So now you’ve got your ducks in a row.  You’ve got a solid mission, you’ve done your homework on your industry, you’ve maybe put together a budget.  Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty.  This entry (Part II) is going to discuss the next three major elements of getting sponsored.

  1. Finding the potential sponsors in the first place. Thankfully these days finding potential sponsors is a lot easier than it used to be.  There are some powerful tools right at your fingertips.  Google and the social networks are the obvious places to start.  Maybe you want to get a snowboarding event sponsored.  Well there are all the obvious companies to group together first:  board manufacturers, goggles, clothing…but then there is the mountain itself, maybe the village supermarket, Dominoes Pizza- you see?  The potential is endless.  The problem is, you end up with a huge list, but good luck getting an interview with the head of marketing at Burton Snowboards.  Unless you’ve got some serious pull, that’s a tall order.
  2. Jamie Mitchell on board in the Maldives

    When I look back at how we found sponsors I realize we wasted a LOT of time and a TON of energy, and you should probably be ready to do the same.  Hopefully I can help steer you right here, but I think no matter how you proceed you’ve got to be ready for a lot of  “no’s” to get one “yes”.  For the next expedition, let’s call it for now The Best Odyssey II (this name will probably change, depending on our title sponsor) I plan to be a lot more methodical.  But it’s also going to be easier- we’ve been doing this now for over 10 years, have reams of video, thousands of images, a huge newsletter following, have been published in dozens of magazines; in other words, we’ve got history.

    But it wasn’t always this way.   In the beginning we crafted what I thought was a very good 5 page pdf proposal. We’d doctor each one up with the potential sponsors logos, craft each one to fit what I though the potential sponsor would want to see and then I’d try to find a contact at said company to send it to.  Each proposal, once we had the framework completed (which took weeks) would take at least an hour to complete.  We sent out easily over 300 of them.  You do the math.  We were not once successful in getting money and successful in getting equipment or gear with about 1 in 100- or 1%.  I’d rate this an almost entirely UNsuccessful way of getting sponsors.

    Our new sponsor Niviuk is going to love this one

    So here’s a better way.  First use business networks like LinkedIn and Twitter to start following your industry, and more importantly, the decision makers in your industry.  For example, for the next expedition we are going to operate as sustainably as we can as this is something that is important to us.  Back in the first year of The Best Odyssey I equipped Discovery with a large solar array, which has decreased our generator run time by at least 50%- a considerable carbon reduction.  So now I’m following a number of solar and renewable/clean energy groups on LinkedIn.  Mostly I’m following just to learn, but somewhere in there I’m also going to make contacts with companies who want to showcase their products.  When I do, I’ll be ready to make our pitch (see below).

    GO TO TRADESHOWS.  In one weekend at the Surf Expo in San Diego Jody and I added 6 sponsors to our lineup.  We were armed with a few kiteboarding magazines which all had covers of a pro riding a serious wave.  We got into the tradeshow with the great help of Marina Chang at The Kiteboarder magazine, who provided us with press passes.  Most surf companies had no idea what kiteboarding even was, let alone what you could do with a kite on a wave.  The magazines took care of 90% of our pitch- all we had to do was let whomever it was just flip through the pages and answer their questions.  The point is- tradeshows are a condensed arena for companies who are manned nearly 100% by marketing talent.  If you’ve got something worth sponsoring, then there is no better place to show it to a lot of people in a short amount of time.  Plus- you get to do it in person, which is in my opinion beats the phone or email by miles (as long as you can handle yourself on your feet- if you can’t, practice.  If you still can’t – find someone who can).

