Sharers of the Love: A Primer for Brand Ambassador Programs

Presidio Sports Management has helped several brands in the endurance space set up their ambassador programs and in that process we’ve come up with some best practices that can help brands get all the benefits of brand ambassadors without the dreaded “trying to herd kittens” marketing problems.

In this post, we will outline a better way to set up ambassador programs that will help brands maximize the marketing potential and allow for brand staff to better keep track of the ambassadors’ activities.

Why Ambassadors in the First Place?

Ambassadors are awesome! Not only can they be as effective (or more effective) than pro athletes in raising awareness about the brand, they can be more relatable than a genetically gifted professional might be. (We love Pro’s too. Their marketing value as leaders and inspiration for users or potential users of brands is obvious. See any commercial with Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps, Michael Lewis and other Michaels.)

In our experience, ambassadors are generally stoked to receive product in lieu of salary or stipend and love to be seen as affiliated/sponsored by a brand and reciprocate this by working hard and being fiercely loyal to the brand. Finding willing and able ambassadors has not been a problem that we’ve experienced. Management of an ambassador program (as with management of pro athletes) is the difficult part.

Herding Kittens is Hard!

We’ve found that most ambassador programs that we studied while creating programs for our clients fall into two camps: either highly ineffective or highly disorganized. Ok so maybe that’s the same camp…but two camps sounds cooler. At any rate, the main problems we see is in the visioning of the reasons for a brand having an ambassador program in the first place and how to properly administer an ambassador program to achieve the vision of the brand in the second. Without clear visioning an ambassador program is doomed for mediocrity.

Clear Visioning

The most important part of designing an ambassador program is figuring out what it is that the brand wants to achieve. Being super honest with yourself is the best place to start. Want to enter a new market? Ok. Want to start new (or invigorate and existing) social media marketing? Ok. Want to evangelize your followers? Ok. Want to make a million dollars? Hmm, maybe. Having a clear answer to what a brand wants to achieve sets everything else up for success.

Design an Ambassador Program that Makes Your Life Easier, Not Harder

Once the vision is clear, setting up an ambassador program that can help achieve the brand vision is easier than you’d think. Setting up clear expectations, having a clear incentive structure for performance and having ambassadors sign a contract that explains the expectations and incentives are key. Once all this is set, brands should reward ambassadors for meeting their expectation after meeting their expectations, not before. In addition, by asking ambassadors to report when they’ve achieved whatever markers are met for the brand in order for them to receive their incentives, the herding kittens problem is solved.

Anyway, without sharing too much of the secret PSM juju for ambassador program design, we hope that this blog helps brands think about how ambassador programs can work for them. Feel free to reach out if you’d like more information on how we can help you build something awesome.

Missed Opportunities: (Self) Branding Basics for Endurance Athletes

(This blog post has been written for a few months but we held off on posting it because it kept coming off a little snippy after several revisions. After getting some encouragement from friends to just post it…here it is.)

Branding and marketing for endurance athletes by endurance athletes is behind the times. Assuming there are sponsorship, media and race opportunities out there, it is notoriously hard to reach athletes that are not represented by agents or managers. Too few athletes have quality landing pages/websites or easy to find contact information. Missed opportunities are always sad but they are doubly so when a little bit of effort was all that is required to capitalize on passive opportunities. By passive opportunities we mean that an athlete can just sit there and people email them opportunities (to a good professional reading email address, e.g., info@athletename.com not a personal one, e.g., jazzyathlete22@aol.com.)

In this post, we offer three tips to help athletes have a better personal brand (and web presence) to better capitalize on potential opportunities.

1.     Athlete's need a good/great website!

There we’ve said it! Every pro athlete (or aspiring pro) should have a simple and clean website that lets fans, brands, reporters, etc. know who you are. The website should include a short bio, links to your social media handles and provide clear contact information. If you want to blog as well, all the better. If you have sponsors, list them with hyperlinks to their sites.

In the age of Squarespace and Wix, there is really no excuse to not have a good website. A simple and clean website can be built at home for as little as $180 a year. Many of these website creation and hosting services also include a custom domain name and professional email so feel free to retire your jazzyathelete22@yahoo.com email.

By way of example, one of our favorite athlete websites (we admit that we are biased) is Pro Ultrarunner extraordinaire Jorge Maravilla. Check out www.jorgemaravilla.com to see what we mean. It has all the elements that we think are important for a clean and simple site.

