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Telling Your Story: Sponsor and Media Outreach for Your Epic Run
“Damn everything but the circus! …damn everything that is grim, dull, motionless, unrisking, inward turning, damn everything that won’t get into the circle, that won’t enjoy. That won’t throw its heart into the tension, surprise, fear and delight of the circus, the round world, the full existence…”e. e. cummings
“Come and see the show! Come and see the show! Come and see the show!” — Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Karn Evil 9
A friend looking for sponsors and news outlets to cover his epic event asked me who would give him money and cover his story.
I asked him four questions:
- Why do you want money? Why not gear or publicity?
- Why do you want sponsors and media to cover this?
- What do they get out of it?
- What makes your story interesting and important to them?
If you can’t answer those questions, I can’t imagine why, as a sponsor, I’d want to invest in you, or why, as a news media outlet, I’d want to cover your story. After all, where’s the show? The attention to my brand or my media outlet? What do I get out of being part of the story? What’s in it for me?
To promote your big event, you have to be able to answer those questions…and more.
Three key questions you must answer for both sponsors and media
Why are you doing this?
One thing I’ve learned is that you need to be clear about why you’re tackling something epic.
People undertake transcontinental runs, rides across America, swims across the Channel and other grand adventures for many reasons:
- bucket list or retirement dream
- charity fundraising
- issues awareness, education and advocacy
- the thrill of a personal challenge
- to fulfill an epic wager or promise
- in memory of a loved one
- to prove a point about what’s possible
- to refute stereotypes
- to set an official or unofficial record (Guinness, fastest-known-time, first person with “X” to do “Y”)
- to complete a spiritual journey or quest
- because “this is who I am and this is my destiny”
Why would they be interested?
You have to give sponsors and news outlets an angle that resonates with their audience.
If you don’t, they won’t be interested. Here are just a few of the reasons that my USA run resonated with different media outlets:
- The Drew Barrymore Show covered the story because, according to their producer, Kayla Jardine, they like “brainy, positive stories.”
- Inside Edition liked the “real life Forrest Gump” angle.
- Good Morning America liked the universal appeal of running from Disneyland to Disney World.
- The Newport Beach Independent covered my transcon start because I started my run in Newport Beach, one of their staff photographers had Type 1 diabetes, and they thought it was wild that this diabetic guy was running coast to coast.
- Disneyland is located in Orange County, CA, and the Orange County Register has a full-time reporter dedicated to theme park coverage!
- Two of my largest sponsors, Dexcom and Tandem, are located in San Diego. KUSI-San Diego‘s morning show, Good Morning San Diego, interviewed me and mentioned that two of my sponsors were headquartered in San Diego. I got the interview in the first place because the run was a great human interest story and the station manager himself has Type 1 diabetes. They asked me to come back to share how the story ended, which I did.
- KTAB/KRBC-TV Abilene covered my story–twice–because my route ran through Abilene and I had previously set a record for the fastest run across Texas…through their town!
- Sponsors Rockadex, Dexcom, Tandem and Better Diabetes Life connected with me because their products directly serve the needs of Type 1 diabetics. They also made in-kind donations, helped with publicity, or provided other assistance getting out a positive story featuring their brands.
- Sponsor LED Light Vest was attracted to my unique need to be seen in rain, fog, nighttime and other low-visibility situations by oncoming traffic not expecting to see a runner. They provided in-kind gear.
- Sponsor Shelta Hats was intrigued by my need for a breathable, lightweight boonie hat that would repel a light rain, desert sun, and stay on in 40-60 mph gusts in mountain passes. They even gave me a bright orange prototype of their Raptor II hat that turned into my personal trademark and earned me the nickname “human safety cone.”
- Sponsor Orange Mud and I hit it off after I ditched other hydration vests that chafed and more importantly, didn’t have room for all the stuff I have to carry, like emergency glucose. I needed an effective vest for an epic-distance event and they obliged. I bought the Orange Mud double and single quivers myself, so I didn’t need more gear. But Orange Mud has helped spread the word through their social posts, which is even more valuable for my cause.
- Sponsor Inov-8 liked the fact that their RoadClaw 275, with its hard rubber lugs and road-sensitive feel and fit, was my shoe of choice for running thousands of miles on the packed gravel of most roadsides. They’ve provided shoes and even sent me with graphene-soled trail shoes for running the steep-banked, shoulderless roadsides in the Appalachian foothills of northern Alabama.
