by Mark Henderson
THE QUEST FOR SPONSORSHIP
People often ask me a couple of questions. The first: “How do you get so many sponsors?” The second: “How can I get sponsored?”
You’ve heard the old saying, “You can’t take ‘No’ for an answer.” Well, when seeking an opportunity to represent a company as a pro-staff member, that old saying just doesn’t apply. There are times you must take “no” as the answer. More often than not, companies aren’t prepared for your request, thus making it uncomfortable for them to respond… positively or negatively.
I’ve always believed that taking “No” as an answer and accepting “No” as the answer are two completely different thought processes. Taking it as the answer always felt to me like I was giving up on myself and the company I was seeking to represent. Accepting “No” as their answer simply meant to me that they weren’t quite ready to become involved with my family/team or me, and that maybe I hadn’t done a good enough job explaining what we were capable of providing them. It may be that particular company’s answer, but it certainly doesn’t have to be the answer for your sponsorship quest.
Splitting hairs? Maybe, but it’s the way I have always proceeded with my quests for sponsorship. Requesting sponsorship is hard on its own; getting prepared to request it is even harder.
So, what is the first step in getting sponsored? Start by making yourself known, available, and viable to the industry. My first suggestion is to join an association, such as the Southern Kingfish Association (SKA), the tournament/tour governing body of the type of fishing Liquid Fire does. Make yourself known to the association and its employees by introducing yourself and team to them at tournament outings. Make sure that you and your entire team appear and participate in the captain’s meetings.
Attend your local fishing schools, such as The Fisherman’s Post events held in Wilmington and Morehead City, NC, during February. Your attendance at these schools will not only help your fishing knowledge, it will also make you familiar to those in the industry. Networking through name and face recognition is extremely important when seeking a sponsor. The more familiar you are to someone, the more they trust and believe in you.
These events feature numerous “high-profile” people in the industry. Generally, a captain’s and potential sponsor’s “guard” is let down during these events. They are prepared to communicate, and it’s often okay to make a quick contact. That’s right, I said “quick.” This gets back to being prepared.
While they are mostly willing to chat, they also have a lot of people to speak with during a very short period of time. You will generally have only a few minutes to capture their undivided attention. There are often a couple hundred people at these events trying to garner the attention of the person you are speaking with…maybe not for sponsorship requests, but maybe wanting to get some fishing advice, etc.
Make the most of those brief minutes. A quick introductory handshake, business card presentation, and polished resume, all while looking professional in your team hat and jersey, go a long way. Capture their attention. Beginning a relationship in a matter of seconds is critical. Remember, everyone wants a piece of the potential sponsor. Courtesy and respect for their time is critical, but you have to make a lasting impression in the first few seconds, and develop some substance in the few minutes of their undivided attention.
Additionally, ask for their business card and if you may contact them. If the answer is “yes,” then you have gained their attention enough and earned the right to begin your quest for their sponsorship. Most of the time, a contact through email is the preferred manner of communication. If they give you a cell phone number, it is a privilege!
Contact them from 48-96 hours after your initial meeting. This time-frame allows them time to recuperate from the event or show. If you were able to develop the relationship in that initial meeting, it is still fresh enough in their mind to read your email or take your call.
Remember, sponsorship isn’t free…be prepared to invest a sizeable amount of money into team shirts, cards, hats, etc. This type of showing is impressive to those who are connected in the industry. Looking professional correlates to potential sponsors as, being professional. Anyone considering sponsoring your team wants to be represented professionally.
Finally, don’t focus on fishing industry companies. They get bombarded with requests. Some of your most successful sponsorship requests can come from local businesses. Be sure to learn something about their business. It’s critical to be educated on the company you seek assistance from.
Coverage of an entry fee by a business, or discounts on items that you will use during your fishing adventures, is by all means important sponsorship. If someone or a business decides to assist with any portion of your request, make them feel like they helped you hit the lottery! Whatever they are able to provide is extremely important to them. They are taking a risk on you and your team. Remember, someone has to pay for your request…it’s them. They are either giving you money, or not making money in lieu of getting your support to represent them.
Tournament success certainly helps. However, it isn’t easy. Tournament success generally requires commitment and a tremendous desire to compete. Winning the SKA Angler of the Year title in 2008 certainly opened some opportunities for our Liquid Fire Fishing Team. While I still don’t think tournament success is critical in getting sponsored, it doesn’t hurt to be able to share success in the field in which you look to represent a potential sponsor.
Good luck in your sponsor quest. Stay tuned for part two: “When Sponsorship Becomes Partnership.”
Mark Henderson is the captain of the Cape Carteret, NC-based Liquid Fire Fishing Team sponsored by: Intreptid Powerboats, Yamaha Outboards, Cannon Downriggers, Accurate Fishing Products, AmeraTrail Custom Trailers, Simrad, Best Buy Marine, Optima Batteries, Yo-Zuri, Ocean-Tamer Bean Bags, Sportsman’s Toy Store, Crystal Coast Graphics, SPRO/Gamakatsu, Pro Chips, Columbia Sportswear, Costa Del Mar, Lee’s Livebait and Stevenson Automotive Group.