So you want to be a sponsored shooter, part 3: Keeping your deal

Catch up on part 1 and part 2 at their links; today we’re looking at sponsor expectations and keeping your sponsorship. Because once you’ve gotten your sponsorship, you have to actually work to keep it.

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For the shooters whose sponsorships are part of their actual jobs; i.e. they’re an employee of the company that sponsors them, keeping their sponsorship means “doing your job”, whatever it may be. There is less ambiguity in this arrangement than there is in pretty much every other sponsorship.

The real key to keeping your sponsorship is to correctly manage your sponsor’s expectations. This process starts when you’re still in the negotiations phase of the relationship before the deal is signed, and it’s also where most sponsorships go off the rails after the deal has been signed. We’ll go back to our fictional ammo company, Bob’s Ammo to provide an example. Bob’s Ammo wants to sponsor you, and they say they’ll give you 2,000 rounds of match ammo a month for a sponsorship. To provide value for Bob’s, you’ll film 2 promo videos a month, wear their logo at matches, and do six appearances working their booth at trade shows during the year. Both parties get that in writing, contracts get signed, and it’s a done deal. That’s an example of a good sponsorship with well managed expectations, because Bob’s knows exactly what they’re getting in exchange for their 2,000 rounds of ammo. You execute your responsibilities, they keep sending you ammo, everyone’s happy.

An example of a sponsorship likely to go wrong would be to take that same comp package from Bob’s and remove the written contract. Instead of the shooter clearly stating their responsibilities, they just say that they’ll use Bob’s logo on jerseys and videos, and make some promises about promo work or something like that. Bob’s goes along because the shooter is a nice guy and having logos on a jersey is kind of an ego boost, but after three months of sending out ammo, Bob’s is starting to wonder what exactly they’re getting for their investment.

That’s why creating realistic expectations and then performing those expectations is the key to keeping a sponsorship. If you tell a sponsor that you’re going to get them 10,000 new FB fans, you had better get them 10,000 new Facebook fans. Going back to part 2, make sure that the promises you’re making your sponsor are items that actually deliver value to them; and also items that you’re actually capable of performing. Using me as example, it would be unrealistic for me to promise a potential sponsor that I’m going to win USPSA Nationals. It would be realistic to say that I’ll drive 1,000 clicks per month to their product page via links on my blog.

The other aspect of keeping your sponsorship is conduct; and it’s just as important as performing your assigned duties. In the digital age we live in, this applies to both match conduct as well as online conduct. The shooting sports community is very small, everyone knows everyone else. So if a shooter is at a match wearing the logo of Bob’s Ammo Shop and acts the fool, Bob’s is going to hear about it regardless of whether their sponsored shooter tells them. When you’re wearing someone else’s logo on your back, everything you do and say on the range or the internet is a reflection of that company whether or not you’re actually representing them at the time. It can be extremely frustrating at times, especially when you really want to give someone a piece of your mind, but in the end the temporary satisfaction you’d get for telling off a troll isn’t worth the possibility of losing a sponsor. This doesn’t mean you can’t be honest or have forthright opinions, it just means you have to be a professional about it. It goes back to what your parents hopefully taught you when you were a kid: if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.

If I had to boil all of this down four bullet points on keeping your sponsorship, it would be these:

  1. Set reasonable expecations
  2. Meet or exceed those expecations
  3. Get it in writing
  4. Don’t be a dick on the range or the internet

You probably wouldn’t be surprised how often the last one trips people up. I should note as well that “being a dick” is subjective, and behavior that some sponsors would be totally fine with would get you booted from other companies. That is part of “setting expectations.”