Carl Hester: Sponsorship is a two-way street *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    The recent result at Compiegne CDIO5* is one I find most exciting for the future of British dressage.

    Spencer Wilton, Hayley Watson-Greaves, Gareth Hughes and Dan Watson are all knocking on the door of future teams and, to see them bring home the Nations Cup against some strong competition, was just what the country needed.

    Supernova’s 78% score in the grand prix special indicates medal potential. How brilliant it would be to see him and Spencer take this forward to the Europeans. The result, however, needed more and quicker exposure. In these days of fast media, news needs to be out the minute it happens and this news took too long. Another thing is, dear shows, if you’re going to have a live stream, do make sure we can watch it. There’s nothing worse than it stopping mid-test, as it frequently does.

    Sponsorship expectations

    Talking of media, especially social media, in today’s tough market, I’ve been thinking what we as riders can do to secure, maintain and build our relationships with sponsors.

    Sponsorship is a two-way thing, but there are still plenty of riders with a sense of entitlement who are happy to take, but don’t understand the need to give back and support their sponsors in return.

    Practically all riders, from amateurs up, have some sort of social media presence, but the days of posting a quick snap when your sponsor’s products arrive doesn’t cut it in commercial terms. Sponsorship is a commercial agreement, not a hand-out, whether there’s a written contract or informal agreement.

    Now there are so many riders to choose from, what makes a sponsor choose to work with a particular rider and how can riders make themselves appealing to sponsors?

    All of us have to get on with the day job — riding, teaching, holding clinics — and this is an additional job, for which some riders hire specialist agencies.

    Charlotte and I are fortunate to have built up considerable followings on social media over the years. Our sponsors can see we have a fan base they can connect with, while our followers get a glimpse behind the scenes, which they don’t have through official competition pictures.

    In order to attract sponsors, riders must first believe in the products they are endorsing and work to support the brands effectively. Brand ambassadors — athlete/brand partnerships — are highly effective in all sports and it is not just about money; it’s about product and visibility.

    More often than not, sponsors require visibility. They want their brand to be seen on our backs and being used by us while we’re at competitions and generally out and about. They want appearances and exposure for their products. If riders aren’t willing to put in the time for their sponsors, the relationship won’t last.

    If we can offer those fan bases secure, valuable media exposure and produce powerful stories that followers want to share, then sponsors can see a return on investment. It’s not all about handing over money, but about promoting products you believe in. That’s a valuable power to be able to offer a potential sponsor.

    Hickstead progress

    I hear from Dane Rawlins that 26 competitors have joined the £1,000 club and a few other generous supporters have added to the pot. That’s good going. Dane and his team — and I — are extremely grateful.

    Guessing there will be many more competitors there than 26, I’ll just leave a thought to those thinking of competing. Will you also be contributing? I know a grand is a lot, but every little helps. Or galvanise others? It’ll be worth it.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 8 June 2017