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The David Chronicles: Hunting Down Sponsors Like Rambo

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by David Garland in David's Blog

The David Chronicles: Hunting Down Sponsors Like Rambo(NOTE: This is the third installment of a new personal series I’m trying out to see if you like it, find it interesting, funny, helpful, whatever. It is no-punches-pulled, 100% ridiculously transparent. The first and second articles received an awesome response (wow!) so I’m definitely continuing.)

Back to 2006….(turning the clock WAY back *wink*).

The month was September and the pro inline hockey league was ready to start in something like a month. And by “ready”, I mean not at all ready. Because…

  • …there were no players yet (kind of need players for a league, or maybe that is just me).
  • …there were no sponsors yet.
  • …there was no money.
  • …there were no fans.

Four weeks to get this done. Looking back on it now, that seems insanely ridiculous. And it was.

The key to getting going was splitting things into what I called “marketing categories” because honestly, EVERYTHING is marketing. For example, getting fans to come out is marketing (Captain Obvious!). But, getting players for the league is also marketing because they have to know about it and of course want to play. And, reaching out to sponsors and getting them involved was marketing on a one-on-one level.

In the last post, I discussed how I had to essentially make up a sponsorship packet based on what I knew and what I had no idea about. Armed with printouts of what we could offer sponsors, it was time to hunt down sponsors. Realize (and I’ll talk about this in an upcoming post) that none of these things happened in order. It wasn’t like step #1 get the players, step #2 get the fans, step #3 get the sponsors. It was everything at the same time (and I’ll make sure to get to the players/fans as well).

Where to start to find these sponsors? This of course can be the trickiest thing. Where do you begin? If it was 2010, I might start on social media sites. But, back then I hadn’t really built up a strong online network yet, so I decided to try a different approach: Ask anyone I knew for a little help as opposed to cold calling (I tried cold calling later on and realized I’d rather wrestle three bears and a lion in a death match than cold call anyone).

Some people love cold calling. I call those people weird. My idea instead was to try to get a warm introduction to a sponsor based on people I already knew…which was not an expansive network yet, since I was 22.

I made a list of family and friends and started reaching out via phone and email. Here is the important part. I didn’t ask for them to contribute anything themselves, but instead asked if they could nudge me in the right direction. I explained what I was working on (a new hockey league) and that it was in the early stages, but we were looking for sponsors that wanted to reach sports fans in St. Louis.

All I asked for was a nudge.

Of course many wished me well and didn’t have any ideas. And that was fine. But, many did have someone to talk to. A move in the right direction.

Comments like “Hmmm, I’m not really sure. But my uncle’s brother’s dog’s best friend’s mother-in-law might be able to help. She knows a lot of businesses in St. Louis.”

My goal was to tap into the philosophy of six degrees of separation. Anyone from St. Louis knows, the degrees here are about 2. Everyone seems to know everyone. So, essentially it was a case of following the breadcrumbs.

It might look like this:

  • 50 emails and phone calls to family and friends.
  • Family and friends referred me to 25 people.
  • Those 25 people referred me to 10 people.
  • Those 10 people referred me to 3 people.
  • I met with those three people and I signed a sponsorship deal.

There are really three big lessons with this approach:

  • You never know who knows who until you ask. The gardner down the street might have a brother-in-law who has a friend in the line of business you are in. If you don’t ask the gardner, you would never know.
  • Following up separates the men from the boys and the women from the girls. If you are given a contact or introduction to someone, actually do something with it. I know, simple, but often not-followed advice.
  • Be excited. There is no way around it. Being genuinely excited about what you are doing will make others excited and inspired to help you. I don’t care if you need to have 9 Red Bulls before making a call, be excited.

What ended up happening was I was referred to a gas company in St. Louis through a couple of degrees of separation. I was able to land a meeting in just a few days because of a warm introduction (take that cold calls!) and came in like a wide-eyed, nervous kid with my little sponsorship packet and suit. Fun fact (and lesson): Nobody at their office was wearing a suit. In fact, I was made fun of for wearing a suit (“What are you a little oil man from Texas..haha!”). I should have maybe researched their dress code a little more.

Early on in my marketing/selling days, I had a little problem. And that little problem was called “not being about to shut up.” (I know, shocking!). I have no idea if I even breathed in the meeting or listened. I’d highly recommend breathing and listening. They are both good things.

I presented by butt off. Explained what we were doing. Explained they could get involved right now on the ground floor as it was beginning. Answered questions. Offered suggestions on which package they should purchase. Talked about community involvement and our plans to get involved with local kids charities to give them free tickets for the games (we ended up partnering with Variety…an awesome charity).

“Well, David. This looks interesting. And has some potential.”

I was then waiting for the “But…..”, and instead:

“We are in. We want to support it.”

Picture Rocky running up on top of the mountain in a sweatsuit pumping his arms up and down. That was what I was doing on steroids, internally. Externally, I tried to stay calm (which probably was not calm at all), thanked him and told him I would be in contact tomorrow with the paperwork and next steps. They had selected a package that included a variety of things such as banner advertising at certain rinks (on the boards), logos at the bottom of player’s uniforms, mentions during the game, and more.

I then sprinted out the building like Michael Johnson in the Olympics just in case he changed his mind in the next few seconds or if I stuck around too long that I would say something stupid. Funny thing is I ran out to my car, where the meter lady was writing me a ticket (thank you parking meter…). I was so excited for landing my first deal that I actually hugged the meter lady and thanked her for the $10 ticket. Looking back, I wonder what she thought of that.

Bottom line? One sponsorship down. What to do next? Oh and what about those fans and players?

In the next installment: How one sponsor turned into many and beginning to market the league with a massive budget of….$0.

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