When I first started hiking, I often daydreamed about becoming a hiking brand ambassador. I thought it would be cool to work with brands I love, helping them to promote their products and in exchange receive free gear. Never once in a million years did I ever think I’d actually become a hiking brand ambassador. At the time I first started hiking, I had no idea there was even such a thing as being a hiking brand ambassador. Fast-forward to four years, one Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim Hike, two Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim hikes and two PCT thru-hikes later, I’m a brand ambassador/influencer for companies like Osprey Packs, Salomon, Athleta and Le Bent socks.
People ask me all the time how a normal girl like me went from working up the courage to completing her first solo hike less than two hours from home to long-distance hiking for 5+ months and getting sponsored to do it. Some of it was luck. Some of it was good timing. Most of it though was a lot of time, research and hard work. It all started with getting a wild idea in my head on the plane ride home from my first Grand Canyon hike and telling my best friend I wanted to hike the PCT. As soon as I came home, I started planning my first thru-hike and in the midst of preparing for my big hike, became a hiking brand ambassador for some of my favorite brands.
I’m not here to sugar coat anything or sell you a pipe dream. Here’s the reality of it all. While it might look easy and glamorous online, there’s a lot that goes on behind-the-scenes with being a hiking brand ambassador that many people don’t realize. Believe it or not, there’s a huge learning curve from learning how to become an ambassador/influencer to actually being an ambassador/influencer. To understand how I got to where I am today, it’s important to understand my process on how I got here in the first place.
My Hiking Brand Ambassador Story
My role with being a hiking brand ambassador started in March 2018 when I found out I had been selected as one of the 10 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers for the PCTA’s P3 Hiker 2018 program. P3 stands for Protect, Preserve and Promote the Pacific Crest Trail. All ten of us hikers were selected for our talent, commitment and passion for the PCT. As a P3 hiker, each of us would be required to share our experiences of thru-hiking the PCT and create content along the way in exchange for a generous sponsorship (aka free gear) from program partners including Osprey Packs and Salomon.
Being a P3 Hiker for the PCTA gave me my first taste of what it was like to be a brand ambassador. I was asked to write about the things I was most passionate about – hiking the PCT, promoting the PCT and being willing to share my thru-hiking story in such a public format. As a P3 Hiker, I now had access to large audience who wanted to read all of my hiking stories. I also got practice with working big brands like Osprey Packs and Salomon, helping to increase awareness for both brands by using their products on trail and featuring the products I loved in the content I was creating.
In 2019, I decided to thru-hike the PCT for a second time. Even though the P3 Hiker program wasn’t active in 2019, I was still able to maintain my relationship with both Osprey Packs and Salomon. Both brands brought me on as a hiking ambassador for 2019. For Salomon, I became one of their 2019 Salomon Squad Gold Ambassadors. For Osprey Packs, they invited me to join their Ambassador Program for 2019. Both of these brand ambassadorships were unpaid, but in exchange for helping to increase brand awareness, I’d receive both free and discounted product from each brand throughout the year.
Athleta is a brand I’ve always loved. My entire closet is filled with Athleta clothes – clothes to work in, clothes to go to yoga in and clothes to go hiking in. Before I left for my first PCT thru-hike in 2018, I started building a relationship with the ladies at the University Village Athleta store here in Seattle. At the time, Athleta was preparing to launch into the REI downtown Seattle flagship store and I was in the midst of teaching multiple classes during the week. The gals at Athleta asked if I wanted to lead the in-store yoga class at REI for their launch. I jumped at the chance to work with two of my favorite retailers – both Athleta and REI for this one special event. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
After leaving for my first PCT thru-hike, the ladies at the Athleta University Village store followed my journey along the PCT. As I made my way towards Canada, they would send me care packages on trail with new hiking clothes and tasty treats. After finishing my first hike, I came back to Seattle and hosted two events with the University Village Athleta store where I got to talk about my PCT thru-hike. Before leaving for my second PCT thru-hike in 2019, the University Village Athleta store generously outfitted me head-to-toe for my hike.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve expanded my role as a brand ambassador to include two smaller brands, APG Camping and Le Bent socks. With APG Camping, I was contacted by a represented via email who had found me on Instagram and wanted to send me product for free, in exchange for possibly featuring it on my social media. My only caveat was I was more than happy to talk about the free product I received to my social media fans and followers as long as I liked the product and would use the product myself. The APG Camping stove I received turned out to be comparable to the stove I had used for both of my PCT hikes, only it was a much cheaper option. It was a great, budget-friendly piece of gear to recommend to my followers. Even though my original agreement with APG Camping was for 1-2 mentions on Instagram and Instagram Stories, I ended up liking the stove so much, I expanded my commitment to including a review for the stove on both my blog and YouTube Channel.
