Throughout the years, I’ve gotten quite a few requests for information about sponsorship for adventurers. How does one go about lining them up? What’s realistic? In this post, I’ll tell you everything I know about sponsorships – I hope this helps.
Overall, I would say there are five main truths one needs to be aware of when pursuing the idea of sponsorship:
1) Consider what YOU can do for THEM. Too often, people look at it as just free gear, but you need to look at it from their perspective. Why should they get behind you? What can you give them?
2) Gear is relatively easy to get; money is much harder.
3) The more gear/money they give you, the tighter the restrictions will be. Be sure to look at the whole price tag.
4) A definite goal or endpoint is better than open-ended. Companies want to come on board for X project. An open-ended adventure with no clear goal is much harder to sell.
5) It takes a LOT of time and energy to get sponsored. Many adventurers, after spending many months (years?) getting everything lined up, look back upon it all and feel it would have been easier and faster to pick up another job and save the money.
I will tell you right up front that most of the sponsors listed on our sponsors page were NOT found by us. Many, many times complete strangers talked to hotels and arranged for a place for us to stay when we arrived into their town. Usually they sent us emails or came out to find us on the road to let us know, but occasionally we found out when we pedaled into town. We never expected that, but were certainly appreciative of it.
Would that happen for you? I don’t know. Our story resonated with people. When people saw our family of four out there pedaling, they were drawn in to the story. There are many reasons for that, but our story was unique and people wanted to help. I cannot predict if your story will have that same effect or not.
Let’s assume that you will have to line up your own sponsorships. How do you do that? Sponsors want three main things in the adventurers they sponsor:
1) A proven track record. If you are just now taking off for your first major bike tour or adventure, chances are good that you won’t find any companies willing to sponsor you. They want “proof” that you are up to the challenge. Once you’ve proven that you are willing and able to follow through on your plans, it’s possible that companies will happily jump on board.
2) A unique angle. Are you just another couple riding your bike around the world? Ho hum. That’s been done dozens of times. On a quest to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents? That’s also pretty common, unless there is a unique angle to your story. What makes you memorable? What makes you stand out from all the others out there doing what you’re doing?
3) A cause or reason they are proud to attach their name to. We used our journey to help kids in schools around the world learn about the Americas. That was something that appealed to companies; they wanted to be a part of that. What are you doing that would cause potential sponsors to want to align themselves with your journey?
Okay – so you’re good with all that? You’ve got a proven track record, you’ve got a unique story, and your purpose is one that companies would be interested in attaching their name to? Now what?
-Do your research
Most large companies have their sponsorship process streamlined. They have written guidelines online and many have applications online as well. Be sure to look for deadlines, as many only award sponsorship once/year – if you miss their deadline you can’t apply until the following year. Each company asks for different things, so I can’t generalize here, but be prepared to fill out the application, write an essay or create a video, and maybe get letters of reference.
-Twitter is your friend
Smaller companies don’t necessarily have their process formalized or streamlined. If you’ve found a good small company with a product that you would like to use, send a tweet to the company. Follow the tweeter. Get to know him/her. Take a few months to cultivate the relationship – chat with him, respond to his questions. Don’t ask for anything – just get to know him. When you are ready to move forward, tweet that person asking who is in charge of sponsorships. Then email that person.
-Network, network, network
Contact other people who have been sponsored by a company you are looking at and ask for their contact information. A large part of whether you are successful or not depends on getting in touch with the right person. If somebody you know knows who that person is, take advantage of that.
-Forget the long proposal
When we first started looking for sponsors, we wrote out a long detailed proposal and sent it off through the mail to our whole list of potential sponsors. We only heard back from two. We finally discovered that short and sweet is best – and email or a phone call is way better than snail mail. Send out a quick email saying, “We’re a family of four heading out on a world record quest riding our bicycles from Alaska to Argentina. Might your company be interested in sponsoring us?” Once you get a reply back, then start the dialogue. Nobody has time for a long letter.
-Focus on what you can do for them
It’s easy to get into the mindset of getting free gear, but put yourself in their shoes. They are asked dozens of times each day to sponsor people. What will they get out of it? Why should they give you free gear? How will that benefit them?
-Consider their requests
What kind of price tag does the gear come with? Do you need to send them a photo every month? Make videos for them? Use their gear exclusively? Not mention their competitors? (I got in hot water with one sponsor when the google ads on my site showed an ad for their competitor – something I had no control over.) Be clear in what they expect, and be sure that it’s doable for you. It might seem like a small thing in the beginning, but can be huge when you’re out in the middle of nowhere with no internet to upload a photo.
-Look for special promotions
Our biggest sponsor, Eddie Bauer, came on board with both gear and cash sponsorship. They were starting up a new line of gear called First Ascent, and were looking for people attempting their personal “firsts.” Seeing as how our journey was our first in many ways – first world record attempt, first cross-continental bike trip with kids, etc. – we applied and were accepted. Many larger companies run special promos like this when they launch a new line.
-Let them come to you
There is a lot to be said about being proactive and going out looking for sponsorships for adventurers. There is also a lot to be said about simply standing out from the crowd and waiting for them to come to you. Toward the end of our journey, we were turning down sponsorship requests every week. Companies wanted to be part of what we were doing. They wanted their name attached to us. We were in a position where we could, to a large extent, name our price and they would meet them. Of course, by that point we had been on the road for a long time and had the name recognition companies were looking for.
There are good things about being sponsored, but there are responsibilities as well. Consider all angles and make the best decisions you know how to make. It’s probably best to go after small sponsorships at first, saving the big-$$$ sponsorships for once you’ve got a name built for yourself. And be aware that many times, it’s fastest and easiest to simply pick up a second job and save every penny of it.