Traveling on someone else's dime

By Rita Papazian
Posted: 07/16/2009

Jeff Blumenfeld can help people get out of that soft comfortable armchair and onto a journey of discovery that they may have been thinking about for years. He also can help people get others to pay for it.

Truth be told.

This first-time author drew upon 35 years of public relations and marketing with the last 15 years focused on expeditions, to write "You Want to Go Where? -- How to Get Someone to Pay for the Trip of Your Dreams." The book chronicles many adventurers who not only managed to fulfill their dreams, but also were able to obtain sponsors to pay for much of the expense.

Blumenfeld, a New Canaan resident who heads his own company, Blumenfeld & Associates, based in Darien, spoke about his book during a recent talk at the Fairfield Public Library. He offered a bit of advice to his audience, many wishing in their hearts to get out of their sedentary lives and embark upon an adventure that perhaps someone else can sponsor for them.

The author held up the book with the cover photograph of a hiker standing atop a snow-covered mountain peak.

"People ask is that me. Let them think it's me. It's good for my credibility," Blumenfeld said. The cover photo was taken by Gordon Wiltisie and captures an image of Vern Tejas, who was a guide for climber Col. Norman Vaughan, the last surviving member of Admiral Richard E. Byrd's 1928-30 expedition. In the late '80s, Vaughan called Blumenfeld looking for sponsorship to climb the mountain in the Antarctica, that Byrd himself named after Vaughan. The mountain is a 10,302-foot peak, 450 miles inland in the Queen Maud Range.
After two failed attempts, Vaughan, nearing 89, reached the summit of his namesake. During one of the attempts, Vaughan was wearing Vent-A-Layer expedition clothing from one of Blumenfeld's clients. After his successful feat, he worked as a consultant to corporations involved with the outdoors. He also lent his name to a Timberland-sponsored "Trip of a Lifetime" sweepstakes.

Vaughan would take money "from anyone, anywhere, anytime," Blumenfeld writes in his book. "When Norman was short of funds, which was, truth be told, a constant state, he and his staff got creative. He received funding from Kohler Corp., makers of toilets, and MACE Corporation, makers of chemical MACE spray, who sent in tens of thousands of dollars. Norman sold bandanas, coffee mugs and shirts at the Alaska State Fair, and had numerous in-kind sponsors. Grabber Warmers supplied the entire team with chemical heat packs for their hands; Cascade Designs provided mattresses."

During his talk, Blumenfeld explained that there is a difference between an adventure and an expedition; an adventure is "a trip with a potentially unexpected or unwanted outcome. It involves an unusual and exciting, typically hazardous experience or activity."

On the other hand, an expedition is a trip with a purpose. In his book, he explains that an expedition is "a journey that involves scientific study of field research -- an effort to better understand the planet, determine what lies over the next hill or test the upper limits of human performance."

The broader the purpose and the greater the impact, especially in terms of education, the better the chances of the individual attracting a sponsor.

Blumenfeld advises wannabe explorers looking for sponsors to ask themselves the "So What?" question. What sets the concept for the expedition apart from others? In Vaughan's case, he wanted to climb the mountain that had been named for him and he was doing it very late in life.

"He's hot to conquer the Antarctica at age 88," said Blumenfeld during his talk.

Blumenfeld showed a slide presentation of many people who embarked upon their expeditions with sponsorships. He cited Reid Stowe, a professional New York painter, sculptor and veteran sailor who planned to become the first human to remain on a boat for 1,000 days, "without resupply and out of sight of land."

The 55-year-old sailor embarked with his 20-year-old girlfriend, who on day 306 had to leave the sailboat because she had become pregnant and subsequently gave birth to a boy. Stowe continues to sail and Blumenfeld quotes Reid's blog: "They are not the first woman and child to wait for their man to come home from the sea. It is the most ancient of stories."

"I love these people," said Blumenfeld of the adventurers he writes about.

