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大道至简

如今常存的有信,有望,有爱;这三样,其中最大的是爱。

 
 
 

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[转]Hitchhiker's guide to Mod Sponsorship  

2007-11-23 18:03:13|  分类: 电脑硬件 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Introduction

If you're like me, a trip through the Project Logs section of our forum is a daily (or, at max, every other day) ritual. It's amazing to see some of the talent that goes into almost every mod out there. Each one is a vision of art, moulded by its creator into reality.

Of course, some are better than others...and a few even have this nifty little banner saying "sponsored by," the sure sign of free kit.

"Wait, did someone say 'free kit'? How do I get that? My mod is top notch! How did he get sponsored? More importantly, how do I get sponsored?!"

Well, I'm here to tell you how - and, more importantly, why - sponsorship works. Who to talk to, what to look for, how to approach, and what we on the "other side" of the sponsorship equation are looking for out of you.

"But, who are you," you may be asking. And the answer is, I'm one of the guys you need to impress. I manage the mod content that hits the front page here at bit-tech - from the community driven Mod of the Month project to the meticulous, insane work of our resident mod gurus. I've helped many talented modders find their paths to our front page, while promoting their mods to companies that we work closely with in the industry to get the kit they need or want.

I field questions daily about how to get a sponsor - enough so that it's time I put something on the front page about it. So, here it is - the essential Hitchhiker's Guide to Mod Sponsorship - or something like that.

What this guide is and is not

Dark Blade is arguably one of the
most popular mods in recent times, but had
very little sponsorship, relatively speaking.

My purpose in writing this guide is to explain some of the common practices, ideas, concepts and misconceptions behind the idea of modding sponsorship. Hopefully, by the end of this guide, you'll have an understanding of what we as sponsors (or the people getting you sponsors, in my case) are looking for from you as a modder and from your mod.

However, this guide is not a guarantee of sponsorship. By doing everything in this guide to the letter, you will improve your chances dramatically - but it is not definitive. Worse, there are times that sponsorship just doesn't happen - perhaps the company that you wanted to work with had its advertising budget depleted for the time, for example. If that's the case, the greatest mod in the world isn't likely to walk away with kit.

The reality is, sometimes even a good mod will get turned down. And when that happens, you just have to accept that maybe it wasn't the right time. But don't give up - there's a chance that companies may take a second look down the line, or put you in line for your next project.

It's the economy, stupid

Those of you who were awake for the 1992 US Presidential election campaign will instantly recognize Bill Clinton's witty campaign slogan - "It's the economy, stupid!" Lo and behold, it really is. See, modding sponsorship isn't something that a company does out of the kindness of its sweet little corporate heart - sponsorship is a business decision about promoting products.

That may seem like an utter "duh!" moment, but the truth is that I think nine out of ten modders that I talk to about sponsorship seem to forget that. modding (for most of us) is a hobby. To the more devout, serial modder, it's an art form. Very few actually look at modding as an income opportunity, and there's a reason for that - there's not much of a market to sell our final products.

 

Just some of the sponsors for one mod that was featured
on our front page.

It's this mix that makes a natural divide between modders and sponsors - both sides want something different out of it. A modder doesn't view his or her work as "profitable" - it's art, and it's going to be posted somewhere that people will (hopefully) see it. Therefore, it seems like just one graphics card and a couple fans should be easy to give away! It's much like the piracy debate, in fact - "It's not like I'm making money off of them, and they're getting free advertising!"

In the meantime, the companies that are doing the sponsoring have a very large market to sell in - hardware for enthusiasts, modding supplies for modders...each of these things is a business, and these companies need those sales. If a company gives its modding supplies to modders, there's nobody to buy the product it's selling.

Let's take a look at one of my favourite sponsors to work with - the awesome chaps at AC Ryan. The company's business is making replacement parts and modding supplies for cases - things like cables, fans, grilles, etc. Now, you might think that the company should be easily able to part with a couple of £10 fans for your awesome mod. After all, you're not made of money, and modding is an expensive hobby.

But then, think about who the company's target market is - modders! It makes its money by selling its products to modders for mods - so every set of free fans is a sale lost. If AC Ryan splashed out a couple fans for every great mod, the company would find its sales plummet - every person that those fans could be advertised to by looking at your rig already has a set of their own.

Take this further to the idea of a local retailer - he or she has purchased a graphics card that sells for £250. He paid £200 for it, pays about £20 for it to sit on the shelf, and hopes to sell it at a profit - about £30. Now, if he hands that part to you, he's out £220 - and he will need to sell eight of those cards because of your mod before he gets enough money to make it a smart decision.

