Brand Ambassadors - the role that they play

Wearing my cap as NedbankHead of Group Sponsorships,I was asked just the otherday as to the importance and the rolethat “Brand Ambassadors” play in a corporate environment.

The questioncame on the heels of Nedbank’s recent announcement of two new BrandAmbassadors who are intrinsically linked to sport sponsorships where Nedbank are involved as key sponsors.The new ambassadors I refer to are Paralympic triple gold medallist Hilton Langenhoven (sport for disabled) and current queen of South African short distance track and road events, Rene Kalmer.

At the outset, there is a fine line between sponsoring an individual with specific objectives in mind and appointing someone to represent your brand; the latter does not neccessarily require a current winner / championand they can often be in the twilight of their career.

I guess the first thing any corporate has to consider when contemplating appointment of a Brand Ambassador is to define the role that they would play.

The term Brand Ambassador implies that the selected individual, or team, would become an envoy or representative of the brand employing their services - with specific tasks agreed upon between the two parties.

The next question then is that of selection criteria. As the world has recently seen with Tiger Woods saga, we are all human and to be human is often to err! Woods is probably the greatest example of a Brand Ambassador who, as a global brand in his own right, went from hero to zero (hardly) with his indiscretions off the golf course.

His reputation is in tatters, profits of his corporate partners have dipped whilst television viewing has dived and of course, he too has lost a small fortune!

The question is why? Surely he is taken on as a golfer? Alas, not so!

Whilst the mighty Tiger is sponsored, he automatically carries the mantle of BrandAmbassador for the brands that he represents. He is intrinsically linked to those brands (some more than others) trough endorsements both on and off the golf course.

A brand represents the soul of an company and its core values are key to its success. Bad behaviour as such then is not condoned - with some corporate partners being more forgiving than others.

There is no doubt that many of the world's top sport (and other) celebrities are persecuted by the paparazzi and, more often than not, stories are written and published way out of proportion.

Generally then, a good corporate citizen would take on the services of a Brand Ambassador to be "the glue" between then and a sponsored property that targets or supports a specific audience. Roles of Brand Ambassadors vary between entities though selection is always key.

Ideally, a Brand Ambassador should be a loyal and loud advocate who spreads good will in the name of the brand that they present. They are generally selected because they are role models, admired and respected members of their communities ect.

Increased sales volumes are certainly at the heart of every business though there are companies that genuinely take on the service of Brand Ambassadors for other reasons.

At a corporate level BrandAmbassadors can be, and should be,used to motivate staff and customers atinternal and external events. Dutiescan include (but are not restricted to)officiating at company launches, prizegivings,Corporate Social Investment(CSI) initiatives; speaking engagements;the wearing of branded apparel and, ofcourse, all aspects of media exposure.

In a nutshell, the biggest concernthat faces any corporate who is takingon the services of a Brand Ambassadorthese days is without any shadow of adoubt the matter of reputational risk.Those accepting the conditions andrewards for representing a brand mustalways be mindful of their actions(particularly when in the public eye)and remember how quickly negativitycan fester, albeit more often then not,based on exaggerated reporting!Let’s now come back to Hilton’sselection. Hilton is a typical examplestriving for success in the face ofadversity. He comes from an extremelydisadvantaged background and wouldprobably have been excused forslipping off the rails during a verydifficult childhood. Instead, he chosethe high road and realised that hisathletic exploits could possibly takehim places, never dreaming of theheady heights of the Paralympic medalpodium in Beijing 2008, not to mentionthat he summitted that podium no lessthan three times in the 10 day tourney!He hasomuch to share. Stories totell of bleak times and experiences,dark memories that he would probablywant to erase forever!

Hilton Langenhoven however hasstamped that stuff out for now. Anunsung hero who deserves his place inthe sun, who deserves to be comparedwith the best and, most of all, deserveshis chance to go out and proudlyrepresent the Nedbank brand!

Hilton takes over the fromParalympic superstar Oscar Pistoriuswho himself was not without hisdetractors in the media!

A huge vote of thanks to Mercedes–Benz, Nedbank, PicknPay, Sasol, SunInternational, Telkom and Vodacomfor renewing their Paralympic vowsfor London 2012, a fantastic effort fromthe South African corporate sector.

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