Often a completely forgotten part of a photographer's career, sponsorship can make all the difference with free or discounted gear and great connections!
As photographer's, we are used to athlete's landing sponsorship deals. And often times, athlete's complaining about how no one want's to sponsor them. From all of this, we have a lot that we can learn for getting ourselves sponsored!
The athlete's that are landing deals have a few possible things going for them:
-They are extremely talented and marketable
-They know how to market themselves
-They have a lot to offer the sponsor
-Or a combination of all three.
Here's where most athlete's mess up when looking for sponsors. They think "What can this company do for me." But the question they should be asking is "What do I have to offer them?" The reason companies sponsor athletes (and photographers) is because the person will help get the companies name out there. Whether it's because they are extremely talented, or great at marketing themselves.
Photographer's need to think along the same lines and create portfolios that show off their work, and who they are. When they send these portfolios, including a pitch about their marketing efforts, and the influence they will have to help convince others to buy their products, will make them an asset to the sponsor. This is why offering photography courses and meetups is something sponsors look for. They also want names that are well known in the photography world. Think in terms of influence, if you don't have much influence, you probably don't have much to offer the company.
Building up influence is about getting your name known, be it through twitter, facebook, meetings, teaching, or your own websites. Once you have some influence, you can look for sponsors.
Something else you could offer your sponsors, is photo trading, and creating photos with their products. If you capture great photos with a certain product, you are an asset to that company. Share these photos with them, and tell them how their product affects your work. Then let them know that you would like to work with them.
Once you are ready, try putting together sponsorship packets, and physically introducing yourself to the companies. One good way to meet them is during photo tradeshows. It may be an expensive trip, but landing sponsors is important!
Try and try again, cause likely you won't land it immediately. Keep sending in samples, and make sure they know that you want to help them. It's not all about you! Sponsorship is like a relationship, it takes two to make it work, and both have to contribute. Keep this in mind and you'll do far better working with companies.