Le Bent was another opportunity I received via email thanks to Instagram. The person in charge of the USA ambassador team for Le Bent reached out to me and offered to send me a free pair of socks to check out. As a hiker, I’m ALWAYS on the hunt for a good pair of socks. Once I received the socks I had picked out from Le Bent’s website, I wore them on three consecutive hikes and fell in love with them. After sharing a couple of photos of my new socks on Instagram, Le Bent reached out to me again, asking if I’d be interested in becoming a full-fledged ambassador for the brand. I happily accepted the offer because I loved the product so much. Le Bent quickly and graciously sent me my entire wish list of socks from their website, along with a couple extra pairs to feature in an upcoming giveaway on Instagram.
What A Brand Ambassador Is
A brand ambassador (or influencer) is someone who works with a brand or is employed by a company or organization to help raise brand awareness and increase sales. Tasks of a brand ambassador can be anything from promoting products and services to implementing marketing campaigns. Brand ambassadors can also be known as influencers or corporate ambassadors.
Brand ambassadors and influencers have helped define a whole new way of marketing for brands and businesses of all shapes, sizes and markets. Instead of putting money into traditional advertising, brands and businesses are now putting money into influencer marketing. With influencer marketing, brand ambassadors and influencers are either paid or given free product (or both) in exchange for the brands being able to use their “influence” for recommending the brand and its products to their friends/fans/followers.
What A Brand Ambassador Isn’t
Watch out for the scammers! I’ve run into my fair share of brands online who claim to be looking for brand ambassadors, only to find I was being pitched a clever sales tactic. I’ve received countless comments and DMs from these types of accounts on Instagram inviting me to become one of their brand ambassadors. Only to them, being a brand ambassador meant they would be gifting me a special promo code I could use to purchase one of their products, usually something I would’ve never been interested in purchasing in the first place. The kicker? They would be so generous and extend a special promo code I could give to my friends and followers. If the offer from a brand/account means you have to purchase something in order to become a brand ambassador, you’re a customer, not a brand ambassador.
How To Become a Brand Ambassador
Are you someone who is thinking of becoming a brand ambassador? Before you start reaching out to brands you want to work with, take a look at your online presence and make yourself attractive for brands to want to work with you. Start by attracting followers and building engagement on your social media channels. One of the first places brands will look when considering whether or not to work with someone as a brand ambassador is at their follower count and engagement rates. If you don’t have a ton of followers, don’t get discouraged. I had less than 1,000 followers on Instagram when I landed my first brand ambassadorship as a P3 Hiker with the Pacific Crest Trail Association, which then led me to work with big brands like Salomon and Osprey Packs. The key is not the number of followers you have, but the engagement rate you have with your followers. Brands want to work with ambassadors who have “influence” with the people who follow them. Do your posts have engagement? Are followers liking your posts? Are they leaving comments? Are you responding back to those comments?
In addition to follower count and engagement rate, consider the content you’re posting as well. Is the content you’re posting aligned with the brands you want to reach out to for ambassador opportunities? Brands are more likely to work with an ambassador who has a similar target audience, similar values, personality and an overall mission statement similar to their own.
Being a great brand ambassador means working with brands you’re passionate about. Don’t just work with a brand to get free product and promotion on their social channels. Only work with and feature products and services you enjoy and would use yourself. I’m super selective with the brands I choose to work with because I never want to promote something only for the sole purpose of getting paid for it. When I feature a product, piece of gear or clothing, it’s because I truly love it and would use my own money to purchase it myself. Receiving free gear and/or getting paid to talk about the brands and products I love is just icing on the cake.
When working as a brand ambassador, make sure the products and services you’re featuring make sense for your audience. This means knowing your audience and sticking to your niche. I’ve found through tracking analytics on the backend of both my blog and social media channels, my audience is a whole lot like me. A majority of my fans and followers are female between the ages of 25 to 45 and love hiking and backpacking. Knowing who my audience is makes it easy for me to create content I know they’ll like. When I create content such as videos, photos and blog posts, I come with the intention of helping my audience to solve a problem or answer a question they might have. This blog post is a perfect example. Over the last couple of years, I’ve received countless questions from followers wanting to know how I became a hiking brand ambassador and asking for advice on how they can become a brand ambassador themselves. My intention for creating this post is to help answer all of these questions and inspire people in the process. Hey, if someone like me can do it, why couldn’t you?
