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Driving the deal – how to get sponsorship in the new age   Leave a comment

Hands up if you want some money?

Every time we pick up a newspaper or turn on the television, someone in a suit is quick to remind us how broke the world is. Cutback this, Austerity that, it’s really quite depressing to be told there’s no money around, particularly if you’re an aspiring racing driver looking for backing. We all know there is money around though, just some of it in the wrong hands. This is quite a stark backdrop for the sponsorship-hunter, and one question that I hear time and time again is ‘how can I find some money to let me go racing?’  It’s everywhere, from drivers online forums, to club bulletins to agony aunt columns in the daily press.

Before I go any further I have to say I don’t have a definitive answer. If I did I wouldn’t be facing the coming Vee season so nervously, since cash for racing is hardly in plentiful supply in my gaff. However, what I do have is experience of running a business, so I know how business people think when it comes to shelling out money for marketing, and I do have experience of pitching for (and getting) a little backing for my racing, even though it’s come from my own company.

Consider your position

Let me get this bit out of the way first. In my view there are two key components that will make attracting a sponsor easier, though still tricky. One is guaranteed TV exposure, the other is an impressive racing CV, perhaps with a championship win or two thrown in. But let’s assume for now we have none of those, and just want to get someone to pay us to indulge our hobby. This is where the clever stuff is needed, and with the explosion of new-media and social networking channels, there are some great opportunities for those prepared to work at it.

It’s worth saying at this point that of course not everyone needs sponsorship. Grass-roots racing is relatively inexpensive, and those with their own cars are frequently able to pay their way through a season of something like Formula Vee. This is as it should be really – it’s what club competition is all about. Even so many in this position have had to compromise somewhere along the line, by competing in fewer races perhaps, reduced testing,  or just backing out of a 50-50 move so you don’t land yourself a crippling bill for damages.  Then consider the rental drivers (of which I am one) for whom the season cost can be five-fold that of the owner/driver.

One thing that strikes me is that no matter what level of racing you’re at, and therefore how much money you’re asking for, the barriers faced are exactly the same, and that’s because whether you’re a company being asked for £1,000 or £100,000, the question remains: ‘what’s in it for me as a sponsor?’  I’m constantly amazed by the number of people who sell the dream to a potential sponsor by offering simply to put a couple of stickers on a car. I suspect this isn’t enough. It should be a means to an end rather than an end in itself, and this should be the first thing to remember when putting a pitch together. Branding a car is only part of the jigsaw, although of course it can still be a great way of getting awareness for your sponsor.

Reel ’em in

Recently, I had a couple of overseas FRenault drivers contact my company asking for £50’000 in order to compete in the 2012 BARC championship, and apart from an email and a couple of photos of the car in the pit lane, that was it. It doesn’t take a genius to see that’s hardly going to entice a company to part with a large wedge of cash. So what might have worked?  There’s a saying that ‘people buy people’, so it would have been nice to at least have a bit of background on the drivers, even if their achievements don’t amount to much. A short, well-crafted summary of the journey so far can help the potential backer to warm to the personality. It’s about empathy, and in my opinion this will encourage the reader to at least find out more about what you’re proposing.

I think a polished, well-thought presentation is essential. Remember this is a business transaction, so it needs to be made as business-like as possible. Get a small brochure together, and remember to make an ‘online’ version as well so you can exploit the  wide reach of the internet. Get a mate to design it if you have to. These days you can get short-runs printed digitally and they’re dead cheap. Use good photographs, be creative, but most importantly sell the benefits to the sponsor. A sponsor will want maximum (if not guaranteed) return on their money, so they’ll need to know what they get from you. The stickers/branding has already been mentioned, but don’t forget to offer hospitality. Get them tickets to race events or test days. Be prepared to make your car available for promotional events (you might have to butter up the team owner for this!) Get a nice framed print of you and the car for their office wall. get press releases to the local papers and national motoring journals. These promises should all be in your pitch, but you absolutely must be prepared to honour them! All good stuff, but now we need to use the power of new media to push it further.

Go viral

The good thing about the internet is that it can be used to both gain sponsorship and support your sponsor. Twitter is a great way of linking yourself to relevant people, so plan a strategy depending on who you want to reach. Get a promo video together (easy these days) and get a YouTube channel. If you have a sponsor it’s a great opportunity to sell them and yourself to the wider world. Facebook is the other obvious choice. It’s easy to link to all the other popular media outlets, so you can quickly get lots of coverage, and with a little planning you can make a powerful case. This is probably the single most important part of your strategy in today’s market. Never, ever underestimate how impressed your sponsor will be if you raise their profile and their reputation with some clever and carefully-targeted digital marketing.

Also consider this. Many potential backers may find it a more attractive option to sponsor a team rather than individual driver. If you’ve no track record (pardon the pun) then this is a good workaround. There’s more appeal and ‘romance’ about backing a racing team than there is backing a forty-something bloke with a mid-life crisis, and it gives you so much more in terms of offering value for money.

Final word

If you’re still awake, here’s a couple of final points to consider.

The quickest way still to get someone to sponsor you is to find someone with a big ego and big wallet who loves racing. Period. The fact remains that most sponsorship at club level comes from someone you know, friends, family or your own business. But I have my own business and it’s still damned difficult to justify putting money into racing when times are so tough. Just ask my shareholders. But as I said at the top, there is money around, and who knows, there may be someone out there itching to pump some cash into a viable racing venture.

Lastly, you may be wondering why I’m not keeping these tips to myself, after all the last thing I need is competition in the cash hunt! The answer is simple. There are many young, talented, much more deserving drivers than me who have no money and need a break. Anything I can do to help, based purely on my experiences on both sides of the fence, I’m only too happy to do.

So let’s get busy over the winter guys. I’ll race you to the cash. 3-2-1 GO!


Posted December 10, 2011 by Paul in general racing stuff

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