Race Ambassador Programs: Everything You Need to Know
Setting up a race ambassador program could be a great way to attract more participants to your event and create the kind of organic word-of-mouth publicity money can't buy.
In this feature we take a close look at everything about setting up and operating a successful ambassador program for your race, from picking the right people to putting together a winning perks package.
So let's get started!
What is a race ambassador?
A race ambassador is a person, usually an experienced racer with a substantial social media following and ties to the racing community, who undertakes to represent and promote your race in exchange for certain benefits. These benefits can include free entry to the race, exclusive race gear or, in some cases, even cash and other incentives.
Why set up a race ambassador program?
By setting up a race ambassador program, you give people with influence (your race ambassadors) an opportunity to promote your race using the most powerful marketing tool known to man: word of mouth.
In exchange for some modest concessions, and with a small investment of your and you team's time, you can launch an army of advocates on the world that will work enthusiastically to reach potential race registrants both on- and off-line.
How does a race ambassador program work?
The basic principles behind a race ambassador program are simple:
- You put together a package of perks you are willing to give people in return for their help. Usually this includes free race entry, exclusive swag and more.
- You put the word out that you are looking for people who are keen to represent your event as race ambassadors.
- You pick your ambassadors and let them get on with the job.
What to look for in a race ambassador
Getting the right people onboard is key for the success of your program. You need to remember that the individuals you choose to represent your race will be closely associated with your brand. So, you'll need to make sure they have a great attitude and embody the ethos and values you want associated with your event.
Race ambassadors come in all shapes and sizes, and keeping the field diverse is a wise strategy. However, regardless of individual circumstances, there's a few things you'd want to look for in all your ambassadors:
- Enthusiasm about your race. Can't fake it and need quite a lot of it to succeed as race ambassador. Usually the people who will apply to be ambassadors will do so because they feel pretty excited about your race in the first place. So hopefully this will be an easy condition to meet.
- Strong social media following. Enthusiasm is nice, but if ambassadors are going to be effective in promoting your race they'll need to have a voice online. Check out your potential ambassadors' following on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (or even more specialised platforms like Strava). If they're active and followed by many you're on to winners.
- Good communication skills. This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the social media reach, but extends to your ambassador's effectiveness off-line as well as on-. Make sure your ambassadors have a good understanding of your race and brand, and can put their enthusiasm into words when it matters.
- Good connections in the sports community. That means running clubs, running stores, gyms - basically anywhere where they can be expected to promote your race. They don't have to be presidents of their running club to be effective and sometimes being just a super-engaged regular club member can be a lot more helpful. But look for people who participate in and have connections within the community.
- Being based in an area of interest. If your goal is to further promote your race locally, look for people in your area. But if you want to use the ambassador program as a means of reaching out to new territories, make sure your ambassadors reside in your target areas. For instance, if you're looking to expand to a neighbouring state, choose your ambassadors in the right counties for maximum impact.
- A commitment to your race. If you find a real super-star race ambassador, it's worth trying to get them to commit to working with your race exclusively rather than splitting their time with other events. That means going the extra mile with your incentives to guarantee their full commitment.
What's a race ambassador expected to do?
There's a number of ways ambassadors can help your event:
- Promote your event online. This is one of the core missions of a well-connected influencer ambassador. They can write posts about your race on their website, blog and social media accounts, raising awareness for your race with their followers, as well as help share important announcements and press releases. Additionally, race ambassadors can help educate people about your race online, answering comments and questions - they can even help admin your Facebook group or page, if you trust they can do the job.
- Promote your event offline. Depending on the specifics of your race, promoting your event offline could be an equally valuable contribution for race ambassadors. For example, ambassadors could help distribute flyers at their local running stores, gyms and university campuses. More importantly, they can show up in races wearing your race gear and help spread the word in the racing community about how great your event is and why people should register for it.
- Invite people to register for your event. Whether offline or online, a big part of your ambassador's mission - and one they can be directly evaluated on - is getting people to register for your race. You should incentivise your ambassadors to register as many people as they can by giving them a unique discount code or coupon their referrals can use on registration. That way you can track who's performing best and reward them accordingly.
- Help out in expos, race management or volunteer. It is quite common for race ambassadors to field expo kiosks for their affiliated races, as well as volunteer for bib pickup stations and other roles, as long as this doesn't clash with their racing commitments. In trail races, OCR and more specialist events, ambassadors can even be asked to help out with clearing and marking trails, putting up obstacles etc.
