Last year I went to interview the Young Ambassadors group at Croydon Clocktower. I was impressed by their commitment, enthusiasm and creativity. The Ambassador programme originally began with the intention to sell tickets but quickly evolved into much more including programming, curation and project management.
More about Croydon Young Ambassadors:
Croydon Young Ambassadors are: Chloe, Dammir, Georgia, Joy, Sarah, Sean and Vadeem. Led by Co-ordinator Oliver Tipper and Kimberly Anne they help promote and programme the Clocktower for their peers.
Sarah Jones, one of the group leaders also heads up a Young Ambassadors site where you can see promotion created by the group including video and flyers.
Kimberly Anne, Group Leader is also a talented singer, you can hear her work on her MySpace page.
A client recently asked me to create a short set of ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ for her new ambassador team in terms of publicity activities. This isn’t really a set of Do’s and Don’ts, more a set of questions its worth asking yourself before you send your team of ambassadors out to spread the word. You can also find a lot of Do’s and Dont’s for ambassador programmes in general, in the free Guide to Working with Arts Ambassadors.
The list covers some common issues but remember, in reality a good, creative ambassador team will come to you and make you consider lots of things you hadn’t thought of before (which is great), so don’t think of this as the definitive list. ALSO…remember that you can’t really control what people say about your brand anyway so relax and enjoy the adventure!
Think about the areas shown below and then create a set of guidelines. Detail which actions must be cleared with you first (eg. putting your logo on a piece of print they have created). Then discuss these areas with your ambassador – they may suggest things you want to add or eliminate from their action plan. A discussion may draw you to reconsider some things, for example, you may set a guide of “check with us before you contact the Press’ but then realise an email sent to a local community newsletter is not the same as sending one to The Independent newspaper. Below are some key subjects that you may want to consider discussing with your ambassadors:
• Their Plan of Action
What are they proposing to do? Asking your ambassadors to create an action plan serves several purposes:
- The team can share ideas with each other
- You can spot any potential problems or opportunities
- You can set benchmarks for activity levels
- You can support your ambassadors properly and acknowledge them when they’ve done the work. I did this with one team of ambassadors who were initially reluctant to share their word of mouth ideas with each other. “We know what we are doing” , they protested. However, once they shared their top tips they found that they all had very different approaches and could learn a lot from each other.
• Care of Your Brand
Get clear: what are the things you do and don’t want your ambassador to say about your brand? You can’t really be too prescriptive about this – you want your word of mouth to be natural and in their own words but there may be some things that would be counter-productive.
• Press, Publicity, PR
Do you want your Ambassador to do the following? – Send out their own press releases? To Community newsletters? What about to The Guardian?
- Create their own flyers? With your logo on them?
- Conduct radio interviews on your behalf? With Community radio? What about mainstream radio stations?
- Do presentations on your behalf? At the Local business breakfast? Women’s Institute?
- Send out mass emails?
• Meeting Targets
Let ambassadors know that its better to find out why potential attenders say no to an offer than to push them to attend an event to meet ambassador programme targets. Train them in what they could offer instead if people say no. How about asking them to join the mailing list?
Think about what kind of information you want your ambassadors to bring back to you, eg, let ambassadors know its useful for them to ask contacts to join a database/mailing-list. Yes its obvious to you, but unless you ask it may not happen.
• Times of Contact
Ambassador teams can be very enthusiastic and request a lot of your time and attention. When do you as a manager want to be contacted? Are there set times of the week you are happier to have a call outside of any set meetings?
Your Ambassador Programme will be unique to your project or organisation but this simple checklist should give you a good framework to start off with.
• Choose your Approach
First ask yourself some questions:
i) Which approach are we going to take: do we just want to promote the odd event or do we want to develop new audiences over the long-term?
ii) Can we afford the time, money and effort required to do this properly?
iii) Are we ready to work in partnership with the ambassadors? (Are we ready to listen to what they want and make changes to the way we do things?) See also Publicity Boundaries?
iv) Do we want to co-create with our ambassadors? (ie. Do we want them to design or deliver any of the arts events, activities and services?)
• Research & Development: Part 1
Conduct any audience research or community consultation required
Confirm your project partners
Plan your monitoring and evaluation: brief all partners and staff on monitoring procedures and schedule regular project reviews
Design a draft Exit or Continuation Strategy
Calculate likely costs
Decide how you will finance the project: earned income, fundraising or both?
Approach potential sponsors and partners
Decide on the number and type of Ambassadors you need and whether you will need a Project Manager
Consider what extra benefits you can offer your Ambassadors
Consider whether you need a panel or a community forum
Organise an administrative and meeting space for your Ambassadors if needed
If required, decide on a ticket distribution system with Box office
Look at how communication is to be conducted: via briefings, meetings, emails etc
Decide whether your Ambassadors will be paid or voluntary
Create a formal or informal ‘job description’.
Recruit Project Managers and Ambassadors
• Research & Development: Part 2
Allow time for your Ambassadors to find new contacts and build relationships
Allow time for relationship-building between project partners
• Get Started
Put your Ambassador programme into action!
• Exit Strategy
Put your Exit or Continuation Strategy into action or revise.
