Friday, December 31, 2010

Sponsorships 2.0 - Tips for the Young Professional Rider

So you followed our advice in our “Sponsorships 101 - Tips for the Upcoming Rider" blog post and you’ve successfully secured your first corporate sponsorships… wohoo! Now what?

First, you have to realize you’re not in Kansas anymore. It is essential to understand that a sponsorship agreement is a business contract with obligations on both sides. Here is our advice to build a successful sponsorship relationship.

1. Have a contract or clear agreement

The equestrian market operates somewhat casually, but to avoid any misunderstandings, both parties should work out in advance what the sponsorship entails. You should get the terms in writing, preferably in a formal contract or at least an email.

The contract should cover 3 aspects:
  • What are you going to give me?
Sponsors generally give product/services (or a discount if it’s a high ticket item) to the sponsored rider. It could vary along the way but some value should be stated on the contract. For example, the contract could say “we will supply X, Y, Z for your X number of horses.”

It goes without saying that once you have a corporate sponsor, you should use their products in public at all times. For example, if you have a clothing sponsor, you should only wear their clothes – so if they are only giving you 3 outfits and you really would need 5, instead of wearing something else, check if you can get a discount on the extra 2. You need to be proactive and think of these things before you sign on the dotted line.
  • What am I required to do?
You are probably going “yippee! I’m getting free stuff!” but a sponsorship means that you have obligations and you should know what you are expected to do. The terms will vary depending on the company but on the contract, you may find specific requirements, like displaying the company’s logo on your website, a banner at horse shows…etc.

The company will probably want to use your image. Not all riders do, but if you want to have control of your image, you can ask for the right to have final approval on photos. If you do, make sure to promptly respond to emails as the marketing world operates on very tight deadlines.
  • Time frame
The great majority of sponsorships work out well for both parties, but a contract should state the length of the agreement and how to terminate it.

2. Understand the "unwritten rules of your sponsorship contract"

These might not be explicitly written in a contract but  you should understand them in order to navigate in peaceful sponsorship waters.
  • You are now an ambassador for a brand.
The equestrian market is relatively small compared to other sports and one athlete is unlikely to affect sales in a million-dollar way. Nonetheless, once you have corporate logos on your trailer, you should be mindful of your conduct and behave in a professional manner at all times. What you do or say in public reflects on your business and your sponsors. So, as I tell young riders: wear a helmet, pet your horse and be nice to people!
  • Learn as much as possible about the product
At horse shows, other riders might come up to you and ask specific questions about the products you endorse. You are not expected to be an expert, but you should know as much as you can so you don’t give out wrong information. If it’s a technical product, you might want to keep some brochures in your tack trunk.

Also, ask the company what to do if you have a client interested in purchasing. Should you tell them to call the local rep? The main office? Refer them to the website? Don’t be afraid to ask as most companies will have a preference but will sometimes forget to discuss it with you.
  • Facebook, Twitter, Blogs: don’t be shy…promote yourself!
Most upper level riders move in circles of their peers (besides their clients), so they don’t always realize how many people are out there, watching them. But low level amateur riders form the vast majority of the equestrian community (I don't have specific numbers but I would say probably 99%). These riders are passionate about the sport and always on the look-out for helpful tips and information on how the pros do things. The internet provides the perfect vehicle to reach out to them, share your knowledge and passion for the sport.

Social media offers a great (and free!) platform to promote yourself, so get on the Facebook, Twitter and Blog bandwagon asap. Make it a point to spend a few hours every week updating new, relevant content. It will be worthwhile for your own business and will increase your "sponsorship value" if I can be so crude. On Facebook, I would advise to have a separate page for the business from your personal one. Drunken photos in your underwear are a no-no on both.
  • Avoid conflicts between sponsors
So…you only have one head and your 5 sponsors all want you to wear their hat at a big competition. (BTW - They might not come out and say “hey, wear my hat” but if they give you a hat, they want it on your head…).  It is your job to avoid conflicts between sponsors and keep everyone happy. You should have a clear plan and determine who gets a piece of what (maybe even with sponsorship levels). Learning to service and balance your various sponsors’ needs requires work, much like becoming a successful rider. You can learn a lot from more experienced riders or have mentors in the business world who can advise you.

Also, your sponsors might send you generic products with their logo (clothing, saddle pads, horse blankets). If you have a sponsor in that category, make sure to refer them to your sponsor as you should not accept conflicting products.

Communication is the key to any successful relationship so if you are not sure about something, don't be afraid to pick up the phone or send an email.

It is worthwhile to learn how to manage sponsorships well. Sponsors are investing in you, so do what you can to help them, acknowledge their contribution and you will be able to maintain solid relationships throughout your career.

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