It takes some time to wrap your head around it, but think about pro athletes. When Tony Hawk is in a commercial or advertisement for a company, that is because of sponsorship. His name adds credibility to their product, and makes all the Tony Hawk wanna-be's go out and purchase it.
So how do you go about landing a sponsor? This is tough, but not as tough as it seems. Before you do anything, take this advice to heart: Never be discouraged when you are rejected for sponsorship. It's nothing personal. Head out and try with other companies, or approach the ones who've rejected you again once you've landed some other sponsors or publishings. Sponsors bring on more sponsors and fame builds on itself.
Here's my approach. Try and get an in with the company, although not necessary, this is a HUGE help. This can be as simple as going to trade shows and meeting the owners/managers. These people are at the top, and if you can get their business card, you are way ahead.
With companies that you don't have an "in" with, start out by e-mailing any contacts in the company you can find, and asking them who you would speak with about sponsorship. Some companies either don't sponsor, or are not looking for new photographers. It's nothing personal, they just feel they don't need to give any more sponsorships at the time. Try those again later.
I've found that it is best to approach sponsors when you have something big and current. If all of your "big" accomplishments are from 2 years ago, you may want to wait until the next one happens. I worked for sponsors when I landed the cover, and a full article inside of Photoshop User Magazine. This was very beneficial and shows that I am making a name for myself. It's best to wait until something exciting happens, but if you CAN get a contact at a company, send them regular updates about what you are doing, and where your photos are appearing. These updates show your dedication, and will make them consider you more seriously.
So what do you send to the sponsor? This is something only you can decide. In the past I've sent in slideshows consisting of ONLY my top 15-20 images and set to match some good music that most people seem to like. If you choose bad music (even if you think it's good....) it only makes you look bad. My other thought on this is that certain "independent" artists will add to your artistic appeal, I just don't know where the borderline is here.
Always send in your photographic resume. Have a little write-up about yourself and include all of your biggest accomplishments/publications. On top of that, add a letter as to how a sponsorship with you could benefit the company. This is something that you could build from a "template" for each company, and then customize key parts. Reference your website and recommend that they review it along with the slideshow. Include a couple business cards and your good to go!
You could take it to the next level however....
For my next packets I will be filming with my NIkon D3S as well. Not only will I film an interview with myself, but I will also do a really slick edit showcasing mountain biking video, and incredible imagery. Anything that I can do to make my packet and work stick out above all others.
Package everything in a way that looks good and unique, and make sure to put all your contact information on the CD/DVD slideshow, resume, and letter. This lets them keep your work in line and shows consistent branding.
Mail these in to your contact. Sending e-mails asking for sponsorship will probably not work. Companies get way too many of these to really even consider any of them. The mail gives them something they physically have to look at and keep a copy of.
Follow-up with an e-mail making sure they received the package, and with more emails as you land some more "big" jobs or publications. Use proper grammer and spelling, but let your personality show through. The personal connection shows them that you are not some boring photographer who just wants free gear. You have to want to work with the company, not just get free gear! Think of all the way's that you could help them, and they will be more likely to help you.
Good luck landing sponsorships! I hope to land Nikon as a sponsor one day soon, and eventually release my own pro-model camera dubbed the NiConnor
That's the BUZZ for Today! Please check back soon for more.