2.     Keep your online presence up to date...all the time

Worse than not having a good website is having one that is painfully out of date. Visitors to an athlete’s site expect to get relevant information about race schedule, recent results, current sponsorships and any other news. Committing to keeping the information on an athlete’s site current says to the world that he/she cares about their personal brand. 

3.     Respond to all inquiries as timely as possible

It’s an epidemic in endurance sports that almost no one responds to emails timely. (Presidio Sports Management is doing its part to curb this trend by returning all emails within 48 hours. Don't believe us, try us!) We highly, highly, highly encourage athletes to follow our approach. Athlete’s should do everything they can to try to respond as promptly as possible to all inquiries...even from the ultra-random requests. Some fan invites you a 8 year old's birthday party? Graciously decline. Some athlete asks you for tips for a particular race course that you dominated? Graciously answer. Some brand asks to schedule a call for a potential sponsorship? Graciously accept. Simple!

The only thing worse than missing opportunities is missing passive opportunities because of lack of followthrough. 

If this blog post seems overly simplistic...it’s because it is! There’s much more to building a compelling personal brand and continually cultivating your brand. A great book that we recommend is Dorie Clarks's Rebranding You. Her book provides a great roadmap for anyone interested in self-branding.   

In the end it comes down to mindfulness. Athletes need to be mindful of cultivating as many passive opportunities as possible. By setting up systems and a good routine to cultivate and manage your brand, endurance athletes will be set up for success. 

Predictive Analytics for Brands In the Endurance Space

Data isn’t just for nerds (or companies with million dollar budgets) anymore. We see a lot of opportunities for emerging and established businesses in the endurance space to better collect, understand and use data to achieve strategic goals. Many of our clients come to us wanting to know the secret on how they can grow their businesses in the marketplace effectively and efficiently.

Historically this has been done through old school trial and error marketing or with what the client thought was quality data. While we love the old school at Presidio Sports Management…we think that a better way to analyze and use data is through the use of predictive analytics. With Predictive analytics, businesses can use their own historical data to make marketing, inventory and sales decisions with a new lens. This data can come from a variety of sources, including sales records, Google analytics, social media trends, etc.

So you might be asking yourself, “what exactly IS predictive analytics?” Besides just sounding totally awesome, predictive analytics is the examination of data to find parallels between current and historical trends in order to make educated predictions about the future state of the business. This data can be sales, inventory, website analytics or survey based. This data also helps users identify areas in which there might be potential risks and/or missed opportunities.  In order for the data to be used in a productive manner it requires businesses to come up with a targeted approach for what they want to achieve and then analyze the data to their desired end.

Accurately predicting trends or behavior patterns can allow for huge growth potential as well as cost savings for businesses. By way of example, PSM recently helped a brand with a messaging refresh as part of a larger audit of their marketing strategy. The basis for the final language that we proposed in the new messaging was a result of in depth research into what the historic analytic data revealed about the traction on the previous messaging. By examining previous trends, we were able to rule out language that had fallen flat and predict what language would work best for future marketing initiatives. After testing the new language in a focus group setting, the brand was on its way.

Feel free to reach out to learn how your business can evolve by studying the data that you are (hopefully) collecting or if you just want to get your mind blown.

How to Negotiate Winning Athlete Endorsement Deals

The 2016 athlete endorsement season is upon us! Now is the time that most brands begin making marketing decisions for the following year and are approached by athletes to get sponsored (or do the approaching).

A question that we often get from athletes (and brand sponsors) during initial contract negotiations is so important that we think it’s worth blogging about. But before I do the big reveal, let us set the scene…

Brand A is interested in Athlete B because Athlete B is has a loyal following of fans and could be great ambassador for Brand A.  However, Brand A is a small company without a real marketing budget.  Athlete B could potentially change that by promoting their products. Athlete B, seeing dollar signs, wants to ask for as much as she can get. Alas, Brand A has few dollars at the present moment. Once both parties are at the dreaded negotiating table, they both ask…

Let us keep you in suspense just a bit longer. The “negotiation table” is the figurative place where parties with varying levels of experience try to figure out what the terms of a contract will look like and who will do what for whom. This is literally the most important moment for both parties to find a mutually beneficial understanding and determine clarity about deliverables. In our experience, there is a lot of room for improvement in this area.

So what is the question that we always get asked? Stated simply: “How do we get started?”

You might be surprised by this basic question. We have seen this question enough to know exactly what to do and it has everything to do with being prepared for the conversation. Having a plan for the negotiation from both the brand perspective and athlete perspective is crucial for living happily ever after…or at least through the term of the contract.

