Sponsorship, it’s something that as photographers and creative artists we tend to aim for in our professional relationships with the myriad of accessory manufacturers servicing the arts. For those looking in from the outside it’s also an aspect of the imaging business that tends to be vastly misunderstood, a misinterpretation of exactly what the act of ‘Sponsorship’ actually entails. For the uninitiated the thoughts that some photographers don’t have the time to take images due to their counting piles of sponsorship wonga is must seem very real. Nothing could be further from the reality of the situation. Truth be told it is increasingly so that photographers and creatives turn potential sponsorship away for a number of reasons. Firstly and to be painfully blunt, the product is crap. Cheap imitating products are rife in the industry and all it takes is one accomplished entity to push ‘el crapometer’ for the product to gain market share. Promoting whatever product at whatever costs can, and does, have a negative effect on the artist in question. Kinda like, with hands soaked in gasoline, trying to juggle lit candles in the hope of not getting burned! Eventually they’re gonna feel the heat, and that heat normally comes very publicly via social media in the form of irate previous followers having taken their advise with product ‘crappy’ only to have nothing but disastrous experiences.
Secondly, a creative artist has to weigh up the benefits of using a proposed product. Does it benefit their workflow and if so to what extent, greater or lesser? Does the effort required to work with the product in energy expenditure, time and potentially financial outlay make viable business sense? You take a $99 product for example. By the time you’ve traveled to a location, scouted, shot, returned and then gone into the editing you’re looking at a full day for example. Is the ROI for your time, travel expense and editing software costs worth not just the the final image but the longterm workflow implications to adopt ‘product X’? You’ll also find that most sponsorship tends to be in the form known as ‘Product Sponsorship’. This means exactly as it sounds, a manufacturer approaches a creative artist with the proposal that they will provide the artist with a product that could aid the delivery and final aesthetic of their work. It is then down to the artist to deduce if this is a good fit. For the most part if it is a deal is struck. Any resulting contract then may come with the clause that at the end of the relationship the creative artist is responsible for the return of ‘product X’ to the sponsor and each party goes their own way. Some sponsors include the clause that the product be returned in the same condition it was sent, normally in photography this means brand new, spotless, unblemished which is pretty hard to do, especially with photographic gear. Whilst that does appear I’ve yet to hear of a photographer or creative who got burned on that caveat after having provided the manufacturer with the full range of acceptable and agreed upon return promotional services.
I hope this isn’t casting too much of a dark shadow on things as there are some silver linings here. The reality of the situation remains that many creative artists invest a lot more of their time and creative flair into a product than it is valued at, from a fiscal standpoint. This is fully and normally accepted and expected if the product allows the artist to elevate their final imagery aesthetic. Positives remain, in the case of an extremely talented creative artists with a good understanding of digital and social media marketing can, and often do, attract the right sponsors and strike deals relatively early in their careers. This then allows them to form solid working relationships throughout the ongoing roadmap of a manufacturers product line development. To this end, manufacturers need ambassadors more than a creative artist needs a sponsor. For the most part imaging remains a hobby, at varying levels of intensity, for the vast majority of people. So hard is it in the modern age to make a living sufficient to raise a family and provide a home for the same from imaging alone that most exponents of mixed media tend to have a more secure form of primary income. It’s not to say that there are no ‘paying gigs’ around these days it’s just a fact that they are few and far between, and getting rarer by the day.
Paying sponsorship deals are generally borne of a project ‘pitch’ being launched by the creative artist and go towards shedding positive light on a product. Given that a manufacturer tends only to have the production cost of ‘product X’ at stake if they do not stipulate its return in their ambassadors product sponsorship contracts also normally dictates their reluctance to engage in financially supporting an artist. That is not to say it doesn’t happen, it’s just extremely rare. There are just too many talented photographers and willing potential recipients of product support for it to be any other way.