A big part of sponsorship is about relationship building. In fact, I can't think of a better place to start than suggest you pick up Scott and Alison Stratten's book "UnMarketing." This is the newly updated second edition. Just click on the affiliated link to the right to read more on Amazon's site.
So often photographers get an idea their work is good enough to deserve sponsorship and attention from the manufacturers and vendors of the products/services they use. That's only one small component. Being sponsored by a company is built on a foundation of your style, presence, integrity, enthusiasm and here's that word again - passion!
In "Part II" about chasing sponsorship, I want to hit on various aspects of relationship building, because it's such a critical component to your success.
6. Don't just be a hired gun! Hired guns are a dime a dozen - anybody can find somebody to endorse their products. Make it a point to only approach companies whose products and services you use and believe in. Also, be careful how many sponsors you line up. A problem develops when you go beyond 3-4 companies, and their messages get lost. Your bio/description at a convention program, for example, starts to look like the logos on a car at a NASCAR race.
Years ago at Hasselblad, a very well respected photographer sent me a letter requesting sponsorship and sent the same letter to our competitor, Henry Froelich, then president of Mamiya America Corporation. His BIG mistake was sending Henry's letter in the envelope to me and my letter to Henry. Henry and I laughed about it a lot, and it turned both of us off to ever sponsor this photographer.
7. Stay in contact, but don't make a pest of yourself. This is critical to chasing sponsorship. Everybody you approach, if you're a class act and your work is good, would love to sponsor you in some way, but funding is limited. The staff at any company today is also limited. You're sending in work or contacting an entirely overworked spread-too-thin manager to ask for support. Give them time to review your project. Don't get in their face. If you don't hear after a few weeks, no news just means no news. Just be patient and don't make a pest of yourself.
And, if you get turned down, send a hand-written note on your personal stationery thanking them for their time. Then, put them on an active list of companies to visit at each convention/trade show you attend in the future. Don't pitch them each time you see them - just wander by and be friendly.
As an example, my good buddy Scott Bourne introduced himself at a convention over twenty years ago. Hasselblad had just introduced the X-Pan, and he gave me some stunning images taken with the new camera. He didn't ask for anything and just wanted to show his work.
I took them back to the office after the convention. They were sitting on my desk when the publisher of Studio Photography & Design called me. They were doing a story on the new camera and wanted images taken with the X-Pan. They were also hoping to find a photographer who they hadn't written about previously. I had Scott's work right there, and he wound up with a six-page story in the magazine, which led to other companies seeing his work and grew his business.
This is an industry where we all know each other. Don't assume that because one company can't bring you on board now; your name isn't going to stay out there for a little while. Outstanding images are outstanding no matter what. Just like me passing a portfolio of work to a magazine, you never know where your images might wind up.
9. Be consistent in your message. This is one of the biggest areas I see missed all the time, and it's more with the already sponsored speaker than a new photographer just getting started. For whatever reason, they forget who's sponsoring them. Now and then it's arrogance, but most of the time it's just getting too busy and too involved and forgetting to really plug their sponsors.
10. Most important of all, be patient and don't give up. Being sponsored is about building your brand and relationships. It's about people getting to know you, your work and what you represent. It's also about the strength and quality of your network. Today's most supported photographers never approached most of their sponsors - their sponsors approached them.
After spending years of my career reviewing sponsorship requests my most solid piece of advice is a compilation of hundreds of posts on this blog and others - Don't compromise on your quality of your images or your relationships! Create the very best images you can. Make yourself habit-forming to your clients and the vendors you work with.
You're part of one of the most amazing industries on the planet. If your work is sponsorship worthy, eventually you'll connect with the right companies and products!