We recommend that athletes and brands start any negotiation with the following three steps; the first two steps happen before arriving at the negotiation table and the third step at the negotiations.

Step One

·      Brands should have a clear idea of how they think the athlete can help their brand and what kind of time commitment and exposure they want from the athlete.
·      Athletes should have a clear understanding of what the brand does and decide whether it is a good fit for their image/personal brand and whether there are any conflicts with any existing sponsors.

Step Two

·      Brands should think and write down what they see as primary and secondary deliverables that they want the athlete to be able to achieve. This could be public appearances, participating in specific races or events or generating content for the brand.
·      Athletes should think about how they can help the brand achieve its strategic marketing goals (usually more sales) and be a great asset for the brand.

Step Three

·      Brands should open negotiations by presenting how they see the athlete fitting into their strategic goals and be transparent about important things like athlete compensation and potential bonus structures.
·      Athletes should open negotiations by presenting how they see themselves fitting into the brand’s vision and lay out any compensation and incentive concerns.

The key in all three steps is being realistic. In our experience there’s entirely too much poker playing during negotiations. A small endurance accessories sponsor (socks come to mind) is never going to be able to provide large sums of money, but it could be a great fit to work together on original content that helps both the athlete and the brand grow.

It is also important for both sides to come to the table with best intentions. The athlete should see themselves as an “employee” of the brand and work hard to help the company achieve its goals. The brand should communicate well with the athlete so that he or she is clear on what is expected.

One final tip: help make the world a better place by being straight forward and honest. Happy mediums can be achieved in any negotiation if the parties want them to. Trust us, while this all seems super basic, we have seen too many instances where communication breaks down (or never gets started) because of lack of clarity. Follow these three steps and you’re assured better outcomes that result in happier athletes and brands (and sports agents).

PSM Client, Victory Sportdesign, Announces Its Elite Racing Team

We are very excited to see this team come to fruition after several months of planning (read: contract drafting, athlete selection, etc.). We love Victory Sportdesign for their honest approach to design and we think that this ultrarunning team reflects the brand personality perfectly!

Below is the complete press release:

For Immediate Release

News Contact:
Spencer Naar
Spencer@OutsidePR.com

Mill Valley, CA — Oct 2, 2015

Victory Sportdesign™, creators of the popular multifunctional and ultra-organized sports utility bags for athletes, today announced its 2015-16 roster for its first sponsored ultrarunning team. With the fall race season well underway, the athlete line-up is set to include renowned ultrarunners Sally McRae, Bob Shebest. Jorge Maravilla, Kelsie Clausen, Alex Varner, Caroline Boller, Ryan Ghelfi, Ken Neely, Ethan Veneklasen and Ken Michal.

“I’ve been a huge fan of Victory Bags since they launched back in 2011 so I’m extremely pumped to join their team,” said Southern California-based Sally McRae, 7th place female finisher at this year’s Western States 100 miler. “Both my crew and I love the simplicity and ease of use and I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved at aid stations while racing. I’m looking forward to working with Victor and the rest of the team to represent the brand.”

The roster of national and international racers includes Marin, California locals Jorge Maravilla – placed 2nd at the 2015 Tarawera Ultramarathon – and Alex Varner who set a course record and took 1st at this year’s Lake Sonoma 50. Elite trail runner Ryan Ghelfi from Ashland, Oregon joins the team having taken 1st place at this year’s 2015 Black Canyon 100k and San Francisco-based Ken Michal comes aboard having taken 4th place at this year’s Pigtails 200 Mile Challenge.

Joining Sally McRae on the female side, 2015 Montrail Ultra Cup champion and Solvang, California resident, Caroline Boller placed 8th at this year’s Western States 100 mile endurance run while the youngest member of the team, San Luis Obispo local Kelsie Clausen, placed 5th in the female division at the 2015 Bandera 100K.

Inspired by one of the Bay Area’s top ultrarunners while participating in the 2009 Western States 100 mile endurance run, San-Rafael-based artist and musician, Victor Ballesteros, originally designed Victory Bags to organize and protect drop gear during ultra and marathon racing. Fast forward six years and the line of compact and durable sports utility bags for running and travel has evolved into multifunctional organizers utilized for everything from emergency preparedness and medical kits to on-the-go dog bags, car trunk organizers, personal travel bags and baby bags.

“I’m really pleased to announce the launch of our elite ultrarunning team to help promote our brand and improve engagement with our consumers,” said Ballesteros. “Our team consists of a diverse and talented group of athletes from across the west coast who excel in every type of race – everything from the marathon to the 200 mile distance – so I’m excited to build upon their knowledge and continue to streamline the drop bag experience during endurance events.”

