You have a dream. We all do. You’ve watched movies and read books about famous explorers. You’ve seen inspiring expeditions make headlines around the world. What makes all those adventurists any different from you? For starters, they acted on their crazy dreams. And maybe they had sponsors too…
Whether you want to climb a mountain for a cause, hitch-hike across a continent, ski off the Seven Summits, kayak across an ocean, or volunteer in every country, you’ll likely find yourself wondering at some point, “could I get sponsored for this?” That’s a worthwhile question to ask. Expeditions take a lot of time, effort, and commitment to plan and pull off. Depending on your idea of adventure, they can take a whole lot of money too, and then a whole lot of work after the fact if you hope to get any press for your efforts.
Getting sponsors behind your dream is a great thing. It not only validates your expedition in the eyes of news outlets and the media, industry publications, and your target audience, but sponsors can also help your project by providing gear or money in return for promotion. But how do you go about reaching them? How do you convince them that you and your idea are worth it?
I found myself asking this question 3 years ago and I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I did it since. So here it is. This is how I got 12 of the biggest brands in the outdoor industry behind my dream adventure project and first ever documentary film as a no-name college grad adventurist.
Step 1: The Plan
What do you want to do? For me at the time, it looked like this. Climb two of the Seven Summits – Mt. Aconcagua in South America and Denali in North America. Travel from one to the other – roughly 12,000 miles. Volunteer in every passing country along the way. Simple right? Who would expect any hiccups putting this trip together…
Step 2: The Process
For almost 2 years, my friends and I spent an unbelievable amount of (unpaid) time trying to bring this dream to life, and in order to have a chance at getting any sponsors behind our project, we knew we had to have the t’s crossed and the i’s dotted. We would have one shot at the pitch and didn’t want to rush it and bring an idea to a sponsor’s table that wasn’t fully baked.
We broke our plan into actionable tasks to divide and conquer. What was our rough timeline looking like? What countries would we be in at what point along the journey? What kinds of organizations did we hope to work with? What kind of shot did we have at climbing these peaks and what did the training schedule look like? What kind of film experience did any of us have?
These are the questions we knew sponsors would want answered. If they are going to put their brand behind your expedition, whether from donating gear, goods, or money, they need reassurance that the idea has a shot at success.
It looked like we would be able to spend a week in each country we passed while traveling north up the Pan-American, and then we built in travel days to get from one to the other. We would leave for Chile just after New Years 2013, allow 3-5 days in Santiago to figure out how to buy a vehicle, get to Aconcagua and spend potentially 3 weeks climbing, then head on to volunteer after that. There it was – a general timeline, which I created a Google calendar for to visualize better.
With the plan of where we would be when, it was time to find the volunteer organizations. Each of us took a few countries to research, aiming to find small organizations that would provide a diverse set of volunteer opportunities. We wanted a mix of working with animals, people, and the environment. This was harder than you might imagine. There are a ton of places in South and Central America that you can volunteer…for upwards of a $1,000 for the week. Who knew working for free would be so hard to do? After some time digging through travel forums and the caverns of Google search pages, we had a decent list of prospect organizations and sent a whole crap-ton of emails. Within a little over a month, we had solid correspondence going and had set our volunteer stops!
Candidly, most organizations were shocked when we showed up nearly a year later. Apparently no one sets their date a year out and stumbles onto the grounds dirty, bearded, and ready to work like they said they would!
Our timeline and partner organizations were set. It was time to get press. To start, we created a Google doc with the names of all the big and small outdoor industry publications we could think of, as well as local and national news media. Local papers, bloggers, schools, magazines, you name it. Then we broke up the list and all set out to research a chunk, hoping to find contact emails, submission links, or phone numbers for these and we catalogued the ones we found.
We did this same thing listing out companies we thought may be interested in our adventure and that we hoped to work with. We needed a high-altitude mountaineering tent. Let’s list out 10 tent makers and contact all of them. And so it went down the list of gear and goods we needed to make Between The Peaks successful.
The trick here for the big brands isn’t just shooting a message through their contact page, it’s doing the research to find out which agencies are handling their PR and promotional marketing plans, and going through them first. It took a while, but we were able to find a pretty good amount of marketing reps and sponsorship managers to contact at most of the companies on our list.
We were locked, loaded, and ready.
Step 3: The Gamble
With the list of contacts as ammo and our target launch date getting closer, we hit as many send buttons as possible. The first wave of contacts was to drum up media attention, and we ended up getting some decent coverage in papers around the country. The second push, with some press in the bag, was finally to sponsors. There were countless emails, phone calls, and Ryan and I even headed out to Boulder, CO to knock on some doors and drop off promo flyers and press kits. We were determined and relentless.
Those press kits pitched the idea and contained links to where Between The Peaks had already picked up media attention to show credibility. They explained who we were, what we each brought to the table with various climbing and filming expertise, and most importantly, what we were asking for.
Don’t be ambiguous with your proposal! Ask for something specific. It could be backpacks, camera gear, or money, just let them know what you need and why aligning with your project is a smart marketing move for them.
We built out different sponsorship levels as options in our proposals. This is straight out of an email to one of our sponsors back in 2012:
Step 4: The Payoff
Nothing is guaranteed. Some of it comes down to your networking chops, some of it is how persistent you are, and some of it is pure luck. But if you’ve spent enough time in the planning phase to really present a well thought out marketable idea, you’ve definitely stacked the odds in your favor!
This is how well it worked out for Between The Peaks in the end:
It’s not easy, but if you’re looking to get sponsors for your dream expedition, don’t sell yourself short thinking you can’t aim high. Let your idea be bigger than you and go for the big sponsors, because why the hell not!? Be confident, be passionate, be blindly optimistic, and believe. If you’re your own first skeptic, don’t expect anyone to line up behind you for the jump.
Good luck and let me know if I can help you out! You may have some more questions about the nitty gritty of getting an adventure planned and sponsored, and I’m happy to share what I know to help you achieve your goals. Comment below or get in touch!
If you found the tips in this article helpful, the Skype interview below goes a bit deeper into the Between The Peaks expedition. Check it out!