07 Nov Sponsored Athlete: Case Study #1 Jessica Grey – Paralympic Weightlifter
One of the most exciting aspects of being an athlete sponsorship consultant, is getting to meet and work with some incredibly motivated and inspiring people. 33 year old Paralympic powerlifter Jessica Gray, from Melbourne, is one of those people.
Jessica was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis several years ago, which means she’s in a wheelchair some of the time, but lifting huge heavy weights a lot of the time! The life sentence of MS has been given the boot, and instead Jessica has created a wonderful life that revolves around her family, her sport and her passion for helping others.
When Jessica and I worked together, these are the steps we took to ensure she engaged the right sponsorship and enough to ensure she could fully immerse herself in her sport, and achieve some personal goals along the way.
The steps we took are exactly the same for any type of athlete, and in my vast experience the sport,
STEP 1 – Identify Purpose
Obviously covering the cost of Jessica’s sport was the priority, but this isn’t always just a matter of getting financial sponsorship. We identified ALL the things that she spends money on, not just in her sport but in her life generally! Things like transport, clothing, groceries, insurance…..all those kinds of things that many athletes forget to include when it comes to getting sponsorship.
This opens up the world for an athlete because you aren’t just going for sponsors that everyone else in your sport is going for….you’re thinking and looking outside the square!
We also talked about Jessica’s desire to give back to others, and with her Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis, it was a fairly obvious choice about what cause to support. Her reason was altruistic, of course, but we also discussed which MS charity would be the best one for her in terms of how it might grow her profile as an athlete, and which ones were active in social media and events as Jessica really wanted to increase her public speaking activities and develop really good social media skills and content.
Everything in sponsorship has to be strategic. You can come from a place of meaningful and purposeful relationships, but to achieve goals you need to have strategy. It’s not about selling out or being selfish….it’s about choosing the right approach to ensure everyone involved gets the most out of sponsorship!
From Jessica: “In today’s world it can be very difficult for any athlete to gain sponsorship, particularly as a female Para-Powerlifting athlete, there is next to nothing in the form of representation or assistance. The Sponsorship Consultants made it apparent to me that it is possible – no matter the type of athlete or discipline.
When I came across Vickie Saunders’ book “Sponsorship for Athletes” I’d already had some success with sponsors but it was hit and miss. Reading her book really made sense of why I had succeeded in some efforts and failed in others. It gave me the courage to consider the idea that I could self-fund my sport through sponsorship.”
Image: Jessica is now an Ambassador for MS Australia! Here she is doing one of the things she loves….public speaking….at one of their charity sports events.
STEP 2 – Identify Sponsors
After identifying all of the ‘things’ that she currently (or would like to) spends money on, Jessica and I created a shortlist of potential sponsors, and she then did some further research on them to find out how suitable they were for her.
We discussed what the ‘ideal sponsor’ would offer Jess, and beyond just financial support (in the form of product, service or cash), we established it was important that they could also provide a platform that would help develop and grow Jessica’s profile and give her opportunities to increase her network and improve her skills as a public speaker.
It was a matter of identifying sponsors that Jessica believed in, that were relevant to her audience (fans, followers, family and friends), and that she would be able to offer great value back to.
After some research on MS charities, Jessica decided to approach MS Australia as they have an active speaker programme, great social media, and are very actively involved with the support of people with MS.
Image: Jessica has been sponsored for 2 years by Dineamic who create meals for athletes! Here she is at a trade show with them…..cooking up a storm and sharing her story with visitors to their booth.
STEP 3 – Identify Value
One of the most important steps was identifying the value that Jessica could offer her sponsors, and aligning that with what they needed as a business. The research Jessica did on each sponsor revealed the kinds of marketing activities they already do, and what they are trying to achieve as a business. In some cases discussions were needed to gain more clarity on this, and in the next step (that’s exactly what Jessica did.
The kinds of things that Jessica was able to offer her sponsors included:
- Public speaking
- Team building workshops
- Training and fitness tips
- Her unique story – as blogs, social media posts, presentations and videos – and otld in relation to the audience of each sponsor
- Photos and videos of the sponsors products in use
- Attending events (expo’s, conventions, community and sport events) with her sponsors and on their behalf
- Engaging media coverage such as magazine, newspaper and online articles as well as radio and TV interviews (she may not always be able to mention her sponsors or wear their logo’s on her clothes, but the exposure boosts Jessica’s audience which means more people follow her social media and visit her webpage at which point they see who Jessica’s sponsors are)
From Jessica: “Vickie taught me how to pick the most appropriate companies to approach, how to do it, and how to relate my strengths and demonstrate my value to potential sponsors. Sponsorship should never be a handout – understanding how to build and maintain a successful relationship with a sponsor is a major and vital part of what the Sponsorship Consultants taught me.”
Image: Activations like this crowd participation event in the Melbourne CBD are great for sponsors and Jessica is always keen to get involved! This kind of activity saves time and money for her sponsors….and gives Jessica (and her sport and MS) great exposure!
STEP 4 – Have Conversations
The most important part of this step is to begin contact with potential sponsors if you are not already in contact with them. For Jessica it meant finding out who the right person was to speak to at each of the shortlisted companies…..and pick up the phone to:
- Let them know she existed and find out a bit more about them
- Let them know she was planning on approaching them about sponsorship and find out if they were willing to receive a proposal (and if there was a particular format or time of year that they preferred)
The conversations gave Jessica clarity on the next steps for each potential sponsor, and for each of them a proposal was created that gave them the information they would need to know to assess the suitability of Jessica as a viable investment for them.
From Jessica: “After private consultations with Vickie we put together a professional sponsorship profile template that I was able to alter to specifically target individual sponsors.”
Image: Jessica is active in the media and can provide loads of great evidence to her potential sponsors that she will be a great investment for them!
While Jessica’s story of MS and athletic accomplishment is incredible, her story of sponsorship is not unique or unusual…….it is the result of having a clear plan and taking action, having conversations and always looking for the value you can offer back to sponsors.
From Jessica: “After a lot of hard work and persistence, I have been able to gain valuable and consistent sponsorship. I now have 8 significant sponsors covering all the needs of my sport, mobility, supplementation, nutrition, financial and even beauty.
In fact, thanks to the assistance of the Sponsorship Consultants I am the most sponsored power-lifter in Australia, a great achievement considering that I am a disabled athlete! Without these sponsors I would not have been able to continue in my sport after the loss of government funding from the Australian Sporting Commission in July 2014.
I am now officially an MS Australia Ambassador, and through public speaking I raise much needed funds and awareness for them, and in turn they are supportive of my journey and offer some great opportunities for me to connect with a larger audience (which is great for me and my sponsors)!
I would recommend the Sponsorship Consultants to any athlete whether they already have sponsors or not, for they open your mind to what you are able to achieve, creating great opportunities for the future”.
While you are competitive in your sport, sponsorship is abundant and you will gain more from collaborating and sharing experiences and knowledge with your fellow athletes. There is an abundance of sponsorship available to you and all the other athletes seeking sponsorship…..so share this blog, and get the conversations and ideas happenning in your network!
Check out Jessica’s Facebook page: http://on.fb.me/1XCK4Am