Requirements of Being A Brand Ambassador
Being a great ambassador also means always being professional. Do what you say you’re going to do and do it when you say you’re going to do it. Don’t take free product or services without being willing to deliver on your promises. It’s your responsibility to know what’s being expected from you as a brand ambassador and make good on those expectations in a timely manner. Different brands will have different requirements for working with them. Most brands might want you to create a certain number of posts on your social media featuring their product. They’ll want you to tag their Instagram handle and use their branded hashtag within the caption of the post. More than likely, brands will ask for your feedback about their product. Brands are also going to be looking for permission to use your content on their social channels.
Whatever the brand’s expectations are in exchange for the free product and service, know what they are ahead of time and be prepared to deliver these expectations before saying yes to the offer. If you’re not comfortable with the brand’s expectations or can’t deliver them for any reason, politely decline the offer.
Benefits to Being a Brand Ambassador
Free product and services are obvious benefits to being a brand, but there are plenty of other benefits you might not have considered. There’s the opportunity to be featured on a brand’s social channels, which if a brand is large enough, this could be an incredibly opportunity to grow your online following and expand your audience. Brands will often feature their brand ambassadors on their website, giving their ambassadors even more online exposure. Ambassadors are also often invited to participate in exclusive influencer events, which can be great networking opportunities not only with the brand, but also with other influencers. These events and your experience as a brand ambassador can also help provide future content creation ideas for your own blog and social media.
Here’s a perfect example of how receiving free product from Osprey Packs as a Hiking Brand Ambassador inspired me to create a video for my YouTube Channel. This is the “unboxing” video I put together featuring my latest shipment of goodies from Osprey Packs, all of which you’ll be seeing in future photos, videos and blog posts:
Tips on How to Land a Brand Ambassadorship
Over the last couple of years of being a Hiking Brand Ambassador for some of my all-time favorite brands, I’ve learned quite a few things along the way. Here are some of my biggest pieces of advice for those looking to land a brand ambassadorship:
Be Yourself. Be Real. Be Authentic.
Share your adventures online, both the good and bad. People are more likely to relate to someone who’s not perfect and is open about having to struggle with life’s more challenging moments. When I first started hiking the PCT last year, I only chose to post the pretty pictures and the perfect, ideal moments on trail. About 700 miles into my hike, I was faced with having to hike the High Sierra alone. I went from hiking happily with my trail family to hiking alone and facing fears I never knew I had on a daily basis. Once I started getting real on my blog and Instagram and sharing these scary moments, my online audience became incredibly engaging and my following grew exponentially.
Have Realistic Expectations
Becoming a brand ambassador doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t get discouraged if your online presence doesn’t grow as fast as you want it to. It has taken me over three years to get where I am today and I’m still nowhere near my end goal, but I’m on my way to getting there. Also, don’t get hung up on the end goal either. Enjoy the process of getting there. Getting paid to blog and Instagram are goals of mine, but I’ve been able to connect with a lot of cool people along the way, which makes this whole journey that much more fun and special.
Tag Your Favorite Brands
If there’s a brand you want to work with, post photos of you using their products and services, share a story of how the brand and/or their products and services have made an impact on your life and be sure to tag the brand in the photos as well as use their branded hashtag on those posts.
Don’t Be Shy
If hiking the PCT has taught me anything, it’s to fear nothing and to always go after my goals and dreams, no matter how big or small they are. After my stint as a P3 Hiker ended at the end of 2018, I reached out to Osprey Packs in hopes of maintaining a relationship with them sometime in the future. Fast-forward five months after sending that initial email, I received an email from Osprey Packs on the day I left to start my second PCT thru-hike, asking me to join their . Don’t be afraid to reach out to brands. Check their website for brand ambassador FAQs. Send an email or reach out through social media and ask about brand ambassador opportunities.
I hope this post has helped answer some questions many of you have had about becoming a brand ambassador. If there’s something I didn’t answer or if you need any advice about anything I’ve mentioned above, please leave me a comment below. I’m always happy to help and inspire!
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