I know a lot about this because I didn't agree to an exclusive sponsor for my Roller Coaster Tour.
I decided to sponsor RollerCoasterTour.com myself.
Although getting a big chunk of money from a company would be sweet, in the long run it's better if I make sales of Mind Control Method or Luxury of Less. (I'm planning on taking How To Live Anywhere off the market in about a month so I can revamp it, so I'm not including that.) I'm in this for the long haul, not for short term gains, and spreading my influence is more important to me than spreading influence for another company. (Not that there is anything wrong with that, because in the right situation I would be into it.)
I'm going to track sales that come from RollerCoasterTour.com so I know what is what. I'll let you know after the tour is over how the tour did in the short term. There are also a lot of intangible benefits from the tour and I won't know all the long term benefits for, well, a long time.
What I Did On My Quest To Find A SponsorI made a list of companies I would feel comfortable supporting and I contacted them. Unlike most people (actors, musicians, sports stars, almost anybody else?) I won't put my name behind any company in exchange for the almighty dollar. It's just not worth it to me. There has to be more to it than cash money. My brain fights itself too much when things aren't on the up and up. I wonder if I'd be a good politician? Ha!
Let me elaborate about how I contacted companies.
I found a social media or PR contact for each company and contacted that person. Finding the contact is usually easy enough to do using the company website or Google, but if I couldn't find a PR department contact I would send an e-mail to whatever contact I could find. I also tweeted a few companies. For the most part nothing came of that, but I'll share something interesting that came from Twitter in the results section below.
In the beginning I also contacted Peter Shankman for advice, being sure to keep it to less than 5 sentences, of course. I can't imagine how many e-mails he receives. He responded that I should focus on just one company's parks and get them involved like that. "The Six Flags Tour of the United States" type of thing. While that would be cool, it didn't align with what I wanted to do. I thanked him for the advice and moved on with my original "every coaster" mission.
The (Lack Of) ResultsIn my contacts with PR departments I was sure to highlight the benefits of sponsoring the tour, but most e-mails were ignored.
Two companies (Boingo and TripIt) gave me free accounts to try, but didn't want to sponsor. Boingo gave me 4 months (retail value: ~$100?) but I probably won't use it at all while on the coaster tour because I'm using a mobile broadband connection. That said, Boingo was awesome in airports and in random cities all over the UK and Ireland when I was there last month. I had WiFi connections almost everywhere I tested the service. (The guys in The Swellers also appreciated the Boingo WiFi since I was sometimes able to connect 4 devices to my one account.)
I really like how the TripIt Pro service (retail: $49/year) works, and I've been forwarding my hotel reservations (I'm averaging over 50% off Expedia rates using Priceline!) to the service. I have easy access to all my reservations through the app, which is convenient.
To be clear: I would not have paid for either of these services had they not been given to me. Not for the coaster tour anyway. Had we worked out a sponsorship I had a few fun ideas on how to integrate their services into the tour. But doing it without their support will be too much work so it's not gonna happen. I'll have enough to do on tour.
Note: I was not asked to write about Boingo or TripIt. They were really nice and I'm happy to support nice people.
I was also in touch with the PR person for Best Western and she liked what I was up to. We exchanged a few e-mails and she said she'd get back to me after speaking to the company. I don't know if this was just a brush off, but I followed up after a little while and never heard back. I contacted mostly mid-range hotels like Best Western because they are in almost every city on my tour and I feel like they would get more benefit than higher end hotel chains. A roller coaster adventure is more of a family event and, in general, most middle class families don't stay at the Four Seasons.
My Honesty Prompts One Company To Back OutOne of the company's I contacted on twitter got back to me with great interest. They make a camera that is wearable on your ear. I thought this might be perfect for the coasters, but I also thought that maybe it might not work well on coasters because it could fall off. In any case, asking them to sponsor the tour didn't cost me anything.
I talked to their media person on the phone and we chatted for 15 minutes. She wanted to know what I was looking for. I essentially said "a title sponsor that would take care of all of my costs in exchange for all the promotion I'd do on their behalf." She said since they were a startup they couldn't spend money on a sponsorship, but would be willing to "seed me with a few units." My response was "Yeah, that would be great! But so we're clear, this won't be a major sponsorship. I will mention the product where it's relevant and also link it on the sponsorship page, but this isn't going to be RollerCoasterTour.com Sponsored By [The Company]. I'll also be honest about how I like it. If I don't like it I'm not going to lie and if I do like it I'll definitely say so."
I never heard back. I was actually looking forward to using the product, but the fact that me saying I'd be honest would make them back out tells me that I probably would not have liked the product. The $200 cost of the "unit" wasn't enough to buy my love. The way to my heart is through my stomach not my wallet, duh.
