So you consider yourself a bit of a gun. You’re already throwing stalled one-handed double forwards, or punishing the top guy in your National fleet using only the stock Drake fin. Ready to throw the conventional 9-5 job in the garbage bin and live the windsurfing rockstar dream? It may be a lot harder than you think, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here are some ideas on how to get started building a name for yourself in the sport, building a profile on things other than just your results and some ideas on how to approach sponsors whether they are windsurfing related or not.
A lot of the below ideas are taken from a recent speech I made to youth sailors (mainly dinghy sailing classes) at an Inspiration Evening in Brisbane. Spending some time after the talk sitting around with the youth sailors and answering their questions, it came to my attention that there is no decent information out on the internet about how to approach sponsors or even just some basic ideas on how to make a name for yourself in the sport. Not everyone can be a World Champion and infact, a lot of the current World Champions have a lot to learn about marketing, promotion and even just updating their websites more than once a year…
Readily Available Information (a website?)
Getting sponsors isn’t easy and it almost becomes a full-time job in itself. There isn’t a sure fire way to attract sponsors but I have had most of my successes from from just networking with people. Making sure that whenever you are out and about; at a bar, at a party or function where there is a lot of people, you are always meeting and talking to people and getting an idea if sailing is something that interests them and if they have a company that is spending money on marketing and advertising.
The important step here, is to make sure you have a ready set of information about yourself that you can easily show to people and give them a visual about who you are and what you do. The best example of this is a personal website. You will notice that most of the top sailors around the world have personal websites. They don’t have to be super fancy, just make sure they have some basic information about you, some photos and even some news if you are competing/travelling on a regular basis. That visual persona of you on the internet is very important. When you find someone you might think could be a potential sponsor, you can say to them: “hey, checkout my website and I’ll give you a call about it in a few days”. You don’t want to bombard people with information on the day you meet them, so you give them a few days to check it out and most likely, if they’re at work when you call them, they’re sitting in front of the computer looking at your website whilst you are talking to them. Then you can say, “here’s this great marketing opportunity for you – sponsoring a sailor and blah blah blah…”. People do react very well to visual stimuli.
That being said, not everyone is going to be a famous webdesigner, or have the budget to get someone famous to build your new website. Don’t be put off by using some of the many exciting free and popular social networking websites out there like MySpace, Facebook, Virb etc. They’re just websites too and the layout isn’t too important, it is just important to have some good photos of yourself and your sailing as well as some background information so that people can get an idea of what you are about very quickly and easily.
Finding Potential Sponsors
The standard response of people asked to talk about how to find sponsors is to ring up the head office of a company, flirt a little with the hot girl at reception and get the marketing guy’s name and number, then ring him and try your luck. I’m sure that’s great in theory, but has anyone actually had any luck with this idea? I certainly haven’t (and for the record there’s just as many guys working in reception as there is girls in Australia). My personal strategy has been just to try people in the networks I know personally. Not everyone exists in great social networks and I realise this strategy takes a lot of time to pulloff, but I think the face-to-face approach and familiarity of the people you are targeting has far greater results than your phone-game skills. As mentioned above, the secret to this approach is putting yourself out there when you are out and about and always taking the time to talk to everyone, get a business card and follow-up by ringing the people later down the track. Its the same as business networking in any job (in fact, a lot of companies put on functions and parties for this exact reason). When you next go to a bar to pickup a girl, spend a few minutes talking to the guy she’s standing next to, he might have just started a new sports company in your area and is looking for a ‘face’ for his marketing campaign.
Some other things to consider, down the track, is to make some print media about yourself and your windsurfing campaign plans. This is a great visual tool if you are talking to someone you think could be interested in sponsoring you, especially if they are interested in putting their logo on your sail – you can show them exactly how big your sail is and the opportunities they have for branding. This is also another opportunity to promote yourself as something more than just a windsurfer (if that’s what you want to portray yourself as). Sometimes, its not possible to win every single title you compete in, so why not make a name for yourself as someone who has marketing potential outside of the sport – maybe you can be a brand ambassador for a company, run clinics for corporate clients or even just be a friendly face on the beach who can sell that brand idea to others. Don’t limit yourself.
