The decision has been made to travel the world for ever and beyond. All that’s needed now is to rake in enough money to fund it. Why not try and hook up sponsors to help the piggy bank? Equipment is expensive and any free stuff would go a long way to making that epic trip happen. That’s what they say, right?

It’s not as easy as it seems. Getting free stuff can also potentially put a bit of a damper on that once in a lifetime experience. Allow me to explain the reason I decided to write about sponsorship deals and the pros and cons of this trend in the adventure motorcycle market.

Years ago we were struggling to find equipment and kit for our trips and subsequently decided to start a brand of products for the outdoor 4×4, motorcycle adventure and overlanders market. The business grew rather quickly into a successful brand and with that came continued requests for sponsorships. Over time we learned some expensive lessons in this regard.

In 2010 we started travelling semi-permanently and being in the industry we received a few sponsorship offers. Although we did not take them up, we continued interacting with this market. We still do today even though we’ve sold our company. We exchange ideas and information with different brands and their owners which affords us pretty good insight into how brands feel about sponsorships.

We have been on both sides of this coin and as such feel we can offer advice and tips for both brands and individuals. There are lots of dynamics and variables at play, but hopefully what we touch on in this article can help to make more informed decisions.

The role of social media

Social media has had a remarkable influence on brands and how they approach marketing. It has opened up a whole new universe of opportunities for brands to get to their target audience and with little expense. Social media has created perfect opportunities for many new smaller brands and products to show the world their stunning innovative ideas. They can now benefit and compete with the bigger brands on the same level. The adventure motorcycle market for one, has used social media with great success, especially the smaller new brands.

There is a trend by larger outdoor brands to move away from the mega money sponsorships to hardcore expeditions using experienced authentic adventurers. They have begun investing in the tech and social media savvy younger generation. Their reasoning, even if the expedition fails the amount of social media chatter they generate more than covers the base cost of the products sponsored. The tech-savvy social media types create more value for money than the experienced adventurer who does not know his/her way around social media.

Sponsorships and conventional marketing

Many small businesses never had to deal with sponsorships, some had pure luck and for others it was an expensive and horror filled nightmare.

Social media for the most part has very little cost in comparison to print, events, etc. Companies weigh up the sponsorship value to a person versus the cost and success they achieved with their other advertising initiatives. For them the goal might be to show their products in action in the real world, in real travel conditions.

Sponsorship by a brand is not just a kind action to help a down and out freeloading overlander. Their goal is to measure and quantify the success of the sponsorship. The brand might need more than unique photos or a video for future use in catalogues or advertising material, they might want a high presence social media personality to create awareness and presence.

What do you bring to the table?

Most of the sponsorship requests we received went something like this:

“We will be doing this hardcore trip, better and more epic than any before, in fact so hardcore we will have one guy die in the process and if not we will cut off his pinkie finger to prove the point and get likes on Facebook. We will send you hundreds of photos per month.” (Not sure what they will look like or what kind of photos or the quality is mentioned.)

“We will plaster and spam up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat we will even backchat.” (It might end in people disliking the brand due to this kind of offer of spamming.)

“We will write some articles and reviews we will post on our brand new blog.“ (Blog has no subscribers and is only viewed by mom, dad and some friends and no content to be bothered by search engines.)

“And then we will write articles for magazines and even maybe a book.” (Good luck, and for your information, magazines won’t publish an article plastered with brand names.)

Travellers pretty much need to bring some sound skills to the table to convince a brand to dish out free stuff.

Consider the flip side: “No sponsors please”

As a traveller you should strongly reconsider getting sponsors on board. It might sound disingenuous but there is method to the madness, as I know you feel that if you can get free stuff you would not need to spend as much on equipment and can save it for travelling. This viewpoint is also the only single valid argument for sponsorship.

I am sure your initial idea to travel the world was not based on what you can score through sponsorships. It was based on the insatiable desire to travel, meet people and see the world. Your intention was not to work for some company while travelling. Sponsorship for the most part will not be made up of cash; it will be in the form of products. Basically, if you cannot afford to muster up the money for the few items needed to travel and have to depend on sponsorships, you simply do not have enough money to begin, period.

What the brand owners would expect from you will be work. They want photos and videos, definitely not some dodgy, by the way, out of focus iPhone photos. They need decent high quality near professional spec photos and videos they can use for their advertising and marketing projects. They will expect you to generate traffic for their website or social media pages. Whatever you post must reflect the quality or values of their brand and as a sponsored person you should reflect the brand. In short, you work for the brand!

Tolga Basol sponsored by Klim

Tolga Basol sponsored by Klim

Creating worthwhile, high quality, picture telling photos generally involves a lot of work. Getting to a scene early in the morning or shooting video over and over until you capture the scene perfectly. To achieve this you will probably spend more on the photographic equipment that you get with the free tank-bag. Eventually your trip is not your trip anymore, it is a marketing exercise for a brand and it will cost you more than the free stuff you received. That is of course, if you are the type of person who takes the responsibility seriously and does what you promise. Approximately 90% of our sponsoring experiences was made up of people who never performed as they promised.