For more information about Victory Sportdesign’s VICTORY BAGS and other products please visit www.victorysportdesign.com or contact Chris Douglas at chris@presidiosportsmgmt.com. You can learn more about the ELITE team athletes here: http://victorysportdesign.com/?page_id=1711

ABOUT  VICTORY  SPORTDESIGN™

Inspired by the experience of running the Western States 100 mile endurance race and designed by runner Victor Ballesteros, VICTORY BAGS are the evolution of a durable, compact and ultra-organized sport utility bag. Victory Sportdesign is dedicated to creating useful and durable products for a community of outdoor enthusiasts looking to enhance the experience of whatever sporting and non-sporting events they participate in. The company was founded in 2011 and is based in Marin, California.

A Move In the Right Direction: USATF Proposes Change in Revenue Rules for Athletes

U.S.A. Track & Field and the Athletes Advisory Committee has just announced a new plan to distribute an additional $9 million in athlete funding over the next five years. In effect, this plan would standardize the bonus and incentive payments that USATF athletes would receive when they represent the US in international competition. This new plan is slated to be “finalized” at the USATF annual meeting this December in Houston.

The $9 million would provide roughly $10,000 annually for each athlete who makes a World Championships or Olympic Teams. The remaining 25 percent will be distributed as medal bonus money for individuals medaling at World Championships or Olympic Games, with $25,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. (For relays, the number of athletes who run at least one round of that medal-winning team will share equally in the amount of the bonus.)

This is definitely a move in the right direction! Our view is that all athletes should be adequately compensated for the participation on the National team. We would even go one step further and address the athlete sponsorship issue to ensure that sponsorship is not a barrier for participation on the National team and (Read: avoiding the Nick Symmonds situation) recommend that the USATF develop a policy to adequately address the contract restrictions of their athletes.

In sum, we applaud the USATF and hope that endurance athletes continue to be adequately compensated in order for them to continue to be able to follow there dreams of representing their Country in World Championship and Olympic competition.

Early Termination/Injury Clauses in Endorsement Contracts (Pro Contracts 101 Series)

At Presidio Sports Management we believe that one of the ways that we can be of service to the endurance industry at large is by simply sharing good information.  Over the next couple of months we will be posting brief articles that provide important considerations for athletes and brands in drafting and executing endorsement contracts.  The first topic that we will address are termination clauses in pro deals.

Termination Clauses Generally

Most endorsement contracts have (or should have) a clause that details the circumstances when the brand can terminate an athlete's contract before the end of the contract term.  These clauses list out grounds for termination like if an athlete dopes, violates governing athletic body (e.g., USAT or USATF) or specific terms of the agreement. Athletes should make sure to read these clauses carefully to ensure that they fully understand under what conditions they may be terminated.  Now at this point you might be asking yourself why we should have such a keen sense for the obvious? Trust me, there are reasons why this post is not wasting your time.

Injury Clauses

One type of termination clause in particular warrants closer attention. Most termination clauses include language regarding when a contract may be terminated due to injury.  These clauses usually state that if an athlete is unable to perform or race for a certain time period, usually 60 to 180 days, the sponsor is allowed to terminate the sponsorship.

The problem with this type of contract language is that it is usually very vague.  What happens if the athlete is injured testing prototype equipment provided by the sponsor? What if the injury occurred while making an appearance for the sponsor?  Without the protection of clear contract terms athletes may be left without a key sponsor.  This is not to say that sponsors are evil and looking for ways to shed injured athletes off of their roster because they are not.  The point is only that athletes are left unprotected by vague clauses.  As they stand, if these clauses are acted upon the only recourse for an athlete to challenge the termination of the contract would be potentially costly litigation (or more likely, binding arbitration).

The best…most tried and true…guaranteed to never let you down…works every time way of dealing with vague contract language is to not let it happen in the first place.  Clear language protects the athlete and the brand.  Below is an example of a vague/bad clause followed by a more detailed/better clause.

EXAMPLE OF A BAD CLAUSE

“SPONSOR” shall have the right to terminate this Contract immediately upon written notice if “ATHLETE”: (i) fails any IAAF or NGB sanctioned drug test; (ii) breaches any term of this Contract; or (iii) any medical condition that prevents Athlete from competing or more than sixty (60) days.