To give you an example, here is a printed brochure I had previously made for myself which my manager used to get the attention of sponsors before we set up any meetings. Notice how I haven’t gone to a lot of trouble to plug my results/achievements and how great I might think I am at windsurfing. The particular companies I was trying to attract have no interest in windsurfing; they had an interest in people with positive lifestyles, healthy living habits/ideals and who are generally active in sport. The brochure highlights my lifestyle more than just windsurfing. See what you think…
- Print Media Sample – AUS120 (*.pdf format)
Making A Name For Yourself
It can be said that it’s a lot easier to get sponsors if you have already achieved great things. I’m sure Antoine Albeau has no trouble finding sponsors. Hmmmm, great. Realistically you probably won’t get to Antoine’s level without some sponsors to help with the cost of training, equipment, entry fees and travelling costs; so what can you do in the meantime? Make a name for yourself outside of just your results or just make your voice heard in your sailing world and even on the international level.
Think about your attributes as a person (not windsurfing). Maybe you are interested in the sport outside of just the sailing? I certainly am. I haven’t won any international titles yet but I believed that I could write a few good stories here and there and saw a gap in the market of Pro Sailors not writing any reports at the events they competed in. I made a travel diary on my website and began writing stories of my travels around the world as well as daily reports from the events I competed in. At the 2007 ISAF World Championships in Portugal I wrote a daily report from the RS:X Class event which attracted over 100,000 visitors per day to my website. I basically came LAST at that event so I don’t consider myself any good at RS:X sailing whatsoever! That didn’t matter, I had made a name for myself by writing a good story about the event.
That idea really works. Write something. If you are good at it. If you are not, think of something else you are good at. Maybe you are great at public speaking, selling ideas to people, tuning windsurfing kit, designing windsurfing kit; everything you are good at is something that can be exploited.
Remember, everything you do in the public scope is potentially affecting your name in the sport, so tighten a few things up in your act. Write emails with correct grammer (don’t use sms’lingo when you are talking to sponsors), speak politely and confidently in meetings with people/sponsors etc and don’t rock up to a function in an old Metallica t-shirt and flip-flops if you are trying to find new sponsors.
These are just a small group of ideas that I have used to find my current sponsors. An entire book could be written on this topic alone I am sure, but so far nobody has got around to it and the best research I have found is a few random forum posts where people who aren’t sponsored themselves write a small diatribe about what sponsors are looking for etc etc that usually isn’t very relevant. Everyone will have a different approach that works for them, but in the meantime I’d love it if people could share their ideas by posting a comment below. Windsurfing as a sport benefits from sponsors as it helps promote the sport to a wider audience, keeps people sailing who would otherwise quit to get a higher paid job and allows more sailors to travel to international events and keep the momentum of the sport growing.
I hope you enjoyed this article. I will endeavour to write a “Part II” somewhere down the track as there are a few more ideas I have on the topic but they are more targeted at people who already have sponsors and want to take those sponsors to the next level…
A Working Example
In the meantime, to give you a fantastic example of what I have just talked about, have a look at the personal website of Jesper Vesterstrom (DEN-111); a formula sailor from Denmark. Jesper is one of the top formula racers in the world, however he hasn’t won a world title as yet. That being said, Jesper strikes me as a more marketable entity than even Antoine Albeau (who has won and probably will continue to win every windsurfing world title for the next 10 years). Pay close attention to the Team Building and Youth Projects areas of Jesper’s website. See how he is thinking outside of the box and giving sponsors an opportunity to work with him on interesting projects that are outside of just winning titles. His Living The Dream concept is an intelligent example of selling yourself as something more than just a title winner. Jesper is saying, come and sponsor me to live my dream in windsurfing around the planet and the lifestyle that goes with it. As a result, he has attracted strong sponsorship from companies who you wouldn’t normally associate with windsurfing and has most likely secured their support without the need of winning a world title – taking the pressure off him to try and win one. People like that usually end up winning one for that reason!