The key to any good marketing campaign or well established brand is the ability to understand and know your audience. For an athlete of any skill level looking for sponsorship it is important to realize that you are the brand, and in your quest for sponsorship, the businesses you target are your audience. So ultimately, to earn that golden ticket of sports sponsorship, you need to have a strong appreciation for what drives the decision making process for businesses allocating marketing/sponsor dollars.
There are several key factors that advertisers and marketing managers use to determine whether an athlete(s) is/are a good fit for sponsorship. Here's a quick overview of them;
Communications objectives and fit- All businesses should have a specific objective for how marketing and communications dollars are spent (or they should anyways). These objectives may be as simple as establishing their presence in the community and building brand recognition, or more commonly trying to actively to drive sales. Its key that you give some thought to what their objective(s) may be and how you can appeal to that. Example; A new health food store opens up in your town, building a relationship with them may make sense for both parties. In exchange for logo placement on your jersey they may be able to provide you with nutrition, vitamins, supplements, etc.
Who is Your Target Market's Target Market?- Lets face it Viagra isn't going to sponsor you if you're a fertile young man in his 20's (or female for that matter). This is another thing you have to think about when you choose who you're going to approach for sponsorship, do you and your audience's target market have a natural fit? In the Viagra example perhaps not, but if a marketer recognizes that you're age group happens to be their exact target demographic, then thats one more point in the pros column for you. This is a no brainer if you look at any pro-triathlete's race kit, but sometimes at the local level you might have to look at other ways your brand appeal can work with a sponsor's, and matching demographics are one important way.
Personality- There are good personalities that you want to be spokespeople for your brand, and there are not so good personalities that have been spokespeople for brands. It goes without saying that a socially active individual in their community presents more opportunity for exposure than a recluse who doesn't know what Facebook is. So its important to have a sincere, positive, and high level of interaction with those in your real world and online community. Essentially, the way sponsors see it, the more people who like you, the more people who may have a receptive response towards their brand.
On the flip side of that coin, is how important it is to realize that the more exposure you and your brand develop, the more important it is that you reflect positively on your sponsors. The only reason Nike didn't dump Tiger Woods when he failed to keep it in his pants was because they had invested far too much in building his brand to simply write him off. Sure you won't ever be subject to the level of public scrutiny as Tiger is, but in a world where social media can make everyone a star in their own little corner, you have to be careful with how you represent yourself and your sponsors.
Your Track Record and Your Story- You don't have to win every race to get brand sponsorship, but results help. Consistent podiums even within your age group should start to turn some heads and will get you noticed even when the sponsorship application consists of an online form through a medium such as Promotive.com . But if you're a team of like minded individuals getting into the sport, or an age grouper with a story to tell, or just a dedicated and hard working triathlete, that counts for something too. The Team in Training athletes rarely win races (sorry guys), but they've got Nike, Powerbar, and Runner's Mag as some of their top sponsors. What is key here is that something sets you aside, it can be race results, it can be a story of overcoming individual adversity, or it can be the fact that you've motivated 50 people in your community to race their first tri, but its got to be something and its got to be good.
Return on Investment- What you ask a sponsor to invest is going to have a lot of weight on whether or not you're going to receive a sponsorship. If you go ask your local bike shop for $10 000 cash to fund your travel expenses to the Abu Dabi tri as an AGer, they'll tell you to get lost because its $10 000 invested that won't turn into a single sale. CycleOps provides introductory levels of sponsorship through discounts on merchandise, which works for them because they forgo a little margin on product in return for guaranteed sales, and marketable individuals using their brand.
What works best is that you find opportunities for sponsors to help you through in-kind contributions. For instance, all triathletes need nutrition, shoes, clothes, bikes, hotel rooms, travel to races, etc, and these are all things that sponsors are more forthcoming with than cash outright. On the other hand if its cash that you need for coaching, etc, build a relationship with your local businesses and eventually present them with your sponsorship proposal with differing levels of commitment, and they may be willing to work with you on that basis.
Think about these key things before you approach sponsors, and with them in mind cater your proposal and approach to your target audience. Do that, and you'll be well on your way to standing out from the masses.
Stay tuned for my next blog in the series on Branding, Sponsorship, and Sports.