Most people have a far-fetched and ludicrously ambitious idea in their head, something they wish they could put into action if only they had the funds. It could be a dream to travel to every country in the world, be the youngest person to reach the poles, ride a penny farthing through Afghanistan in period costume or drive a London Black taxi around the world…
I’m part of the It’s on the Meter Expedition. An attempt to drive a London Black Cab from London to Sydney to break the World Record for the longest ever taxi journey and raise money for the Red Cross. We are currently 10,000 miles (a third of the way) through the trip and hope to reach Sydney by September. It has been three years in the planning; the majority of this has been spent trying to secure sponsorship with some amount of success.
The expedition has over twenty different sponsors, providing money, parts, advice, services and equipment to help it along the journey. The team and I had no public profile, our personal contacts are no better than anybody else’s and we have very few corporate contacts (we only graduated from university last summer), showing that it is possible for anyone to get this level of support.
I have been regularly asked by other people planning trips for advice on how to go about securing sponsorship. That is why I am writing this; these are the things I wish somebody had told me 2 years ago. I hope anybody planning a trip finds it helpful and I hope it may inspire people to take that drunken conversation about doing a big trip through to the sobriety of the next morning and onwards from there to the actual planning and implementation!
Think like a sponsor
You must figure out why somebody is going to give you money. People are not just going to give you money to go on holiday; they must get something out of it. This could be a range of things, but almost always it’s for publicity, they will invest in your idea if it sounds like the kind of idea that will appear to the greater public. Will people talk about you in bars, will they read your blogs, will they write articles about you in newspapers? If not, then your chances of getting a sponsor are slim, go back to the drawing board and make it more unique. If it will appeal, then you must comprehensively outline to a potential sponsor the predicted exposure from the trip, including all the different mediums you plan on using (newspaper, radio, TV, internet, social media, online video etc.) and how you will use them (I recommend using all of them!).
Use personal contacts
This is the best way to get sponsorship! Tell everybody you know about your idea (and some you don’t). You never know, they may work for a company who could sponsor you or if they don’t, they may know someone who does. The most important thing to do is ask; they will never rack their minds for contacts if you don’t ask them if they have any ideas for possible sponsors for your project. The best part about personal contacts is that you have a nice warm contact who’s far more likely to say yes…
It’s all about credibility. You need to ensure you appear credible to potential sponsors (even if you’re not). One way to do this is to show that other sponsors are already giving you things. Nobody wants to be the first to take a big and expensive leap, so before you go for the big money sponsors, try and get a few well known brands to give you a small amount of low cost goods. This is easy to achieve, and once you have a big brand as a sponsor, it gives you credibility (nobody needs to know Duracell only gave you four rechargeable batteries for your camera in return for that big sticker…). Another way is to get celebrities involved (more about this in tip #5).
If you have a charity involved (and I’m presuming and hope you do!) then make the most of it. A charity association makes sponsors look good, it makes them feel good and it gives you a legitimate reason for carrying out your outlandish scheme, so make sure the sponsors know the full details about the charity. My advice would be to ensure trip sponsorship and charity sponsorship (donations from friends, family etc.) is kept clearly separate. This means making sure people donating to your charity know they are not giving you money to ‘go on holiday’ and companies sponsoring you are sponsoring the expedition and not sponsoring the charity directly.
If you get a celebrity on board, it gives you a huge amount of credibility and makes sponsors and potential media outlets (which in turn help you to get sponsors…) sit up and take notice. The ‘It’s on the Meter’ expedition Patron is Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer (according to Guinness World Records). Now that sounds impressive, doesn’t it? He is a living legend and a household name in the UK. Now here’s the secret bit- we have never met Sir Ran. We dropped him a line, told him what we were doing and asked him to be our patron. We outlined that he would not be required to do anything at all. He agreed, and that was that. It was made especially easy with the charity angle. In our case, he was even interested in getting a ride in the cab (although on the only date he could make the Taxi had no wheels, no seats and no steering wheel, so we missed our chance). The hard part is getting their contact details- that dark art is down to you I am afraid but charities always have various patrons and celebrity supporters.
Go to relevant expositions and shows
These are attended by people in the industry who can make decisions and every one is a potential sponsor. It is a lot easier to talk to someone at a stand and call them back a week later saying “Hi, do you remember me?” than it is to simply cold call them. Here’s a tip: Try and blag your way into the trade day, on these days there are no members of the public, so no queues to talk to people and people from high up in the company will be there- not just sales assistants. We got five sponsors from one day at a motor show, but we did speak to every single stand there so persistence is the key.
Find people giving money
Even in this time of austerity there is money to be had. Marketing budgets may have been cut, but almost all companies spend some money on marketing. Seek out companies willing to give their money away for just this kind of thing e.g. companies who have sponsored something similar to your project already. Some companies sponsor sports players, explorers, sailors etc., some have sponsorship communities (energy drinks etc.) and some have competitions. Approach them all. We won the Performance Direct Non-Standard Awards for simply sending an application and being nominated as having the best idea for pursuing your ‘Motoring Dream’. Easiest and biggest sponsor of all!
Think creatively about sponsorship deals
Offer various opportunities. For example, match funding approaches (the company matches the money raised from other sponsors, thereby halving their exposure and risk of being involved in the expedition).
You could always agree on payments to be made at different times so they spread over two tax years, or they only pay you certain amounts as you reach certain legs of your trip (so if you fail they minimise their exposure). You can always turn a no into a yes (forgive the clichéd sales phrase) but not necessarily the yes you thought you were looking for.
How are you going to launch/finish your expedition? Sponsors are not going to be interested in an event launching from your mother’s front garden with the local paper covering it; it needs to be national. We launched from one of the largest tourists attractions in London. Why? Because we deserve that kind of publicity? No! We simply asked. We found a few possible, grand, impressive sounding venues and asked them. If they tried to charge us we went to the next one. After carrying out a risk assessment (the venue will often have a template already done for you) you’re good to go (but ensure there are no insurance issues). If you can get a celebrity to attend then even better. Invite your friends, invite the press, invite your sponsors and make an event of it!
Don’t expect much
Do not expect to get any sponsorship at all, this way you will be pleasantly surprised. If you need funding for a crazy idea, get a job and start saving. I know it sounds cold and un-inspirational, but if you want to do something awesome, this is the GUARANTEED route to achieving your dream. If you want to do it, you can, but you may have to do it in a few years time. We have managed to get sponsorship to cover around half the cost of the trip, the rest of it is paid for by working hard and saving money (and all of our savings and overdrafts and credit cards… but that’s a different story!).
I hope you have found this helpful. You just have to be very, very, very persistent. There’s a reason why ‘everybody’ doesn’t go on these kind of trips, or convert their pub-dreams into something more. It’s hard work, but completely worth it in the end. Believe me.
Paul Archer came up with the original idea for the ‘It’s on the Meter’ expedition. Affectionately referred to as the ‘Pen-Bitch’ team member, before they departed it was his job to prepare sponsors, press coverage and arrange the expedition launch event and press calls, as the rest of the team prepared the taxi for the journey. Paul completed Univeristy last summer and has previosuly hitchiked across West Africa, started a volunteer project in Uganda, Kayaked the White Nile, Climed Kilimanjaro and Snowboarded the Hymalayas
The ‘It’s on the Meter expedition will cover over 30,000 miles, break a World Record, cover three continents, thirty-nine countries and ten time zones in an 18-year-old classic London Black Cab. Go to www.itsonthemeter.com to read their entertaining blogs about their highly unusual adventures and follow them on www.facebook.com/itsonthemeter and @itsonthemeter on Twitter