Firstly, this is a topic that has been covered in the past, but I would like to throw my 2 cents in to hopefully guide future generations to fantastic relationships with great companies! I’ve been some what a sponsored kayaker for around 8 years and what a fantastic opportunity that has been and still is, but there are pros and cons. So let me guide you through the process of becoming an ambassador and the ins and outs of the whole thing once you get that contract!
Good Morals, Right Reasons
So how do I choose a company that I want to be an ambassador for? Well firstly, you should already be using their products, and like them, a lot! This seems obvious, but many will contact a company with nothing more than “Your products look great, I’d love to try them for a discount”. To a company this will be a warning sign of a sponge! You will come across a lot more credible if you back up your approach with fantastic feedback on their kit you’ve been using along with some great photo’s of you having a good old time in their gear. It’s also a sign of commitment, you’ve already invested in them and their gear, you don’t just want a discount because you’ve already bought their gear! The reasons I approach a company is because I love using their gear, the ethics of the brand is good and I want to help that company be more successful.
So you’ve got their gear, you like it, you want to be involved. By asking to be an ambassador you are making a commitment to that brand. So my advice would be that if a company responds with a polite “we can’t accommodate you right now” then don’t rush straight to another brand. Image wise, this looks bad, it shows that you’re in it for the discount and you don’t care who you get it from. If after some time a company still cannot accommodate you, and you build a passion for another brand, then fantastic, move on. Keep your morals good and do it for the right reasons.
“Hey guys, can I get a free boat?”
I’ve heard some horror stories of emails companies receive asking for a sponsorship, some as blunt as the title of this section. So let's talk about how to approach a company for the best chance of success!
First off, who are we trying to make contact with? Usually you want to attract the attention of a companies marketing team. You may find this email on their website, or if not contact their general email and ask for it. Getting your email directly to the right person is the first step in someone actually reading your application!
“Application? I’m not applying for a job”. Oh but you pretty much are! You’re pretty much asking to join that companies marketing team, maybe not as a straight employee, but certainly as a face for that company, so you need to treat this like a job application. That means handing over your paddling resume, in an informative, attractive but to the point fashion!
People are busy, sponsorship emails come in aplenty, so don’t drone on and tell them what they need to know about you! Cover the basics of who you are, why you want to be involved in their company (you should know why) and what you have DONE. Done is in capitals because it is important. It is way more reassuring to a company to see what you have already achieved in paddling, and although it is important to include your future plans in your application, it is way less appealing to have a list of “Hopefully I’ll do this and this in 2021” rather than “Look what I did last year!”
So they know who you are, what you’ve done and want to do, but to write a successful application, we need to know what they want from you, as ultimately, that discount isn’t free, you need to EARN it. Read on to find out how to be a good ambassador, but also the points you would include in an application.
What can I do for you?
Possibly the most important part of your application? As I mentioned, nothing is free, you’re signing up to a part time job, so what can you do to help this company you like so much?
First off you need to be active in your sport, getting on the water, sharing photo’s and videos on social media, ensuring that that companies equipment and logos are on display. You will also need to help their social media accounts by interacting and sharing their content, boosting their audience. This can be simple liking, commenting and sharing or go the extra mile and do account takeovers and event coverage. This is the absolute minimum you can do, and it isn’t enough on its own, just a heads up..
It’s all about the product right? So make sure you push those products and provide honest feedback on what is working, but more importantly what is not working. This is one of the main resources a company has for producing better kit, team riders using the gear for real. Ensure the brand knows that you’re keen to test prototype equipment, this is obviously an awesome perk but also a really important part of product development for a brand. Tagging on to this, its always great to contribute to a brands blog with kit walk throughs, how to’s and stories of adventure in their gear!
Events and competitions are a big marketing investment for companies. They generally need to pay the organisers to set up a stand, pay employees to work that event, provide demo kit, and provide prizes for those events and competitions, this can add up to thousands. Firstly, just being at an event, showing your face and getting involved is really important to a brand, so make the effort and attend as much as you can, within reason. Help set up and man the stand, this takes pressure off staff and gives a face to the brand. Take photos and videos that they can use and compete in the events. Obviously good results are fantastic, put don’t pile pressure on, you being there and representing is a fantastic thing. This time also helps you build a relationship with your chosen brand and the people that work there which is invaluable.
Be Well Rounded, it’s not all about Hucking the Gnar..
What does well rounded in a sporting context mean? Well there’s lots of disciplines in water sports, there’s also lots of different target markets for brands to appeal to. Essentially the more target markets you’re visible to, the more appealing and helpful you are to that brand. To put it simply, if you’re a local kid that’s kayaked some grade 4 (although a fantastic personal achievement), that’s a very narrow target market for a companies marketing team to use.
I’ll use myself as an example, as I’ve always considered myself a well rounded ambassador. I partake in multiple disciplines of kayaking such as Freestyle, White water and Racing. I’m also an instructor for kayaking, canoeing, SUP and rafting. I also teach emergency services swift water rescue courses, and finally I’m lucky to be a father so I can relate to a brands more family or youth specific products. The more target audiences you can hit, the bigger a brands audience will be.
Being out there, doing what you love, is great exposure. People see your gear in action, hopefully you’re making that gear look good (I do my best, doesn’t always work out), and you can build a great rapport with your sports community.
Being a coach is fantastic to a brand no matter what level you are coaching. New comers to a sport are taking everything in, including what gear you’re using. I’ve seen someone 6 months after a course I taught pretty much wearing identical kit to me, boat included. It’s logical to be drawn to what kit a professional is using, as usually we know what we are talking about, usually..
This can all be hard work, and this should definitely be a give and take relationship, so what can we expect in return?
Free is very rare and usually has to be earned overtime depending on the brand. In terms of an application I would never ask for free kit, that’s a sure way to your email going in the bin. But we are negotiating a deal, and a discount on gear is perfectly reasonable! Try not to put a number on this though, leave it as an open number and see what the brand responds with. They may give you a % you are stoked on, they might be willing to negotiate, or they might not offer anything close to what you would want. Whatever the outcome, don’t start throwing big numbers at them and scaring them off from the get go.
Every brand is different, so ask the question of what YOU can get out of being an ambassador for them. Some may offer travel expenses, event entry, prototype testing, credit on gear for extra work etc. Like any job, if you feel you’re working extra hard and want a pay rise then there should be negotiation for that, of course baring in mind a brands marketing budget is often not large.
Lets End This Thing
Who doesn’t like a good discount!? But don’t make that be the sole reason for wanting to be a sponsored paddler, as you will miss the point.
It’s an opportunity to be involved in your sport at a higher level, to meet and work with the people that make your gear that allows you to have so much fun on the water. It opens up new opportunities and allows you to have some input into the gear that you want to use. You’re a part of the sports progression!
But it can also be hard work, I’ve certainly had times where writing an article or editing a video was the last thing I wanted to do after a day at work. Life gets busy, so make sure you’re willing to put the effort in to make it work before asking the big question.
“Will you sponsor me?”