There is no winning formula for getting sponsorship. Many people have theories based on their own experience. Here are mine.
1. Above all else, remember that sponsorship is a two-way street. You have to give as well as receive – in terms of publicity, exclusive photos of you using their product, motivational speeches to their workforce, links to their website from yours, logos on your boat, and anything else you can think of. Too many potential sponsors have been deterred by bad experiences with previous sponsor-ees who have been all take and no give. Make sure you deliver value, and don’t spoil it for the next sponsorship-seeker who comes along. And remember your manners – make sure you say thank you.
2. Follow the network. Make a list of everybody you know, and ask them to think who they know who might be able to help. Follow every line of enquiry until it either produces something or reaches a dead end. A warm contact is worth a thousand cold calls.
3. Donations of product are a LOT easier to get than cash, and can really help reduce the cost of the venture.
4. Go to manufacturers, not retailers, for the biggest discounts. You have a good chance of getting stuff totally free, in exchange for a listing and link on your website.
5. A few donations of product at least give you some logos to put on your website, which in turn give you credibility. Sponsors are reluctant to be first to the party.
6. Trade shows, boat shows, and outdoor shows are happy hunting grounds – great for networking with sponsors when they are in a relaxed and generous mood – especially if you track them down to the Guinness tent. Go to the shows, have fun, schmooze for all you’re worth, and pray that something comes of it.
7. Lots of small donations from private individuals seem to be easier than chasing corporate cash. Provide an incentive, like putting their name on your boat or on your website, to give them a sense of being appreciated, recognized and “owning” a small stake in your project. Or invite them to sponsor a mile - I mostly crowdfunded my Indian Ocean voyage by doing this.
8. If you do go for corporate sponsorship, offer to do a motivational presentation about your row when you get back. Quite a number of companies seem to like this.
9. Produce a professional-looking sponsorship proposal, giving an executive overview of who you are, what you intend to do, what your message is, how you plan to publicise your project (and hence gain exposure for your sponsors), what it will cost, and above all, what is in it for them. Keep it brief and to the point – assume that everybody is too busy to spend ages reading every last detail. Hook them, and if they are interested they can always ask for more information.
10. Find out who you should address the proposal to. And if you can get past their executive assistant, give them a call as well. It is a lot easier to convey your enthusiasm in a phone conversation – or better still, a face-to-face meeting – than in an email. This is no time to be shy! Remind yourself how much you really want this.
11. Don’t give up. It may feel like you’re getting nowhere for months on end, and then you can have a blinding week when everything suddenly comes good - and it will probably come from a different direction than you expected.
12. Don’t take it personally when you get the setbacks. They are inevitable. With enough determination and commitment, you CAN make it happen.