The Face That Launched a Thousand Sales.

Choosing the right brand ambassadors is crucial to the success of any experiential marketing activity, observes Mindi Chahal

Choosing the right brand ambassadors is crucial to the success of any experiential marketing activity, observes Mindi Chahal

Experiential allows brands to connect face-to-face with consumers. And that means that, no matter how much attention to detail is given to the creative, logistics and planning of campaigns, everything can fall apart if the wrong brand ambassador is used.

Now, it’s all about finding the right people for the job – which is why many staffing suppliers are running much smaller, leaner databases with detailed information on potential brand representatives.

Brand ambassadors are just that: they are the face of the brand they are working for, and the brand experience consumers take away with them depends on their ability to relay key messages of the campaign and the product.

As Jatinder Sagoo, Talent manager at Purity Productions, comments: “The two most important elements of any given campaign are the client and the staff hired.” Talent staff “are not only an extension for the agency but, inevitably and more importantly, also for the client, products, services and brands. In the eyes of the consumers, these brand ambassadors are a representative of that brand. Every facet of the interaction must endorse all aspects of the brand faultlessly.”

Andy Coleman, managing director and founder of Ballistic Marketing, agrees: “I often ask the question, ‘What is more important, the staff or the creative format of an experiential campaign?’ The answer, of course, is the staff. It doesn’t matter if you have the most creative and expensive experiential format if the staff are the wrong profile, unenthusiastic and apathetic.”

Sagoo adds that although experiential has been around for a long time, “there is no recognised industry standard and unfortunately clients and consumers too often fall victim of those suppliers who are not so diligent in the staff selection process.”

Some agencies claim they have tens of thousands of staff on their databases: but many industry insiders argue that in this case size is not important: it’s the ability to profile individual staff to guarantee brand ‘fit’. Julia Collis, managing director of field marketing agency The Bailey Group, observes: “If an agency claims to have 7,000 staff registered with them, I would advise to run a mile. Even at 5,000 I would be sceptical.”

The Bailey Group commits to a fully-profiled database, which grades staff according to their abilities and performance. Collis adds: “Not all great brand ambassadors make great merchandisers, nor do mystery shoppers necessarily make great promotions people. It’s important to recognise the specific differences in each campaign, compare them with the individual talents of each staff member and recruit accordingly.”

Dominique Tate, staffing director at Sense, says: “In the past, the larger the staffing database, the better the staffing agency. Databases of 3,000, 5,000 or even 10,000 staff members were being communicated in pitches staffing and on websites as an impressive feat. But how, with 10,000 unfiltered, unknown staff, could they select the right people for the variety of brands we work with?”

Tate believes that the purpose of staffing databases should be “to allow agencies to provide the right staff for a campaign. Gone are the days of simply storing names and numbers: now, they are sophisticated and dynamic tools, with interactive staff portals, payroll systems and vast amounts of data.”

Sense has 2,500 promotional staff but creates a personal touch by sending each member a birthday card. It also invests in its event managers, having set up the first training course in the industry to be accredited by the ICM (Institute of Commercial Management).

Tate adds: “Our staff pool is not just a database of names and numbers but a large group of people we know and trust. Brand ambassadors are not only representing the client’s brand, but also Sense as an experiential marketing agency.”

Mash Staffing takes a similar approach. Its database numbers 1,300 ‘Mashers’ who have completed an online application via a dedicated staffing interface, Moogle, and have also attended a 90-minute group interview which includes a “brand ambassador test”. Currently, around 60% of applicants gain full ‘Masher’ status.

Emma Maisey, board director at Mash Staffing, points out that a small database with real hurdles to entry adds “a further dimension of quality rather than quantity, and the feeling that you belong to an elite community.” This means brand ambassadors will be those who “have an interest in and relevance to the brand or product, in order for them to provide the consumer with a genuine and memorable engagement.”

The move to leaner databases marks a sea-change from the industry’s practice of only a few years’ ago, when ambassadors were picked out of huge databases just because they were available for the job. “It was rare that a staff member’s particular attributes or skills were factored in,” says David Gibbons, director of promotional staffing agency iMP.

Gibbons adds: “Having worked in promotions and marketing for over 15 years, we saw first hand the speed, and often carelessness, with which clients were handled and staff herded out the door to jobs. If they were available and they fitted the budget, then off they went.” iMP, he says, knows its staff and which jobs suit them, which means the agency can be “more accountable to clients.”

It’s not just a matter of how ambassadors fit with the brand, however. Some experiential campaigns will involve teams working and perhaps even travelling and living together for days or weeks.

Leanne Nutte, head of staffing at Blackjack notes: “On a national road show, staff don’t just spend the day working together – you can have a team working and living together 24/7. You not only have to think about their skills and whether they are right for the brand, you need to make sure they’ll work in harmony and get the most out of each other.”

Particular jobs require particular skills, which is another reason why databases now carry as much information about potential staff as possible. Joel Kaufman, managing director and founder of Link Communication, points out: “For some campaigns, you’ve got to be skilled and qualified. So to do product sampling which requires food preparation, you’ve got to have a hygiene certificate. It’s sometimes also really useful to have bilingual staff, because a lot of the brands are international and need to staff to communicate with migrant or international communities, such as telecom brands and ethnic food and drink brands manufacturers.”

This was an important factor in a cross-border campaign run by Event Marketing Solutions Ltd (EMS) for Fox. This was a multilingual road show delivering an immersive brand experience that gave the public the chance to star in their favourite Bluray movie trailer in the run-up to Christmas 2010.

EMS recruited and trained a team of event promotion staff for campaigns in the UK, Germany, France and Italy, carefully matching native speakers to the road shows in each country.

The brand ambassadors on the Fox roadshow were also well trained in all aspects of the activity. Justin Isles, client services director at EMS, says: “Our teams receive thorough preparation for each project at training days where we walk through the whole brief and drill down to every detail to immerse them in the experience and ensure they are ‘emotionally attached’ to the brand when we go out on the road.”

That highlights an important point: no matter how careful the selection process, ambassadors need the right information to implement the campaign to the best of their ability.

Chandelle Downs, field director at Tribe Marketing, states that the agency must “fully understand from the outset our client’s requirements, their products and brand ethos and what they actually want to achieve from a campaign. It’s then up to us to give our brand warriors the best briefing possible. Bad briefing can result in poor communication or the wrong key messages being imparted.”

Source: Promotional Marketing.


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Chris Wareham