Because of that, any and every company that sponsors mods looks at a very important factor - ROI, or Return on Investment. The company is "buying" advertising by giving you that part - and it expects to see some type of return. My friends, when you start looking for sponsorship, you are turning your hobby into a little bit of business - and you'd better be prepared to "sell" your mod.

 

Starting off

So, you have a great idea. You're ready to embark on a modding adventure, and you want to do it (as much as possible) on someone else's dime. Good for you! Now, please get in line with everyone else who wants something for free - and while you're wishing, I want a pony. (what is it with bit-tech staff and ponies? - Ed.)

Nah, it's not really that bad, but you'd better take a look at how this is going to work. It's easy to get carried away, thinking that you should get this part from this company and that part from another company. No, if you've never done this type of thing before, it's time we slowed down and set out some ground rules.

There are some basic questions that you need to ask yourself before you start to ask other people:

  • Who are you looking at for sponsorship?
  • What are you (realistically) looking for?
  • How long will the project take?
  • What are you going to provide your sponsor?
  • What can they expect in the future?

All of these are questions that you need to know before you ever write that email, pick up that phone, or hit "Send PM" on our forums. Without that type of information, you're going to look like you're just begging for hand-outs - a problem that plagues the entire modding community.

In fact, before we go anything further, it's time to make one or two more "before you go asking" notes...

Track records

If you want to have your mod sponsored, you need to start by having something that shows you can finish a project. If I had a dollar for every mod that started off well in the bit-tech forums but ended up pretty much dead on the table after three months, I'd be a rich man - even with the currently very weak dollar.


Left - Wolverine's Pentagram HTPC is just the latest in a number of successful, popular mods;
Right - Even with sponsorship, G-Gnome's WMD still cost around £5,000 out of pocket.


The first time you start looking for sponsorship should really not be the first time that you've done a mod. Usually, about the third time is a charm for getting the ball rolling on sponsorship - then there are two completed projects before this one, which should be published on a single (two at the max) modding forum that gets traffic from the right kinds of people. This way, you can illustrate that your name is a recognised one, that you follow things through, and that there's commercial "presence" to your mod.

Having a track record is one of the most important things in modding from a sponsor's point of view. If there are previous mods to look back on, it's easy to see how well and how quickly you complete your projects. If those mods made the front page of a big-name site, a sponsor can contact the modding person and ask what it was like to work with you. If there's proper project logs (and there are, aren't there?), then the sponsor can see how you responded to criticism, setbacks, etc.

For instance, if you botched a cut, did you wait three months to get a new panel, or did you go buy one? Alternatively, did you just work around the mistake and incorporate it into your mod? If a company has handed you a couple hundred quid worth of time-sensitive hardware (like graphics cards), it's not liable to wait for two months while you whinge about your errant cut - the product could be obsolete before your mod is even done, thus wasting the advertising opportunity.

Which brings us to...

Are we there yet?

In order to get a mod done, most people need to have a plan - and you'd better, too. A sponsor will want to see something showing that this mod can and will get off the ground, assuming it hasn't already. The company will also want to see how you intend to "showcase" its gift to you in the project. After all, it's not too useful to give you a top-of-the-line set of very visually-identifiable Corsair Dominator DDR3 memory if you aren't even going to have a window!

A plan will help a sponsor see where you are taking the mod, and what the company can expect in the end. It will also illustrate that you've thought carefully about how you will accomplish the final product, rather than expecting a great mod and tremendous skill to just drop into your lap. It pays to be able to tell the company how you're going to handle certain setbacks if they should arise, such as the errant cut mentioned above "I've got an entire spare case just in case something screws the pooch," is something I always like to hear.

Even better than just a plan is a partially finished mod - this is particularly true of hardware sponsorship. Almost no hardware is "vital" to the early stages of a mod's design, so what have you done already? Most people just slap the hardware in at the end, so sponsors are looking for something that's already at least part-way complete (and preferably already attracting interest) before sending out the goodies.

Getting to the right people

Before you start looking for sponsors, you have to know who to ask. You like that shiny new card from Nvidia? Yep, we all do - but let's start at the beginning, which is where sponsorship should begin.

As we mentioned, it's helpful to have a mod or two under your belt before you even begin the process of looking for sponsorship. How will you get there, if nobody sponsors you? Buy it. I can hear the groans already - but seriously, you can't expect people to give you things for free just so that you can "try your hand" at modding.

Once you have that couple mods under your belt though, where to? You're a registered, contributing member of the forums, you help answer questions in the modding section, you've built a couple pretty good accomplishments...now what?

