We recently completed two incredible sponsorship deals.  One for Eddie Bauer/First Ascent which was sealed up this week and includes some very cool future video dispatches for Outside TV.  The other with well-respected  Niviuk Paragliders, who are now supplying the expedition with freestyle and acro wings for our upcoming flying expedition in Namibia, as well as planned future flying missions on The Best Odyssey.  These two events made me realize two things.  1)  We’ve come a long way from wandering around tradeshows disguised as magazine editors trying to get anyone with a pulse to talk to us and 2)  we’ve learned a few things about not only getting sponsored, but creating a great relationship that is beneficial to both parties.

So, in celebration of these recent sponsorships I thought it would be good to share what we’ve learned.  We’re by no means- NO MEANS experts in the field of getting sponsored, but we have had quite a bit of success and I’m still amazed at how little information is out there on how to do it.  So, the goal of this multi-part blog is just to share what we’ve learned in hopes that it will help someone else who is trying to get recognized- and hopefully- compensated.  When Jody and I had the first inclination to create The Best Odyssey (it was just “the Odyssey” back then, before we got sponsored by Best Kiteboarding) I searched high and low on how to write a sponsorship proposal, how to even contact companies in the first place.  Cold call?  Who to talk to?  Why do companies sponsor anything in the first place?  What to ask for and what to give in return? Contract or handshake?  Gear or money?  The list was endless, and I had a very hard time finding answers.

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson knows how to get his sponsors logos seen

Growing up as a skier I was lucky to get sponsored with gear most of the way, so I knew a little bit about being a sponsored athlete, but I knew absolutely nothing about how to get a business or thing (be that an expedition, or a kids soccer team) sponsored.   But Jody and I knew that without sponsorship the public at large would never see what we were trying to do as legitimate.  We started off seeking sponsorship not for financial support or even equipment- but just to use their logo on our website so people would look at us and go, well- they must be for real, they are sponsored by Teva!

Part I is going to cover DOS and DONT’S- laying the groundwork.  Part II (which I’ll hopefully have up by the time we reach Mozambique if I can figure out how to send these in by email instead of online) will cover how to go about FINDING sponsorship, Part III will cover GEAR vs MONEY, Part IV will happen if I have anything left to write, or if people have some questions which I can hopefully answer.

Jamie Mitchell

Jamie Mitchell - Getting shots like this make sponsors very happy

PART I, DOS AND DONT’S- laying the groundwork

  1. DON’T bother with “Get sponsored” websites that will supposedly submit your great idea to big corporations (sometimes for a fee).  Tried a number of these, never heard a single thing back.  A complete waste of time.
  2. DO get to know your industry inside and out.  When we first decided on trying to launch a kiteboarding expedition the first thing we did was move to Hood River, a mecca for kiteboarding.  We rented a room from one of the most respected kiters in the Gorge.  Like my dad always used to say- you want to make money, learn how to play golf.  You’ve got to hob nob.  I’m hopeless at making money, so I must not hob nob very well, but we have somehow gotten very good at getting stuff and getting dreams off the ground, which is all part of the sponsorship game (see our sponsors list).
  3. DO understand clearly before you ever even try to get sponsored what your goals are, because if you don’t, then you’ll never be able to create the pitch (which I’ll talk about in Part II).  If you’re just after some free kit, well then that’s a completely different approach to signing a 6 figure multi-year contract to turn out serious media assets.  This is a critical step that I think most people overlook.  To me there are 3 main goals with sponsorship:  to get money or equipment in order to achieve some pursuit (most often something that has never been done before, but also this could be to get money to build a stadium); to be a professional athlete (ie get paid to perform); or to legitimize a business (which is the category we fell into with The Best Odyssey).  These three things are radically different- ask yourself first and foremost what you are after?
  4. DO understand the playing field.  Companies who sponsor things have very concrete goals and they justify every action with the bottom line, and these days, sponsorship dollars are a lot more difficult to come by.  This is not only because of the economy, but because sponsorship is difficult to quantify.  Giving an athlete $10,000 dollars of gear and a travel stipend has to equal a lot more than that in sales.  This sounds incredible, and the truth is frankly disheartening, but we’ve been trying to put together a massive fundraiser for Oceana.org, one of our partners and a non-profit we have given quite a bit of money to.  The companies that we approached to sponsor the effort with gear and/or prizes- well they aren’t going to do that for the feel good of it.  They want their brand or logo seen by people.  LOTS of people.    So, the lesson here- learn what a company wants long before you approach them.
  5. DO define your MISSION.  Remember writing a mission statement in business school?  Well unfortunately you’ve got to do it again.  The number one thing a corporation is looking for in sponsorship is differentiation and being associated with something another company can’t.  Your mission statement should clearly spell out exactly what you are doing or aim to achieve.  This will also help you define who to approach and how to do it.
  6. DON’T do it half ass.  From this second forward, if you are thinking of trying to get sponsorship you’ve got to understand that even tiny companies get approached constantly to give away things and money. You’ve GOT to shine, you’ve got to be a pro.  I’ll talk a lot more about the making your “pitch” in Part II, but make sure you understand that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and get help- even professional help where you need it.  When we approach a company I do the writing and usually do the talking, Jody does all the imagery and makes the “package”.  If this part were up to me we wouldn’t have a single sponsorship deal- I have no visual style.
  7. DO start thinking about how you’re going to make the contacts.  We’ve been putting quite a bit of energy into creating the next expedition and I want BIG sponsorship to help fund the next boat.  When we were first launching the Best Odyssey I must have sent out nearly 200 proposals to companies that ranged from beer, to cars, to clothing.  For the most part, a complete waste of time.  Going through a switchboard is going to get you nowhere.  You’ve got to have real contacts in the right places.  When you do get their ear, you’re going to have about 60 seconds top to make your pitch.  Now’s the time to start thinking about how you’re going to do it.  On your own?  Through a media rep?  Going to tradeshows?
  8. DO figure out if whatever you are doing is worthy of sponsorship in the first place.  This blog cannot possibly cover all the millions of sponsor-worthy ideas out there.  But remember that companies are pretty much interested in one thing: increasing sales.  Guys like Jamie Mitchell and Ben Wilson, who we’ve had out on the boat and worked with a lot work like animals for their sponsors.  They do everything they can to get their sponsors images in front of eyeballs.  But there are other ways as well.  Our deal with GoPro for example.  They give us a ton of cameras and equipment not only because we’ve got their logo all over our site and in our newsletters, but because we use them constantly and our guests ALL buy them after they come out.  We are better than a retailer- we are ambassadors for their products- which means we radically increase their sales.  So ask yourself if you’ve got the reach a company is going to want.  Start a blog, start a newsletter- do whatever you have to do to get people following what you do.
  9. Ueli Kestenholz