- Sponsor Garmin liked the “epic athlete” angle and the idea that their watches were the choice of people who wanted to lay down some serious miles, plus the fact that some of their product features were uniquely suited to the challenges of Type 1 faced doing epic athletic challenges. They provided gear and help spread the word.
- …and my very first sponsor, SeeMeWear, answered the age-old question: how do you make sure you are unambiguously visible in all kinds of weather and light.
The story pitch was different each time, and uniquely suited to the sponsor or market. The point is, you don’t cold call someone you don’t have a reason to talk to, and regardless, you don’t ask for money. You ask for help. Help with your cause. Help spreading the word. Advice from a professional (which might just turn up new connections!). But mostly, just…help. People and companies are often happy to pitch in–especially when it’s a feel-good story and contributing gear or publicity gets them more effective exposure to their target audience than buying an ad.
Understand that the reasons that motivate YOU to run, or ride, or walk aren’t always the reasons that will motivate them. They need reasons that relate to their brand or their customer or their readers.
No one cares if “I’m running in honor of my dog Spot.” That’s about YOU.
Everyone cares if “I’m running to promote no-kill shelters like the one that saved my dog Spot.” That’s about highlighting no-kill shelters. Subtle, but important, and only the second one is really that marketable.
What’s so special about this event?
You need to find a way to stand out.
The next question you must be able to answer–and briefly–is what’s so special about your Big Run.
This is important even with something BIG like a run across the United States, because several hundred people have already done it or are contemplating it (just check the USA Crossers group on Facebook if you don’t believe me…it has over 1600 members and growing).
Here are a few suggestions.
- You’re trying to set a record or be the first person ever to do a particular thing
- It’s a positive story in a very negative news cycle
- You’re doing it “with one hand tied behind your back”, dealing with a health issue or disability
- You’re doing it to highlight unsung heroes, such as firefighters, police, veterans with PTSD, and survivors of domestic abuse (everyone loves heroes)
- You’re doing it for the vulnerable, downtrodden, forgotten, or overlooked
- You’re trying to send a policy message to people who can make positive change happen
- You’re doing it to raise funds or awareness for a cause
- You’re trying to inspire others to go out and live their dreams
Awareness and cause reasons are particularly attractive to nonprofits. Sometimes they’ll help share your story, help you find financial support and even let you use their logo if you ask nicely and show them you’re a stand-up person engaging in a legitimate effort that doesn’t sully their reputation.
My experience has been that both sponsors and news outlets are looking for positive news stories that are examples of grit, determination, and tenacity that stand out from workaday life, and there’s nothing better than a wholesome, feel-good (local) hero story they can associate themselves with.
Contacting sponsors and news media
There’s no substitute for doing the actual footwork. A little bit of quick research will reveal an abundance of newspapers, radio and TV stations who might be interested. The ones more likely to be interested are the ones one or near the route or location of your big event.
“On or near” can be interpreted pretty liberally. “In the same county” or even “in the same state” may be good enough to attract attention if the appeal is strong enough.
Here are some places to start:
- Newspapers, radio, and TV stations in the town you live in
- Newspapers, radio, and TV stations in the town you were born or grew up in
- Newspapers, radio, and TV stations in the towns along your route
- Newspapers, radio, and TV stations in your current or home state
Get some of those going and it’s easier to catch national attention because you have a track record of being newsworthy.
Contacting sponsors is all about starting a conversation the other side actually wants to have. Here are some tips:
- Approach brands whose gear and supplies you already use. It’s useless to go chasing after Nike if you don’t wear their shoes.
- If you use an unusual brand or product that’s been overlooked in the market, they’re likelier to be interested in a sponsorship, because any press is good press, and if some free product is all it takes to get good advertising, that may make more sense than a multi-thousand dollar ad spend.
- Offer to test prototype products specific to your sport. As an epic athlete, you represent the cutting edge. What better place to try out new stuff? Just remember, your sponsor is offering you prototypes in exchange for feedback on how the product performs in extreme conditions. Don’t be stingy with the feedback, and make an effort to be honest about what works and doesn’t. If something isn’t working, ask them to help you fix it and send you a new prototype, OR tell them how YOU fixed it in the field. For Shelta, I found that the sun-protective neck flap caught the wind more than I liked, so I asked the product design specialist assigned to me to create a pocket to put stuff in that could be used to weigh down the flap.
