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Building Sponsorships in Your Field by Asking Why Instead of How

Zach Sutton sponsors - Pyragraph
Photo by Zach Sutton.

I’m a photographer, and am able to work all over the United States creating images of people, places and things. My job isn’t particularly special, and in some regards neither is my work. But one thing separates me from many of my peers: I’m sponsored by some big brands in the industry.

I think in any creative medium, one of the goals is to get something for free. Whether that is paint from your local paint shop, to memory cards for your digital camera—getting support from a company you love is exhilarating. However, most brands are very selective on whom they sponsor and keep sponsorships to a very limited quantity.

What do you have to offer a brand?

Perhaps the biggest mistake people do when it comes to sponsorships—especially in a creative field—is asking “How?” Asking how to get sponsored is a pretty surefire way to ensure you won’t get what you want. The word “how” provokes greed, and brands certainly don’t want to support the greedy.

Instead, ask “Why?”

Why would you want this company to sponsor you, and more importantly, why would they want to sponsor you? The former is easy: You want access to more equipment to do what you love. Having a brand to work with frees you from the finances of creating art, and allows you to fully engulf yourself into creativity.

But the latter is much harder to answer. What do you have to offer a brand? What would they gain by having your name on their website, and sending you equipment to use? They look at the bottom line, and sadly, creating art that you love isn’t going to cut it.

The photography sponsorships I’ve developed over the years are directly related to my following and what I can do for them. I’ve developed a following of photographers through my writing, and through my work. Photographers listen to me, and most importantly, trust me. I’ve built a relationship with my following, and they know I’m only going to endorse a product if I truly believe in it. Business relationships are a lot like all relationships; it’s a give and take.

Brands are the same way. They know that if they offer me a product, and I love it, I’ll generate sales for them through my own mediums. They know that if I enjoy the product, I’ll pitch it to my students at workshops, I’ll write a review that can generate them tens of thousands of reads, and I’ll tell my friends on social media that can help generate sales. It’s not about acquiring gear, and showing it off to others, it’s about building relationships, and helping sell products I really believe in.

And I don’t intend on this coming off too marketing-centric or snobby. I’m just here to give you some tough love. Creating art for the sake of creating art, while noble, isn’t going to get the attention of businesses. Businesses look at profits, and are looking to you to prove you can get them profits before they’ll pay attention to what you’re doing. It’s advertising, after all; just a bit more organic and honest (hopefully) than a billboard. Being clear about what you have to offer sponsors will strengthen your value and appeal.

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