Well Done on the Sponsorship — But Now the Real Work Starts

If you’ve secured a sponsor(s) for the forthcoming season, a big pat on the back. But now the real work starts, as Rhea Freeman, equestrian PR and marketing consultant and small business coach, explains in this follow-up to her previous post Advice for Equestrian Pros: Why You Need to Become Your Own PR Machine.

Want sponsors? Rhea Freeman has written about the dos and don’ts of sponsorship and also advises businesses on how to pick riders to work with. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Before I start this ramble, I would like to say that if you’ve bagged yourself sponsorship – WELL DONE YOU. It is not easy to secure sponsors in this market as everyone and anyone is after … well … everyone. The amount of requests I see that clients receive absolutely blows my mind. And the vast majority would prevent anyone from sponsoring anyone again. Generic emails (even Facebook messages!) that show zero affinity with the brand, or any real value (a subject for another blog, promise), they vex brands more than you could imagine. The barrage is so great that it’s overwhelming and annoying in equal measure. And what’s even more annoying? The real gems get hidden.

So if you’ve wooed a brand and you’ve started working together, be under no illusion that this is a big achievement. But I am here to help you maintain that positive relationship. Because now the work starts. The real work.

It continues to amaze me when brands tell me what’s been going on with their sponsored riders and brand ambassadors. As I run a small business Facebook group with a large number of equestrian and country businesses, I get a lot of contact with people who work with riders. Now. There are some complete stars and I have a number of riders I recommend to brands for one reason or another. But there are many that I am jaw droppingly amazed by. And not in a good way.

When a rider approaches a brand, and during the chats that follow, there will be some discussion about what is expected. Some brands are really strict on this, some leave it down to the person, so it fits their style. Personally, I prefer the latter for a few reasons. The first reason is that rider has gained followers for a variety of reasons, and the content on their social media platforms ties to this. If I am telling someone they MUST post something once a week about a brand they’re sponsored by, it doesn’t always feel authentic, which is a turn-off to the rider’s followers. Which is not what you want at all.

Also, and I mean this in the nicest way, if a client is paying me to chase a rider, I will suggest that they don’t pay me … and they really think about whether the rider is a good fit. I’m not paid as a babysitter and I am able to give free product to anyone if I’m not looking to see any return on that. The brands that I advise have policies and expectations that have been developed over time. They’re all incredibly good to their brand ambassadors and sponsored riders BUT they will not be managers.

It is expected that the person who is being sponsored understands the value of what they have been given and it is expected that they will wear/use the products without being told to. It is expected that they will feature on posts. It is expected that the rider will share the odd relevant post from the brand. It is expected the rider will talk about/mention the brand when relevant. Without prompting. Or else, really, what is the point? Of course, if a brand has a specific campaign or idea they would like the rider’s support on, telling them what is coming up and asking for support makes sense … but managing them? No. That’s not what a brand should do.

If riders wish to be taken seriously and gain support and sponsorship, they HAVE to put the work in. And if they don’t, they shouldn’t be surprised when the brand takes a step back to see what they do. And they shouldn’t be surprised if the support dries up … because it isn’t being reciprocated.

Sponsorship should be a mutually beneficial arrangement. The rider receives X (product or money) and for that, the brand receives Y (exposure, endorsement, etc.). Products and money (obviously) have a monetary value — I can’t stress this enough. Yes, a product costs a brand less than the RRP, that’s how it works, but it still has a value whether it’s sold or given away in exchange for exposure and coverage.

If you, as a rider, aren’t giving the brand anything, it would be like you paying for a new set of shoes for your horse and, when you go and check, they’re still the same worn shoes, but the money’s gone. It doesn’t feel right, does it? You were promised something, you invested in it, the investment has gone and what you agreed and arranged isn’t there … it doesn’t feel right, does it? So, now imagine you call the farrier back and he does exactly the same again. Yep. He’s taken your money and given you nothing in return. And he doesn’t seem to care or show any signs of changing his ways. Are you going to carry on using him? No … I thought not.

I’m not saying any of this to be negative, but it’s more so you can see it from the other side of the fence. Good brand ambassadors or sponsored riders are worth their weight in gold. And I really do mean that. I work with some fabulous riders and ambassadors and they add a huge amount to the brands I support. But I also see a LOT of times when a rider bags sponsorship or becomes a brand ambassador … and then there’s nothing at all.

Rhea Freeman is an equestrian PR, marketing and social media consultant and equestrian and country business coach. Read more on her blog here