"If you want to get money from these companies, you have to give them something. In his talk and in his book, Blumenfeld cites many who did. A Denver schoolteacher climbed the tallest peaks in each state; a golfer hit a golf ball 1,310 miles across Mongolia. Barbara Hillary, a female African-American cancer survivor who had skied to the North Pole when she was 75, now wants to ski to the South Pole at age 77.

Finding a sponsor for an expedition takes planning. Blumenfeld suggests preparing a list of target sponsors compiled by determining what equipment, supplies, and other items needed for the trip. Come up with a catchy theme for the experience such as "Death Valley to Denali:" "Grease to Greece;" or "Skydive from Space."

Another way to obtain sponsorship is to consider a charitable tie-in, so the adventurer can raise funds. But, the idea "must come from the heart," said Blumenfeld who shared the story of Laura Evans. She was fighting stage-three breast cancer when she hit upon an idea to "form a team of breast cancer survivors to climb a mountain to raise awareness and financial support to fight the disease."

In February 1995, she and 16 breast cancer survivors embarked on their quest. Three reached the summit of Argentina's Mount Aconcagua, which is 22,841 feet, the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalayas. Evans died five years later at age 51, but the Expedition Inspiration Fund for Breast Cancer Research continues.

In seeking sponsors, Blumenfeld notes it is very important to "demonstrate an ability to write, photograph, blog and speak in public. It is not just important to achieve a goal, but also to communicate to the world what has been accomplished. That is what sponsors want to see. It's important that people are comfortable using the latest technology which allows instant communications with sponsors, media, family and friends, wherever one is on earth.

"You have to be totally up on technology: Facebook, MySpace, Twitter," Blumenfeld said.

"Study outdoor magazines. Get to know travel magazines."

When asked what traits he sees in the people who embark on these expeditions, Blumenfeld said they are "incredibly motivated and determined. They set a dream and remain steadfast in their pursuit of the dream. Often times, they will spend years on research. He said it is important that individuals are highly motivated and have some skills particularly in the outdoors. Also, it is important that they have an ability to communicate so that the story of their expedition gets out.

Following his talk, Blumenfeld fielded questions from the audience. Local resident Al Coyote Weiner, a cancer survivor, who at 73 described himself as a "late-blooming artist," said he wanted to go to Basel, Berlin and Paris. He and his wife, Faith Carpenter, love to travel and he wondered how they could travel, paint and get someone to sponsor them. Blumenfeld said Weiner had to think more about what he wanted to do in terms of connecting with someone or an organization. "You have to do something for someone."

Aside from sharing anecdotes of the expeditions his public relations and marketing company has promoted, Blumenfeld's book is a resource for anyone seeking an adventure or expedition. He offers lists of companies who supply cash and/or in-kind support; grant programs; plus a 10 tips for negotiating expedition sponsorship, which was written by an attorney. He also lists his favorite adventure books to help people learn about those who have gone before. In addition, the book includes a list of reference books, Web sites and inspiring films and "top-notch guide to services and schools.

Blumenfeld is a member of The Explorers Club in New York and the American Alpine Club in Golden, Colo., and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in London, where he has presented talks on adventure marketing.

Through his company, he has journeyed to Santiago, Chile, to organize the first sky race in Antarctica; spent two weeks in Nome and Anchorage during promotion of an expedition across the Bering Strait; enlisted a team of ski instructors to test ski apparel at 12,000 feet in the High Andes of Argentina; and promoted skiing and a midnight golf tournament near the Arctic Circle in Iceland. He's an avid sea kayaker, fly-fishing angler, downhill skier and sailor.

Currently, as a representative for the Iceland Tourist Board, he makes frequent trips to Iceland, where he takes media on hiking trips.

Blumenfeld keeps a blog on his Web site, . A recent entry touts the important role that the Internet plays today in helping adventurers to seek sponsors.

The author likes to remind people that perhaps Christopher Columbus was the first explorer to seek sponsorship. Who knows -- maybe there is a Ferdinand II and Isabella I lurking just around the corner.

Blumenfeld will speak at the New Canaan Public Library on Wed., July 29 at 7:30 p.m.