Below are some tips for how to find sponsorship for your cause. When we started thinking about the trip, we had no idea where to start, or whether we would even get sponsored. Try to start planning your trip earlier rather than later, especially if you need monetary support. If you don't though it's not the end of everything. Two and a half months before departure, we had no sponsors yet, and no prospects; with one month to go, we had a solid base of sponsorship to cover all our gear needs, and monetary sponsorship to at least get us through the first leg of the trip.
talk to everyone ; never stop trying
1) What’s your story?
Why are you doing this, and why does that matter? Our angle was that we are two young bilingual, bicultural kids from very different backgrounds coming together to do a very long trip. To promote this idea we created a range of basic PR materials and information to a) help people better understand what we were hoping to do, b) give them an outline of the journey, and c) show what our needs were. It included creating powerpoints and promotional videos, writing a lot of emails, and making this website. But what bound all these “end products” together was our passion for the trip. Make your conviction clear and people will feel it when you pitch to them.
2) What Can You Offer?
We offered footage, pictures, and exposure in return for sponsorship. This website, our blog, and WeChat serve as a way for people to learn about our sponsors through the content we make. In addition, a company can use our pictures to show potential customers how its equipment or services are being used in unique areas and situations all over the world.
3) What do you want?
We listed all the equipment that we would need, and then listed out companies who made the best products. We approached a lot of sponsors, but since we’re not Ewan McGregor or Charlie Boorman, we sometimes failed to gain traction. By establishing more human connections by personally visiting companies, we were able to get in touch with some of our top-choice companies, who offered to provide equipment
4) Go forth and prosper!
Since we didn’t have any powerful friends in high places to give us contacts, funds, or equipment immediately, we relied on a) word of mouth, and b) contacting sponsors directly. (Here's a great online guide from “Its On the Meter”, and it helped us get started.)
Word of Mouth
Talk to everyone. Both of us told as many people as we could about what we wanted to do, and kept all options open. You never know who’s had a secret motorcycle riding past, or who your friends happen to know. We were willing to go to intense (and perhaps awkward) lengths to get the word out there; however, we luckily didn’t have to resort to anything too crazy to find people who shared a similar mindset.
Our friends helped us spread the word, and we met many friends (old and new) who identified with our desire to see the world, but could not for their own reasons. The help, introductions, and advice of some of these friends has been the most invaluable “sponsorship” in making this trip a reality. At some point, everyone has had the impulse to leave everything behind and travel, but could not due to debt, mortgage, or the obligation to support their families. Nate and I are very lucky to be at a stage in our lives in which we have no debt, no mortgage, and no family to support, so we can leave everything behind to pursue this long-distance dream. Those who identified with our personal motivations for this trip were often happy and proactive in trying to help us complete this journey. Let people know you want them to be involved, and that you are looking for help; you will be surprised by the number of people who want to be involved!
Contact Sponsors Directly
After identifying who we would want to sponsor us, we sent out emails, made phone calls, and also visited companies in person. Try to find a personal email, ideally of a decision-maker in the company. Google is your friend, as are LinkedIn and any business directories.
We found that US companies were more used to being approached via email, while Chinese companies liked to meet in person. There’s no guarantee which method will work better. The key is to keep trying and persevere. There’s no shame in giving it everything you’ve got, because these people may never see you again anyways. If you don't get a response on an email, call and follow up. Sometimes Jieming even spent afternoons in the lobbies of target companies trying to pitch the trip to staff on the way to the bathroom in hopes of being referred to the relevant departments.
If you happen to know of any equipment conventions nearby, then you definitely go there because you can move from one stall to the other until you find all the sponsorship you need. Keep trying, because somebody might just be looking for someone like you.
Side note: something that Jieming finds interesting: US companies seem to be used to being approached via email because companies are more spread out across the country, and it’s hard for a customer to travel to the factory. However, Chinese companies typically like to meet in person because that’s the best way to build trust. Most manufacturers in China are concentrated within Guangdong and Zhejiang. In addition, companies in China have either headquarters or branch offices in Shanghai and Beijing, and the commute between these two cities is only 6 hours via high speed railway, making it much easier to travel back and forth to meet with suppliers in person.
photos, words and illustrations
©Nathaniel Brown and Jieming Sun, 2015