    Cameron Dietrich rips up Micronesia- the sponsors loved this one

  3. Making the contacts. I think this might be the most important part of the sponsorship process, but it’s also one of the hardest.  Unless you are a radical athlete and smashingly handsome, or you happen to be someone with a name like Rockefeller or Kennedy, you’ve got to do it the hard way.  This ties back into getting to know your industry and what I talked about in Part I, being in the right place.  If you have the money, interviewing and hiring a media or press agent is going to gain you access to the all-important little black book.  We’ve never used an agent, but I know a good one would be incredibly valuable.  If you are like us, and doing it on your own well then you’ve got to start doing a LOT of research.  You’ve got your list of companies to contact, now it’s time to get as high as you can within that company and try to get them on the phone.  I know email is easier, but getting someone who has never heard of you to read an email with a subject line like “sponsorship proposal” is most likely not going to happen.  But don’t worry too much- the phone call is simple and quick.  Something along the lines of “Hi, my name is So and So, I’m the CEO of XYZ corp.  I’d love to send you a very brief proposal that will clearly show you how your company will benefit from partnering (note subtle but important play on words there) with us (see how that works- again, you are NOT GOING TO ASK FOR ANYTHING). Will you please have a look at it and let me know as soon as you can?”  If they say yes, then now you are ready for The Pitch.
  4. Making the Pitch. First, a little story.  Jody and I were renting an apartment in Thailand in late 2005/early 2006.  In this tiny one bedroom dungeon the Best Odyssey was born.  We pulled some massive hours in that place.  We’d spent one season learning how to kitesurf in Australia and had a total of two kitesurfing trips under our belt- one private, and one with the F.One team in Fiji.  Which is to say, we knew very little about kitesurfing for two people planning a kitesurfing expedition.  From asking around we’d learned that Naish, Cabrinha, Slingshot, and North were the big players back then.  We knew that to pull off the expedition we really needed a major kitesurfing brand to get behind us.  But I had no idea- none whatsoever how to write a sponsorship proposal, or how to contact these companies in the first place.  Now here’s where it gets interesting.  We wrote a proposal that was heavy with imagery and seemed to have the necessary components- mission, media plans, itinerary, etc.   Then we sent it to ALL the companies that we didn’t want to sponsor us first.  In other words, all the companies except the big 4.  The reasoning was simple- we were looking for feedback.  I hoped we’d get at least one or two responses that would hopefully be something like “wow, sounds amazing but no, we can’t do it.”  I would then ask them why not and learn something- THEN contact the big 4, after making the necessary tweaks.

It worked.  We got a response was from the CEO of  Best Kiteboarding, Ian Huschle.  He said they would definitely be interested and could I send more information?  I approached Best to buy a major chunk of the boat and we lost them as a potential sponsor almost immediately.  So the plan worked- we learned a huge amount from the exchange, and we learned a lot about the industry.  We radically changed our pitch and went after the big 4; but Best turned out to be a lot more hungry and to this day I know we’ve both (Best Kiteboarding, and us) benefited handsomely from the sponsorship, and Ian and I have become lasting friends.

So, getting back to the Pitch itself.  The most important thing to keep in mind when you go to create your pitch- how are you going to deliver what the sponsor wants, which is almost surely EXPOSURE?  Here are the main ingredients for any sponsorship proposal, or Pitch, keeping in mind EXPOSURE.

  1. Background/ History: What’s your mission? What have you accomplished? Keep it short and sweet.
  2. Key Players: VERY brief highlight of YOU and your team. Remember that regardless of your idea and how cool it looks on paper, the reality is the sponsor is putting their faith in YOU. Why should they?
  3. Benefits: List all the ways the company is going to benefit by sponsoring you. Exposure, exposure, exposure. But how will they get it? In magazines (if so how- will you write them?) and remember- don’t promise what you can’t deliver; on the web, at the event? Will they get rights to images, or video, or will their brand get a good association by sponsoring you? List everything that might get their attention- but make sure they are real claims.
  4. Media and Brand Exposure: If you’ve completed some marketing research, here’s where the figures go. How many people follow you? If it’s an event- how many people do you expect to attend? What are the demographics of the audience? Where have you been published- magazines, web, other print media? The bottom line is they want to sell more of whatever they make- answer how sponsoring you will help increase their sales.
  5. Other Sponsors: Optional of course, but companies like to associate with other great companies so if you have a few already in the bag, list them.
  6. Sponsorship Options: Ok so I said you aren’t going to ask for anything. You aren’t- really, but here’s where you’re going to use a little marketing play. Create say 4 categories- call them “Platinum, Gold, Silver, Bronze” or whatever you want. Then make a package for each. At the Bronze end they give you some stuff, you give them a little bit in return. At the Platinum end they get title rights to whatever you are doing, the biggest logos, the most action, and they of course give you a wad of money. In my experience the default yes response from most companies is the Bronze end. No money, a little bit of gear. If that’s all you get, don’t be discouraged. Take it, then give them way, way more than you promised and renegotiate down the line.
  7. Conclusion: Our standard proposal is 5 pages and is mostly images.  There is less than 1,000 words.  I have no idea if this is correct or not, I but I get the feeling that the proposal is going to get maybe 2 minutes of someone’s time.  So, it’s got to hit the major points, look awesome, and seal the deal.  The conclusion or summary wraps up in one or two sentences WHY the company has a major opportunity here, and if they don’t take it they are going to lose out big time.  Like my father always says- “Fear of Loss, Need for Gain”.  These are the two things humans are motivated by.  Use them.

Best Kiteboarding

Bill Kraft in Indo

If you want to see and download our Pitch to Eddie Bauer and Niviuk, our two latest sponsors please contact me directly.  I’ll be requesting a $200 USD donation, 50% of which I’ll give to an ocean-based charity of your choice, the other $100 will go to me- we’ve got a lot of time into these packages and I think that’s a very reasonable figure to jumpstart your sponsorship quest.

In Part III I’m going to cover GEAR VS MONEY, the latter of which is of course a lot harder to get.  Please leave comments, I’d love to hear if this series has been beneficial or interesting to you.