With just nine months to save for our trip, Dave and I quickly realized that if we wanted to travel longterm, we would need to figure out a method of acquiring our gear at discount or for free. My days of working in events and for non-profit organizations meant that the daunting task of asking for free goods from established outdoor gear and bike apparel companies fell to me.
We’ve had pretty high success using the following method. We don’t always receive free gear, but I have yet to be turned down for a pro deal. My motto is that if you don’t ask, the answer is always no, so we may as well try.
And speaking of sponsorship, we can finally announce that we were one of four contestants to win the Live Your Kurgo Adventure Contest! We are so excited to work with a brand that believes that taking your dog along makes adventures even better.
Create a List
Though Dave and I camp and cycle regularly, we often borrowed gear from friends or made do with what we had on hand. We try not to purchase more than what we need. We knew that we would need to obtain our own gear and began by creating a list of the gear we’d need for our trip.
We try to buy local when possible and decided to reach out primarily to companies based in the Pacific Northwest. Luckily, Portland and the Pacific Northwest is a mecca for outdoor gear and apparel, so we had plenty of options.
The benefit with going local is that you’re not only supporting your hometown economy, but it’s often easier to receive sponsorship with these smaller companies looking to grow their exposure.
For those items we couldn’t find locally or already loved and believed in, we simply reached out to them and explained our story with the brand and our reason for wanting to incorporate them into our journey.
Build Your Brand
Dave was a web developer in a past life and so was able to make us a high-quality website. When we first began to reach out to companies for sponsorships, we had very little content on the site, however we ensured we told a compelling story, filled our about us page, and posted a few blog posts to give us credibility.
Find the Right Contact
This, of course is the most important step. It’s unnerving to cold email or call someone and ask them to give you something for free. Why would they want to sponsor us? They have no clue who we are and in the beginning, our followers include our parents and a handful of friends.
Start by asking your network and checking for connections on LinkedIn. If your network turns up dry, search by company on either LinkedIn, the company website, or Google and look for anyone with a marketing title.
Using quotations in Google will help define the search and pull up better results. Press releases also often provide a good contact at the company.
I have found some success in securing hard-to-find emails f using this email permutator, the Rapportive plug in, and your Gmail account. Basically, you use the permutator to create several possibilities for an email address. Then you copy and paste those into a new mail message in your Gmail account and run your cursor over each one. You know when you have found the correct email address when Rapportive displays their photo and work background to the right of the screen. It doesn’t work for all emails, but it does work for many. You can find a detailed explanation of how to do this from Rob at Distilled.
Craft your Message
Nail your elevator pitch. I begin each email with the same introduction and summary of our trip. Next, make your ask. Depending on the company, the number of items I’m requesting, and connection I have with them, I will either list specific items or leave my request broad.
I then go on to tell them how I plan to use their products on our trip and how they will make my life infinitely easier or more comfortable. If I am a longtime customer with the brand, I include a short anecdote about my personal story with their product and let them know I believe in their mission and trust the company. This shows them you’re already an ambassador.
From there, give them a reason to sponsor you. How much more exposure will their product gain by your worldly travels? Do you already have hundreds or thousands of followers on social media? Are you utilizing their products for a market they have not yet tapped?
Mary Hall from Lucille and Found had success by simply using the word “collaborate” and ending with “I hope you’ll join us on our fun!” She believes that including the company in your journey and seeking to work together, rather than simply asking for free things helped her and her partner score sponsorships for their own travels.
Make an Offer
Once you’ve professed your love for and wooed a company with your story, let them know how you will help them.
If you have a blog, offer to write a review on your site.
If they have a blog, offer to write a post on how you use a particular product.
If you have social media accounts, let them know you’ll tag them and tell them they are welcome to repost your images.
Don’t be Ignored!
If I haven’t heard back from someone in a week, I send a follow up email. I do the same the week after that, and the week after that. If I have yet to hear back from someone, I try to find an alternative email or contact.
I don’t give up easily. I find a weekly email continues to let them know I’m interested in talking with them and keeps my name at the top of their inbox without being invasive or annoying.
If you receive a “sorry, we can’t sponsor anyone at this time,” ask for a pro deal instead. I’ve found that companies are often more willing to sell discounted items than provide sponsorship.
Get a Dog
Sora was the most successful being in our quest for sponsorship. She’s cute and furry and hard to resist.
In reality, illustrate how your trip is unique from what everyone else is doing. People bike tour all the time, but most people don’t bike tour with their dog, let alone take their dog abroad to join them on their tour.
As I mentioned above, these tips include what worked for our particular journey and may or may not work for you. My advice is don’t be afraid to ask and keep following up until you receive an answer. Good luck!