July 8, 2011 / Tips + Tricks
Chasing the Sponsorship Rainbow
Skip Cohen has been one of the most profound influences on my career. He’s been a mentor, a friend and an ardent supporter of my work ever since our first phone conversation. During that phone call, he informed me that I had won the Hy Sheanin scholarship, an incredibly generous scholarship from WPPI to attend the WPPI expo in Vegas. He has also helped me on countless occasions to figure out how to channel my passion into marketable business skills. Because he knows the industry so well, he has been my guide all these years and I trust him to give me the best possible advice. Photography enthusiasts can look to his highly informative blog, Skip’s Photo Network, and seminal workshops, such as the upcoming Skip’s Summer School for an authoritative resource on the world of photography and photography business.
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Okay, so you woke up this morning and for whatever reason decided your work is so good that one of the companies out there should sponsor you. Sound familiar?
Chasing the sponsorship rainbow can be a daunting task, mostly because there is no rainbow! The manufacturers, labs and service providers in our industry are buried in requests for sponsorship. The economy presents the obvious challenges and virtually everybody is cutting back on expenses. That puts you in line for support along with hundreds of other photographers and projects. What are you going to do to make yourself stand out?
Let’s see if we can develop a great list of things for you to think about before you go “fishing”:
What do you have to offer?
In my previous life at Hasselblad, I used to get requests from photographers who thought they should be sponsored just because they were creating great images with our cameras. NOT! Companies are interested in what you bring to the party in helping them sell their products and increase awareness for their brand. I learned a valuable way to look at sponsorship from Beth Meyer when she was at Kodak years ago. With every sponsorship request she would receive, she had one key question, “How is this sponsorship going to help me sell more Kodak products?”
Today, being a great photographer is only a qualifier. Being a requested speaker, being active in social media, having a blog, writing for one of the magazines or having a story about your work in a magazine are all key things a company will be looking at if they’re considering a sponsorship relationship. If you’re not a household word, then the issue becomes your potential. You might be a young gun and have potential for influence with newer photographers or you might have developed a unique application for the company’s products.
How are you using the products/services you want to represent?
Companies today have thousands of photographers to choose from if they’re looking for somebody who uses their products/services in exactly the way they were intended. It’s your job to find unique applications or events that will give a company greater exposure.
Long term versus short term?
There are all kinds of sponsorships to consider. Long term means just that – you’re looking to represent the company with some level of support or compensation for a year or more. Canon’s Explorer of Light program would be the benchmark for the most extensive sponsorship. At the other extreme would be a photographer who was only looking to borrow a particular product for a single application. Another example would be a charity event you’re about to photograph and looking for a lab to pick up the cost of prints in exchange for some level of exposure.
Obviously, everybody would love long-term sponsorship, but you have to walk before you can run and until you’ve made yourself unique and a virtual legend, most companies have limited funding for extensive support. It’s also important to define “extensive support.” The max is staying independent as a photographer, but being paid by a company on a regular basis to represent their products. These are pretty rare today, but it would mean being paid on a monthly retainer or for every program you taught using or promoting a company’s products/services.
How are you willing to be paid?
Are you looking for cash reimbursement of your expenses and speaking fee or are you willing to take support in trade? Being sponsored by a lab, for example, will often give a photographer access to all the great services they offer. The same would go for an album company, who would be willing to supply a photographer with product for his/her clients. Obviously, at the sponsor level, product/services trump any cash payments.
How’s your reputation?
Some of you are going to laugh about this, but I’ve seen some of the most obnoxious people on the planet furious because a company didn’t think they were good enough to be sponsored. Even more absurd is the fact that they protested too hard, aggravated everybody in the company and wound up taking years to recover. Nobody is interested in taking on your emotional baggage when it comes to handling rejection. Play it cool if you get turned down. The more professional you handle a rejection, the more likely you’re going to stay in focus for future projects.