"This hobby is consuming my entire paycheck. How do I get sponsored so someone else pays for this stuff?!"
I see it over and over again on forums and in Facebook groups, so as an experienced racer who has most certainly "been there," (and who does not care to delve too deeply in to exactly how much of my paychecks go to, "running stuff," as my fiance says) I thought I'd make a guide. Presenting: How to Make Triathlon Friends and Influence Brands also known as Jenny's Guide to: If it's For Free, it's For Me!
The key is understanding that most companies model their amateur sponsorship programs as "Ambassador" programs. This is a partnership they start with someone that has you acting as a mouthpiece for them, promoting their product on social media, your blog, and on your person, in exchange for what is typically a decent discount on their products and codes to share with your friends, or access to team kits that you can buy with your own money to promote their product. This sounds kind of silly to some, but it's the best win-win for companies with limited promotions budgets and a need to get the word out there from the sources people trust- their friends and racers who post results.
Apply, Apply, Apply
To start, I will be open about who I represent when it comes to these programs. Currently, I am a part of Team Moxie Cycling, a Nuunbassador, a Hammer Nutrition Ambassador, and an ambassador for Handana. I also was an ambassador for the eSpirt de She Race Series. These are all products that I use regularly, that I enjoy, and that I wanted to spread the word for in exchange for freebies and perks.However, they are not the only ones I applied to.
I have also applied to: Coeur, SOAS, Rudy, Smith Optics, Outdoor Glam, Headsweats, Luna, and likely many, many more. Some I never heard back from, some I got, "with regrets" from. That's OK! The most important thing to remember is you'll never get your name out there if you don't ask. The worst that can happen is they say no, or invite you to apply again next time. It's really not that bad, and is not a reflection on you personally or as an athlete.
Follow Brands on Social Media
But Jenny, how do you FIND all these applications? Honestly, sometimes it's because I was bored at work and searched on websites of products I used, but mainly, it's from following the social media accounts of the products I want to be involved in. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, anywhere they post. That's where you'll find direct links to applications, due dates, and instructions. If you're not following them and interacting with them, then you're already behind those who are, because that's what they're looking for- active voices from passionate people who will give them a return on investment.
From what I've seen, most brands open their applications for the next year between August and November and allow a few weeks to accept applications. This year, I kept this in mind, and checked pages of brands I was interested in individually to make sure I didn't miss an application when it was posted. Then, I made sure to submit my materials on time, and in full!
I did not start this blog for the benefit of sponsors, but I sure don't mind carving out a little space for them. I am a fundraiser by trade, and began this blog to document a side project I was working on for the ALS association. I also use it to give myself a place to voice my passions, interests, and advice to other novices out there. You'll see on the side the logos and links to the programs I'm involved with. It's free marketing for them, and it's a bargaining chip when it comes to applications. About 300 people read this blog every week- which is not a TON, of course, but it's enough to make a 10% coupon worth it! When I do a product review, that number jumps to 5-600 when I post it around social media, making that return on investment even greater, making the likelihood that I get free products even higher. You need to have something that demonstrates your reach to the community, be that follower numbers, your status as a group ride or run leader, or something of that nature. Just saying you really, really like the product is not typically enough. Besides, you'll be surprised to learn that your life is interesting to others! We're all naturally nosy, and it can be fun to write down and celebrate your accomplishments while you encourage others to do the same.
To that end, stay active and keep writing! There are weeks where I don't feel like posting, or don't have time. However, I try to keep it up and keep my involvement up because the more I can demonstrate to brands that I have 'influence' the higher my chances of selection are.
Find local running groups, riding groups, or swims. I've been running with the Austin Luna Chix run team for several years, and each year score awesome freebies like jerseys, hats, and the like from Luna just for participating. If you can demonstrate that you have real-world interactions with a high number of athletes in your area on a regular basis, you're that much more valuable.
Keep an Athlete Resume
This is a good tool for those brands that want not only vocal social media presence, but also stellar records to back them up. MOST brands aren't looking exclusively for podium finishers, but it helps. People naturally want to emulate what they see as success (and success is relative to everyone), so if you're regularly in the top 5 in your Age Group, or participate in 10 races a year (check and check, here!), then document it so you have something to show! A good place to keep tabs on your results is by creating an Athlinks account. Then, use a basic resume template and have something to attach to those applications that's professional, organized, and is a snapshot of your racing career.
Weigh Your Options
Some programs are a little ridiculous. They require a certain number of social media posts, reviews, or minimum product purchase, all in exchange for a 10% off coupon. Those who participate end up annoying friends and fellow racers with constant promotions with little return. That' a bit much, unless you're dying to save a few bucks. For most people that program is not going to be worth the time and effort.
However, some are totally worth it. For example, Moxie Cycling's ambassador team gets first dibs on new products, products for reviews, a team jersey, and other awesome perks and partner discounts in exchange for reviews, blogging, and minimal social media promotion. Those are all things I do anyway for clothes I like, so it's win-win!
I hope this is helpful and allows you to keep some perspective when it comes to seeking support from companies you know and love. Good luck- maybe I'll see you on one of my teams one day!