The answer, my friends, is right down the street - your local shops. See, local retailers (where I hope you were buying the kit for your first couple projects) will hopefully know you by this point - you're in their shops regularly, drooling on the glass about the newest thing. Talk to them, first - it's a lot easier than expecting a nameless, faceless giant to back you.

Local shops often can't part with much, but that's not really a bad thing - it's good to start off small, and it shows your interest in modding as opposed to just free kit. These companies don't often care about a project log on an international forum like ours, but you should have one anyway and make sure to mention the help you've received. This helps you further in that "track record" concept, as well as gives the store some way to look at your progress.

Because massive online appeal isn't really helpful to a local retailer, it's good to have an alternate plan on how you're going to use your mod to advertise for the company. Remember, nothing is free - that retailer had to lose money to give you anything, and the hope is that your mod will generate some business for him or her. A bunch of people thousands of miles away seeing a little logo isn't going to help - but I've got some suggestions in a couple pages that are great for local stores.


Left - Future Ne[]n by sethnmalice won our August Mod of the Month competition;
Right - Boss: FX-57 by TechDaddy is currently doing battle over at Modshop.net.


By the time you've become a bit of a name in your local shops, your skills are likely to start netting some attention in your project logs online. You'll catch the eye of other modders, who may recommend you for competitions like our own Mod of the Month, or Modshop.net's battle competitions. These contests are sponsored by bigger corporate sponsors (usually manufacturers) which deal directly with the sites.

Winning these contests will put you on the radar map for both the site and the corporation, which opens up some big doors along with your prizes. At this level, sites start looking for exclusive coverage of your next project, and help you obtain future sponsorship from places that would otherwise not even bother to send a "no thanks" email.

Gimmie, gimmie...

Once you know who you're dealing with, it's good to bear in mind that there are limits to what you should ask for, and how often you should bug the person who's getting it for you. Remember, sponsorship is a business, and as such there are rules of etiquette.

First, think of who you're asking - a local shopkeep or retail store is not likely to be able to part with a GeForce 8800 Ultra - unless you can really secure some business for them, you can put that out of your mind. Start small - a PSU, a low- to mid-range graphics card or motherboard, etc. Choose pieces based on how they'll fit your mod and be prepared to justify them with a lot more than just "But I wannnaaa!" A top-power system is just not reasonable to look for, and if you ask for it then you just come off as fishing for big freebies.

Instead, be prepared to think outside the box of just "something for free." For instance, how about getting a general discount? A couple local retailers I know of offered their modders a flat fifteen percent off of everything they bought - enough to make it well worth buying from them instead of online stores. Even better, it was something that covered a bit of everything instead of just one component, which was all the more helpful when one modder found himself wanting a different motherboard and chip than he bought originally. There's also the added benefit that it's loads easier to deal with warranty disputes, etc. if you have a receipt and purchase slip, making problems much simpler to resolve

Also, think of things aside from just the hardware. If you're doing your case out of wood, why not talk to a local wood supplier? Get recommendations, ideas, and see about a small bit of sponsorship. In return, the company can display the case for a bit, showing another inventive thing that can be done with their product - and they won't care what hardware is in it, allowing you to take your good stuff and throw it in an old case until they're done.

This philosophy can be applied with very great effect to hardware stores, metal retailers, paint/anodising shops - it expands the interest in the field of modding, and saves you enough money to be able to buy some of that hardware you were lusting after.

Selling your soul

As we mentioned, most modders view their work as a form of expression - a way to take something and make it truly unique in a manner that they find attractive. At the end of a good mod, it's a little piece of you - so you'd better think about what will happen to it.

To a sponsor, the "return" that is being sought is advertising - getting the company's name out there. It's great to say that you want to host it on a big-name site, but is that going to even do anything for your sponsor?

For instance, if you go for that free wood from a local wood supplier that I mentioned, odds are he or she isn't going to care about your project being on bit-tech - a site that caters to a worldwide, scattered audience just won't really help. You're going to have to offer a different form of advertising power.

However, a company like BFG Tech or OCZ Technology is going to expect you to have a project log on a large enthusiast site like bit-tech. I've even been asked by a couple larger companies in the past whether the person is a contributing forum member. I've also been asked to watch for a new member, as posting a log here was part of the sponsorship requirement.

At the end of the day, the advertising that you're offering needs to match the market that the company would sell its products to. It gets more difficult when, as we mentioned, you should start off small and local - but how do you help advertise for a local company that doesn't get benefit from worldwide audiences?

Well, there's lots of ways - but you sometimes need to think outside of the box here, too.

