This is the first of a series of articles that will cover how to be appealing to expedition sponsors. Learn about social engagement, brand recognition and reputation management.
Mountaineering sponsorships are not given like Tic-Tacs to whoever needs them. They aren’t even given to “one of the best,” “one of the most popular” or “one of the fittest.”
These sponsorships are reserved for what corporate executives call “long-term investment influencers.” These are athletes and individuals whose influential capacity supersedes short-term investment returns. In other words, the influencer will eventually pay for his or her own sponsorship value exponentially over the course of many seasons and increase the sponsor’s brand recognition.
The connections formed become long-term relationships that are beneficial to both the sponsor and the athlete. Rarely are they “take a chance” decisions. And they are reserved for “THE BEST,” “THE MOST POPULAR” AND “THE MOST EXPERIENCED” combined.
In order to be this candidate, here’s what you need to do and prove on the social scale.
Work on Your Social Presence
If you are not known to most, the chance is that a potential sponsor will ignore you. Before even considering reaching out to a sponsor, work on your connections, reputation and gain extensive experience.
You’ll want to have a Facebook Page, Twitter account and an Instagram profile. Also build a website where you can display who you are, what you are about and gather influential prowess.
Just having a lot of followers is not enough, sponsors need to see engagement, so organic growth is a must. It will do you no good to have 1 million followers with virtually no likes, comments or shares because your followers were all purchased, bots or not active users. Which brings me to my next point:
Who to Follow
Many social media users make the mistake of following anyone who follows them. This seems like you’re appealing to your fans, and it may work in the beginning. But over time, it just makes your account look like a mass jumble of random people.
When it comes to sponsors, most of their products or brands are geared toward specific demographical groups, being interest-based. Try to limit your “following” percentage to less than 1/4 of the population numbers that follow you. So if 100 people follow you, you should follow 25. Of course, this example would be on a much larger scale for you. So, you’ll still have the opportunity for growth and connections.
The people and brands you should follow should be confined to the sport or activity that you are seeking sponsorship for. This shows your sponsors that you have a clear understanding of the audience they’d be looking toward to watch your climbing videos and buy their products. Follow other fellow serious climbers, adventurers, brands and merchants that sell the products you need to climb.
If you become famous enough just by doing your own thing, and a merchant or brand sees that you’re following them, often, they’ll approach you with a sponsorship opportunity before a competitor nabs you. Your fan base and following base are all potential customers to them, and they regularly conduct these kinds of audits through social media to find the best influencers per interest-based demographic.
Follow the people you’d like to connect with.
Engage With Your Followers
If you want to drive engagement on your activities and your posts, you’ll have to actually do the leg work. Your followers will comment here and there. If you don’t engage in the beginning, they’ll lose interest.
You want to respond to messages, reply to comments, answer questions, have fun, mingle, get to know their interests and build your content or posts around what they’d like to see – that’s how you build engagement.
Once you’re a gleaming star of a mountaineer, you’ll be able to post what you want, when you want, and your fans would have already gotten to know you and love almost anything you post.
Work on Your Reputation
Reputation is everything when it comes to sponsorships. A good reputation has the potential to make you millions.
As an extra tip, avoid controversial situations. Try not to comment on current events that will most likely blow over in a few days. While the situation will blow over, if you’ve pissed off some loyal followers, you’re going to feel the wrath of the internet, and sponsors don’t like that.
This doesn’t mean “stand for nothing,” it just means pick your battles wisely.
Also, avoid being offensive to others in different circles than you; not just because you don’t want to lose a potential sponsor, but because that’s what a good human does.
Don’t Be Reckless
Sponsors often do not like reckless attachments. These lead them to be criticized for providing funds for someone to do reckless things with. While bad publicity is sometimes good publicity, all it takes is one really bad death to bring a company down.
So, if you are not an experienced technical climber, do not join an expedition on K2 because the opportunity has arisen. You may feel like your experience on Everest will be “helpful” because both mountains are in the Himalayas. So, they must be similar, right?
Wrong, K2 is a completely different animal from Everest, they don’t call it “The King of Mountains” for nothing. The same goes for most mountains.
Start at the bottom, and don’t graduate until you feel completely comfortable. Doing the opposite will get you killed or seriously hurt. You’ll be criticized heavily and labeled with a big red “no sign” across your face and no sponsor will ever touch you.
Did that escalate quickly? Well, let it sink in because that’s how fast you can go from shining star to banned athlete in the corporate world. Organic experience is best. If you’re the best at what you do because you’ve worked hard at it, then you’re a keeper. But if you don’t have much experience, and you’re trying to tackle peaks like K2, then you’re not a “long-term investment influencer,” because your next project may very well be your last. If that happens, there goes all their money down the drain.
It’s Okay to Take Risks
Don’t misunderstand, sponsors like risk-takers and shock value. But they just don’t like them in reckless places like inexperienced climbers trying to do the impossible. Don’t climb Everest on a commercial guiding expedition and then announce you’re going try to solo it on the Seven Summits like you’re Ed Viesturs or Ueli Steck, may he rest in peace. That’s not a realistic goal.
Don’t Badmouth Other Brands
You may not always like a particular brand or gear label. That doesn’t mean you should let the world know. Many brands don’t like to work with people who have the potential to badmouth them. They don’t know what led you to speak ill of another company. For all they know, it can be attributed to you being sore about a disagreement. They also don’t know if it will happen to them next. So don’t do this, especially on social media – the place where careers end.
Avoid Drugs and Criminal Behavior
This is pretty self-explanatory. Don’t do drugs. Don’t engage in criminal behavior of any kind. And if you’re going to do it, don’t film it. You know it will end up on YouTube.
Hype Up the Brands You Like
Sponsors want to see how you will promote them. So, for now, talk about the brands you do like. Tell everyone you know. Mention them in articles about you, interviews, social media posts – take pictures wearing or using the gear. Make videos reviewing gear. Just do not give the impression that these brands are affiliated with you if they are not.
Kenton Cool is sponsored by Land Rover – and you know what, everyone knows it. Why is this? Because he regularly posts about his sponsor and includes them in his activities. If you are immediately recognizably identified as a fan of a brand, that’s the kind of person other brands want.
Before doing all of this, first, ask yourself if you really need an expedition sponsor. Depending on your type of trip, you may be able to raise funds alone. But that’s a topic for another article.
For now, this is pretty much it. Try these things and you’ll be closer to your goal of nabbing a sponsor. Tell them Base Camp Magazine taught ya!