How to Create a Successful Ambassador Programme

Finding high quality ambassadors to help you promote your brand or product can be a challenge. Do you spend large sums of money and sign the biggest celebrity you can afford? Or do you take a more grassroots approach and partner with genuine brand advocates with less influence? And once you do, how do you make the most of it? We spoke to Ben Clark, Northern Europe Marketing Manager at COROS to find out. COROS is the maker of premium GPS sport watches for runners, adventurers, and athletes and in addition to an impressive roster of more than 1,000 global ambassadors, the company recently announced a new partnership with world marathon record holder Eliud Kipchoge and the NN Running Team. We spoke to Ben about:

  • The secret to signing high calibre talent
  • How to make the most of a partnership
  • The importance of social media influence when considering a partnership, and
  • How to measure success of your ambassador programme

You just signed Eliud Kipchoge, arguably the most famous man in running right now. What’s the secret to signing an ambassador of this calibre?

We knew we could offer him what he was looking for in terms of a watch and that he was a good fit with the mission of our brand. Eliud is at the top of his game. When it comes to running, he’s the GOAT. He strives to be the best and we do something similar with our watch. We want to be the best wearable for ultra, track and trail running, and he wants to be the best runner in history. Ensuring your objectives are aligned from the start is important.

Also, for a partnership like this to work, it needs to be more than a one-time touchpoint. We proposed an ongoing relationship for the coming years that has mutual benefits. Beyond standard endorsements, the partnership covers multiple areas like product development for our next set of watches. For example, we recently added a new feature that tracks running time to one hundredth of a second. Eliud will be trialling this feature in his training and providing feedback to our tech team and product developers.

What is the best way to approach a prospective ambassador when considering a partnership?

We have two different types of partnerships: our Pro-Athlete Team (of which Eliud is a part) and our general brand ambassador programme. With career athletes like Eliud, you may need to work through an agent. But with other ambassadors, we find it is best to approach them in their natural habitat. For example, we attend major trail events like the UTMB, a 171km mountain ultramarathon, and approach prospective ambassadors while there. With all events cancelled due to the pandemic, we are now doing this work online, mostly through Instagram. It is important to provide details about the brand and the offering, what they can expect and the community that is a part of the programme. As we grow, we now find many athletes approaching us for partnership.

It all comes down to fit and whether their social media credentials are aligned with their running credentials.

Once they’ve agreed, how do you make the most of that partnership? What sort of content collaborations or activations work best?

It’s important to be clear about what you require from the ambassador from the very beginning. At the outset, we create an agreement. This usually includes a certain amount of social media posts as well as a variety of opportunities like providing blog posts or training programmes for our site. Our ambassadors don’t need to change what they’re doing. We don’t mandate specific content or hashtags. They know what works best for their community. In that way, the content remains authentic.

We also work collaboratively with our ambassadors to create Instagram stories about their training and what they have planned for the year. While it is not happening at the moment, one thing we also like to do is have our ambassadors attend tradeshows like The National Running Show to talk to members of the public who have an interest in ultrarunning.

For ambassadors that have a coaching background, we encourage them to submit training profiles to our website that people can download.

In addition to providing each ambassador with product, we also get them involved in beta testing new products and software. They get early access to the firmware and they can test all features weeks in advance of the public. This gives ambassadors an exclusive opportunity while also providing our tech team with useful feedback.

Throughout the entire partnership, we also have a WhatsApp group to keep ambassadors informed and motivated.

Are there any common mistakes people make? What are some things you’ve learned based on your experience?

One of the biggest challenges is keeping ambassadors engaged and motivated. Of course, we have agreements in place on what people should do, but there are always times when people feel they are not being valued. A real challenge is to find ways to connect to each individual ambassador and find their intrinsic motivators.

Another thing to consider is cultural differences between different countries. What might work for ambassadors in North America may not translate to Scandinavia for example, so you need to be mindful of that. In some cultures, payment for brand partnerships is expected and required. For others, product exchanges are perfectly acceptable. You need to know this in advance before approaching someone.

One of the common mistakes I see with prospective ambassadors approaching COROS is not understanding what our brand is about. Our products are not lifestyle watches. They are performance products for competitive athletes. It is important people do their research before approaching a brand for a potential collaboration.

What’s your take on numbers? How important is follower numbers when picking suitable ambassadors?

Getting an ambassador with a big following on board can be hugely beneficial. Eliud has a huge reach – more than 1M followers on Instagram. But if you can’t afford a partnership like this, it’s not the end of the world. Our ambassador team in the UK for example has approximately 1M followers across 50 accounts. These are all product exchanges, not paid partnerships, but they are still incredibly valuable.

When we look for ambassadors, we’re looking for more than just followers. We look at engagement (likes and comments) on a post. For us to be interested, we would want someone to have 10-30% of their followers liking content and 1-2% of their followers leaving comments. This indicates how well their content resonates with their followers. Someone with 20k followers who only gets 1% of those people liking their content can be a red flag.

Frequency of posts is also something we look for. How active the person is on social is important too.

Occasionally, we meet an amazing athlete who would be a great ambassador, but they don’t use social media, or have a really low following. In those cases, we would consider what this person does offline. Are they doing any major races? Do they attend any high-profile events? In those cases, we can often make a partnership work, but under slightly different terms.

What’s the best way to measure the success of an ambassador programme?

For us, it’s a balance between quantitative and qualitative measurements. One way is to use an influencer marketing dashboard. This can track ambassadors’ content and reach in real time. While these tools can provide in depth metrics, they can also be quite costly. But more than that, they take away the human factor.

All our partnerships range between one and two years long. What I look for is whether all the predetermined agreements have taken place and if the ambassador has gone above and beyond, I deem that a success. For example, are they attending events and engaging with customers? Are they engaging with us through our WhatsApp group or other communication? Have they communicated their genuine interest in the product? All this matters.

And of course, we do consider sales, but it is just one of many metrics. We can easily track sales related to ambassadors who are given referral or promo codes. This helps us see how valuable that individual is in terms of driving sales.

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