“Please pay for my vacation.” That’s how most sponsorship applications we receive seem to read. Sure, they are filled with thousands of words describing the wonderful adventure they are about to undertake, but only a fraction of the submissions really provide any tangible value to the donating enterprise. Having a blog that gets 15 visitors a week is simply not enough.
Expeditions West and Overland Journal receive dozens of sponsorship requests each year and nearly that many asking howto get sponsored. Since this is clearly a topic of interest, we thought we’d share our experiences and the facts about how sponsorship really works. Sponsorship is actually quite common, and can be of measurable benefit to both parties. Following are some tips that should provide some success.
What is Sponsorship
Sponsorship is a business contract where products or funding is provided in exchange for marketing exposure, product development deliverables and/or media collateral (images, editorial, video, etc.). Just like any service, a professional and experienced approach will always yield the greatest return. Quality of design reflected in your website and materials, accuracy and clarity of your proposal and demonstrated success will all improve your odds of gaining support.
In reality, less than 10% of those searching for sponsorship actually receive significant product support and (much) less than 1% receive financial support. Based on our experience, the only expeditions that actually receive notable product and financial support are the ones that are operated by marketing professionals. They are in the business of exceeding expectations and delivering a measurable result.
This does not mean that sponsorship is only available to the most polished and educated teams, but what it does mean is that your approach must reflect their attributes of success. It is about being genuine and exceeding expectations – the rest will follow.
Silk Road 2010. The Pamir Highway in Tajikistan
How to Get Sponsorship
The Value Proposition:
How much is your time worth? If you spend 200 hours and get a free bumper and a Chinese winch, was your time well spent? Likely not. Determine the value of your time and don’t pursue sponsorship if this is a single trip or a passing interest. No one benefits and your trip shifts from the adventure of a lifetime to another job. Put a value to your time and keep track of the return on that investment.
Why do you want sponsorship? If it is simply to lower the costs of your trips then that is not reason enough and will likely lead to disappointment for those sponsoring you. For the first several years the trips will cost much more than the ROI on sponsorship, so you must have a greater goal in mind; for example, the goal to be a journalist or a marketing professional. It is nearly impossible to make a genuine income from sponsorship alone (in the adventure travel segment), so there must be a greater strategy.
Steps to Sponsorship:
Pursue adventures that are genuine and meaningful to you. That personal connection will come through when you talk with potential sponsors; as will any attempted deception so avoid the temptation to attach a “cause” to your trip just to add some sizzle. The people reading your proposal are much smarter than you may think.
Sponsorship is a complex marketing partnership. It is not just about someone sending you free gear, but a business relationship where both parties should benefit equally.
Pay for Your First Couple (serious) Trips:
Don’t even pursue sponsorship on your first couple trips. Show you can plan and complete a few adventures on your own. Those first few trips will provide the media assets and experience you must have to develop a professional and successful proposal.
Pay for Your First Vehicle Project:
Spend your own money outfitting your first vehicle and create relationships with those suppliers. Send them images and testimonials without asking anything in return. Show these vendors why you care about their products (in a genuine way). Showing the love their direction first will be beneficial later. Ask nothing in return and over-deliver on your promises.
Make it Attainable:
Make your first trips attainable yet interesting. Spend quality time on planning and properly documenting your trip. Refine your equipment requirements and your ability to tell a story.
Become a Great Photographer:
Sponsorship is 70% about the images you come back with. If you take boring pictures, don’t expect a reply from potential sponsors. Remember, sponsorship is a marketing activity. Marketing requires great images – compelling visual storytelling.
Be a Great Writer:
Document your adventure in great detail and deliver compelling editorial to your prospective sponsors. Start a blog and create a thread in large communities like Expedition Portal. Get feedback and minimize (or eliminate) typos and spelling errors.
Once you have successfully completed a few adventures, you will have some wonderful images and stories. You will also likely have some relationships with vendors from the purchases you made on your first vehicle project. Use those media assets as a framework for your proposal.
Make it simple and clean. Focus on the story telling and imagery. Discuss why you love their product and demonstrate a genuine connection with their brand. The proposal should have very little to do with you and much more to do with how you will provide an ROI for their support. Put yourself in their shoes – what is special and valuable about your offer?
Be Fair and Over-Deliver:
Don’t ask for $50,000 and a free car on your first proposal. Consider asking for smaller items you like and then deliver more than their value in feedback, images, testimonial and ambassador effort.
How Not to Get Sponsorship
The Five DON’TS of Sponsorship:
Expedition Cure Baldness:
Do not use some “cause” to help pay for your vacation, especially if you do not have a direct and completely legitimate personal connection with the cause or organization. This comes across as completely disingenuous and PR and Marketing Directors see right through it (and so does everyone else). If your sponsorship package does not stand on its own merit, adding “save the blue tailed ferret” or “expedition cure the blah, blah, blah” that you know little to nothing about makes you look like a jerk. This doesn’t mean that a trip supporting a cause is not worthwhile at times, but it must be genuine and the organization you are supporting must get a significantly larger benefit than you do. (edit: sorry for the harshness, but this is something that hurts everyone and flies in the face of basic ethics).
Don’t Send Blanket Requests:
Blanket sponsorship requests never work and waste everyone’s time. Send requests to targeted organizations and individuals that you have a direct connection to. Invest the time to develop relationships.
Expedition for Your Family Member Who is Dying:
If your daughter is dying of cancer, why are you spending so much energy trying to get free parts for your Jeep? Is this about her or you? Every moment you spend on your blog or bolting some gadget on your truck is time you should be spending with your family. If you need money for treatment, do a fundraiser, not a trip that will take you away for months.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew:
Avoid exaggerating your capabilities or reaching beyond your skills. If you just got your first passport, sending out sponsorship packages for your crossing of the Congo will at the worst get you killed, but more likely reflect badly on your sponsors when you can’t even work out the logistics of the shipping container or your visas.
Don’t Take Stuff Just Because it is Free:
Once you get some momentum with your sponsorship efforts, people will begin pursuing you. Just because someone wants to give you a super-duper triple-burner camp oven with wifi display doesn’t mean you should take it. Each product comes with responsibility. Free is never, ever really free.
Scott Brady is the owner of Overland Journal and Expeditions Portal. His sponsorship experience spans nearly a decade and a dozens of vehicle-supported expeditions on every continent of the globe. He still remembers the generosity of Jason Demello from Demello Off-Road who was the first to say YES to his sponsorship inquiry. As of 1.1.2010, Overland International suspended nearly all direct sponsorships and they are enjoying the lack of stickers on the trucks and obligations while they travel.