There can be an assumption that expeditions are all paid for by sponsors, but this is rarely the case.
Unless you get lucky or already work for a company who can financially assist you it’s best to set your sights on getting an expedition ready with a mixture of guile, research, determination and passion.
If you see sponsorship as something to be earned rather than expected, your life will become a whole lot easier. Here’s how to go about finding support for your mission and the ins and outs of what to expect from your sponsorship hunt.
For many people harbouring hopes of embarking on a big adventure, sponsorship is the only way to make the dream a reality. Even if gear is obtained for free or on a discount or pro deal, every bit of help goes a long way.
Teaming up with a sponsor (or several of them) can be beneficial:
- Possibility of funding, and cheap (or free) gear
- PR assistance and other options for spreading word about your project
- Association with a respected brand can improve media coverage and chance of finding other sponsors
But receiving external support can also have a negative impact:
- Every time you're given something there's a compromise. Make sure you don't compromise so much that the initial idea/ dream/ goal of your adventure is lost
- Extra time and pressure go into honouring an agreement, especially where financial backing has been offered.
- Expectations of commercial return may offer a different colour to the success of your expedition.
- If you don't honour your sponsorship agreement it'll put a black mark against your name
The Three Stages of Sponsorship
If you’re organising your first expedition try not to depend on financial sponsorship when you’re planning out your project. You likely have no prior experience to prove that you’re a worthy investment, so if sponsorship is the only way to cover your expedition costs you may already be relinquishing control and compromising your objectives.
There are always exceptions to the rule, but more often than not you have to earn your right to sponsorship.
- First, if you impress, you’ll get discounted gear, either on a discount or a pro deal.
- Next, you’ll get free gear.
- Finally, you might be worth enough to be paid by a company in order for you to carry their brand. Later in this blog, I’ll discuss how you can improve your chances of climbing the ladder. The key, as always, is not to expect anything, else you might end up disappointed.
Pick your targets
In an ideal world, you want to find a sponsor who supports you because they like you and what you’re doing, as opposed to only offering assistance because they want financial or sales return.
Here’s what to look for in a suitable sponsor:
- They provide a product(s) that exactly fit your needs - this way you can use their gear to the hilt, write/ film accurate reviews, and not go out of your way to find a use for an extraneous product.
- Their brand and attitude matches yours
- They’re not so big that your request will be silently ignored, or that your venture (if they do support you) rarely features in their content streams.
- Only contact potential sponsors if you’d be happy to work with them. You don’t want to go into any type of relationship with someone/ a company that doesn’t share your values.
Ask yourself two questions:
- ‘What can I do for them?’
- ‘What can they do for me?’
However much you believe in yourself, your project and your chances of success, remember that you’re never going to find someone who is as passionate about what you do, as you.
Despite this, it’s your job to get your passion across to whoever will listen.
Understand and explain your mission.
- What are your aims and in what order of priority do they fall?
- Are you fundraising for charity? (This isn't always a plus when approaching sponsors, many companies select the charities they work with each year and if yours isn't one of them it doesn't matter how good your proposal is, it won't be considered)
- Is this for personal development?
- Do you have a scientific or social research aims?
- Are you after a world record or world first?
- Are you on a hunt for media coverage?
With this in mind, you have to sell your idea, your passion and your unique angle. If accepted your proposal will almost certainly form the basis of your sponsorship agreement. Lay your cards on the table. Don’t bullshit and make your offer sound better than it can actually be, otherwise your Pinnochio butt is gonna go get bit.
The key points - why you’re doing what you’re doing, what you can do to offer return on their support, and what you hope for from them (this is why you’re writing to them).
What you could offer to a sponsor:
- Branding on your website (remember, unless you have big media promise and a wealthy PR budget, this will be of minimal value)
- Ongoing content throughout your expedition
- Mentions, shares and links through social media like Facebook and Twitter
- Product reviews: these are valuable for a company that deals in gear. If their gear survives and works well on a long, tough expedition, then you prove that it’s durable, effective and is worth someone else paying for it.
- Clothing and kit branding: if their logo appears on your expedition clothing and other key expedition items, they will have heightened brand positioning in photos, videos and media coverage of your expedition.
- Spread the word: whenever you meet people rave, display and present the gear you’re using. (It helps if you love the product)
- Offer to give a talk to the company/ organisation once your expedition is finished, perhaps at a fundraiser. It’s moral boosting for the staff and a great way for them to enjoy and meet the person they’ve been supporting and following.
- Promise credits in post-expedition products, like films or books
How to approach a sponsor
Ok, now you have an idea of what you need and what you can offer, you need to make contact with the people who might be able to help you.
Most sponsorship seekers resort to email (much faster than letter writing, which is how I started out - to poor effect). You might get lucky, but it’s impersonal and lazy. Try harder.
A better option is to call. Make that personal connection, you can get your point across so much better on the phone than by email.
Even better, engineer a face to face meeting with the decision-maker at the company you want support from. Let them see your eyes shine, feel your passion for your project and give yourself the best possible chance to make an impact.
- Be patient.
- Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
- Don’t put yourself under unnecessary pressure in return for something you don’t need.
- Ask yourself whether you actually need sponsorship for a particular piece of gear. It’s tempting to try and get everything for free but sometimes it’s not worth the effort. Be smart, don’t be a vulture.
- Rejection makes you stronger. Either you don’t have a strong enough idea for that sponsor, or your pitch was too weak. Work out what went wrong and build on your experience. (Most of all, LOVE the rejection! It makes success so much sweeter when someone finally does give you the thumbs up)
- Even if your expedition is a one-off for you, act like you’re building a long-term relationship. Work hard for anyone who helps you, love them, be loyal and appreciate what they’ve done for you.
- Under-promise, over-deliver
- Career adventurers succeed because they’ve found a way to offer true, sustainable and consistent value to their sponsors. Act like you’re a pro and you’ll be treated like one, even if this is a one-off.
Off you go now. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. But if you’d don’t think about what you’re asking for, the answer will probably be no.
Interested in learning more about similar subjects? I hold regular workshops on my floating HQ in London, including adventure planning, social media and filming masterclasses. Find out more
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