Getting Companies To Sponsor Your Hike:
I get asked the following question a lot – probably one of the most asked questions I get: “Hey John, how do I get companies to sponsor me?”
Putting aside the whole issue of “people have been hiking the PCT for 45+ years without sponsors… by actually working and saving money and buying their own food and gear” response, here are a few points/recommendations I can share:
What do YOU have to offer companies?
I have full sponsorship by a few companies (including, but not limited to, these companies) and it has not been easy.
I also turn down a number of sponsorships from companies each hiking season (well over two dozen) because all they want is an exchange of gear for some PR.
That alone should give you a clear indication of what you need to be able to offer companies. But, for me, they are not the type of sponsorships I care about. I do not care about getting free gear – what I want from a company is the knowledge that they are going to place value in what I report back to them about their gear/products, and not just treat me like some random person that hopefully gets them enough return sales for what they give to you.
But, I realize I am different in my approach to sponsorship that what you, and most others, are after, so… take all of the below that perspective.
In the end, the vast majority of the time, getting sponsors is all a lot of work on your part – which in and of itself should be remembered, because oftentimes the amount of time you invest in getting a sponsor can end up being more valuable (in your own man hours) than the cost to just going out and buying a piece of gear.
Seven Thoughts That Might Help:
(1) You make a name for yourself and the companies come to you – the good’ol ‘Shoeless Joe‘ statement of “if you build it…” applies to some degree in regards to this first point, but you really need to have something you can give back for this to happen on the bigger scale. Remember that even very well known hikers often get very little each year. Balls and sunshine (father / daughter triple crowners) on their last hike got some #10 cans of food, new backpacks, a new sleeping bag for sunshine, new shoes, and some other small things; but for the most part, even being a very well known hiker does not just instantly result in you getting an entire setup of gear so you can go hiking.
(2) Send lots and lots of emails and letters to lots and lots of companies. It is not uncommon for unknown thru-hikers to send out a few hundred emails (if you do things properly) over the course of the year leading up to your hike. I think the real key (beyond just getting lucky) is really being able to share a story with them, as quickly and in as few words as you can. A couple paragraphs at the most. You really need to get your letter/email to stand out from the hundreds of others sitting on their desk… so, find that awesome spot between TL;DR and telling one hell of an exciting adventure you are about to partake on.
(3) Join a group. These days there are a number of well established hiking groups that are getting some pretty big-time sponsors. The ‘Wounded Warrior Project‘ for example has a number of hikers every year that get sponsors – it is something I support with both funds and gear. There are other groups like this that are starting to pop-up every year (do not have a list, nor know of one) so try to hunt some of them down and see if any fit within what it is you might qualify for.
(4) Try, try, and try some more. For three seasons (years) I have been submitting a request for sponsorship to two different companies (mountain house & probar) and nadda. I am going to keep trying and trying – cannot give up, eh. Obviously this does not work if you only plan to hike a single trail and never go long distance hiking again.
(5) Food sponsorships seem to be the hardest to get. It sort of makes sense. If you were to only eat Mountain House meals for five months, it would cost you around $1800 dollars – and that is buying #10 cans which are much less expensive per meal than individual packages. If you were to buy probars and consume three a day for the same five months it would be ~$850 bucks. None of this takes into account binge food in towns. I will be honest and say I have yet to figure out how to get $3000 worth of sponsored food.
(6) What do you have to give back? Yes I said it above but it is worth saying again and making a full point out of it. Sadly, most sponsorships within the long distance backpacking world is just a “we give you free gear, or discounted gear, and we hope to get some PR in return”. As much as this might erk me, it is the way things are, so work it to your advantage… do research on the company and find ways that they are lacking in PR and go after them saying you can help expand their PR in whatever way that you think you might have found they might be lacking in. If companies are not approaching you asking you to use their gear, than you have to pretty much figure you are screwed and thus need to find a way to make yourself stand out to them – companies care about one thing… selling products. Find that thing that makes your email/letter to them realize that you got something you can give them (giving back).
(7) Youtube/blogging does not seem to be what most companies care about anymore when it comes to PR/Sponsorship. (personal side note: this makes me VERY happy) More and more it seems like a lot of companies want (a) you actually out hiking as much as possible so other hikers see their gear being used, and (b) hikers doing public community speaking – and their gear being represented at these speaking events. If you are younger (high school) try explaining to the companies that you can put together an event at your local boy/girl scouts club and show off your hiking gear (and of course, the gear they sent you should be center stage) and take photos of the event and send them back to the company that sponsored you. If you are in college, do the same at your college/uni hiking club. If one does not exist, well… big score for you!! You get a few different companies to sponsor the start-up of a local college/uni hiking club, get their logo banners up during the meetings, and that can be huge. If you are old geezer like me, try to get into some local hiking groups and see if they would be up for doing some gear break down events – a number of gear companies these days will send you all the gear you need to show off. There are a lot of ways to try to be able to promote gear for companies that you want to sponsor you — it just all goes back to “what do you have to give back” ?? Share these ways within a single paragraph of your letter/email to them (#2 listed above)
Make It Real:
I try to stay in contact with my sponsors every month that I am on the trail – and not just some canned message, but a personal message sharing with them how things are going in my life, how things are going out on the trail, how their gear is holding up (any issues, changes, hates/likes), and if I am seeing others on the trail with their gear, etc. It does not have to be long and can be typed on a cell phone… just three or four short paragraphs. While I have never meet most of the folks that sponsor me, I know them all by name and they are all as good of friends as one can have without meeting them in person. Do not just be just another random name on some mailing label that gets slapped onto a box with some gear or food in it… invest in companies that sponsor you, get to know them, stay in contact with them – there is a close and rather private network within this aspect of the outdoor hiking community and if you get a bad name as a sponsored hiker, the other companies hear about it and you are pretty much screwed. So, do not just be a taker – invest in those who are investing in you.