Found a question in my e-mail this morning, one that I am asked frequently. I was writing back a long rant (hoping my editor isn't too mad at me since he'll read this and know my deadline was yesterday), when it occurred to me to post it for anyone who was curious.
Q: I’m in the process of getting ready to venture out for a 12-18 month RTW trip end of this year, and was interested in how you approached some of the sponsors on your site, and what assistance they provided you with?
A: The best advice I can give on sponsorship is: Don't bother.
I did score well on a few points, but I had to work at it and for the most part, free things are a mixed blessing.
To get anything for free or discount, you have to give the sponsor a reason to support you. In other words, what's in it for them?
If they simply get the satisfaction of helping someone do a cool trip, they might give you a small percentage off of a product in order to acquire your business. But that's it. They gain, you gain. (Except you don't necessarily, more on that in a minute.) The fact is that plenty of people take RTW trips, and simply doing it offers no incentive to anyone to sponsor you. There's enough people doing RTW trips to support several businesses that specialize, which can be a bit disappointing to those on their once-in-a-lifetime trip, which is of course, special to them and all their loved ones.
If you have a website, they'll only gamble on you if you can prove that you have a built-in readership, a professional site, and a compelling reason for them to bother. I produced a glossy press kit prior to MariesWorldTour, and when I launched this, there was no such thing as blogging software. Now of course there are hundreds of travel sites out there and plenty of RTW blogs, all competing for attention.
So assuming you have a great outlet, such as a professional website with a few thousand readers, or a magazine that is guaranteed to publish your work, or a cable TV show, and you produce a glossy press kit, you could perhaps get such things as:
-free or discounted travel products
-free or discounted outfitter trips
-trips at cost
But beware the freebie! I had some incredible trips and some disorganized nightmares, but when someone gives you something free or at a substantial discount, you are stuck in the spot of being beholden to them. Really high-end publications won't even allow their staff to accept junkets, but realistically, at my level you must accept freebies unless you just want to watch people leave on safari and then try to imagine what their trip is like. But you're stuck then. Say the trip sucks. Well, morally you have the right to say so. But realistically, can you do that? You will have met some nice employees for the company, people who treated you well and understood your mission. Now can you really go out and say "This company is a disaster?"
-I had a phenomenal canoe/camping trip in Zimbabwe. Wrote a positive article about it. Everyone was happy. This was with Zambezi Canoe Safaris.
-I went on a disastrous safari in Botswana. The vehicle was inadequate, the staff clueless, the itinerary vague. I abandoned the group and left early on the public bus. Three of the other five clients left a day later. In this case, the marketing director of the company had bent over backwards to help me. Now what to write? And I don't even want to say who it was with, because maybe they are usually quite good and this was an exception.
And on the product front, if you wouldn't buy it without the discount, don't buy it with the discount. It's dead weight, something you have to carry on your back. I got one of those chicken-wire covers for my backpack. Did I ever use it? No. In the end, I gave it to my pal Lynne to take home for me, and I never thought to get it back from her. It's probably still in her storage unit in Slough.
JetCityJimbo once said it best after he'd gotten a substantial discount on a trip-gone-bad.
"In the end," he e-mailed, "they paid me NOT to write about it."