- Lead group runs around your course. Getting race ambassadors to organise group runs around your course is a brilliant way to encourage registrations (think of this as a race test-drive). Group runs are also very good opportunities for generating quality content (GoPro videos, group photo etc) you can later use to drive engagement online.
- Contribute content. Taking pictures and videos in anything they do related to your race (and then sharing it online), should be a natural instinct for your race ambassadors. Apart from that, your ambassadors can help write training posts, race Q&A, equipment lists and other content for your website that will save you time and create points of engagement with your fanbase.
- Provide feedback on new race initiatives. Telling you what works and what doesn't is a very important function for experienced ambassadors. This feedback is particularly valuable when making changes to your race or setting out on a new initiative. Don't forget to run ideas past your ambassadors and ask for their opinion as seasoned racers on anything from portable toilet deployment to aid station provisions!
What race ambassadors get in return
Most race ambassadors will likely choose to promote your race for the sake of doing the race itself and because they'd want to promote an event they love. However, this doesn't mean you can't go a little bit further in offering incentives that can drive your ambassadors passion even further.
Here's a few things you could offer:
- Free race entry. Getting your ambassador to enter your race for free should be the #1 thing you offer as part of your package. Assuming they've earned it and excelled in their role (either putting in lots of work, contributing greatly in time or helping register lots of participants), you should also look to offer them free or discounted entry for their mates. This is on top of whatever registration codes you give them as a means of tracking referrals they register for your event.
- Race swag. Ideally you can put together an exclusive line of race gear for your ambassadors that will make them feel really special and incentivise them to wear it more often. If you can't afford that, give them some standard race apparel they can use when competing in other races or going out for club runs - it's your race they're advertising.
- Publicity & recognition. This costs you nothing and could be very important to a wide range of ambassador profiles. Some ambassadors will have a story to share - perhaps about overcoming adversity through sport - and would value the publicity your website or social media could provide. Others, will be sports industry professionals, such as personal trainers, physios etc, and would also appreciate any publicity you have to offer.
- Cash/prizes. Although not that common, some races choose to further reward their star ambassadors with gift cards or prizes (usually supplied by sponsors) or even small amounts of cash.
Running a race ambassador program
Setting up a race ambassador program is fairly straightforward, although, like anything else, it requires some commitment of effort and manpower. If you do decide to go ahead with it, our advice is to take it seriously and get a member of your team to lead it from start to finish.
Work out what you can give away
The first thing you'd want to do is work out what kind of perks you can commit to the program. Primarily this will mean how many free places you're willing to put up. This will roughly determine how many ambassadors you'll be able to attract.
If you have sponsors, particularly sports manufacturers, who can contribute to your pool of perks and make your offering more appealing, ask them to contribute in exchange for additional exposure they'll get when ambassadors use and promote their products.
Be clear about your terms
When you have your list of perks ready, create a page on your website for your ambassador program, describing what you're after and what the program offers.
It is helpful, either here or on some other document you'll share with potential ambassadors, to provide a clear idea of what ambassadors get and how that varies with performance. For example, "Earn a free entry when you sign up 5 people, earn another 50% discount for a further 5 signups" etc. Try to avoid sounding too formal or punitive if ambassadors miss targets, rather focus on the upside if people perform well.
Get the word out
After setting out your program details, put together a publicity strategy to bring it to the attention of as many people as possible.
This doesn't have to be complicated. Start by posting about your program on your website, social media and mailing list - and make sure you do this over a period of time to capture as large a percentage of your audience as possible. Then, move offline to sports clubs, sports apparel stores and university campuses. In short, wherever you think eligible candidates can be found.
If you have potential ambassador candidates in mind you think would be a good fit for your program, reach out to them personally.
Take your pick
In terms of the way you accept new ambassadors into the program, you can choose one of two options:
- Set a deadline for applications to your program and then pick from the list of applicantes
- Enrol ambassadors on a continuous/rolling basis as suitable applicants come forward
The former affords you a bit more selection flex, the latter makes for a quicker ramp-up to your program if starting from scratch.
Hopefully, you've come through to this point inspired to run your own race ambassador program. :)
Ambassador programs are not the only referral strategy you could be using to get your participants to go to work for you, promoting your race to friends and family. But they're definitely one of the more promising, if you stick to the advice above and work on developing strong, long-term relationships with your ambassador class.