Getting a Sponsor/Becoming a Brand Ambassador
This sort of thing seems to be all the rage now with folks just jumping from one target to another looking for free handouts -- which, in my opinion, is ruining it for everyone.
Look, I get it. Free equipment is awesome. It really is.
But the manufacturers that utilize this type of marketing are generally small and need YOU to do YOUR part too -- and, of late, I'm not seeing a lot of that. It's just the thrill of free stuff that people are chasing.
If you take a step back and look at it from the manufacturer's perspective for a second... It's not sustainable for any manufacturer to give their product away for free to just anyone...and that's where it's getting a little foggy lately.
Like, on Instagram, it feels like everyone and their brother is trying to get Howie's to send them a free t-shirt. Howie's is a poor example since they're not exactly "new" or "small" but you get the idea.
Who am I to say anything though... Howie's did send me a t-shirt and one of those beer can coozie things out of the blue one time a few years ago...which was odd...cause I don't advocate using much tape and we don't use wax either. I'm sure I've written that somewhere on here before...
Honestly, I don't recall ever using Howie's hockey tape. And, hilariously, the few rolls of tape that my kids do have in their bags are defective "seconds" from Renfrew that I found on eBay for ridiculously cheap.
Anyway, given that I have received "product", I suppose I might seem like a hypocrite saying that I find it annoying how people are looking for handouts...but at the same time, I'm going to share how we've managed to acquire some really nice stuff...
Truth be told, I stumbled into our family's first "sponsorship" with a toungue-in-cheek Facebook post about my son having their brand name displayed in like 70 different places everytime he suited up for a game...and a rival brand name in a single spot.
Now, full disclosure, I have a TON on contacts in professional hockey after having worked in the business for a couple of decades but, unbeknownst to me at the time, I actually had one degree of separation from the head of marketing for that specific company.
So, yeah, they reached out to me privately within a few hours...and, yes, we received swag from a line that they'd "discontinued" but that was simply a direct result of it being a favor to a friend of a friend type of thing.
Not for one moment did my son "earn" it.
It was a handout.
Totally unexpected, though.
So, the elephant in the room these days, for us and this site, is the Raven Hockey thing...
My oldest son, Duncan, was selected as the Raven Player of the Month in April of 2019 and, since it's not just an internet-only "look at me" contest type of thing, they sent us a whole host of goodies on their dime.
Like, all told, probably stuff that retails for around $500US. Maybe a little more.
They are EXACTLY the type of company I see hockey parents relentlessly trolling these days and while that kinda makes me happy that they're getting the attention I believe they deserve...so much of it feels less than genuine.
Now, did I lobby to receive the equipment?
Perhaps...but I certainly wasn't aggressive about it. Or phony.
Look, I work in marketing. I know how it works...and I actually kinda feel bad for the predicament companies like Raven likely find themselves in now.
I know what I, as a satisfied customer, can bring to the table for them...and I know how I can use that to my own personal advantage.
And so I did that.
It's a two way street and that's what everyone needs to realize. It's not really a freebie.
They can offer product. I can offer exposure.
I mean, if you're reading this on the website or somewhere on social media -- that's because of me...and here I am namedropping Raven Hockey.
I'm sure you've heard the term "influencer" when it comes to social media. The Kardashians are influencers. Ryan Seacrest is an influencer. JK Rowling is an influencer. Oprah is an influencer.
They have a HUGE following so when they name drop something, it gets noticed.
I'm not trying to brag...but I can offer a slightly larger audience than someone who isn't as savvy on social media.
On a far smaller scale than those celebrities, absolutely, for hockey companies niche marketing to children, well, I kind of stand out moreso than other hockey parents because I utilize a digital megaphone.
That makes me an ideal "ambassador".
They send me something... I broadcast the name of their brand.
(Don't over simplify things or put the cart before the horse based on the previous statement... Small companies can NOT afford to send out product for free just so that you might "mention" they're brand or product. Read on...)
Furthering my advantage, I have ability to offer high resolution photos of their product in use by my children in action -- a side effect of one of my "real" marketing job -- and I become even more attractive.
Manufacturer: Wait, whaaaat? Pro level photographs of our stuff? For free?
Yeah, that'll get you noticed.
If you look closely at nearly every single "brand ambassador", they all have a pretty solid social media presence...and aren't using their phone for the content they create.
It's imagery. They're not snapshots...
But I didn't troll Raven Hockey.
If it was a shot where the Raven brand name was really featured, I tagged them...
I knew, going in, that they were active on that platform and, you bet, I took advantage of that.
But you didn't see me posting pictures tagged with 50 hashtags like #ccm #bauer #vapor #warriorhockey #ravenspotting #howies #hockey #hockeylife #hockeyhair #lovethisgame #hockey #hockeyislife #nhl #picoftheday #catsofinstagram or any of that crap.
That's bush league.
You're not going to get noticed attempting to whore your kids out like that.
My favorites are when you "follow" a hashtag on Instagram and 95% of the posts have nothing to do with what it's tagged with.
To those folks...you're doing it wrong.
So how did my son get noticed by Raven then?
I'll tell you...
- We purchased a ton of equipment from them.
- We liked their product.
- We openly admitted that we liked their product online and to anyone that would ask about it at the rink.
On social media, we posted photos of the kids using their product over a number of years without any goofy Instagram filters applied.
And take note of the order... We PURCHASED equipment from them first.
In our neck of the woods, when my kids first started using Raven sticks, I can only think of one other kid that used one.
He broke it in practice one day and his father said they sucked. I disagreed.
Since then, there are at least three or four players using Raven sticks everytime my kids are on the ice. Not so much at the peewee level, but at the mite games, for sure.
