Sponsorship and making it work for you


This is a piece I wrote for Equestrian Business Monthly recently, and was featured in their March Issue:


Entering into a sponsorship arrangement should be of benefit to both partners.

Everyone wants to land the perfect Sponsor or Rider, promote their brands and live happily ever after, but that’s not always the case. We look at the dos and don’ts of sponsorship and how this sometimes fraught relationship, can work out well in the long run.

Having worked in marketing for 20 years, I come across requests for sponsorship on a daily basis, and I never fail to be amazed by the lack of basic understanding of the sponsor/rider relationship.

As a sponsor, you work hard to establish a good, credible, quality brand. You spend money on development, sales, marketing and design. You get your product to market and it is doing well. You look for a suitable rider Ideally the rider you sponsor is someone who understands what you are trying to achieve. They understand your goals. Their will to succeed and excel at their chosen discipline makes them compatible with your brands’ need to succeed and excel. Their professionalism reflects your own.

They work hard for the brand and they are rewarded for their efforts. There is a ‘quid pro quo’.

So what are the characteristics of a good Sponsor/Rider relationship?

  1.  The Sponsor provides a clear idea of what they require from the rider.This stops all types of disappointment at a later stage. If you are supplying branded materials, be clear about wanting to see them in photographs where If you are looking for exclusivity for your brand, make sure you ask for it. If you want them to promote your brand with signings at particular shows, write a blog for your website, or promote your brand at clinics and events, make it clear.
  2.  The sponsor provides the rider with a clearly agreed amount of money/ product. There is nothing stopping you with providing your rider with adhoc equipment, or product, but remember this translates into money saved for them, and can mount up to much more than you think
  3. The rider promotes the company in a way that is acceptable to both parties. Be specific with your requirements. Instill in your rider the need for them to use the branded products you provide. Don’t take it for granted that they are as commercially minded as you. If you want them to be wearing your branding tell them explicitly.

There is a good working relationship with mutual respect. You both know that you are getting benefits from this relationship, there is open and regular communication and no one feels taken for granted. However, in the real world, sponsorship agreements are often not well thought out in advance, until you’ve been burned a few times, as either sponsor or rider!

It sometimes starts as an informal arrangement and grows from there. As your brand grows, you start to get unsolicited requests for Sponsorship, which in my experience range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

If you look at sponsorship as a relationship, each request for sponsorship should be approached like the start of a new relationship, and there are some relationship rules that should be observed:

  1.  Use the correct Company name. No one likes to be called by the wrong name, and it’s not going to get you very far in a sponsorship request. The regularity with which I get a generic request with an insert name here – with the wrong name inserted – is frightening. It doesn’t take much to get this right, extra brownie points goes to the prospective sponsored rider who actually finds out who the go-to person is, and uses their name.
  2. Show interest in your Sponsor. Again this sounds like a given right? Wrong! Most sponsorship requests sound like the rider is auditioning for the most improved rider award. It lists all their accomplishments and documents each rosette, but never mentions the Brand that they are so anxious to represent. Riders need to do their homework, and work for it a little. Most importantly don’t lie! Don’t say “I use your products all the time” and then fail to mention which product and the reasons you use it. If they are not making an effort at this stage, it’s not a good sign of things to come.
  3. Make sure you both want the same things: Leading on from showing interest, it’s essential that you outline a realistic proposal of what you have to offer the brand. If you are offering promotion on social media, take a clear look at exactly what this entails and how much real value it adds to the brand. Will you tweet about their brand regularly, not sporadically? How many followers/ likes do you have in comparison to their page. Just having a facebook page (not a personal profile), doesn’t make anyone god’s gift to Social Media. (And sponsors do check your personal profiles too to see if you are going to be a good fit for them)
  4. Don’t make requests on Social Media ( even private messages) A generic message (or worse one from your mum) on Facebook, is a no no! An email to the proper person is worth it’s weight in gold. There are a lot of riders out there performing at very high levels, if you want to be considered seriously, approach it seriously.
  5. Invest in the relationship. Sponsorship works when the sponsor brand and the rider brand are compatible and each gets a fair return from the arrangement. If a rider looks for several thousand pounds in cash/ product/ merchandise during the year, how are they going to give the sponsor a return on their investment, in terms of the amount of effort they are willing to put into the relationship. (It’s important for people looking for sponsorship/ to sponsor to have a good idea of what the same spend would get them if allocated differently. Think in terms of how much advertising space, how much stand space, how many named sponsor classes they would get for the same spend)
  6. Compromise sometimes. Both parties need to compromise from time to time. No one is perfect, but if everyone knows what’s expected of them from an early stage it makes for a more harmonious relationship. Sponsorship is a two way street. When it works, the relationship is mutually beneficial and ideas for developing the relationship further, flow easily between the two parties. Both brand and rider can really benefit from their association with each other, and develop brand loyalty in the wider market.

For both sides it can be like adding an extra person to their team. A good brand ambassador is worth their weight in gold when it works well. Some famous early examples of successful partnerships  (before the days of social media) were Harvey Smith and Sanyo, Liz Edgar and Everest Double Glazing, and Eddie Macken with PJ Carrolls.

Sponsorship can come from the familiar large brands such as Masta Rugs or Horse First, to more locally based sponsors such as Total Horse who can stay with a rider through out their career. Whoever you work with, remember it’s a two way street, and you need to give as good as you get!