EXAMPLE OF A BETTER CLAUSE

This Contract may only be terminated by “SPONSOR” upon written notice to “ATHLETE” if one of the following conditions occur: (i) athlete fails any IAAF or NGB sanctioned drug test; (ii) any material breach of a term of this Contract after there has been a failure to remedy the default within twenty (20) days; or (iii) any medical condition that prevents Athlete from competing or more than one hundred and eighty (180) days and medical condition was not caused due to equipment provided by SPONSOR or as a result of duties requested by SPONSOR as detailed in this Contract.

You will notice that while the two clauses are pretty similar there are some profound differences making the better clause, well, better. The main difference is that if the clause is acted upon, both sides will have a clear understanding as to why.  The ultimate outcome hopefully being that litigation will be avoided and we can all live happily ever after.

Knowledge is power people! 

Sponsorship and Ultrarunning: Towards a New Professionalism

Recently irunfar.com (one of our favorite resources) posted an editorial in the AJW Taproom regarding the future of Ultrarunning. Nice job Logan! You’re wise beyond your years dude! (Check out the editorial at http://www.irunfar.com/2014/10/ultrarunning-and-the-future.html)

We wanted to expand on this discussion since we made it our mission at Presidio Sports Management (PSM) to help elite men and women in endurance sports reach a new level of professionalism in every interaction with brands and sponsors. We take the development of the sport very seriously. Since PSM is the only management firm representing ultrarunners (that we know about) we realize how high the stakes are for us to do this right for the sport. We want to raise the level of professionalism in a way that’s in line with the history and values of ultrarunning while being open-minded about the inevitable growth of the sport and the burgeoning opportunities available to athletes.

Let’s use sponsorships as an example of the growth needed in ultrarunning. Agreeing on a number of valid points mentioned in Logan’s post, we see a large disparity in the content of sponsorship agreements across brands.  

Part of the problem that we have observed since launching PSM is the lack of a clear industry standard in contracts. The only real “standards” that we have seen are derived from each individual company and the employee(s) within the company advocating for sponsorship and by the athlete themselves. Also at play is the athlete’s ability and comfort in marketing him or her self. This approach leads to mixed results with success hinging upon the negotiation prowess and business sense/experience of each individual athlete.  These mixed results also lead to mixed expectations from sponsors that lead to missed marketing opportunities for athletes.

From a sports marketing perspective, presenting yourself to a sponsor is just the tip of the iceberg for athletes. What about social media presence, blogging, or other ways to show influence, character, charisma and personality to sponsors? Athletes can be more to a brand than a simple marketing tool. A committed marketing person or team (along with a budget to properly 'sponsor' an athlete) can activate an athlete in greater ways to garner the highest value from the sponsorship. But as mentioned above, this is all negotiated…or should be.

We think that professional representation allows for more of a collective bargaining approach thereby leveling (and ultimately raising) the playing field by creating and applying industry standards that serve our athletes and the sport. This is where we feel that our expertise and market intelligence at Presidio Sports Management comes in. These companies are looking for exposure, increased awareness and ROI (return on investment). We know that athletes can deliver ROI and sponsors know it too. We also know that the “industry” can do a better job of sponsoring athletes in a way that allows them to race at their best while growing the brands that have invested in them and PSM can help them do just that.

This is truly an exciting time for the ultra and trail running community and we look forward to helping it grow with integrity. 

A Simple Mission

Presidio Sports Management began as a simple idea with a simple mission: to provide high quality legal and management services to pro athletes, brands, teams, and race and event directors in the endurance industry in an honest, professional, and principled way.  Now that the launch is in full effect, we are looking forward to see what the future holds for this simple idea.

If you’ve checked out the website you will see that PSM put its heart on its sleeve by laying out the company philosophy on its own page.  Why did we do this?  Besides the obvious answer (because we wanted to let everyone know!), it is our goal to bring the highest level of professionalism and personalism (I just made that word up) to the endurance sports industry in every interaction.  And what better way to do this than by just telling people.  While this isn’t a typical approach (especially for lawyers), it is our approach, our principle. Period. (Still feel free to insert your favorite lawyer jokes here.)

So what does this mean for our clients?  It means that our clients will know our thoughts and can trust that we will have their best interests at heart. It also means that whether the stakes are low or super crazy high, we will apply the same principle in every matter.  From the very beginning as a company we have already applied and seen this principle in action.  One of our first clients hired PSM after we literally tried to convince them that they didn’t need our legal services and could have done it themselves.  Nothing speaks truer to our mission. (And we’ll take the positive karma points!)

As PSM grows (and it’s growing fast!) we will continue to circle back to our simple idea and ensure that every interaction that we have displays our integrity, loyalty, work ethic, and intelligence.