Abreen and Elizabeth (LSO Arts Ambassador) at the EC1 Festival, Islington
Ambreen Ahmad, Community Marketing Co-ordinator at London Symphony Orchestra tells us about the ambassador programme she has been running at London Symphony Orchestra for three years: Please tell us a bit about your ambassador programme: The LSO’s Community Ambassador Scheme is made up of 8 volunteers who all live or work in the the local ‘ECI’ postcode area. This is the local area around the LSO’s home in the Barbican Centre and LSO St Luke’s – the LSO’s community education and music centre. The scheme has been running for three and a half years I have been running it for three of these. The ambassadors’ main role is to help us to promote the LSO, its concerts and activities to local audiences. Many new audiences may not have tried a classical music concert before and actually have a negative perception about it being ‘elitist’ and ‘not for them’. So our ambassadors certainly have their work cut out changing these incorrect perceptions! What’s is the most important thing your ambassadors provide or add to LSO? They provide a bridge between the LSO and our local target audience – or in other words between the organisation and actual people. The ambassadors live in the local area and know and interact with people on a regular basis. They tell people about the LSO in their day to day lives -it might be whilst picking up their child a primary school, having a drink in the pub, going to the supermarket, or community centre. These are places where our local audiences live and areas they frequent. The LSO ambassadors have access to people and places in a way that we just don’t have otherwise, they are known and have networks in the area. This work is extrememly valuable to the LSO in achieving our mission of ‘bringing the best music to the greatest number of people’. Do you think of your ambassador programme as part of marketing for LSO? Yes absolutely, I manage the scheme as part of the marketing department, I definitely think of the Community Ambassadors as an important part of our Marketing work. But it is also very much part of the Discovery (education) department too. Many of the events targeted to the local community are LSO Discovery events and projects – e.g community choir, Family Concerts, Concerts for Under 5’s etc. Although this has expanded more and more the ambassadors are also promoting our main classiocal concerts at the Barbican. It’s a mixture of marking and audience development. What do they get out of being ambassadors? We offer incentives such as complementary concert tickets, merchandise and have social get togethers. Small things like saying thank you and printing their names in concert programmes at the end of season also goes a long way. In terms of why they do what they do – one thing they all have in commom is enthusiasm to share their love of music. This is what I think makes them so effective and a great addition to our marketing team. Many don’t even take the free concert tickets unless pushed! Do they get results you can measure? It is very difficult to measure how many people have come to a concert because of a community ambassador telling them about it. When we run a special offer with discounted tickets, I can set up a code with the box office and measure tickets bought using the code. But the profile the ambassadors achieve can not be measured in the short term, it is a long term commitment, much in the same way as brand profiling. Although not directly measureable – successes include: Many of our community LSO Discovery events selling out and being over subscribed, I’m sure the ambassadoes work plays a part. We have information stalls at local festivals – when meeting people at these events it’s interesting to see how reactions to the LSO have changed over the last three years. People are asking less ‘what is the LSO?’ and more and more are wanting to know when the next event they are interested in takes place – this kind of feedback is lovely. If there money in the budget I would definitely recommend working with research professionals to try and put measurement systems in place at the beginning of ambassador projects. How much time do you spend managing them? I’m in touch with different ambassadors on a daily/weekly basis, it really depends on which project we are working on. Initially I set up group meetings every 4 weeks to keep the momentum going, but we no longer need to meet so often as many of the team have been with us for a long time now – over 3 years, so are very motivated and know what they are doing. Also, I really enjoy speaking to the ambassadors, they are a mix of really interesting individuals, they feel more like friends, so regular e-mails, phonecalls, coffees etc counts as communication but is just good fun. Is it expensive to run an ambassador programme? Not at all, it depends on the objectives. You can start small and expand, there is no reason set up costs should be expensive. The LSO’s ambassadors spend a lot of time spreading word of mouth amongst their networks, this doesn’t cost anything. We began by simply profile raising and event promotion which is relatively cheap. We now run a beginners concert club with interval receptions, the chance to meet musicians and learn about the music. We also arrange a programme of annual outdoor concert events which eats into the budget quite a lot, but is a really important audience development initiative. In an ideal world the budgets would grow with the ambitions! It also depends if you want to pay the volunteers. I think for long term ambassadors they don’t do what the do for monetary reward, its about the love of music, of enjoying meeting people, and something different outside of there usual work and life. Of course you could offer expenses and perks like free concert tickets. For short term temporary projects monetary reward may be a stronger incentive, but for the LSO scheme I think it works well as it is. Have you ever had to deal with an ambassador that is not effective in some way? Yes, but its important to remember that they are volunteers and even though you expect them to be reliable al the time it can not be enforced in the same way as for an employee. Volunteers will come and go, they have lives outside the ambassador scheme, I always value and respect this. A couple of volunteers left for almost a year and then re-joined when their circumstances changed. Others start and realise it’s not for them, but this is quite rare as I’m not afraid of telling people if ours isn’t the scheme that suits what they want at the initial interview. What tips would you give to someone who is just starting to put an ambassador programme together? • Read this website! I really wish I had had such a resource 3 years ago when I started out, it would have saved me a lot trial and error! • Be clear about your objectives – what is it you want to achieve though the scheme? • Get in touch with people in similar organisations and see if they also run an ambassador scheme. Other peoples experiences are really useful and a network of people managing similar schemes really helps with getting advise and support as you go along. Your local audience development agency can probably help put you in touch with people working in the same field. • Speak to each volunteer and understand their personal motivations for being an ambassador, if they are getting what they want out of it then you are more likely to achieve your objectives too, and are likely to retain your volunteers for longer. • Make sure they meet other people in the organization. I invite different LSO staff to meetings from time to time. Not only do the ambassadors feel more part of the organization, it means other staff also understand and value the ambassadors work- after all if you weren’t valued in your job would you do it? Its no different for volunteers. • Oh and have fun! You are likely to meet some truly dedicated and enthusiastic individuals.