February 28, 2013

Epiphany At Worlds...

 I had an epiphany recently at Cyclocross Worlds...

Big Crowds! Big Exposure?
Every team is built on the relationships it has with sponsors...we need their support and covet their products. We hope to gain prestige each year so that we may reach the lofty heights of those who receive free products and, hope-hope, money too!

As part of that process we continually talk to sponsors. Current sponsors, previous sponsors, potential sponsors, doesn't matter. Maybe they are a step higher on the totem pole of prestige. Maybe we need to fill a category or replace a partner. So we talk to folks, we send sponsorship packets, we make calls in the quest to once-again field a competitive program.

I had a couple of these conversations in Kentucky. A couple were with potential sponsors that I am really excited about, and the feeling seems mutual so far. They make great products and we fit a nice niche for them - we're a good size in a great market!

Another few were with what I'd term - the industry standard - brief, somewhat awkward and usually non-committal on anything. I've been on their side of that conversation and it typically isn't anything more than a small budget and a limited heft of the program in question. Nice enough folks, but there is a little bit of standoffishness in their tone and obvious non-committment. I'm learning not to take it personally when I'm on the receiving end.

I had  a particular conversation with an industry 'heavy' - he's forgotten more than I know. So I'm making my pitch - we have a good program, we've had XYZ riders, we have an open category and can help them establish in this market, etc.I'm my usual optimistic self with an small dose of defferential thrown in - I do respect his time and product. It leads to a deeper conversation about the industry in general. We agreed that by-and-large sponsorship is corporate benevolence on the part of the sponsor at most levels. Only a few teams have the heft to request and receive high end support. He was polite and friendly, but didn't seem that interested in what we are doing or what we need...I sort of had that deflated feeling as he walked away to catch up with someone else.

...and here is where the epiphany kicked in

Mr Heavy walks up and starts talking to another Mr Heavy - only this one owns one of the most successful teams in the World - home to National and World Champions...and Mr Industry Heavy really wants Mr Team Heavy's team to ride his product next year! How do I know...that same polite and slightly deferential tone kicks in as he seeks entre and approval...and Mr Team Heavy has the same politely detached attitude that was just emanating from Mr Industry Heavy, it was poetic.

At every level there is a bigger fish to catch and everyone - EVERYONE - plays both sides of the game...

Big Fish Meet Small Fish

I've always lacked a certain confidence when chasing sponsors - it just doesn't come easily, it's a tough thing for me to ask for stuff...feels awkward - hat in hand awkward. I learned something from the whole thing...be yourself, be nice and try your best to be a good person. Honestly, they are lessons I learned watching a high school buddy who embodied each of these characteristics day in and day out. What I'll add to the mix is a stronger sense of detachement about the outcome.

Do I want that sponsor? Yes, I do...but I can only manage my side of the equation. We need what they make and it'll help the team rise, but I won't chase too hard. Their decision has no bearing on whether or not I'm a good person or worthy of their association or product.  It's one of the reasons I've largely eschewed branded products except the ones I really trust and believe in - I simply don't want to engage in the popularity contest that seems to permeate the industry. So instead I'll continue to ride mostly black stuff and enjoy the freedom that comes from working with who we care about and buying what we need*.

And when I start up the next round of conversations I'll remember that epiphany...we're all little fish to someone.

Light On Branding - Heavy On Heft!

*yea, we'll try to pull as many top notch partners as we can...so if you're looking for a NorCal progam on the rise...drop me a note!

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