What would you do (oo-oo) for a Klondike bar?

How you are willing to advertise for your sponsor can be an incredibly varied (and honestly rewarding) experience. Sure, it's great to say "I'll post a project log," but that's only one very small part. A very large number of logs get started on bit-tech every month - and very, very few get shoulders tapped by me to go onto the front page in any form, whether in Mod of the Month or a complete log.


Left - Micke "GoTaLL" Gustafsson showed off his Dragon Head mod at DreamHack Winter in Sweden...
Right - ...And then again at the Intel China mod expo in Beijing, China.


No, that's a necessary but very small part of your exposure, unless you know you're going to get the attention of those on high. In fact, project logs should really be there for the benefit of fellow modders - they have low commercial viability aside from proving that you are working on it. What a company wants is a finished part, or some way to promote the work in progress to its market of choice. So, here's some suggestions that you can offer to sponsors.

Local shops

Local shops want eye-catching things to attract attention. So while you're in that local store asking for your first shot at modding stardom, why not offer to let the company have the system for a couple weeks as a display? The bright, eye-catching mod would be seen by potential customers, which naturally translates into "Well, what can it...do?"

This progresses into a conversation on tech specs, on the local modding kid who asked this company for help because it's such a great company and stocks such great hardware...there's a million and one ways that a local company could start up potential sales by using it as the hook. And, you'll be the talk of the town for a bit, to boot. You have to part with the rig for a couple weeks, but hey - that's worth that shiny new graphics card, isn't it?

You can also recommend doing a small "modding workshop" that the shop can host and promote to draw customers - grab a couple of like-minded friends and show off some very simple techniques such as changing out fans for LED ones, sleeving a PSU, cutting a side window or other basic techniques and get modding to be a little more "mainstream" in your area!

You'd be surprised how many people will stop and watch for a few minutes, and suddenly realise that some things aren't too hard at all - and many of those people wouldn't have known how to change their system from case to case before.

Regional chains/Online stores

If you're getting parts from regional chains or online stores, be prepared to do a little footwork - specifically, by hitting up the nearest LAN or other regional computer event. Big-box stores in your area are also fairly interested in this type of advertising, as it hits a wide "living area" of the target market. People will come from all around a region to a LAN event, meaning that if the store is online, every person who sees your case or talks to you about it is a new potential customer.

If you're going this route, be prepared to talk up your gaming skills as well - people who place highly will end up as the talk of the LAN, which means added promotional opportunity. And hey, everyone loves to side with a winner.

For those not gaming-inclined, LAN events are still a great place to show your stuff from these companies - many have recognised modding as a natural part of being a computer enthusiast, and so they offer case competitions and modding demonstrations - get out there and get your foot in the door!

The big boys, a.k.a. Manufacturers

Manufacturer sponsorship is a dying art form, at least directly between the company and the modder. Aside from the very difficult "Who do I even contact at the company?!" question, most emails that even find the right person are either disregarded or given a quick "no."

It's not that the companies don't care - it's that all of these requests are fielded by the company's PR teams (whether in-house or an outside agency). These people may be familiar with modding, but many of them aren't - and most don't have time to hear about it while they're trying to plan for massive advertising campaigns that show up across computer and business magazines worldwide.

Manufacturers deal in big-volume sales - volumes which make anything that a single modder can influence pretty insignificant unless that person has some pretty big exposure. Instead, these companies will sometimes select modders to design something specifically to promote a product, which is then made for the company to have for an indefinite timespan.

These types of mods are designed around that product alone, like the Creative X-Fi mod. Usually, the company will pay the entire cost of the mod plus some extra for the modder - but these opportunities are very rare and only come to established names, and usually through association with a big-name site.


Left - Dave "Macroman" Williams created the X-Fi mod for Creative;
Right - Yuugou by Greensabbath is a statement of architectural simplicity and beauty.


A couple manufacturers are still very good about dealing with modders directly, but for the most part this is where you need good relations with a site that features your work. For instance, I'm regularly either on the phone, MSN or email with companies like Intel, Corsair, Seagate, Silverstone, and others to get a piece of kit out to a valuable modder. These companies are worldwide, and expect that their kit be featured in top-end, attention grabbing boxes that will get wide exposure via an online publication, and occasionally will even ask to take the mod to a trade show such as CES or Computex.

But before I end up doing that, the mod will have either won a competition on our site or be something that we want to feature on our front page - not a short order by any means. Competition for the front pages or regular attention of high-level modding sites is fierce and a worthy but lofty goal. When it happens, though, you know that you've made something to earn it - the level of detail that goes into a front-page mod requires dedication that very few have the patience for.