- Again, ask for help, not money. That may mean sharing your story with their email list (including your charity donation link(s)), asking them to tag you on social media or feature your story on their website. Think of creative ways that both their and your brand would benefit from a “rising tide lifts all boats” type of co-marketing. If they feel like money would work better, they’ll tell you. My safety/visibility gear sponsor SeeMeWear made donations to my featured charities…something that didn’t directly benefit them but meant a lot to me.
- And finally, show them you’re serious. Check your website for spelling errors, keep it up to date, make sure your blog has fairly recent, interesting, and highly visible posts with good traffic, and avoid talking about politics, race, religion, or any other controversial topic in any venue where the blowback would damage their brand.
Finally, reach out on email, social, websites, and by phone. Assume they’re at least curious, know what appeal you have to your sponsor, lead with it, and be prepared to answer typical questions about your big event. The more your response sounds practiced and polished, the more they’ll believe you do this for a living and won’t flake out on them.
Questions to expect from news media
What got you started on the project?
Answer the question honestly, but don’t drag in your whole life story. For instance: “When I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 12, I was told not to exercise. I followed that advice for 30 years until I had vision problems. That was when it hit me, ‘there has to be another way.'”
Whatever your back story is, keep it short and be ready to tell it as short answers to questions, not as an essay.
When did you realize how big this was and when did you think you might actually be able to pull it of?
What most media are looking for here is some kind of bridging story between “I was inactive for 30 years” to “I decided to run across the United States.” If there’s nothing in between, at best you look like Forrest Gump, and at worst, a fool.
Try something like “I ran my first marathon at age 50 after wondering for years if it was too late to start. Six years later, feeling a new sense of hope, I ran my first 100-miler. I started to dream even bigger, and in 2018, I became the first ever solo runner of the 339-mile Relay Iowa. It taught me how much I needed to learn before running across Texas and the USA.”
Try to keep it even shorter than that if you can.
What do you want us to tell people about you and your Big Run?
Have your message ready, but expect it to change over time:
- At first, my stated objective was to show people living with diabetes that all things were possible–just harder when living with Type 1, and that the alternative of not exercising was a poor choice.
- Then it mutated to include showing people who weren’t diabetic that diabetic people can be fit, and to help educate them about the damage that diabetes myths can do in schools, workplaces, and in public policy.
- Finally, after several summers cross-training with a Type 2 diabetic friend, I came to feel that the bigger story not being told was how people with Type 2 were often the most unnecessarily stigmatized.
It was the combination of these that aired January 28, 2020 on KUSI-News TV / Good Morning San Diego. It helped that Type 2 is more widespread than Type 1, and that KUSI is one of the largest independently-owned and operated TV stations in North America.
Don’t waste your media opportunities fumbling for words. Prepare in advance so you can tell your story in the time it takes to ride an elevator to the top floor of a building.
Other questions media may ask you, including “curveballs”
You’ll get asked about everything. My subvocalized, unspoken answers are in parentheses.
- What do you do about blisters? (Haha, how much do you want to know? Actually, I lube my feet before a run and tape them if it looks like blisters are about to form.)
- What do you eat? (Everything. Next question?)
- What shoes do you wear? How many pairs do you go through? (Inov-8 Roadclaws. I get about 500 miles out of a pair doing some pretty rough service. I also run in Inov-8 TerraUltras when the road is really rough, because the graphene soles don’t wear out and they offer more foot protection.)
- Where do you stay? (Wherever I can, as close to the route as possible. But you don’t want to know about the night at the RV park with the motorcycle gang, do you?)
- Tell us about your sponsors. (Answer depends on who’s asking: if it’s related to diabetes, I’ll mention Tandem and Dexcom. If it’s about shoes, I’ll mention Inov-8. I try to choose carefully since no one really wants to hear me rattle off a dozen sponsor names.)
- Do you take rest days or just run continuously? (Fair question: usually 1 rest day per 10 running days, or 300 miles, whichever comes first.)
- How many miles a day on average? (30-35. I’ve tried more but it’s harder on my feet and you just have to rest more often.)