    Ueli Kestenholz flying off the bow of Discovery. JL loved this one!

  10. DO get your head around the one most important thing you can learn here.  YOU ARE NOT GOING TO ASK FOR ANYTHING!  Number one mistake in any pitch.  I learned this years ago when I used to paddle with big drop class VI titan  Tao Berman.  He is a marketing genius and sponsored by a littany of great companies, including Red Bull and Adidas.   His theme is still the same- he tells the company that typically an ad has to be seen 7 times by someone before they may act on it.  “But an image of me- that has to be seen once.”  Then he shows them what he’s talking about and ASKS FOR NOTHING.  He only promises what he can do for them. Form the relationship first, then get the goods.
  11. Jamie Mitchell

    Jamie Mitchell knows how to get his sponsors seen

  12. DO think a lot about budget and how you plan to spend it.  Getting sponsored typically takes a bit of coin.  Athletes use agents.  We didn’t use anyone, but for the next expedition we’re definitely going to.  But if time equals money looking back we spent weeks putting together proposals and contact lists that ended up in a total of one very small sponsorship that hardly reflected the time and energy.  But one trip to San Diego from Seattle to go to the Surf Expo, which at the time when Jody and I were nearly flat broke and seemed an outrageous expense landed us 6 sponsorship deals in a weekend.   And we met a number of people who still to this day are very important to our success.

Bill Kraft in Indo

Bill Kraft in Indo on a photo shoot for Best Kiteboarding

In the next installment I’ll talk about making the pitch.  I hope this has been helpful and I invite any questions.  Good luck!

22 Comments

  1. Amazing post. Many thanks for your comments! It is a pleasure not only to see that you have achived most of the objectives of your project but also to be able to share most of it with the world. When are you going to organize a fleet of boats? 😉 I am sure I am not the only one that will try to join! All the “Best”!!

  2. A great read with my morning coffee, thank you, and I’m not even looking for sponsorship! Jody you take amazing pictures, I would read any blog if your photos were giving it flavor. I know it must be tough to keep the posts going when you are having such an incredible adventure, but for those of us back here in the land of tax and monotony it is an escape we long for. I look forward to reading more and seeing those beautiful shots, thank you.

  3. I just want to complement your great post on how to get a sponsor. By the way, I think that getting sponsored by house hold companies is a great to get free equipment. But I think that you have to perform very well in competitions in able to get 6 figures from them. I also think that some athletes loose their focus once they get paid by their sponsors because they have nothing else to prove.

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