We all know that keeping horses isn’t cheap. As you start to compete at higher levels, the costs just seem to keep on rising! Sponsorship can be a viable way of balancing those costs. However, gaining sponsorship isn’t always easy. People often contact big companies simply asking for money and don’t understand why they’re not successful. There’s much more to a successful sponsorship relationship. We recommend starting by looking at it from the sponsor’s point of view…
What’s in it for the sponsor?
If a company is going to provide money, products or services, they’ll want a good ROI (return on investment). A company will be taking a risk and making an investment in you as a rider. Their investment is part of their marketing and wider business plan and needs to be treated by you as a business activity, too. Before applying/contacting a company, make sure you are up to date with the company, their brand developments and their product range or services. A company will expect you to have good knowledge and a keen attitude towards their business. Do they sponsor anyone else? What exposure did/do they provide? What exposure can you provide? Treat your initial contact similar to a job interview. Don’t get stressed about your ability to bring home 1st place ribbons every week. It’s you that a company is investing in, so ‘sell’ yourself from the start.
They may be looking to sponsor a rider for a number of reasons:
- Raise brand awareness.
A company maybe new in the equine industry, diversifying from another industry, or generally raising their profile within a competitive market. A rider can promote the brand to a range of target audiences; geographic, competitive levels, disciplines, on and offline. Professional photos often make it into equine publications which is exposure that would normally be costly.
- Create positive PR.
Celebrating a sponsored rider’s success, appearances and competitive journey makes great PR for a company, inadvertently and positively promoting the brand.
- Provide attractive content.
Specifically advertising a company’s brand and products isn’t always an interesting read for their audience, but hearing about their favourite rider and their use of the company’s products makes great content in articles and social media.
- Build their brand positioning and strengthening core values.
A rider can help the aimed positioning of a brand if they have suitable qualities in their own personality. If a company wants to be seen as new and innovative, they may choose to work with a rider who has the same associations. A traditional British brand may want a rider who is synonymous for the same attributes.
- Proven commitment to the brand.
The equine industry relies heavily on recommendations and endorsements by people they trust. These can be from riders they admire, so their backing and approval can be very persuasive and influential.
- Provide the brand with personality.
Static adverts, listing product specifications and images of products don’t provide the brand with a personality that customers can relate to. If a rider meets people in real life, appears on YouTube videos or speaks to the media in person, their personality will be reflected on the brand they are sponsored by.
With the growth of the internet and social media within equine communities, opportunities to reach wide audiences are there for you to embrace. An active social media presence can be attractive to companies looking to provide sponsorship. You may be able to reach audiences they are currently struggling to reach. If you have a website, you will have increased ability to reach audiences. Offering a dedicated page to your sponsors could help set you apart from others hoping for the same sponsorship. A blog within your website will enable you to talk about your sponsor and their products in more detail than would be possible over social media, but you can use social media to promote your blog posts and drive traffic to them. The same applies to Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and other social media platforms. In your blog posts you can also include links to the sponsor’s website or other external links, improve SEO (search engine optimisation/Google ranking) on both your own and your sponsor’s websites. Other content could include videos/set up a YouTube channel, reviews, testimonials, product benefits (maybe before and after photos if applicable), media appearances, photo shoots etc. These could all be included in your website and promoted to your social media followers. Tell potential sponsors about your ideas and your follower reach. We can help advise you on websites and blogs to suit your needs.
Physical promotion (rather than online promotion) could include branded clothing for you and your horse (jackets, polo shirts, saddle pads, rugs, even gloves, hat silks, jodhpurs or ear covers), branding on your vehicle/horsebox, jump wings/fillers at your yard, banners on your yard or sides of your arena or even quarter markings or something that will make you stand out from the crowd. The more creative you can be, the more interesting and noticeable it will be for audiences and therefore beneficial to sponsors. If you are seen as active for one sponsor, you may find you attract more sponsors. So let your potential sponsor know what you can offer, how you relate or have a connection to their company. Maybe you have a story to tell? Are you entering your first grassroots this year? Have you been chosen for a team whose journey would make an interesting read? Maybe you’re a Rio hopeful!?
You should only approach brands that are suitable to you, your horse/s and your discipline. Does your show pony have a huge flowing mane? Why not try a company renowned for their mane and tail sprays? Are you from a particular part of the country where a brand is well known? If you are known by your friends as Miss Safety-Conscious – you could try a safety product/service company? Do you have a product that you just couldn’t own horses without? Do you or your horse/s have any distinctive features that would appeal to a potential sponsor? See how this horse’s distinctive marking attracted a big telecoms company’s attention. The market for sponsors if competitive and if you put in the time to follow our advice when contacting them, we wouldn’t recommend a brand that you don’t know, don’t have any connection with or products/service you have no intention of using.
British eventer, Laura Collett is sponsored by Holland Cooper. Laura tells us why it’s a perfect sponsorship relationship:
So for each new event, they provide me with a custom made trot up outfits. Tweed Jackets and skirts are designed so the tweed and trims complement the colour of the horse I am riding. I won best trot up outfit for three years in a row at Burghley and Badminton with Holland Cooper’s classic and elegant British tweed attire. For me it’s fabulous, its great PR for myself and of course I love the clothing. For Jade the exposure for her clothing is to the right target market with social media it’s taken it to a whole new level 8 years on they now consequently have monopolised this market sector.”
It’s not all about the money. Honestly! Straight cash funding is very rare, so don’t expect it. However, a company supplying feed, supplements, bedding, rugs, tack, clothing etc. could all equate to money in your pocket if you would otherwise spend money on those products or services. It’s easy to think of the big product companies such as clothing and tack, but don’t forget about companies supplying items such as insurance, training, physio, yard fencing/machinery, stabling, arena surfacing. These are often costly expenses that you’d be grateful not to be spending on and maybe they’re not approached by as many riders hoping for sponsorship and therefore you have less competition.
Finally, be realistic and honest with the amount of time and effort you are willing to contribute – all year round, during your busy competition season as well as the hard, cold, wet winter months.
We’d love to hear how you get on gaining sponsorship or how you’ve won a sponsorship deal and how your competitive riding has benefited.