- What is a typical day for you like? (How much do you want to know? [Here, I try to let them guide the conversation, but whatever I do, I keep it brief unless it’s a podcast and I can talk longer.].)
The toughest question I ever got was, “I see you have a lot of sponsors. Who’s your favorite?”
I told them that the sponsors that provided me diabetes supplies were the closest to my heart, but that I valued all of them. And it was true.
If you’ve got 7 minutes on the air, which is generous, practically every question is a curveball; and worse, it’s hard to keep answers short when half your time is spend thinking of what you’re going to say.
So practice interviewing; it will help hone your answers. You’ll find over time that you mostly get asked the same questions over and over again. That’s good. You’ll get better at giving short, punchy answers.
Sometimes you’ll get questions you don’t anticipate and don’t really want to answer. That’s when it’s good to have talking points to which you can redirect the questions.
For instance, instead of describing a list of foods you eat and then getting lost explaining why so much of it is egg salad and hummus, I might say “I eat around 5000 calories a day during the run, and it’s a challenge for a Type 1 diabetic to keep blood sugar in control when exercising. So I try to eat a balanced diet of real food, not glucose gels, and use a glucose sensor paired with my insulin pump to help me decide what and when to eat.”
Occasionally an answer will spark other questions. One thing I’ve learned is that news media won’t use all of your answers, and don’t take it personally. What they’re looking for is succinct and natural. Get comfortable answering questions briefly, avoid rambling down a rat’s nest, and add just enough detail to prompt the next question.
The shorter and sweeter the answer, the likelier it will air.
Questions to expect from potential sponsors
Prepare for likely questions from potential sponsors just as you prepare for likely media questions.
“What do you want from us?”
Usually, the answer I get when I ask a fellow runner what they want is: money. They want to make money so they can do epic for a living, without a day job.
I applaud the goal, but I don’t think asking random companies for money this is the way to go about it. Instead, ask: what products and services do I already love? How can I build a stronger relationship with these brands?
Some gear manufacturers are small brands founded by an enthusiast who is still passionate about the sport you both love. So you already have something in common. For instance:
- Inov-8: The makers of Inov-8 were tired of the unjustified popularity of overpriced, fluffy running shoes that actually caused ankle injuries. So they make make a wide range of affordable road and trail running shoes that focus on the necessities: good toe room, arch support, breathable uppers, and hard lugs for running rough asphalt and road shoulder. I was wearing their shoes long before they became a sponsor.
- LED Light Vest: The creator, Gary Cowalczyk, is a former Bosch automotive lighting engineer. He knows how to make little tiny lights VERY bright. I wanted to run with the same breathable light vests used by people who work hot construction projects for 10+ hours on the road at night, and people have literally told me they could see me from a mile away. That’s the idea.
- Orange Mud: When you run 10-15 hours a day, the last thing you want is a heavy, sweaty hydration bladder of lukewarm water stuck to your back causing a rash. Orange Mud’s Hydraquiver balances two 25-oz water bottles perfectly on my shoulders, where the weight is distributed evenly between the front and back of my torso and has breathable space under the quiver so my back gets air.
- SeeMeWear: My very first sponsor, and still my preferred go-to for hi-vis gear for cool day running. I’ve probably put 2000 miles on their windbreakers, cycling jerseys, jackets, and running shirts by now. Owner Dale Hutjens is passionate about safety and visibility and it shows (literally, in dim light and overcast conditions!).
- 2Toms Sport Shield / Medi-Dyne: Like WD-40 for your feet. I was proud to say that after my first 600 miles on my record-breaking run across Texas, we met for lunch and afterwards did a social media photo op showing just how many blisters I didn’t have.
- Safety Skin: Founder John Kulbis created a zinc-based reflective “war paint” for night running that also doubles as sunscreen during the day. What’s not to love? And why didn’t anyone think of this BEFORE him? 😉
- Lindsay Dakota at Naked Sports Innovations knew I needed a waist-wrapping “cartoon back pocket” for storing spare gloves, gels, arm coolers/warmers, ID, phone, glucose testing equipment, compact umbrella, and doggy treats for the animals who constantly approached me on the road. I needed it to be absolutely unflippable and not slide down on my waist. They stepped up to the challenge and now I never run without it.