Most brands will at best offer you a proper discount. In which case you would have been better off buying some good quality, newish, second hand gear on E-bay or Craigslist for less money anyway. The benefit is no responsibility towards anybody, just enjoy an obligation-free journey. Ara Gureghian wrote a great article about exactly this topic.

In the end it’s your money, time, luxury, loss of income due to being on the road. Take some time and make sure to understand whether it’s worthwhile to sacrifice that luxury by working for a brand for a meagre discount or freebie. The brand will be the winner in this agreement for damn sure.

The reasons people don’t deliver

One, they probably didn’t realise the extent of the work involved in running a social media campaign in addition to their own feed to friends and family. Their social media turns into hashtagged, spam filled advertising and is no longer the interesting value-added feed they envisaged. Most readers will tell you they skip anything that looks like advertising.

Then there is the uploading and data issue. It is for sure not easy uploading high res photos e.g. in Africa. Wi-Fi and internet is not what you had living in a posh city. A lot of trip planners use a tight time schedule and experiencing the world takes up more time than anticipated, leaving little time for capturing, editing, uploading of data to feed into social media. While your friends sit and drink beer in a small town Mexican bar enjoying the local girls, you will edit photos in your boring hostel room.

Other folk just want the free stuff with no intention of performing. Some trips end prematurely due to accidents or other unforeseen reasons. Some never even begin their trips.

When a brand supplies products free of charge there is a serious responsibly to perform as agreed. If you don’t, you are no better than a con artist and freeloader, ruining the sponsorship culture for others.

If you are still adamant then keep these tips in mind:

1) Write a proper proposal to send to brands and if accepted get it in contract as it helps after a year or so for you to use that as a CV for future sponsorships. The basics apply; do not over promise and under deliver. Be conservative in your promises. Ensure that you communicate with the correct person who makes the decisions. Explain how you will add value to the brand and how your photos, social media and other means will be of benefit to them. If you are new to travel or haven’t travelled a new destination or expedition do not promise stuff that might back fire. For example to upload even 50 high res photos each month while in Africa will just never happen. Make sure you quantify how many photos they will receive, the size and whether they will be action, stills or panoramas. Same goes for video, etc. Explain your social media plans in detail. How many posts, when and how many followers. How you’ll share your photos and how you will interact with their brand’s social media campaign. Why must they consider you?

2) You would need to use proper photographic equipment. A high-spec laptop is part of the equipment needed. Take into account; it would still be worth the spend as documenting such an epic trip even for yourself is worthwhile. Learning how to take near professional photos would be to your advantage.

3) Start well in advance with a blog and social media campaign. Whether it is Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, forum posts, blog posts, etc. you would need to have a decent following for brands to even consider your proposal. Social media is all about sharing the love. Follow as many people and other brands as possible. If not, people will see you as some kind of prima donna who wants attention but is not interested in being part of the community as a whole. Social media means being social!

4) Blog posts need to be valued articles for Google to index them. Google differentiates between selling and value added articles. Writing your daily movements as a post is not generally of value nor would it generate traffic. For a successful blog, getting somebody with knowledge to help with SEO will increase traffic considerably.

5) Stay in contact with the brands you represent on a regular basis. Tell them what is happening, ask what more you can do to help, check if they are happy with your performance and whether your performance is still in line with their goals and vision for their brand.

6) If for some reason you are unable to perform your part of the agreement get in contact with the brand. Do not just vanish and disappear. Brands checks on sponsored people and due to the relatively small industry news travels fast. You will find out quickly that other brands will avoid you like the plague. Discuss what the brand expects from you if you are unable to continue with your trip. As example, you get in an accident one week into your trip and the free pannier bags are destroyed and you cannot continue due to a broken leg or two, what are the repercussions, do you need to pay for the panniers or will they write them off?

7) If you do get a sponsor and they are not leveraging your blogpost or social media post it might be part of how they manage their social media and marketing campaign. They might only need your photos or video for print media and do not see your sponsorship as running advertising, brand exposure or social media campaign. How and what they do with the content you generate and supply is up to them to use or not. We had numerous discussions with sponsored people who complained about brands not using their content. In the end, it’s the brand’s decision how, where, when and if, to use your content.

8) Most brands are open to an offer for a few photos and some mentions for a small discount on products. For both sides, this is a win win and the work input will not get in the way of an otherwise once in a lifetime trip. In addition that brand might offer a better discount or product when contacted in the future by the same person, if they did well the first time.

9) Avoid using a “cause” to help pay for your holiday. Only go this route if you have a legitimate and personal connection with the cause. People and companies got clever on dodgy tactics and see right through it, in fact it is a downright scam. If you are going to go that route be genuine and make sure the cause you are supporting receive a significantly larger benefit than you do. Also make sure the cause can be verified and people can verify your contribution and the funds being collected. Your mere presence at an orphanage is not a good cause. Riding to raise money for a dying family member is not a good cause, why would you cavort around the world instead of spending time with a loved one?

10) If you want to make a career out of it there are many other and better paying career options to consider. But if this is your thing, then there are some skills like writing and photography that you will have to master. Saying that only a small handful of writers are successful and are earning a meaningful income.

