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Sponsorship Part Deux – Vainglorious

May 11, 2012 Comments (13) Musings

Getting Sponsored

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From time to time I get e-mails from fellow runners asking me questions about sponsorship. It’s pretty funny actually because most of the e-mails I get are fellow runners who live under the assumption that I’m making money from my sponsors or that my sponsors are paying for my race entry fees and flights to races. This just simply isn’t true and never has been for as long as I’ve had a sponsor which is now a total of 6 years. So to answer some of the questions that I typically get and to give those of you who are thinking about sponsorships some insight and framework to get started with, I’ve created this post.

Before we begin however, let’s be clear. There are very fewrunners in ultra-running who are receiving any kind of monetary sponsorship from companies. And those who are, are being reimbursed for race entry fee’s with a little extra to help get them to the race. The number of runners in our sport who are taking advantage of this opportunity are maybe a dozen or less. So as we begin to talk about sponsorships, lets first throw this notion that you’re going to get money to run races right out the window. It’s definitely NOT going to happen unless your name is Scott Jurek or Karl Meltzer or Geoff Roes. I’m talking a snowballs chance in hell gonna happen.. we clear? Cool.Picking A Sponsor
Since 2005 I’ve been lucky enough to have been sponsored by more than a dozen different companies. Of those fourteen companies I can tell you that only ONE of them came after me, or approached me to discuss the idea of a sponsorship. This means that all of the companies that I’ve been sponsored by have been companies that I have engaged in conversation to discuss the idea of a relationship. Notice that the word I used is “relationship.” That’s exactly what it is. The biggest thing in picking a company to engage in this relationship with is a company who you believe in.

Believe In The Company
When we talk about believing in the company you’re working with we’re talking about what is personal to you. You’re not going to want a sponsorship with a company whose products you’ll never use or wear on a regular basis. Investigate the company as deeply as you can. Perhaps your moral and ethical values will tell you that you don’t want to be sponsored by a company whose products are made by a 12 year old in an India Sweat Shop. If these types of issues matter to you, or other issues such as sustainability, philanthropic endeavors, etc; then you’ll want to investigate this stuff on your own before even approaching the company about the relationship.

Why Them?
In continuing with the idea of believing in the company, you need to ask yourself why this company matters to you. While you answer this question, type your answer down because you’ll need this very answer soon. What is their product to you? Why do you love (not like) their product? Is this something you’re ready to tell everybody about? What is it about their company that you love (not like)? How are they going above and beyond their competition that aligns your values with theirs? Once you have all of this typed up.. edit it to sound professional and brief. You’re sending this to the company.

Who Do You Contact?
This is the biggest piece of homework you’ll have during this process. You need to find out who it is that you need to talk to in order to get this sponsorship. Who at the company is in charge of sponsorships and promotions? Does the company even have an athlete sponsorship program? Does the company outsource their PR to a firm that you need to contact? Chances are you’re going to be filling out some kind of online form. This is simply not enough. If you find yourself filling out one of these forms, thats fine, fill it out; but know that you are now just another name in a pile of names. Continue to dig deep, find that person you need to contact and get in touch with them via phone or e-mail and sell yourself. You get one chance, make it count.

Selling Yourself
When you draft your correspondence with the company, you’re trying to sell your services to them. What are your services? This is the basis of your commitment to the company. They’re not going to sponsor you unless you have something to return to them. Whether it’s their logo on your race clothing, use of their equipment during races, advertising space on a blog or website or any variation there-in.. you must have something to give in return to them. Remember, that this company is making an investment in you by providing you with product. The return on investment for them is advertising, getting their name out there, reviews of their product, get people talking. If you don’t have some kind of way to provide this give and take, you’re sunk. Plain and simple.

Framing The Letter

  • Introduce Yourself – Who are you and why do you matter in this world? What do you do that’s exciting? What is your sport? Where do you measure up with the rest of the folks in your sport and BE HONEST.
  • Why Them? – This is where you praise their product. Why do you use their product and what does it mean to you? How does the companies structure or philanthropist interests engage you and make you want to tell everyone about them?
  • What Do You Want? – Put it out there. What kind of product are you looking for? What is it you want from the company? Are you looking for shoes? Socks? Cash? What?
  • What Do You Offer? – What are you offering them in return? Advertising Space? Product Reviews? Media Exposure?
  • Be Open to Compromise – Make sure you let the company know that none of this is in stone. You’re just opening the doors of communication in the hopes that you can come to some form of mutual agreement.
Timing Is Everything
This time of year  (May) is the worst time to contact a company for sponsorship. Keep in mind that most companies are figuring out their budget for the following year sometime in November. By January, they have their sponsorships and amount of goodwill figured out and it’s all been spent/allotted on where they intended it to go. Contacting companies between September-November is really the best time to contact the companies because they can consider you when creating the coming years budget. Regardless, be prepared to hear no for an answer and be ok with that. Be humble and thank them for your time. Don’t burn any bridges, leave the door open and who knows what the future holds.
Above all else, remember that you’re signing a contract to represent a company. Some companies hold truer to their contract then others. Before you sign anything, make sure you understand what you’re signing. Some companies will penalize you for breaking a contract with them. For instance, wear a competitors shoe as opposed to the shoes you’re sponsored by.. not only could your sponsorship now be void but you may have to reimburse them for product that they’ve all ready given you. Read the fine print! Me personally.. I tend to enjoy my freedom of speech and I do my best to keep myself in check. But sometimes.. I like to be heard. Anytime a company has asked me to silence myself.. I’ve terminated my contract. I don’t do censorship.. I do “Integrity.”