- Shelta Hats: When I needed a cool, breathable desert running hat with a broad brim and Kalahari neck flap that wouldn’t blow off my head during the 60 mph wind gusts, Jurgen Schulz at Shelta managed to get me just what I needed. They sent me a blaze orange prototype Raptor II to try out and it was everything it promised to be, AND high-visibility!
Pick your own brands based on your own needs, not their popularity or lack of it. Then ask: what could the brand do for me that would make them look like the hero?
Every one of those brands did something for me that I desperately needed: keeping the sun off my face, keeping me hydrated, keeping my feet from blistering, or making sure I was extremely visible under all possible conditions. I already loved them and bought stuff from them, so it wasn’t hard to approach them with an epic event and ask if they might want to be a part of it.
You should KNOW why you want a particular style of shoes or hat or running vest. If you approach them without the faintest idea why you actually want them, you’ll end up with shoes, socks, a hat, waistband, or a hydration bladder not suited to your epic challenge and preferences, and there will be little value in the relationship because you probably won’t be using them by the time your Big Run is over.
If your real objective actually is to make a living, you’ll probably need to put together a portfolio of revenue-generating activities like these:
- Coaching or training others in your sport
- If you’re good enough, entering events that have a cash prize for win, place, show
- Motivational speaking gigs
- Leading webinars or in-person workshops at relevant online or brick-and-mortar retailers
- Writing and selling a memoir or how-to book about your adventure
- Getting a gig to write a regular paid column
- Doing sponsored or subscription-based podcasts or videos
- Offering super-useful services to folks interested in doing similar things (I saw someone awhile back who wanted to make money helping people plan transcon routes)
- Offering logo trinkets if you think a sufficiently broad community supports your efforts and wants to contribute
- Working with existing sponsors to come up with your own branded products that solve problems you encountered
Those things help not just you but your sponsor and media contacts.
“What can we give you?”
Don’t let them ask the question that way, and don’t act like you couldn’t use the help. Ask instead if they want to be part of your broader epic adventure. Offer them several ways to contribute and let them pick:
- Direct financial assistance (putting this on a list isn’t the same as ASKING for it…THEY get to choose)
- In-kind contribution of gear or services
- Tax-deductible financial assistance to your 501(c)3 charity
- Joint marketing agreements
- Help spreading your message through their subscriber community
- Help completing your Big-Event-related pet project: for instance, producing a Runner’s Guide for Type 1 Diabetics or advocating for health and fitness policy initiatives among political influencers
- Access to their PR firm to set up mutually beneficial media exposure
“Why should we support you?”
It’s possible that among all the requests they get, yours looks the most attractive. Someone at your sponsor probably actually cares about what you’re doing and the specific reason behind your adventure. Your sponsor feels your inspiring story featuring their brand is a great way to spread their message. It helps when getting a charitable deduction and a little PR by donating closeout gear serves their financial interests. And sending you a beta-test prototype of a particular product lets them gather edge-case usage data valuable for making improvements.
So what do you do now that you have their interest? Here’s what NOT to do.
- Don’t just ask for money. Ask for help or advice. Did you notice I mentioned this THREE TIMES in this post? Seriously, don’t do that. People love being experts, supporters, the go-to-guys, and dream enablers way more than they care for being someone’s sugar daddy.
- Don’t just call up someone who already has sponsors and ask for their mailing list. You don’t have relationships with those brands; if you did, you’d be calling your own contacts.
- Don’t just call a “rich” brand whose product you don’t use. Not only will they figure out that you don’t really use their products, but even if you do and they’re not fit to your needs, you’ll get caught on TV, video, or in a photo using someone else’s products and having to explain it to your sponsor.
If you and your potential sponsor have a common interest, build your pitch around those truths, and tell the story where both of you are heroes. For instance:
“I plan to run across South America. It’s hard to find a good jungle shoe that’s durable and breathable. I’ve used your XYZ long distance road shoe on my previous jungle runs and thought your team might like to be a critical part of something epic.” OR
“I need an all-day tropical sunscreen for my swim around Puerto Rico that doesn’t smear my goggles or smell like chum.”
Above all, don’t ask for anything without offering something in return.
What can you offer them in return?
Two things: low-cost exposure and a feel-good story featuring their brand.