Megan and Matthew Snyman

Megan and Matthew Snyman sponsored by Canon

Tips for brand owners

Many newer brands born in the last 10 years or so were created out of the love and ingenuity of individuals who saw the need for a better product in the dual sport and outdoor market. Most of the time these entrepreneurs were excellent designers and manufacturers and certainly understood the need for the product. But many of them to this day are downright rubbish at marketing. And although it seems and sounds easy there is a complex mix of ingredients to marketing.

With media and especially social media evolving constantly it can become a frustrating and excruciating activity. This has created new opportunities for individuals that have skills in this field to assist other businesses. Whether you are considering outsourcing this task, or do it in-house here are a few points that might make the process less painful and costly.

1) Do some homework, talk to other brands, especially the ones provided as references. We found many brands were eager to tell if they were successful and happy with a person for sponsorship or not.

2) Get comprehensive information about the person you intend to sponsor. How long have they been riding, how many trips over what time frame covering how many countries. Is the person committed or only looking for a freebie? Check the quality of articles they have written on their blog, is this the kind of person you would take in good standing and would be happy to become part of your brand. Pretty much basic stuff, but take the time to do homework and dig a little.

3) Set out proper guidelines and terms of what you expect. How many photos or blog posts per week, how must the photos be shared and must you approve them first. Do you want the person to stick the entire vehicle full of sponsorship stickers as well as one on the forehead? Who pays for the branding? Do you want to have proof of the branding still being on the vehicle every now an then?

4) Contentious exposure: For example would you care if the person shared stoned up photos on his or her social media feed from their weekend at the beach on the same social media feeds where they share yours? Same counts for religious, political or other contentious topics. Make it clear if you have issues with such exposure, what would be acceptable and what not.

5) Agree beforehand who owns the rights to the photos and video material. Can the person sell the photos to magazines or use in other ways?

6) Pay attention to the time frame of travel. Generally trips spanning less than 8 months struggle to build a big enough audience to justify the sponsorship. If the trip or person is a longterm on/off traveller, meaning more on than off, with a constant flow of content it would be a worthwhile long-term relationship.

7) Ask for proper information regarding the content you need. If it is photos or video, ask for examples of their work and information on the equipment they plan to use. Make sure the individual knows your target market and goals. Make sure they understand that it remains your choice to use their content and it is not to be seen as a sign for the end of the agreement if you hear nothing from the brand or they do not share or react to your social media efforts.

8) We found that the general consensus of a workable agreement was to offer a generous discount on products, rather than giving them away for free. Once the person is known and have proven and kept to agreements, we would offer free products when they do more trips. People who pay for items have a vested interest in the product, free stuff has zero value and people have no forced responsibility towards you or the product, you will get nothing back and have no benefit from giving free stuff. In fact you wasted the opportunity cost and profit to sell that item instead.

9) Cash agreements are generally very far and few between and are on a much higher level of agreement than the normal small run of the mill sponsorship.

10) People with truckloads of sponsorships are best steered clear of. They will inevitably not be able to perform as intended if they need to create content for 10 or more other brands. It is just that simple. Rather keep your sponsorship for a dedicated person with few brands and a good following. It’s easy to spot on social media the “brand collectors”, they have a photo with a one liner and the rest all #tags. No substance, no value, and nothing meaning full except their post have that typical spam look to it. The “brand collectors” typically have a high followers count with a very low following count on social media platforms. They act like prima donnas and are not interested in being part of the community you sell to. Rather keep your sponsorship for a dedicated person with few brands and a good following. Think quality not quantity.

11) Great option to consider is a small discount for a few well placed product placement photos of videos and it’s done with. No responsibility for either party.

12) Obtain reviews from customers and try not to use sponsored people to write reviews. The public generally see sponsored people as biased and not honest about their reviews for obvious reasons.

13) Social media is exactly what it says. If you do not share and interact with the people you sponsor don’t bother sponsoring people, you waste your own time and money. The entire idea mainly for the social media and blogger types are about sharing. If you do not interact with them and your customers you are wasting valuable marketing and brand building opportunities.

14) If you still to this day and age do not have a constant full on social media campaign you are as good as dead or on your way to being extinct. Your competition is running away from you. And it does not have to be the entire spectrum of social media applications, choose the ones that’s got the most activity. Some techniques work better in certain social media channels than others or some channels might work better than others for ADV brands as example.

15) Consider using ‘match-making people’. This type of marketing has created opportunities for marketing people to assist brands with SEO, social media and sponsorship match-making. Eric Hall and Overland Junction manage social media, SEO and other aspects of marketing for adventure motorcycling brands. In addition they match sponsorship seekers and brands. They create a profile of an individual’s exposure and rating on social media and rate them to enable a brand to choose the best suited persons for their sponsorship budget and campaign. As example it will be pointless to try and match a girl who has never seen a dirt road with an off-road brand of Adventure bike. The person would better be suited at a brand of road motorcycle.

When it’s approached in the right way, sponsorship can benefit both parties. These are only some general ideas, but I hope this article will help make the decisions easier for both adventurers and brands.


Photos courtesy of Tolga Basol and Megan & Matthew Snyman


Michnus Olivier