14 October 2008
Another email I get a lot from climbers is one asking “how can I go about getting some sponsorship?” or asking what grade do you have to climb to get sponsored. This is another subject I think it’s important to write about on this blog, because for lots of young climbers it’s a really bad distraction and will influence them to make choices that will ultimately limit their climbing, not empower it.
So, how do you get sponsored? Well the first thing I should say is I am probably not the best person to ask. I am much better at climbing than getting huge sponsorship deals (I like it that way round), but maybe it’s good to point that out - it’s a skill in itself, completely separate from how hard you climb.
On the whole, how much sponsorship you can get has only a little to do with how hard you climb, and the climbing part can be answered in a couple of sentences:
If you want to be a professional climber, take whatever the current cutting edge is in the niche you want to operate in, and better it, convincingly. And understand that you have to do that first, before the sponsorship comes. I know it would help if it was the other way round, but it’s not going to be, so it’s better to accept that from the start.
Right, thats the easy part out of the way, now the hard part. No matter where you are at with your climbing, the challenge to actually turning that into a relationship with a company is your ability to role play the cash strapped marketing manager. This is where most climbers go wrong. This is what you have to imagine:
You are the marketing manager of the company you want to get the deal with, your marketing budget for the year was pretty damn small to start with, and you’ve spent most of it already and allocated the rest twice over already. A glossy pamphlet with a highly professional looking and reading cover letter comes in, among many other bits of mail in a big pile you have to read. It’s a request to be considered for the sponsored athlete team of the company. You’ve got 20 emails to write before your meeting in half an hour, so this request has about 30 seconds to sound good enough to make the headache of redoing all your budget sums for the rest of the year a good idea. (first hint: why should you be sponsored in a couple of sentences, or better still a couple of unmistakeable images?).
If you think your marketing manager might not already know who you are and lots of things about you, wait until they will have. So you have to be able to remind them instantly in words or images why you are exactly what their marketing tactics need to sell more of whatever it is they sell. Did that one pass you by? It does for many young climbers. That last point was where most go wrong. They think that the sponsorship is reward for climbing hard. It’s not. Its about your sponsor being able to sell more product.
So however you go about getting the sponsorship (and there are many ways), remember it is a task of saying “this is how I can help you connect with your customers”, and not “this is how hard I climb”.
How can you help a company present a stronger image, carry a message to more people, through more and better channels and how can you make these ideas sound better than whatever the company are doing right now. Make sure you know these answers inside out, with numbers, and images to back you up, before you approach.
Another good approach is not to approach at all. One of the big problems with getting sponsorship is budget cycles. Whenever you approach, it’s sods law the budget has already been spent. Sometimes, it can be better just to keep focusing on building yourself into such a valuable target for companies (hint: once again, climbing is probably the least of this) that it’s inevitable at least one marketing manager will recognise that your 20,000 blog readers per month are a far more valuable asset to get closer to than trying to make traditional ads that anyone will notice.
I’m sure I’ve given a fairly clear perspective on how to approach this, but one final point; the most important one. Whatever you do, don’t rely on the hope you’ll ever pay your bills with sponsorship. You won’t. After several years of trying I got on much better when I realised that looking outside of sponsorship for different types of income compatible with a climbing life was a much better strategy. For me it was writing, lecturing, coaching, labouring, internet retailing and, yes, some sponsorship too.
With trying to be a sponsored athlete you are entering the world of advertising, and successful advertising means being ahead of the curve. If you have to ask others what they are doing right now, you are behind the curve. To be ahead of the curve you’ll need to anticipate what will make marketing managers sit up and rub their eyes next year.
Anyone for a marketing degree? Followed by a multimedia masters? Could be a better idea than a gap year ‘to concentrate on your climbing’. I had two gap years, it didn’t concentrate my climbing as much as I’d have liked, but being broke did concentrate the mind.