For many photographers, the holy grail of “making it,” as a photographer is a sponsorship. The truth is that it’s really not as difficult as it sounds, but to make it easier, I’ll give you three tips to landing your first sponsorship.
This article is written only for those of you interested in landing a sponsorship, whether that’s for free gear, marketing yourself, some extra income, or even "prestige."
Let me begin by saying that this isn’t a fluff piece and I’m not trying to sell you anything. I’m literally going to give you the three rules to landing a sponsorship for free. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Why? Because everyone deserves a shot. I will urge you however to be careful what you wish for. Many of you have the makings of great photographers and sponsorships will only detract from your path as a creative entrepreneur. Focus on your personal endeavors first and realize that you probably do not need a sponsorship to achieve your goals.
In case you were wondering, David Beckham made $5.3 million playing for Paris Saint-Germian for his last five months playing soccer. He also made $42 million from commercial endorsements that same year from his sponsors: Adidas, Coty, Sainsbury's, Samsung, and of course H&M.
Why was he paid that? Because he influenced people's purchasing decisions. How many kids bought David Beckham shirts and Jerseys that year? How many people bought Adidas shoes after that? It's all boils down to mind share and mind share can be profitable.
Could he live off of $5.3 million? Probably. He donated it to charity instead. My point is, he could have just as easily just played soccer and been happy. We all have different endeavors in life.
Before you start pitching companies to work with you and trying to land a sponsorship, I want you to remember these three rules:
Rule 1: Remember, It’s Not About You
I see it all the time. Photographers want free gear, but believe it or not, most companies don’t give away things for free, but most provide things at a discount. On top of that, they want something in return – something of equal value for their investment. No one gives anything away for free (except for me of course). Whether it’s a camera company, lighting company, or a camera bag company, they all maintain their businesses by selling product. If you cannot leverage sales, then you are useless.
Every photographer's relationship with a sponsor will vary. Some photographers are paid. Some photographers get "free" gear. Some photographers get discounts. The blatant truth is that the more you can sell their products, the more you'll benefit.
To be clear, I’m not saying that you need to act as a salesperson, but you have to think about creating content with the mindset of a salesperson or better yet, an entrepreneur. The smartest "influencers" will only partner with companies that fit their specific workflow in order to create a seamless and wholehearted relationship. It's 2017... people read through the bullshit.
What value does your work have to leverage sales of a company’s product? For instance, if you have 100,000 followers on Instagram and promote an image that actively makes people want to buy a product, then you have leverage. If you have a 100,000 people and no one cares, then you’re probably not what the company is looking for, which brings me to rule number two.
Rule 2: Depth Matters More Than Width
Social media is a great marketing tool for companies to sell products.
Regardless of what companies tell you, as a sponsored photographer, you're a glorified salesperson for those companies. That's the nitty gritty truth. Yes, David Beckham probably would wear the clothing anyway, but why not get paid for it?
I don’t care how many followers you have on Instagram or how many subscribers you have on YouTube — engagement sells, views do not.
Views are meaningless. Anyone with enough money can drive viewership to a website and we’ve seen enough click bait articles to prove that. Engagement however is what measures if those viewers engage in your content. Are they actively reading your content, watching your content, and searching your page? Viewers who are actively engaged become loyal followers and are more likely to become clients or purchase items you’re using.
If your following is not engaged with your content, then you’re not converting any leads for the company that you’re promoting. Wise companies understand that and they’re actively looking for photographers who can help drive sales.
I'll even put my money where my mouth is. Below is a current (as of January 30, 2017) report of my Facebook stats compared to many of the industry leaders in "Photography Education." On that list are several Canon and Nikon ambassadors — while I don't have the "width" or audience that they have, my Audience (Total Page Likes) to Engagements ratio far exceeds anyone on that list. Plainly stated: I have my audience's attention.
This is a report I pull for myself (daily) and monthly for the companies I work with. My job as a "glorified salesperson" is to always make sure that I'm on top and that my brand continues to grow. Maintaining that focus is how I've been able to consistently grow my brand over the least year.
Rule 3: Don’t Jump from Sponsor to Sponsor
Don’t do it. Jumping from sponsor to sponsor is like jumping from relationship to relationship in a small town. It’s a small industry — people talk. People catch on and they’ll quickly realize that you’re in it for either free stuff or just for the title. Camera companies, lens companies, etc., want people they can count on and not someone who is going to abandon ship when the next opportunity comes around.
With sponsors, relationships matter. This is why you can’t have a prima donna attitude and expect to last in such a small industry — stay humble and remember that at the end of the day, you’re a glorified salesperson. If you can’t sell product, then you’ll quickly find yourself without a sponsorship.
This is the part where I refer you to the first paragraph in this article: This article is written only for those of you interested in landing a sponsorship, whether that’s for free gear, marketing yourself, some extra income, or even "prestige."
Working with sponsors can and will consume any free time that you have outside of working with normal clients. If you're hustling and making money working with private clients and do not see a benefit in adding this on your plate, then don't. I personally enjoy this aspect of my career because it allows me to be really analytical and competitive — which isn't for everyone.
This should go without saying, but I'll inevitably get 50 emails if I don't include it: You have to be great at what you do. Not just good, great.
In order for people to want to work with you, you have to be able to "play soccer" with David Beckham. Beckham wasn't just a handsome face. He was a great player. The same can be said for Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Muhammad Ali, Tony Hawk, etc. They were all unapologetically competitive and great. It's the one variable that can't be taught through an article, but from years of practice, dedication, and raw talent.
Finally, it's important to note that every "sponsored photographer" has different types of talent. Some are great marketers. Some are great speakers. Others are amazing artists. Each photographer is different, but at the end of the day, they're all great at something and have learned how to capitalize on their unique talent.