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Photo by Lucas Gilman

 I signed my first contract on a napkin 13 years ago with Kristine Jackson. I was 17 and getting sponsored was the coolest thing that ever happened to me.

Today I call myself a professional whitewater kayaker: I do this for a living. Over the past decade, I’ve had several different sponsorships and developed relationships with companies that make it possible living off this niche sport. Here are some of my secrets:

A sponsorship is a relationship of mutual benefit between a brand and an individual.

Understand the other side. A brand won’t sponsor you just for being cool or having 500 more Insta followers than your friends. What does the company need? Your currency is exposure, visibility. Companies also need content, product testing, product reviews, etc. Understand who you are, and what you can provide.

Be different. Companies already have enough emails from kids like you looking for a  deal, just like you. So be creative. Find a way to stick out of the heard.

Think out of the box. Look for different companies. You will have less competition where no one else is looking. Think of a brand for whom you can provide value, then you just need to find a marketing contact. Ideally you know someone who knows someone and you can get a meeting. Most of the time, it all starts with an email or an Instagram DM.

Drop your ego. I find it very hard to like someone with a big ego, and in the end, getting the right person to like you is gonna’ define your success. Actions speak louder than words.

Escalate. You don’t start by asking a company for $$, unless you are Kelly Slater. Start by asking for a deal. Create a relationship. Prove your value. Then ask for free stuff. Create more value for the company. Make sure you are the reason they are selling their product. Then ask for $$. You basically always have to be giving a company more than you are asking for.

Be professional. Create a good resume and proposal. Answer emails quick enough but don’t be annoying. A sponsorship is a commitment, so hold your side of the deal. Being loyal to a brand not just leads to a better relationship over the years, but also makes proof of your name to other potential sponsors.

It’s all about personal relationships. If I had to delete this whole text and only got to keep a single line, this would be it. I am not sponsored by Red Bull, I am sponsored by human beings that hold titles such as Athlete Specialist or Sports Marketing Manager. And I take care of my personal relationships very strongly. In the end, if the person in charge wants to make it happen, it will happen; if they don’t like you, you are fried.

Always do more than they expect from you. For me a sponsorship is not about today. It feels really cool getting free stuff, but I’ve learned it’s all about the future. If you want to keep a relationship growing positively, always give more. Like my dad used to tell me: always be the best you can be. 

Photo by Caleb Wallace