to maintain a personal balance and keep the following points in mind:

  1. First and foremost: Don’t feel obligated to become a brand ambassador if that’s not your jam.  #youdoyou
  2. A close second: Don’t sign up to represent a brand you don’t actually use.  I believe in every brand I represent. #honesty
  3. Don’t sign up to represent too many brands. Promoting too many products on your social media accounts will take away from your running, and you’ll begin to look like a series of commercials to your own followers.  It’s also exhausting.  #ad
  4. Do make sure your own expectations of the companies you represent are reasonable. #expectations
  5. Brands you represent will ask you to tag them in your posts and IG Stories.  But don’t expect them to reshare every one of your tagged posts or IG Stories. #influencer
  6. Don’t expect them to see you even half the time if you are one of HUNDREDS.  There’s just too many ambassadors for the company to pay 100% attention to everyone. #smallfishinabigpond
  7. Do fulfill your obligations.  Be clear of their expectations of you. #commit
  8. Do be prepared to use your own personal social media and the brand’s requested hashtags to help promote their products.  Learn how to use hashtags. #hashtags
  9. Do create meaningful posts in a manner suggested by each campaign.  Get creative already!  I have seen many fellow ambassadors just create a rushed, half thought-out ad.  This will impress neither the company nor your followers. #boring
  10. If you apply to an ambassador program and are rejected, DO NOT let this affect your self-worth as an athlete!  You were amazing before you applied to the program.  You still are. #superstar
  11. Don’t feel obligated to buy every piece of gear that comes your way, in an effort to represent your brand at races or even the grocery store.  This may end up costing you a small fortune, and I have learned that you don’t need an entire branded wardrobe to represent a brand.  You just need to wear the branded gear that you have.  So a few reliable go-to items will go a long way.  There is a fine line between representing a brand and turning yourself into a walking billboard. #brokeaf
  12. The bottom line is that you want to help advertise for (a) brand(s) in which you believe, but in an authentic and genuine manner. #realdeal

After a year of several brand ambassadorships and burnout, at the end of 2021, I made the decision to reapply to only one company, Tailwind Nutrition, whose products work well for me and which I actually use regularly while running.  I applied to a second ambassador program through Squirrel’s Nut Butter, another great-for-me product that I use regularly.  And in early 2022, I became a patreon supporter and monthly columnist for the Trails Collective.  I know many of the amazing athletes behind the Trails Collective and appreciate being able to help support them.  And I love being able to represent the Trails Collective while I am on the trails.  Having downsized my brand ambassadorships, I am no longer overwhelmed or burned out, and free to again focus on just RUNNING.

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