One of the most effective ways to market a product is through positive word-of-mouth from credible sources who’ve used it. But with the rise of social media, and its eager online community of brand ambassadors with throngs of followers, “credibility” can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Rather than succumbing to a trend, four-star event rider Leah Lang-Gluscic remains true to her character and has a high standard when it comes to the products she endorses.
It is important to remember that it’s a two-way street when considering endorsing a specific brand or product. Professional riders become a representative of that brand, essentially, once they agree to a sponsorship deal. The responsibility goes far beyond a hashtag in a photo caption, which is why it’s imperative to be selective when choosing which brands to support.
“When I was younger, I was much more lenient,” Leah said of her endorsement choices. “Of course it’s exciting when companies are reaching out to you wanting to give you something. But what I’ve come to learn over time is that I need to walk the walk if I am going to be vocal about my opinions.”
That was a moment where I realized that I really needed to align myself and my own brand with what I was telling my clients.
For example, Leah, 32 of Freeport, Ill., will host a Landsafe Equestrian clinic, which focuses on active safety techniques in the event of a fall, this summer. Her decision to do so stems from her own personal safety choices and encouraging her students to invest in their own safety.
“That was a moment where I realized that I really needed to align myself and my own brand with what I was telling my clients,” she said. “So I dug in and did some research on safety and helmets, and found that Uvex was the safest helmet on the market. I knew that I wanted the best for myself, so it was an easy decision to approach them.”
“It’s about what my horses need and what they feel the best in, not about what’s trendy,” Leah continued. “I’m not going to bend on that. If I switch sponsors, people do notice because they know I don’t make decisions lightly.”
As a reminder, accepting remuneration (compensation, basically) in exchange for riding or training services can jeopardize your amateur status with U.S. Equestrian. It’s important to be educated on the ins and outs of endorsements, ambassadorships and sponsorships. You can read up on the rule here, but do your research as there is a bit of a gray area when it comes to interpretation.
If there is an endorsement offer on the table, it is the rider’s responsibility to make an educated decision rather than an impulsive one. Instead of taking into account the amount of followers that can be gained from a specific endorsement deal, consider how that product will affect the horse. It’s important to consider how strongly a rider can stand behind that endorsement and do what is asked as outlined in an endorsement deal.
From a brand’s perspective, quality is more important than quantity. If a rider like Leah makes a decision to switch to a different brand, consumers are likely to pay attention because they value her professional opinion. That opinion is substantially more valuable than that of 10 Instagram influencers, not because of numbers, but because of credible weight.
Of course, it’s not all work and no play here – endorsements are supposed to be enjoyable and, when awarded appropriately, are a token of merit and reward for hard work.
“I love representing fun things such as clothing or accessories,” Leah said. “These are the things where I love to support small or local businesses, and I can really have fun with those. At the same time, though, I want to make sure I am still doing a quality job of representing them, so I don’t overwhelm myself with those products.”
After all, no one wants to see endless product plugs on anyone’s personal social media feed. In scenarios like that, the value of a rider’s professional opinion can lose its authenticity. Ambassadors shouldn’t take on more than they can realistically handle.
Supporting and endorsing products and brands is a valuable asset to the equestrian environment. While the value of an effective endorsement relationship cannot be underestimated, don’t forget that riders can absolutely and should be selective – even if this its their first offer.