Equestrian Brand Ambassadors are coming off as a hot commodity throughout the equine industry, but most people have no clue what a brand ambassador really is or what they are getting themselves into. The ugly truth behind this marketing scheme is nothing short of gross negligence by these companies at the expense of the ambassador.
I’m sure you know amateur riders or have met amateur riders who claim to be brand ambassadors for various equine companies, and you hear about them receiving free items and getting discounts from these companies in return for promoting their brand. Sounds simple, easy, and risk-free right? Think again.
By being a part of these programs you are essentially risking your amateur status, your eligibility for certain events and classes, , your personal social media accounts being turned into marketing outlets , and you even risk your information being compromised and sold to third party affiliates. When it comes to the sport that you have invested so much time, sweat, and money into, would you jeopardize these things for a few discounts and some free T-shirts? I don’t think so.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good companies that are running great ambassador programs such as Personally Preppy, My Barn Child, and Ogilvy Equestrian.
To understand what I am about to tell you, you are going to need to understand what a brand ambassador really is. Here is the definition taken from Wikipedia:
“Brand ambassador (celebrity spokesman) is a marketing term for a person employed by an organization or company to promote its products or services within the activity known as branding. The brand ambassador is meant to embody the corporate identity in appearance, demeanor, values and ethics. The key element of brand ambassadors lies in their ability to use promotional strategies that will strengthen the customer-product/service relationship and influence a large audience to buy and consume more. Predominantly, a brand ambassador is known as a positive spokesperson appointed as an internal or external agent to boost product/service sales and create brand awareness. Today, brand ambassador as a term has expanded beyond celebrity branding to self branding or personal brand management. Professional figures such as good-will and non-profit ambassadors, promotional models, testimonials and brand advocates have formed as an extension of the same concept, taking into account the requirements of every company.”
I am going to share with you the risks, rewards, and the ugly truths behind equestrian brand ambassador programs.
Brand Ambassadors: Entertainment vs. Sports
The arguments between steroid use in sports and in entertainment are exactly the same as to what ambassadorships are between sports and entertainment. If you aren’t competing in an actual sport, then the rules are different. If you’re an actor and you’re taking steroids, no one is going to complain. Sure, steroids are illegal, but smaller forms of steroids are still legal (FYI). If you are in the NBA and you’re on steroids, you’re in some big time trouble. Those steroids can improve your performance at a higher rate than what diet and exercise alone are capable of. This gives you a direct advantage over your competition. However, if you’re in the NBA and someone gives you a pill to stop you from snoring, no one is going to care because it is irrelevant to the competition.
In the horse world, the idea is exactly the same. If you’re sponsored by a company that sells fluorescent highlighters, there is no grounds to remove you from amateur status because the product cannot or will not increase your ability to get an unfair edge over the competition. However, depending on your discipline, the rider’s uniform is an essential part of their competition. If you are sponsored or receive goods from a company who sells high end jackets, boots, helmets, gloves, supplements, supplies, trailers, barns, etc. you will definitely have an unfair advantage over the competition. If you want to still claim amateur status and be an ambassador you need to follow two rules:
1) Don’t become an ambassador for a company who sells products who can affect you while you’re riding.
2) Don’t become an ambassador for a company for the sake of “being an ambassador”. This doesn’t help you, and it doesn’t help the good companies who actually try to help you.
You are not a Sponsored Rider, You are a Marketing Tool
Ouch. I know that one may come as a swift kick to the shins, but we are supplying this information to help you, not hurt you. As you may be well-aware, plenty of amateur riders are drooling in thirst to jump at the first “sponsorship-type” opportunity that comes their way, which is natural and completely understood. Once they are accepted to the program, they use their “ambassadorship” the same way that a sponsored rider uses their “sponsors”: as leverage. Professional sponsored riders flex their muscles of achievement through their winnings, career highlights, and sponsors. However, as an amateur you are not allowed to be “sponsored” by a company, therefore you are not sponsored, you are simply a marketing tool for a company. By giving the impression that you are sponsored, they assume you will tell your friends, family, and others about your relationship with this company, and you will be promoting them subconsciously. The difference here is that sponsored riders get their stuff for free, you just get a discount. Ouch.
We Want Your Social Media Accounts
Rule #1 of brand ambassador club: you must write on all of your social media profiles that you belong to the brand ambassador club. Social Media is major, in a sense that most amateur riders really don’t have anything to offer these companies besides their large social media followings. Social media is main criteria of how ambassadors are chosen from the hundred or thousands that apply. For example, a company will receive 2,000 applications for their program, they will then be sort in order of most social media followers. Unless there are some crazy over-riding factors, 99% of the applicants with the top social media followings will get the spots. They will suggest/require you to post about them to your profile in order to get your following to follow them.
The REAL Rules and Regulations
Contrary to popular belief, most companies just implement this idea without actually researching the rules and regulations that their ambassadors would be facing in the event that there was an issue with their amateur status. Surprisingly most equine companies are smaller than what you would think, and a lot of times someone in the company will hear about another company doing the brand ambassador program, and then try to copy it without any research into the legalities it would cause the riders. Why would these companies not research this? EASY. They won’t get into any trouble should anything happen with your amateur status, but you will. They hold no legal obligation to reply, fight, or even respond back to any amateur status claims made by any equine association.
