IT AIN’T AS EASY AS YOU THINK
he ed. recently asked me to put something together on sponsorship, following conversations we’d had over the years and as a bit of a follow-up from discussions over the PA at Mad Mike’s Summer Bash. Why me? No idea, really — I’m no marketing genius and have no formal qualifications, but I can tell you that I’ve been asked this question plenty of times over the past 15 years, so I’m known to have a view and to have shared it with a few people over a brew.
I’ll be up front here: there isn’t really a right or wrong on this topic, given most relationships are pretty much based on personal interest or benefit, but there are some very basic things people seem to forget or ignore when trying to get sponsorship when they chase their dream.
You’ll have to forgive me if this seems very much a ‘you can’t’ article, but the idea here is to challenge you and better prepare you, if this is really something you want to pursue. Sponsorship is clearly a common topic in workshops, around the dinner table, and on every digital medium there is. After all, it’s something for free, right? And that’s money you don’t have to spend, which is a good thing, right?
OK, so here is the catch that people forget — the saying really is true: nothing is genuinely free! Trust me when I say that the tap can get turned off faster than it was turned on, and that can have long-felt after-effects and alter friendships. If you are new to the game, then, as most drivers and team managers will tell you openly, most people will struggle to ever get a dollar, and there isn’t an athlete or event on this planet that doesn’t work f**king hard to gain and keep what they can get.
Want $5K? You’d better offer a benefit worth $10K plus, and that’s not in sales, that’s in profit
What I will try to do is cover a few often-discussed points, with the aim of aiding and assisting you before you all decide to go and become the next Ricky Bobby with fancy proposals, lengthy emails, and spams to every company you can think of. Trust me, it’s been done already, and, unless you truly stand out, it will all fly straight into the delete folder.
Before we go further, ask yourself this question — and think about it, actually seriously think: do you really want to be sponsored, and do you understand exactly what it means to be sponsored? If you don’t know, and think it’s just about slapping on some stickers, then stop now and avoid the disappointment.
If you answered yes, then I’d also suggest asking objective people what they think about your prospects. Don’t bother with people who tell you on the daily that you are 100 per cent the next LBJ or Mad Mike. Oh, and while you’re at it, have a think about those mates who are essential to your car being able to compete. Potential sponsors will also have eyes on them, so, if they aren’t prepared to play the game, identify now that you’ve got a potential problem.
Right, you’ve decided you still want to go ahead with this, so you need to understand who you are, what your brand is, and how your team and support structure fit into that. Sorry to break this to you, but not everyone is fit to be the face of an energy drink company or major retail brand, or to become a household name. Before approaching anyone, do your research and understand who a company is trying to target and whether you appeal and can deliver benefits in that market. Can you give them something they don’t already have that is complementary and supportive of what they are doing? If your whole approach is based on ‘branding’, maybe consider just stopping now, because perhaps you don’t quite get it.
Receiving sponsorship is essentially a job, a contract to deliver something in exchange for something. Can you and your team deliver a return to someone on the investment they make in your team? I’ll ask that you focus on the word ‘investment’, as that’s what a person, company, or brand is making in you. If you think you can sit back, do nothing, and keep people happy, think again. You’ll be talking, making appearances, and shaking hands, and if that’s not your thing, then sorry, you need to look elsewhere.
If you are still reading, then I will assume you understand what sponsorship means, and what it entails.
Now you’re ready to start thinking about your sponsorship. First, what you are asking for? Is it money, parts, or labour? If it’s money, which is usually what people default to, then the example I use goes something like this. The average small business owner in New Zealand might turn over $1M per annum in sales, and after all costs, debts, paying staff, etc., that owner might have $100K left a year with which to pay themselves. Now, when you email or walk in asking for $10K (10 per cent of the profits), you had better have a pretty strong case in favour of what you are selling. Think of it like this: what would you say to someone asking for 10 per cent of your salary? Ask any marketing manager — they will tell you that you had better be offering far more than you are asking, or it’s just not worth it. Want $5K? You’d better offer a benefit worth $10K plus, and that’s not in sales, that’s in profit. As a disclaimer, yes, there is an aspect of ‘branding’, but what makes you any more useful than a well-connected local tradie who is happy with the odd box of brews and some free T-shirts?
Always be realistic with your request and keep in mind what you’re actually doing. If you are taking part in grass-roots sport with mostly family and friends watching, where is the gain for the investor? Make sure you know what your chosen series or event brings to the table and be equally sure you can explain it in detail.
If you’re looking for parts or labour, apply the same logic. Discounts are nice and help keep almost all motorsport going, but it takes a pretty strong case to get something for free. I know everyone looks around and says ‘oh but X got this or that’ — chances are they probably spent over $100K to get to that point.
So, now you know you want to be sponsored, and how much for. Have you got a point of difference? What is it? Why should the potential sponsor go with you, over the 1000 other people all asking for and offering the same? You’d better be good at telling your story. I also hope you have someone you can use for design work. You will need a way to present yourself. Design and what works best are a whole other topic, so those can be left to someone else. Either way, get it done and stick to the principle of KISS (keep it simple, stupid) — nobody has time for your 20-page PowerPoint.
Perhaps the voice of Formula Drift, Jarod DeAnda, put it best when he said, “You want sponsorship and to keep it? You need to win before you turn up! You need the right product, the right people and the right attitude, and even then there are no guarantees.”
Happy hunting, team. I wish you all the best, and hopefully this has been of some help. The best piece of advice I can give you is, if you can’t afford to do it without others, maybe motorsport just isn’t right for you.