It’s far cheaper, and quite possibly more effective, to give someone a few pairs of running shoes and let them go create their own publicity than it is to run a national ad in a runner’s magazine. That’s why sponsorships make sense to sponsors.
Especially if you have a large email mailing list, YouTube or Tiktok audience, or other social media following, brands also see your Big Run as a chance to put an inspiring story featuring their products in front of an audience they might not normally be able to reach effectively.
Be sure you regularly and actively reach out to your social audience with brand-related messages. Keep in mind, though, that it’s possible to go overboard and sound salesy.
Try to tell your own story in a way that makes your sponsors heroes for helping you get there. Talk about what challenges the products are best suited for, because they’re probably not good for EVERYTHING. Don’t shill. Be authentic. If your endorsement contract (if you have one) requires you to use certain hashtags in your posts, use them. If anyone complains about all the hashtags, simply explain that your contract requires you to use them. After all, it’s the truth.
But get the story out there. One of the things we liked to do on TV interviews was shoot them in front of the van, where our sponsors’ logos were clearly visible. That was a subtle way to get the message out.
The fact that you’re working with news media (you are, right?) puts their brand in the spotlight, and they didn’t have to pay for an advertisement.
Will being associated with this blow up in my face?
Everyone–sponsors, charities, and news outlets–is concerned about being associated with a risky venture or an unhinged personality. In your communications:
- Communicate calmly and professionally that you know what the risks may be, that you are addressing them in your logistical planning, considering worst-case scenarios and alternative plans (pro tip: this worked well for me since my run spanned a once-in-a-century global pandemic).
- Demonstrate that you have the appropriate safety gear and knowledge for the attempt.
- Communicate that your Big Event respects all applicable laws.
- Communicate and demonstrate that you are not willing to take any unnecessary risks, and show how you plan to minimize them.
- Avoid saying anything that would embarrass your sponsor or damage their reputation. No politics, no strongly-held opinions on religion or other controversial subjects, no racist or nationalist tirades, no R-rated pictures, filthy language or jokes, or anything you wouldn’t see in a movie you take your kids to see. Sponsors are scandal-averse, and it’s typical for larger sponsors to include “moral turpitude” clauses in endorsement contracts, and crossing the line is a good way to get shut down by ALL of your sponsors. It’s been said that customer money speaks all languages and is color-blind. Just remember that.
What happens to our exposure when “acts of God” stop the Big Event?
Make sure you’ve told everyone on your sponsor team in advance what you’ll do if your event is cancelled by unforeseen circumstances, such as a flood, hurricane, tornado, forest fire, pandemic, or other natural disaster.
Then do it. The worst thing you can do is take unnecessary risks, and being careful means being responsible means not putting the people who helped you in a bad light when you try to run across a flooded Arizona river in the middle of monsoon season.
Stop when you have to, then tell people why you did the “grown up” thing.
Switch from live coverage of your run to blog posts about gear or what it’s like to be out there. Keep the adventure going in people’s minds. Talk about your training runs and your plans to get back out there. Talk about what you’ve learned so far on your Big Event.
It helps if you’ve done hard things like this before and have done your homework on route planning, logistics, safety measures and so on, because people who do have concerns will take some comfort in your preparations.
When you get back out on the road, being safe will just become another part of your story of triumph over adversity; whereas heading straight into disaster is often the end of that story.
A side note about social media
A friend of mine decided to promote their big event on social media, but was dissatisfied with the results. The posts were copiously hashtagged, but came and went without much ado. When I looked at what was going on, I saw that:
- The posts just “blipped” on the radar. There was no “incoming” signal, no anticipation, no “local boy/girl makes good” narrative–nothing. The posts specific to the towns they went through came ONLY during the brief time they were in the town. No time for media to show up or work on a story about how person XYZ is coming through OUR town on their record-setting event. They were gone before that could even happen.
- The posts were excessively hashtagged. Maybe this is an Instagram thing, but my recommendation is that if you are talking about your GPS watch or your camp stove, talk about your watch or your campstove…not the folks who rented you the RV, not your running shoes, and not even your charity beneficiary, unless somehow the GPS watch or the campstove tie into that. STAY FOCUSED. Remember, your sponsors want THEIR moment in the spotlight, and it’s tough when you have to share the stage with 14 other people.
