The economic impacts of COVID-19 on the event industry are vast, and one of the groups affected by the shutdown of programming are brand ambassadors. As part of their pivot strategies, some brands are finding ways to redirect these roles to support other business objectives. Such was the case for Sparkling Ice, which recently pivoted a slate of sampling events into a merchandising program that employed more than 30 brand ambassadors. Within the first four weeks, the brand had accumulated more than 1,750 store visits in 15 markets and stocked over 11,000 cases of product.
Before the pandemic hit, Sparkling Ice had scheduled a mobile tour, but only got one stop in before lockdown orders were put in place nationwide. During that period, the brand also noticed that purchase patterns were increasing, as many consumers began hoarding grocery items. As shelves were being wiped clean, it was clear more product needed to be stocked—and fast. So Sparkling Ice got in touch with its sales teams and transitioned its field marketing efforts into a merchandising program in 15 metro markets where the need was the greatest.
“In order to keep Sparkling Ice on the up-and-up during all of this and thinking about retailers being very overwhelmed, we wanted to be a good partner to our customers and our retailers, and go that extra mile to make sure that there was product stocked on the shelves,” says Ellie Kohl, regional field marketing manager at Talking Rain, parent company of Sparkling Ice.
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To transform the sampling program into a merchandising initiative, Sparkling Ice worked with event agency Switch to recruit some brand ambassadors that both the brand and the agency had worked with previously. To fill in the gaps in markets that still needed headcount, the brand also leaned on staffing agency Ascent.
A few days before the (paid) brand ambassadors’ first scheduled shift, Sparkling Ice conducted a long phone call with them for training purposes. During the call, the brand shared a deck featuring best practices for merchandising and what a successful program looks like. This included introducing themselves to the store manager, finding out where the product was within the store, writing down what products needed to be restocked, getting product in the back and making sure everything looked perfect on the shelf.
Transitioning the brand ambassadors into merchandisers went surprisingly smoothly, Kohl says. But the program didn’t come without obstacles. Figuring out which states had mask orders or required vendor badges was a challenge. It was also imperative that the brand make the brand ambassadors feels safe.
“We had to really make sure that we weren’t sending our brand ambassadors into a situation where they would need to be turned away or they weren’t able to do the job correctly or properly or safely,” Kohl says. “So we made sure we were also keeping up with everything the CDC was saying and that they had all the proper protection they needed to feel comfortable going out into all these retailers. Anything they needed from face coverings to hand sanitizer to gloves, we expensed any of that stuff that they wanted to buy.”
The program, which lasted six weeks, was an all-around success for both the brand ambassadors and Sparkling Ice. But as purchase patterns evened out, the need for the program subsided. According to Kohl, “In the interim, being able to fill that void and pivot and show value to our company, and continue to move our business forward, was great.” Agency: Switch.