13 Responses to Getting Sponsored

  1. mkreuzer says:

    Talked with a running products company yesterday who read your article and thought it represented things well.

  2. Sherpa John says:

    I’ve been going at it a long time Mark.. and unfortunately.. more companies are saying “NO” more now then ever. Most companies are getting over 2 dozen “sponsor me” letters a day. It’s like applying for a job. Setting yourself a part is only a minor piece of the puzzle. Ultimately, you need to create a marriage overnight.. that’s no easy task.

  3. If you can’t spell Geoff Roes’s name right, not sure if u should have a website about ultra running. Also, your discouraging remarks about getting sponsored I think are false. Ultra running is growing fast. The numbers of runners getting financial assistance is more like 100, not 12. 12 may be make a LIVING off of it in the USA, there’s are lots more that get useful help from companies.

  4. SherpaJohn says:

    Chase..
    Thanks for the feedback. Next time I’ll do a little more Google Searching before I post..
    I appreciate your input as well… though, Having been in this sport for nearly a decade now and having been sponsored for all of that time… I whole heartedly disagree with you. So I ask you to please name at least 25 ultra runners who you know, FOR A FACT, that are receiving financial assistance to run ultra marathons… I really don’t think you could. 🙂

    Companies don’t allot money to give out to athletes. They have product. Jurek gets money because he’s a legitimate poster child for Brooks. Anton gets money for being poster child for New Balance. Dean gets money for being Poster Child for The North Face. Roes (sp?) gets money for being poster Child for Montrail… besides those folks.. who is REALLY getting financial assistance? I’m pretty well on the up and up based on my relationship with Karl Meltzer.. I can tell you how much money he gets and from who… it’s not much if at all in most cases and he’s the #1 one hundred mile runner of the last decade.

    But hey.. “Live Simply. Expect Little. Give Much.”

  5. Hey, you seem like a nice enough guy….think about the NB runners, Pearl runners, Patagonia runners (at least 5 of them get cash money), TNF runners, Montrail runners, Salomon runners, etc etc etc. Maybe people are hush hush with deals they get but I can assure you that cash is in the picture. I live in Bend, OR and know 4 just in my community that get $1000’s….add 4 more in Ashland, OR….25 is a small number. I wasn’t trying to be rude but your discouraging tone put me off…unless you have the facts, don’t squash people’s thoughts of opportunity.

  6. SherpaJohn says:

    Chase… thanks again for your response. My intent with this article was to be REALISTIC with the many runners who read these pages. 98% of them are not elite runners and are not of the caliber of runner to get money from any of these institutions. My writing is directed more to the mid-pack runner who has it in their head that.. any company would love to shell some cash out to them, or that it’s even possible.

    Again.. while I see your valid points.. name the people associated with those companies who are getting paid. NB = Anton, Pearl = Nick Clark??, Patagonia = Hal Koerner and AJW, TNF = Dean Karnazes and Kami Semmick, Salomon = Kilian. Do you see my point? These folks are in a league much different then my own.

    My writing is not for them.. they all ready know how to get sponsored. The article I have written here is for the average runner looking for help. A MAJOR part of being an ultra-runner is being realistic and humbling oneself. I live in Boulder, CO my friend, a city much like Bend.. they are communities FULL of amazing athletes. So yes, your numbers in these towns are going to be vastly different then in towns like… Fayetteville, AR; Manchester, NH; Portland, ME; Sarasota, FL.

    It would be like saying… “A lot of people smoke weed in Bend, OR? So therefore.. everyone in America is smoking weed like they are in Bend.” Bend is the home of many talented athletes and runners. This article isn’t about “facts” it’s about perspective. Realistic Perspective. I’m sorry you took it personally.

  7. Quinnar says:

    It’s nice to know there are athletes getting some cold hard $$$ besides the one-namers in our sport, but I love this article. This is a solid how-to on building the relationship that gets you to the point where you *can* ask companies for money.

  8. Ryan Pollard says:

    I need sponsors.

  9. Ryan Pollard says:

    I run track for south panola and I need things to help me run.

  10. Jagdish(INDIA) says:

    I think this sentence “Perhaps your moral and ethical values will tell you that you don’t want to be sponsored by a company whose products are made by a 12 year old in an India Sweat Shop” is inappropriate and offensive.

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