Several years ago I was approached by a public relations firm that represented a major corporation interested in promoting a new product. The corporation offered me money and free product to hand out if I held an event in which I’d promote the product.
I agreed, and I held a yoga and snowshoeing event for women. The corporation paid for all of the PR and marketing for the event, including radio and newspaper ads in which the corporation was mentioned as the sponsor. The company also paid for snacks, the snowshoe rentals and the cost of the snowshoe guide. Between the business’s payment and the attendance fee paid by the participants, I made a fair amount of money from the event.
This is just a small-scale example of what can happen in the world of corporate sponsorship. I was also fortunate in that it basically fell into my lap.
Doug Holt, MFS, CSCS, owner of Fitness Professional Online, had a similar experience. “I was approached by a protein bar company’s founder, who asked if I’d be interested in representing the brand,” recounts Holt. “I had been published a lot online, which helped me gain recognition and a loyal following. The company felt that the brand I had created for myself was in line with its marketing goals, and we were able to come to an agreement that worked for both of us.”
For Holt, the benefits of being sponsored went beyond the free products.
“My clients also loved that they were training with someone who was ‘sponsored.’ There was a transference of value placed upon me, which was great for marketing.”
But there’s a much larger perspective when it comes to sponsorship. You can use it to add to your bottom line and create a nice financial buffer for those months when membership or clientele is down. Sponsorship funds can become a part of your regular income.
“Being sponsored legitimizes all of the dedicated effort exercise specialists put into their work, most often because they love their work, not because they expect to make a lot of money,” explains Michele Olson, PhD, professor of exercise science at Auburn University at Montgomery. “So sponsorship is something that increases your ‘value,’ which is rewarding in and of itself. But it can also enable you to receive fees and income more commensurate with the heartfelt sweat that you put into your work.”
Maybe you’re asking, “Why would anyone sponsor me?”
Here’s why: You are valuable to corporations because you have a pulse on the audience they want to market to. And in today’s world of social media, that audience is potentially worldwide. Because you are part of a corporation’s target market, you can help influence others in the same market and help the company connect to them. You can play a role in increasing brand loyalty and growing the company’s customer base. You can help connect the corporation to the people who buy the products. Yes, you!
But this is the key: You don’t have to wait for a company to come to you. With a little research and groundwork, you can let a business know what you have to offer and what the corporation stands to gain by sponsoring you.
First Things First
Do some research, and ask yourself two questions: “Is this a company that I can stand by and believe in?” and “Do I already use this company’s products or services?” I admit that I had reservations about the product I was asked to promote. Most importantly, I felt that it had too much sugar to be considered a healthy food. I did the promotion because it was a one-shot deal, but I didn’t feel great about it. Make sure the corporation you choose is one you can really get behind.
Linda Hollander—aka The Wealthy Bag Lady, and author of Corporate Sponsorship in 3 Easy Steps: Get Funding from Sponsors Even If You’re Just Getting Started (Aviva 2014)—says in her free webinar that sponsorship is a $20 billion industry and growing. And you can tap into this reservoir!
Two main things need to happen. You need to arrange to meet with a representative of the corporation you’re interested in, and you need to write a proposal.
- Give the company a call, and ask for a specific person to send your proposal to. (The department that typically handles sponsorships is marketing, public relations or community relations.) Arrange to meet with a company representative in person—or via phone or video chat if it’s not feasible to meet in person owing to distance.
- Now start researching and writing.
Here are some guidelines when you’re working on your proposal:
Get as much information as possible about the company you plan to approach. You can do this by scouring the company’s website, requesting an annual report or asking for a press kit (sometimes you can download a kit directly from a company’s website). This will help you decide if the audience demographics match up.
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Think outside the fitness box. Yes, you’re a fitness professional, but you use many other products throughout your day—as does your audience—so do not limit your thinking to fitness companies when making your choice. For instance, if your target audience is women, what’s their median age? What’s their income? Do most of them work outside the home, or are they home-based during the day? Are they mothers? Do they eat out a lot, or do they mostly cook at home? Do they travel? Think of all the companies your audience is likely to purchase from. This also helps hone your audience demographics, and you must include demographics in your proposal.
Be confident about what you can offer a company. Keep in mind that this is a business partnership and is not all about how you will benefit from it. The company you approach will want to know what you have to offer, what your audience demographics are and how you will reach those people. Do you have plans to write a book, host an event, write blog posts, do media interviews or present at conferences? Will you include the corporation’s logo on your marketing materials and websites? Will you include signage at expos or in your studio that includes the company’s brand logos? Can you offer the corporation’s employees speaking opportunities or guest blog appearances? These are all considerations when you’re proposing a sponsorship.
Avoid selling yourself short. The company you’ve chosen will want to know how much money you want. If you ask for too little, the message will be that what you have to offer is not valuable enough. Hollander also suggests that you ask for more money than you need and propose a yearly contract. Offer a menu of options for different levels of sponsorship. For instance, $10,000 per year includes A, B and C; $25,000 per year includes X, Y and Z; and so forth.
Note: There’s no limit to the number of companies you can strike deals with for sponsorship, so go after as many as you can. (Not all of them will “bite,” so this also allows for possible rejections.)
Make it personal. Hollander recommends including a personal story in your pitch, so that you can tap into the decision-makers’ emotions. Show them how you make a difference in people’s lives or how getting sponsorship money will help you help others more effectively. You can also share a client success story.
No matter where you are in your fitness career, you’ll be able to make a bigger impact if you have more money backing you. You don’t necessarily need letters after your name or a certain amount of experience to do that. Your personality and your ability to connect with and influence people are worth, well, as much as you want them to be worth.