Those that do are often serial modders who can be featured for creation after creation, building a reputation up with vendors and site managers alike. They're the names that you see appear on our front page over and over again - Greensabbath, Wolverine, G-Gnome, macroman, Sleepstreamer - project after project is done with meticulous detail.

Dress to impress

So, you want the attention of the big guys, and you think your mod deserves a look...but how do you know if we'll feel the same? Well, I took a straw poll of some of the other people who help make sponsorship decisions at various companies, and there's two qualities that are at the top of everyone's list: originality and execution.

Originality is "easy" - at least, easily defined. Make something you haven't seen before! You can look at some of my previous choices for Mod of the Month contestants to see what I mean. The winner from October's competition built his cases almost entirely from recycled junk. Another contestant last month used aeroplane flooring as part of his construction tools.


Left - Tikki Aquarium by thechoozen captured a lot of attention for its unique design;
Right - Crazy Blobz by alonso bistro won October's Mod of the Month.


As you look over each of the previous winners for the contest, you'll see a theme of original design and great execution, and many of the times it's the most original design that you vote for as the winner. After all, how many people have thought to put a computer in an aquarium base before? And out of the few who've tried, how many actually made something worth sitting in a living room?

These creative designs capture the imaginations of modders everywhere, and end up becoming "the one before" the modder gets a big sponsorship break.

A cautionary tale...

No tale of how modding sponsorship does work would be complete without a little note on how it doesn't work. Too many people seem to think that sponsorship is like having a magical djinni - that there is an endless, bountiful supply of kit just waiting for you.

As with all things, sponsorship involves a very large amount of balance. Companies are providing these pieces of kit from their advertising budgets, and that is not a limitless well. If the advertising proves to be unproductive, problematic, or (in worse cases) non-existent, sponsorship dries up - but not just for the modders that did poorly.

Because of that, it's important to be responsible about soliciting sponsorship. If a company were to give kit to a modder that then never completes the mod, the company may remember that and turn down the next modder who could benefit from sponsorship. Though often times site mod managers are used as "gate keepers" in this pursuit for the big boys, there are some companies who no longer accept sponsorship requests due to the surplus number of bad experiences.

Therefore, if you do get sponsorship for your mod, make sure that you're going to live up to your end of the bargain. Otherwise, you're not just ripping off a faceless company - you're hurting the reputation of an industry that's been based on trust and gentlemen's agreements. If someone from a site has vouched for you, you might also be ruining their reputation, preventing other members of that site from getting sponsorship.

And from a consumer standpoint, look around on the site and the front page to see the companies that are sponsoring mods. These companies believe in the artistic value of what you're doing, and they deserve your attention. The manufacturers and retailers aren't just throwing 'extras' out to the masses, they're spending money on you. Each sponsorship is a statement that modding has artistic and commercial validity, and that's something that's good for all of us in the industry.


Left: Peter Dickison's Orac³
Right: Dave Williams' Macroblack


Finally, it's always worth mentioning that people like me not only read through how you treat your mods, but how you treat other people in our forums. When you reach the point of one or more front page articles on bit-tech, you start to represent the site and the industry as a whole - and we don't take that lightly. I'm sure that other sites would agree - you can build a great mod, but if you're a pain to deal with or treat other members badly, your time at the top will be a short one (if given at all). Nobody with a reputation for quality wants to be associated with someone that acts like an idiot.

Wrapping it all up

I hope that this guide will prove useful to those of you who are looking for sponsorship - or, at the very least, I hope it answered some questions as to what to expect. It's a hard bit to write, as there's not really a "right" way to go about it - just a lot of things that should be done. There definitely are some wrong ways to do it - posting on ten different forums, sending out massive amounts of emails and asking for top-of-the-line free kit are all sure-fire ways to be handed a polite "get lost."

When done right and not abused, sponsorship is a mutually beneficial and fun way to "spread the love" of great kit and top talent. Most companies in the industry try to keep a bit of their advertising budget free for talented modders, and feel it's part of giving back to the consumers who spend so much on their products.

On the other hand, when it's clear that it's all about the free kit, the whole of modding suffers. Companies waste budget on people who never intend to finish a project or do a lousy job, and then don't have anything left for the people who do finish great work. Both sides get bitter and, in the end, it's the art that suffers most.

If you take your time, have patience and accept that sponsorship is a business arrangement and not some magical money tree, you'll find that there's plenty of help around. Who knows, maybe you'll just find a PM in your inbox from me, wondering about featuring your next project.

Until then, thanks for reading...and mod on!

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