Building a Better Student Ambassador Program

By: Sean Brenner

There are plenty of ways to get products and brand messages into the hands, hearts and minds of college students. But perhaps none as authentic as working with student ambassadors. After all, who knows the landscape, the environment and the target market better than students themselves?

There also are plenty of ways to set up and manage student ambassador programs — and not all of them are destined to guarantee success.

Newbridge has adopted best practices, thanks to managing student ambassador programs on hundreds of college campuses over the past four years, and we’ve noticed some smart executions by other brands, too. We couldn’t break it all down in a single blog post, but if we were prepping a college-level course on the subject, here’s how we’d start Student Ambassadors 101:

Hire young
Yeah, we know: They’re all young. But if your brand is considering creating a long-term presence on campus — more than just a one-time, limited duration program — consider hiring sophomores and juniors so they (or at least the ones who earn their stripes) can stay with the program into a second or third year. Doing that will give the initiative a better chance to mature with a more consistent presence and it’ll create opportunities to give ambassadors incentive to stay engaged and excited about their work.

Choose passion
Another hiring tip: It’s critical to match the ambassadors you hire with the brand they’re representing. Very often, their drive and enthusiasm are more important than how much experience they have. So rather than counting on them for a vast amount of job knowledge — for many of them, it’s their first work experience — look to ambassadors for their knowledge of the campus, knowledge of the product and, most of all, passion for the brand.

Immerse them
At a minimum, student ambassadors should get two to three full days of immersive training before the school year (or semester). But some brands go even deeper. Take a look at Delta Airlines, which uses student ambassadors to help integrate the brand into campus activities like move-in day and tailgating. As Event Marketer reported, the carrier recruits ambassadors during the winter and then gives them an eight-week Delta education at corporate HQ in Atlanta and its New York offices. As a bonus, not only do the students learn all of the brand-side ins and outs, but Delta marketing execs get an invaluable opportunity to hear insights about how to tailor their upcoming campus marketing.

Make them boss
Red Bull’s Student Brand Manager effort succeeds in part because the company encourages its ambassadors to think like entrepreneurs, not like order-takers. Among the core tenets of its message to prospective ambassadors: “You will be empowered to develop and deliver tailor-made marketing plans for your campus.”

Go beyond the numbers
When choosing where to launch a campus ambassador program, evaluating the easy-to-find stats is a no-brainer: Enrollment size, tuition cost, academic rankings, proximity to major markets, job placement rates and so on. But look closer and you’ll find opportunities to tie ambassador programs to student clubs (community service!) or even academic courses (product design!) and majors (environmental science!) that closely align with the brand’s goals and consumer psychographics.

Beyond that, for any student ambassador program to succeed, you’ll always find that long-lead planning is key. Constant communication is critical. Selectivity in hiring is a must. And a willingness and ability to adjust tactics on the fly is paramount. Now, time to hit the books!