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Gul and sailing event sponsorship - we speak to Mike Pickering

by Mark Jardine on 21 Mar 21 March 2017
Mike Pickering & Mike Priddle at the 505 World Championship 2016 © Mark Jardine /

We spoke to Mike Pickering at Gul Watersports about the events and sailors that they sponsor, why these partnerships are of benefit to the company, how prizes should be divided up in a fleet, and what the most important aspect of an event is to Gul.

Mark Jardine: Why do you feel it's important to support dinghy events in the UK?

Mike Pickering: We consider ourselves to be much more of a dinghy-orientated brand than most of the clothing manufacturers. We don't do stuff for leadmines, we do stuff for dinghies, and we feel we have to be out there promoting the brand to the end user, so the end user then thinks, "Ah, Gul, they support dinghy sailing," and when they go into a chandlers, or they go online, they'll buy a Gul product because of the investment we make back into the sport.

Mark: So you feel your association with classes and events gives people brand loyalty, where they've seen you supporting the events?

Mike: That's the plan... and sometimes it works! When we sponsored the 505 Worlds in Weymouth there was a definite return on that investment. We learnt a lot from that and the plan we have for the Mirror Worlds at Restronguet and the Fireball Europeans at Lyme Regis is to do very similar projects with clothing for those events. Hopefully they'll buy into it.

Mark: The Mirror World Championship in Cornwall is a major event. Could you describe what you're doing with the class?

Mike: We started by discussing the Dinghy Show with them, and they mentioned, "We're not going", to which I replied, "Why not? It's the ideal opportunity to get people interested in the World Championship and get people involved." So we donated the class space, organised a boat to put on the stand by talking with builder Dave Winder, and said to the class, "You supply the staff to run the Mirror side and we'll help you, do the lighting, give you some nice shirts to wear and create some banners for you." The stand was rammed with Mirror sailors which was great. It was good for us because they filtered onto the Gul stand and started enquiring about products.

Mark: Class Associations and individual sailors will often approach a brand for sponsorship, but will use a generic approach. The way you talk about sponsorship is all about collaboration with the class and brand working together. Do you think that's key?

Mike: I think it's absolutely vital. It's key for us to work with other non-competing brands so that we all benefit. For instance, I'll be talking with the team at Allen about the Fireball Europeans - as they want to support the event - and I want to get them some return on their investment by adding their logo to the event jacket and then sell the jacket to the sailors; it's a win-win for everyone.

Mark: With any event that you sponsor, such as the Fireball Europeans, how do you regard their publicity and what they do to cover the event and get it out into the sailing media?

Mike: Part of our agreement with a class or an event is that they have to write daily reports and get it across to the sailing magazines and websites. They have to make sure photos are taken during the events and sent out to the media. They need to create readership and interest in the event. At the end of the day this helps the class sell itself to other sailors, and you want to get your kids into sailing a Mirror; it's part of growing the sport and the sport of sailing needs some growth.

Mark: This brings me on to the subject of participation. How do you think classes, clubs and events can help get people who are existing sailors to actually take part in more events?

Mike: I think you just have to show people that you can have a good time. It's not about winning, it's about enjoying the sport, enjoying going out in a boat. The top 10% are going to win whatever happens, so spread the prizes to the bottom 10%; give the glass to the guy who wins, but give something more meaningful to the guy who comes 99th but finishes every race. If you do that then he'll come back for more. The top of the fleet will be sailing another class next week and another the week after that, and pick up some more silverware, so look after the middle and the back-end of the fleet; keep them coming back for more.

Coaching will help them, but enjoyment is the most important thing. I want to see people coming off the water with a big smile on their face thinking, "I really had a good day today, I'm really enjoying the sailing and I'm really enjoying the event." That's what's so important - to keep people coming back - and we want people to come back because they'll buy more kit!

Mark: Back to your dinghy sponsorships, is one of your requirements that the Gul prizes are spread throughout the fleet?

Mike: Absolutely. The most important thing of all is to make sure that the sailors who don't normally get a prize get something to go home with. It can be as simple as something within the entry pack, but I'd rather the vouchers that we generally donate go to the middle and back of the fleet, and that's part of the way we gear it up.

Mark: Many thanks for your time Mike and great to hear you views on this subject.

Mike: My pleasure and great to chat!

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