**Note: this article started out with talking about free ambassadorships, but I'm realizing that a second article needs to be written on the integrity of ambassadors. Watch for this post in the coming weeks. With the rise of social media, companies and brands have caught on to the fact that they can now advertise their product for free. For small and new brands this is fantastic.
For small entrepreneurs (such as me) that have branding, marketing, advertising, PR companies, it's not good news.
These days everyone is an ambassador. Everyone. Or "sponsored". I get it. Companies want to get their product into peoples hands, talk about it online. But as an entrepreneur who does branding, marketing, digital and social for a living, free doesn't put a roof over my head, food on my plate and resources to support the 2 children I sponsor in Africa with Compassion and World Vision.
On a weekly basis I receive countless responses from brands and companies that "we have ambassadors that will do it for free". While that's great for them, it's frustrating for me. And others out there who do this for a living, it's a slap in our face when brands won't pay for the expertise that I and others have to offer.
When everyone and their brother and their cat and their dog become an ambassador for free, it hurts all of us. It hurts the small entrepreneur do does this for a living. And it hurts the company because they never vetted their ambassador (you can't claim to be dairy-free and promote whey powder).
Right now there is an influx of ambassadorships (thanks in part to a recent company that shall remain nameless for the time being). In exchange for gazillions of hashtags (annoying), maybe some photos (bad lighting), definitely some tweets (out of context), blog posts (to fulfill "ambassadorship" requirements) and Facebook posts to round things out. They can "test" shoes (and keep them), wear some shirts and post photos of them in some awkward pose, eat a food bar, drink some protein powder and Instagram it....and bam. The brand has an army of ambassadors across the country-or world for that matter-talking about their product. For free. These ambassadorships are misleading to say the least.
Companies range from startups to large corporations (think Under Armour or Nike or Puma). Do you really think they can't afford to pay people?
People who are just getting started in the health/wellness/fitness field (since this is my area of expertise, I'll stick with this category) and are just looking for ANY free thing that comes their way. They want to "grow" their social following, website hits, Facebook likes, Twitter following count. They have a "day job" and see free product only as free product with a few posts on social media platforms. Shouldn't ambassadors be people who have embraced a healthy lifestyle for some period of time not just because it's a buzz word or because they want free stuff or because they did 5 pushups for the first time?
Driven only by free, not because they already use the product. How can there be integrity when anyone will promote anything? Just because a company offers you free stuff, doesn't mean it's A) a good product B) you should accept it. I'm extremely picky when I promote and work with brands. I usually buy the product first and see if I like it before ever talking about. I have a vetting process. (The latest push is a group of so-called health and fitness people pushing gummy vitamins. Newsflash: vitamins don't come from gummy vitamins.)
But if the campaign is only based on free product to anyone who will promote it, integrity is out the window.
I understand free word-of-mouth. But when it comes to marketing and PR small businesses, free just doesn't cut it.
So what can be done about this?
For brands and companies, put a sustainable strategy plan into place. Something more than hashtags (that will annoy the crap out of people). When brands pay for a smart and sustainable strategy, a long-term relationship is made.
For ambassadors, what are you promoting? Are you researching the company? Are you looking at the product and what's in it? Very few nutrition products that claim to be "healthy" are rarely healthy. Are you an ambassador just for what it will do for you?
One of my passions is helping small brands find their voice in a very noisy world. My job is to help them find their voice in the noisy world. How can I help your brand? You can work with me to create a sustainable partnership together.
P.S. I'm thankful for the brands that I have worked with who have seen the value I can offer them.
photo credit: Kuster & Wildhaber Photography