- Tagging the charity seemed to be perfunctory. If you’re running to raise awareness of PTSD, ankylosing spondylitis, or diabetes, tell a story about how that cause is near and dear to your heart. Tell the charity’s story–about their fight to overcome prejudice, mental or physical challenges, or the like. Make people CARE. If you just picked a charity at random and don’t really care, people can tell and no one else will care much either.
- The posts weren’t specific. Especially if you’re trying to set an FKT, it matters where you take your selfies. Ideally, they should be next to a unique landmark. Otherwise, it’s just “somewhere in Colorado.”
- The posts didn’t tell a story or grab attention. As you’re doing your big event, look for the moments that make people sigh and wish they were there. Take a picture of that. It can be a beautiful sunrise (check), a flower growing up through the asphalt (check), pictures with random strangers inspired by your story (check), or a picture of you holding up a sign that says (1500 miles) as you reach the midpoint of your journey. Even a picture of you taping your feet tells folks that “it’s tough out there” and helps them imagine what it’s like. And tell the WHOLE story–the good and the bad alike. Your readers will be more engaged with your story if you do.
I know they were tired and the last thing they wanted to do was craft the perfect social media post. But they DID take time to post, so doing a good post just makes sense.
Getting past anxiety & self-doubt
If you’re feeling nervous about contacting media or sponsors or doing interviews, chances are:
- You don’t have your story together. It’s probably still in pieces in your mind. Write it down on paper and get help editing and practicing it until you can drop bits into an email and repeat when asked.
- You feel unnatural “selling yourself” and it makes you self-conscious. Chances are in this case that your pitch is salesy, not natural and authentic. Have a friend interview you with questions your sponsor might ask. Answer honestly. Then use those words in your pitch.
- You feel like it’s vain to promote yourself. You MUST talk about your effort to secure sponsorships, news coverage, or inspire others. That’s not vanity; it’s a functional requirement of the job.
- You feel like nobody will take you seriously. Start by taking yourself seriously. Write down what you’ve done, be honest about its impact on others, and get help editing that into a “resumé.” Learn to talk about your efforts as if you’ve actually accomplished something, because you have.
- You feel like a fraud. When I attempted to become the first person to run from Disneyland to Walt Disney World, I found myself comparing myself to true legends like Pete Kostelnik (fastest run across the USA), Karl Meltzer (fastest run of the 2180+-mile Appalachian Trail), and others. I knew I don’t run that fast. But I had in fact set the record for the fastest run across Texas and nobody had yet run between the two theme parks. So you aren’t the best of the best–so what? You know what you have and haven’t done, and the only time you should actually feel self-conscious is when you’re overstating your accomplishments. Don’t do that, and you won’t feel like a fraud. As Yogi Berra said, “it ain’t braggin’ if you done it.”
- You can’t fathom their potential interest in you. If you can’t see it, you can’t make media or sponsors see it either; and if there’s no common interest, there’s little chance of a relationship. Either dig deeper for a real connection or “punt” with a general interest pitch and move on to the next email or call. If you’ve chosen well, you’ll be more than busy enough with folks who have an active interest that you won’t have time to waste with Hail Mary pitches to brands you don’t use. You should do that anyway.
- You’re struggling to find relevance. If your audience has an interest in your sport, your special challenges, your cause, the town you’re going through, the town where you were born or grew up, the town you’re living in now or the connection you have to theirs, your race, your ethnicity, your gender, your record attempt, or any other aspect of your story, it is relevant. So REMEMBER that.
- You hate cold-calling. Don’t cold-call. Work up a narrative about how your planned big event is relevant to your audience, then stick to that narrative. If it turns out it’s not relevant, you probably shouldn’t be talking. Thank them for their time, ask them for advice on who to talk to instead (don’t forget this step, because it can be productive!), and move on.
Still having trouble putting together a sponsor pitch? You may find Jeff Blumenfeld’s book, You Want to Go Where? How to Get Someone to Pay for the Trip of Your Dreams useful. It goes into considerable detail.
Be prepared for someone on the other end to show actual interest. By the time you’ve addressed everything above, you’ll have a pretty good working outline of why your ideal sponsors would want to hear your story and be a part of it. If you’ve done well, some sponsors may even reach out to you.
Ready? Good! Now make that list of sponsors and news outlets, get their emails and phone numbers, and start telling your story!