I also contacted the GoPro company, who make the camera I'm using on the tour, but they weren't interested in sponsoring. I straight up paid for the camera (HD Hero Naked) and accessories (head strap, chest strap, and wrist strap - not sure which one will be best for coaster riding). I joined their affiliate program and may link to them where it's relevant on the Roller Coaster Tour site. Or I may not. We'll see how I like the camera first.
A Sponsor I Would Be Happy To Support, But Decided AgainstA protein bar company called Zing Bar, who I was put in touch with through a friend, was going to send me a bunch of their bars. After their CEO David and I talked I said I'd go to REI (one of their distribution channels) to see if I liked the taste. I didn't want to take a bunch of their bars and then not want to eat them.
The cool thing with Zing is that some of the bars are vegan friendly, but all of them are gluten free. While I don't have a known gluten sensitivity I always feel better when I'm on a gluten free diet, so that was a cool bonus.
Anyway, I went to REI, bought the 2 vegan flavors they had in stock ($2.75 each), and ate them. They were good (I liked craberry/orange more than chocolate/peanut butter), but I ultimately made the decision not to accept their bars. It's nothing against their company, but I simply decided to sponsor the tour myself. In my brief 15 minute conversation with David I could tell he is a smart entrepreneur so I'm happy to mention them here even though I'm not doing a sponsorship with them. I wish them the best!
What About The Theme Parks?Some parks are being great about giving me media passes, and some parks are being more difficult. In a way, I guess you can consider a media pass a partial sponsorship. I'll disclose exactly which parks give me media passes on the relevant blog posts for RollerCoasterTour.com.
I really have to give a huge shout out to Louis from CoasterFusion.com here. He has been an incredible help in getting me in touch with the right person at a lot of parks. Before his help I literally had zero parks that wanted to give me media passes. I'm still working my way through contacting the right people after contacting a lot of the wrong people before. BTW, a CoasterFusion membership is $10 and it gets you access to a lot of great park discounts all over the US and even a few internationally. I'll be utilizing my membership (which I paid for) in the places I'm not able to get a media pass. Again, I wasn't asked or paid to say that. Louis has been a tremendous help and I want his site to succeed as it's fairly new and he's put a lot of work into something really useful.
Also, a big thanks to Matt Bailey for letting me know that certain Six Flags season passes work at all Six Flags parks! So instead of paying $30 - $50 per park I bought a season pass for Great America (my first Six Flags park on the list) for $75 and I get access to the rest of the Six Flags parks I have on my list (11 parks total), not including parking ($20 per park). That prompted me to see if Cedar Fair (they own Cedar Point, Michigan's Adventure, and 8 other parks on my list) had a similar deal. Lo and behold, yes they do! It's $165, but it includes free parking at all parks. These two passes cover 21 of the parks on my list.
What I Could Have Done DifferentlyI could have done a lot differently. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that good stuff. Part of the problem is I'm a nobody to the vast majority of the world. Sure, I get a decent amount of visitors to this site, but most companies aren't impressed by 50k visitors/month. 500k/month? 1mm/month? Now we're talking.
So I can understand the trepidation with throwing $20k at someone you don't know for a crazy event you don't know much about. That said, this is just an excuse. If you want something to happen, and are intently focused on making it happen, you will make it happen. I believe that and I live that. What I'm trying to say is I had it in the back of my head to sponsor the tour myself all along, unless an absolutely ideal opportunity presented itself.
The interesting thing is, once you build your profile enough companies will begin contacting you. I'm not at that point, but it will make things a lot easier in the future. I'm only interested in win/win/win scenarios so if things look good, I'm game. If not, I'm not. And the companies I contacted probably feel the same. I respect that and I'm not delusional enough to think sponsoring me is like sponsoring a movie or sports star.
What Would I Have Done If My Back Was To The Wall and I Absolutely Needed Someone To Fund The Tour?This is a difficult question to answer. If I couldn't do this tour without sponsoring it myself I'd probably have went about things a lot differently. I would have had no choice. Either I'd have been more relentless about contacting potential sponsors (and less vigilant about the type of company), or I would have switched up the tour ... maybe hitch hiked or used ride shares and camped/couchsurfed.
My Biggest Take-awayIt's important to try things even if you have no idea how you're going to make them happen. Even though it was a grueling process putting this tour together it has been fun. It'll be more fun to actually begin the tour!
In the future if I ever do something that will be conducive to a sponsorship I'll be far better prepared because of what I went through here.
Odds and ends.
1) Roller Coaster Tour begins Saturday at Michigan's Adventure in Muskegon, MI. The time has come!
2) My friend Jason is doing a 300 mile bike ride this weekend from Chicago to Detroit in support of prostate cancer. He's raised almost $2,000 already! This is the 2nd Annual Man Powering Across Michigan ride (Jason did the first one solo, this time he has company) and I asked him to write an article about putting together your first road bike. I asked him to write it partly for selfish reasons since I'm very interested in building my own bike, but I hope you'll get a lot out of it as well. Jason is a meticulous researcher and it's a big article. That's coming Monday.