Sponsorship guide: how to do it, what to expect

Clipper race yacht and crew (Kattis), da Nang. Hobart - Airlie. Photo cred: Sergej Gratchev
Clipper race arriving to London
This blog post will outline what sponsorship deals may look like for a professional adventurer contra regular commercial events, describe what I use the sponsorship for, and show a few examples of what the sponsors may expect as kick-back.

Large commercial events, such as sailing races, are dependent on sponsorship. About half of the costs are covered with ads, commercials, sponsors etc directly to the event organisers. The rest is covered by the partakers; a fee for 1 (one!) leg for one person could cost up to 6,500 euro, plus the efforts to raise charity, the tickets to and from the far-away locations, etc. The sponsors of the boats are required to pay cosmic amounts in order to be seen in these contexts.

However, this is the case with huge international commercial events - but how does sponsorship of small, private expeditions happen? I will describe what it looks like from my perspective as a professional adventurer.

Being a full-time professional adventurer means raising funds for the adventures by myself, as a part of my job. Believe it or not - usually I do not rely on sponsorship at all. So how do I earn money?

I do lectures, seminars, presentations, personal coaching, and advisory work which I require payment for. I organize expeditions and trips, where I cash in a small fee (usually end up plus/minus zero after the trip). I take on assignments as a private guide, and do customized trips with the customers. When between adventures, I take in small gigs in short project form, everything from management to art work - I have done a few illustration and painting orders, and I do interim management and board work when I have a current engagement. I sell sailing/adventure articles and photos for magazines. Also, I make sure that any hobbies that I do also will generate income - for instance, I have done a few modelling gigs for commercials, and do acting for movies, short movies, and ads. It's fun, and it pays OK.

This provides me with means to pay for the rent, food, and daily expenditures, so I can break-even and make a living with my (quite extreme) choice of career. However, these means are not enough to cover the "grand" adventures (like this one coming up Summer 2017), where I seek out to the almost-impossible and push my own boundaries (and do not need to bring along, train, and coach a group of beginners). These adventures cost a lot, usually one-two hundred or more euro per day including all the gear, transport, permits etc, even if I do not join a commercial trip but do this on my own. 

I used to sponsor these extreme adventures myself, by having a full-time job as a IT-consultant, management consultant, and during the past years as a CEO for an IT company. The jobs provided me with financial possibility to do the adventures, but did not allow time enough to carry them out in full. This setup only works with half-professional adventures, basically if you want to go to "an exciting vacation" and not more than that. Otherwise there is too much compromising that needs to be done, and it does not rhyme well with the need of adjustment for weather, wind, snow, ice, or other partakers in the expedition. And there is no well-paid job that would allow me to come and go as I please. The better the payment - the lower the freedom. Always.

So for the really extreme stuff, I depend on sponsors. And here's the thing: sponsors are not just "nice people who give me money". Nobody wants to give free money to someone; they'd rather go to a vacation trip by themselves, right? But I can give them something that their own vacation trip will not satisfy, and that's media coverage, exposing their brand to a large amount of people, and wrapping it in an exciting context. A full page ad in a newspaper costs quite a lot; not many small companies can afford that. For a much lower cost, I will expose a logo in several large photos, full-paged interviews, in a multitude of newspapers and online media. Many companies also want to have an ambassador; a person that shares their set of values and acts to spread them in the right context. In the end, this is also a question about being seen, covered, about spreading a message, and being associated with a positive and exciting personal brand. This is what the sponsors pay for, and I put hard work into making that happen.

For every sponsor I sign a contract specifying the quid pro quo - a detailed spec of my performance expected in exchange for the payment. Every sponsor gets an invoice with a full break-down of costs and a specification of what they are paying for, so it's not much different from any other marketing method. Some pay for getting guest blog posts. Some want short and catchy video recordings, connected to their company values and areas of interest - than they use them for marketing. Some ask me to take photos of their products in extreme environments. Some want their logotype to be seen on my boat, on my clothes, or on my homepage. All of that is possible, and much more.

The only kind of sponsorship I try to avoid is random merchandise. Sure, I would LOVE to receive functional clothes, gadgets, climbing and hiking stuff, sailing gear etc - preferably explicitly for Arctic use. But these are seldom the companies that want to give away stuff, because see - I am their key target customer, and they know I am going to buy that anyway. They already have adventurers using their products, they do not need ambassadors in that way. I have tried asking for that kind of sponsorship, but the hit rate is so small, I could instead invest that time into the lowest paid job and still get more kickback. (If anyone wants to prove me wrong, please give me sponsorship deals - I am always willing to change my mid about this :)  And when it comes to sponsorship with other (random) merchandise/physical things: as long as it's not something I was planning to purchase, then I most probably do not need it or already have it. I do not need ukuleles while sailing tough waters in a confined space! I cannot eat them, I cannot pay harbor fees with them. I cannot use them to keep warm (not during longer periods of time) and they make lousy oars. Or consider this business that wants to sponsor me with canned food and diesel from their storage: how will I get all that stuff to Arctic Norway? My backpack is already bursting with all necessities and measures over 110 liters, and I am already paying for the extra weight on this tiny little arctic airplane. Food and fuel will be bought on site, there is no cheap workaround for that. Thus my wish to get sponsored with money rather than with things.

Seeking sponsorship is a full-time job. For every "yes" there will be thousands of "no". It takes time. I'd rather be sailing, mountaineering, exploring the Arctic (or doing other meaningful things like accounting - since I run my own business with revenues and expenses there is a ton of bookkeeping to be made and it will not wait!). So even small sponsorship amounts count, and the sponsors that I appreciate the most are the ones that actively come to me and offer a collaboration. I have recently received a possibility for media coverage covering tens of thousands of people, where I can introduce company names and product info. I hope that some sponsors will be willing to take this chance to expose their trademarks and products, and at the same time make my extreme adventure plan a reality. And if somebody wants (against all odds) to support me privately, then send me an email for BG, bank account or Swish.

Last but not least: sponsorship normally poses a bigger risk on the adventure. As I sign up to perform and deliver, there is less margin for pausing or cancelling an expedition, even if the conditions are too dangerous. This is of course covered in the sponsorship agreement (nobody wants to have sponsored an expedition with casualties). To illustrate how demanding such situations can be, I will post some pictures from Clipper Race 2015, photo creds Sergej Gratchev who partook in that leg.

Clipper race: da Nang getting hit by some serious weather outside of Tasmania. Photo creds Sergej Gratchev

Clipper race: da Nang getting hit by some serious weather outside of Tasmania. Photo creds Sergej Gratchev

Clipper race: da Nang getting hit by some serious weather outside of Tasmania. Photo creds Sergej Gratchev

For sponsorship or collaboration deals, please contact: lena@adrenalena.se