Competition is fierce for sponsorship places – it’s not easy. Never forget, sponsorship is not free.
Companies and brands use sponsorship to raise their profile. It might be about doing the right thing, showcasing a new product, or simply being seen in the right places. That’s why sponsorship is a partnership; a company or organisation might support you, but they will want something in return and in most cases they will want a return of double or more.
Referrals – you need to be eager to talk to and tell others all about the things you are sponsored for as well as being able to explain how they might work and importantly, where they can get them. Knowing where your local shops are and getting to know the staff that work there will help.
Testimonials – companies value feedback; we certainly do. Our Ambassadors are our strongest critics, if they are not happy with how something works, neither are we. Giving considered and honest feedback is essential, not just ‘yeah looks cool, feels nice’. Think a bit deeper, analyze and get images or video to explain what you are finding. Creating and publicising reviews about the gear you use will be regarded highly. Again, be honest and don’t just try the ‘I like this, buy this’ approach. Describe your experiences or adopt a unique angle, like introducing a video of a sequence or move using the product.
Knowledge – if you are sponsored people assume you must be some sort of expert – you probably are. Sponsors want ambassadors who know what they are talking about. It’s no use saying, ‘yeah, the green one is good’, you need to be able to talk about the design, construction and performance with some authority. So do your homework and learn about the kit including its name, price and options. The same goes for if you are asking for something. Being clear about what your needs are and what you think might be most suitable will help a sponsor.
Representation – sponsorship often involves some sort of guidance or set of expectations. It’s about exposure; making sure a brand is visible day to day, out on the water. Think about logos for photos or videos. You may not have all your gear from one sponsor, so think about your relationships and who is making the investment in you. It’s easy to overdo it and you start to look like a walking advertisement board. Be selective and think about style.
Conflicts – think about this when approaching sponsors. A lot of companies and products can work side by side but if you have an association with a brand that makes the same things as another, expect to have to decide between them.
You – start with asking yourself some questions. What have you got to sell or showcase that’s different to others? Generally, sponsors will be looking for the highest levels of qualification, results, or an angle on a trip or adventure which is new or previously unattained. If you are not matching these you may need to keep working on your profile, but not everyone sponsored is a world champ. Opinion makers and leaders of activity can be very attractive to sponsors if they reach more people.
Your activities – it’s best to be able to show what you have done as a case study of what you are able to do. The fact that there will be a website, you will get in magazines and you will put stickers on your boat won’t cut it. Sponsors want proof that you are capable of getting media attention either by generating it yourself or being in touch with the news makers. Get a portfolio together, with images, videos and press you have already created. Even testimonials from other respected paddlers can help to promote you.
Your plans – being clear about what you are after (and when) makes a sponsor's life easier. Provide a diary or schedule of the exposure you can make this work for you. More and more sponsors are after something unique, so consider these opportunities. For example, you are attending a festival, can you offer a unique clinic or demo? Many companies are interested in inclusive activity where they can offer their customers something that's beyond the everyday.
Expectations – aim high but don’t be disappointed. Most companies will want to test out a sponsorship relationship before it costs them too much. Companies typically work on around 5–10 percent for marketing, and sponsorship is just a fraction of that so don’t get carried away. In many cases, a discount deal is a starting point and you need to work up from there. You are most likely to get success locally before you reach out nationally.
In a lot of cases, if you love your sport you are sometimes best to simply get on with doing it without the strings and attachments that come from being sponsored to do it. Sponsorship often means business and for many the reality is that's just not worthwhile.