Am I responsible for that? Absolutely not... My ego isn't that big.
But I am a bit part of their low budget marketing strategy.
They didn't send me a bunch of equipment because I posted a cool picture of my kid with a brand specific hashtag or because I begged.
NONE of the kids you see on social media that are "brand ambassadors" got it that way.
Raven selected my son -- and the kid they pick each month -- as a thank you for being loyal to the brand and broadcasting that, yeah, we use their equipment.
That's how we're helping their marketing campaign.
That's how we do our part.
The moment I received that package in the mail wasn't the end of Raven for us -- it wasn't a thrill of the chase type of thing for me -- cause, let's be honest, it's the parents chasing these opportunities.
My kids still use Raven sticks. They wear the t-shirts, and the hats, and the sweatshirts too. And I still post pictures of them using Raven equipment because that's what they actually use in games.
Even my PeeWee... Sure, kids might poke fun that he uses a 20-flex stick marketed to children but you know what, he likes the stick. And he'll tell you that himself.
That's why he was selected as a Player of the Month.
If they're not already relatively certain that you're going to do that for them -- or have shown than you'd do it anyway -- why on earth would they send you $500 worth of equipment?
That's just bad business.
How did that come about?
Well, again, it was the same type of thing -- connections and an effective social media marketing technique.
Well, that...and some amazing hair that he inherited from mom. Can't leave that part out.
So, back in 2017, my older son was playing in a tournament and one of the teams we faced was from Burlington, Ontario.
One of the kids on that team had the most amazing blond mane I'd ever seen -- at least since 1989 or so.
Business up front, party in the back.
None of that shaggy, long all over, nonsense. Long hair isn't hockey flow.
Mullet or nothing.
So, Henrik saw it...and started growing one. He still says he wants to keep it going even though, at this point, I'd be totally willing to get rid of it.
Anyway, once it got going pretty good, and our awesome (and reluctantly willing) barber added some speed stripes to the side, I started tagging photos of him with hash tags like #mullet and #hockeyhair.
Goofy folks "follow" tags like that and, for the most part, what you see are guys who look like Joe Dirt, guys who are wearing wigs, guys who don't have hockey hair at all (as I've already lambasted bogus hashtags), and a ton of stuff related to the annual Minnesota State High School All Hockey Hair Team which, personally, I think should be renamed to "Collection of Worst Teenage Attempts at Moustaches in the State of Minnesota" but maybe that's just me.
Damn, those are some ugly kids.
Anyway, what you don't see often are young kids with legit hockey hair. It stands out.
After the initial post, and having some legit "influencers" as followers in our back pocket, those connections tagged groups like Mullet Militia and Miracle Flow in our Instagram posts.
And then those groups started following us...and "liking" any subsequent post that featured Henrik's hair...and even posts that I didn't hashtag with anything hockey hair related.
Their marketing folks were now following us. And they were looking at our posts.
And that's the thing -- you have to market effectively.
If Henrik's hair isn't clearly in the picture, I won't tag it with a hair related hashtag.
This is where so many folks get it wrong.
Lately, It feels like every other post I scroll by on my feed is tagged with #buttendz.
My kids use Buttendz grips too, and we think they're great, but in nearly every photo, the entire thing is obscured because it's covered up by their glove.
Why would I tag Buttendz in a post when you can't even see their product?
I wouldn't and I don't.
Same deal with Howie's. All tape looks the same. You can't tell it's Howies in any of these pictures...and how come no one ever hastags #renfrew?
Doesn't matter -- most seasoned players and parents know that Howie's tape is kinda crappy. The patterned stuff is total garbage.
Cute logo, tasteless marketing on occasion, and a terrible product. #howies
Sorry -- got a little off track there...
So, yeah, we got a bottle of Miracle Flow shampoo in the mail, we used it, took an overly staged photo, and boom -- Miracle Flow was all over it.
And while it might just be Pert Plus in a different bottle, you know what? He likes using it, it makes his hair look awesome, and tricks him into using conditioner (a must with curly hair) so I'll keep mentioning Miracle Flow in every post that included a picture where his hair is flowing out of his helmet.
They marketed my kid...I'll market them.
And that's how it works for ALL of the brand ambassadors or "sponsored" kids out there.
We're not just getting free stuff and using it.
We're getting free stuff and broadcasting what we think of it. It's an exposure thing for them -- essentially a free commercial.
You scratch our back, we'll scratch yours.
So, to reiterate...here's how you do it...
First, BUY their product. Use it. Make sure you like it.
Next, Instagram is the platform of choice for almost every company out there these days -- the demographic that uses Instagram is the most coveted demo. I like Facebook way better...but that's apparently just cause I'm old.
On Instagram -- post *quality* photos WITHOUT a goofy filter turned on and hashtag the photos appropriately.
If you've got 45 hashtags...you're doing it wrong.
If you tag both CCM and Bauer... you're doing it wrong.
My advice, regarding hashtags, is to keep it short and directly related to the picture and post.
I use my kids' own personal hashtag (I use first name and jersey number), the team you play on, maybe their level of hockey or league, and then the manufacturer of the product you're plugging.
Be sure to set the location too. You might not think it matters...but it does. We have facilities share our content all the time. It's added exposure.
Do not use @ links. That's panhandling. Use # links instead. Their marketing people see it. You don't need to ring their doorbell.
And keep your account active with focused content that's appropriate.
If our feed were a combo of hockey, Fortnite screen shots, Yeezy sneakers, ignorant political posts, cat photos, and expletive filled videos filmed on the school bus...we probably wouldn't have many "real" followers outside the people in our social circle.
It really is that simple.
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