The Age / Sydney Morning Herald - Small business: How Slim Secrets signed Angelique Kerber as brand ambassador - January 2017

How did a local small business manage to sign the reigning world No.1 female tennis player as its brand ambassador?

Health-food snack enterprise Slim Secrets scored a coup securing the services of Angelique Kerber, who won last year's Australian Open and US Open titles.

"Angelique has quickly become a well-loved tennis player. She is a great role model for the health and fitness industry and an inspiration for women portraying a healthy body image," says the founder of Slim Secrets, Sharon Thurin.

So how did the tie-up with the tennis star happen? "The philosophy of our brand is actually more to do with healthy and active lifestyle, rather than weight management although weight management is part of it," says Thurin. "We thought someone in the sports industry would be a perfect fit for us."

Thurin says brokers in the US were in contact with Slim Secrets, and they suggested celebrities they thought would be a match for the company. "A lot of them were TV stars and other celebrities, but they did have a few sports stars on their books."

Kerber emerged as an ideal choice for their brand. "Because Angie won the Australian Open as her first major Grand Slam and has a love for Australia, they thought they would approach her and see if there was any interest.

"The US talent company liaised with Angelique's manager to negotiate the deal." This was about eight weeks ago.

At that time, she didn't have a nutritional food brand as her sponsor.

Thurin says there was a lot of back and forth during negotiations. "We had certain goals that we wanted to achieve with this relationship such as growth in our overseas markets including China and increased worldwide brand recognition. Hence, some of the deliverables took a little longer to negotiate."

Thurin is firmly eyeing the burgeoning Chinese market. "Signing up Angie has been a catalyst to start the ball rolling in a bigger way in China."

Slim Secrets' turnover was more than $2 million in 2016. "With our increased worldwide interest and brand recognition, we are hoping for at least a 50 per cent increase in 2017."

Emerging trends

Meanwhile, Melbourne small business Sports Performance Tracking (SPT) has signed a local star, women's AFL marquee player Katie Brennan, as interest grows in the inaugural AFLW competition kicking off next month.

The company provides GPS tracking technology and wearable devices to teams and athletes.

"It's a great idea to use 'sporting stars' to promote active, healthy, products that align with what the athlete represents," says SPT CEO William Strange.

He says having a brand ambassador who is also a sports star resonates with consumers in a saturated market. "It plays on the idea for buyers that 'if it's good enough for them, it's good enough for me', which can be a massive selling point."Strange says one of the "main difficulties with brand ambassadors is that the business partnering with them cannot use their association specifically. So, for example, SPT can't refer to Katie Brennan as the Western Bulldogs captain, or have her wearing AFLW or Bulldogs gear in our promotional activities. We still have access to her name and her strong personal brand, though."

User numbers are up 400 per cent for SPT, with 6500 users of the sports tech across nine different sports. Revenue for the company is up 440 per cent on the last financial year and SPT expects to record a seven-figure revenue this year.

"We've already seen a 200 per cent increase in customers that are female AFL players since we have brought Brennan on board," he says.

Which celebrity?

Melbourne-based Jessie Weatherley, who owns boutique marketing agency Jork Consulting, says celebrity endorsement is a powerful marketing tool when the target audience align themselves with that ambassador.

"Having that endorsement can also open up a huge following that they didn't have before. Often these ambassadors have a large social media following – a referral from them can be powerful and the company gains instant followers and engagement."

Kerber has already posted about Slim Secrets to her more than 835,000 followers on Facebook, 274,000 on Twitter and 270,000 on Instagram.

Traffic to the Slim Secrets website is up, the business's social reach has increased and their products are being noticed in overseas markets where they do not have a presence, says Thurin.

Maria Pomella, who runs My Jewellery Shop Online in Melbourne, and has a background in marketing, says brand ambassadors are now integral to many products gaining recognition and credibility.

"This is one marketing trend that is not going away, especially with the rise of social media," says Pomella.

She says if a small business goes down this path, it needs to keep a few things in mind. "Your brand and image are aligned to this personality, if they go off the rails so do you. Go back to basics before you enter into the world of an ambassador. It's no different to employing someone new to work for you."