However, you will be stuck fighting this case on your own and most likely you’re going to lose for a pretty simple reason: the legalities of what is considered “sponsored” is not that clear, and therefore proving your innocence will not be easy. After all, you are receiving payment in the form of a discount from equestrian companies for items that could give you an edge over the competition. In the event of this, there is an argument for each side:
Your Argument: “I am receiving payment in the form of a discount from an equine company’s program for items that could ultimately give me an edge in competition. However, it is not illegal to get paid from those companies. According to the definition of Brand Ambassador, I’m employed by this company, and my payment for advertising their brand is in the form of a discount, and therefore I am not sponsored and I should be able to ride in my class.”
Their Argument: “We agree that you must be “employed” by the company to bypass this rule. Since you were an employee, you should have paystubs proving your employment. With these paystubs, you should have payroll taxes withheld or you should receive a 1099 from the company at the end of the year. Since you’re getting paid in the form of discounts, you must pay taxes on your income. Do you pay taxes on these discounts? If you don’t, then you’re technically not an employee by US Law.”
At this point, you have lost the argument and it is obvious that you didn’t do your homework. The bottom line is that either the company is doing something illegal in tax law by giving you discounts as a form of payment, or you’re doing something illegal in the amateur sports world by accepting discounts from such companies. Receiving discounts when you purchase something as your only form of payment for work is tax evasion, and you don’t want to irritate Uncle Sam.
If you really want to be sure of what you’re getting into, ask the company to send you a copy of their full ambassador legal policies. If you aren’t receiving a check or a 1099, you aren’t legally employed by them, and therefore you aren’t an ambassador. You’re sponsored.
Please Pay Us in Order to Promote Us
You heard me. First you’re going to pay us $50 to apply, and if you’re lucky enough to make the cut, you’re going to get a minuscule discount on a product that costs my company 10% of what you’re paying. Marketing professionals would label this as genius, but truthfully it is a real “behind the curtain” gimmick. Why would you pay a company to promote them? Doesn’t that just sound absurd? With a $50 application fee, a company will make $50,000 off of 1,000 applications. Of those 1,000 applications, usually under 100 will be chosen.
So let me break this down for you: you’re going to pay $50 to apply for a program that you have a 10% chance of being accepted into. If you’re lucky enough to get into the program, you’ll get a 35% discount on all purchases. In exchange, you’ll need to promote it in order to maintain the ambassadorship, so next time they hold an ambassador application screening, they’ll make $100,000 off of the entries alone.
Sorry, you’ve been duped.
Fill Out This Form, So I Can Sell Your Info Please!
Ever check your email and want to throw your computer into a lake? It may have came from that website you bought something from 2 years ago, or from a newsletter you’ve signed up for, or it could be the fact that somewhere down the line someone has taken your information and sold it to people.
This sounds completely nuts, but it happens all the time. When 1,000 people apply to become ambassadors, you must fill out forms that usually require large amounts of personal information. Translating this information into money is simple: find companies who are looking for customers with that information. I would have no problem selling 1,000 emails addresses, phone numbers, names, and street addresses of people who are mostly female, under the age of 30, ride horses, like expensive brands, and their parents live in a house that is worth $2.1 million. Marketers would kill for this information. Think about it!
If you want to find out who is REALLY selling your information try this cool trick:
The next time you need to fill out a form, spell your name slightly wrong in a way that is unusual. For example, if your name is Jessica, spell your name “Jessikka” on the form. This way when you receive emails, postage, or ads with the name “Jessikka” you will know who sold your info.
^ I’ve tried this trick with a mortgage loan one time from a pretty well-known company, and after about 2-3 months, my email started cascading with nonsense emails all addressed to my oddly misspelled name. BUSTED.
How Could an Equine Federation Catch People?
Well, most brand ambassadorships require you to post that you are an ambassador in your social media bios. I would probably just google your name, find your social profiles, and read your bio. Also, you have other people who may be jealous or envious and may “tell on you”. I would probably have to say that this is most likely how you would get put under investigation.
Can They Really Take My Amateur Status Away?
Does Grizzly Adams have a beard? Yes. Unfortunately I have not done the research to establish how many people have had their amateur statuses taken away, or how long it may take to get it back. Maybe there is some type of appeal process? Who knows! Every organization is different, and every organization has their own particular set of rules to deal with this sort of thing should it become an issue.
Is it Worth It to be an Ambassador?
This depends. Does the company sell or exchange discounts to you involving items that could potentially give you an unfair advantage in your sport? Is the company trustworthy? Does the company have a good history of ambassadors? Are your friends the jealous type?
There are hundreds of variables to factor in to this equation, with only one way to find out the real answer.
LOOK IT UP! Do some research, and find out the legalities and what the rules involving your organization are. Don’t make a mistake because you were unprepared. Always know what you’re getting into.
Are there any Good Equine Companies that Have Ambassador Programs?
YES! If you’re looking to join an ambassador program that is honest, trustworthy, and will not leave you playing russian roulette with your amateur status, I have a few great suggestions. These companies are great companies that I am very familiar with, that other people are very familiar with, and have been proven to have great programs.
(If I leave any other ones out, it is not because they are untrustworthy, but because I cannot vouch for their program without investigating)
– Personally Preppy: A monogram company in the equine industry with great support, online presence, and has a well known history with providing a great brand ambassador program.
– My Barn Child: A company specializing in gifts and accessories. Great support, very avid online, and is known to have a great brand ambassador program.
– Ogilvy Equestrian: Ogilvy has great saddle pads and accessories. They have great support, online presence, and they also have a well known history of having a great ambassador program.
The Final Point
Remember, we are here to help you and not to hurt you. We want to present these facts to our readers to help them avoid going through these debacles. In media today it is very hard to find those who are willing to reveal things for what they really are, and not for what you want them to be. The truth grows harder and harder to come by each day in the modern world, but at Equestrian Empire it is not only our moral obligation, but it is our duty.