One of the big problems I see with racers is that many of them think that because they spend a lot of time procrastinating about their sponsorship plans it is OK to go hunting for sponsorship for the next year near the end of the current year. Most businesses are working on plans for 2015 well in advance of the current year and if you want to be part of those plans you had better be making your contacts now. By waiting until the last minute you end up selling your sponsorship for a lot less than what it is worth and that happens often in weekly short track and regional racing.

So how do we avoid that? Well if you ask three different people who do sponsorship searches you will probably get three different answers. I can only tell you what I think you should be doing and I’m basing this on many decades in the business.

Landing a big-time sponsor for your short track program can really ease the stress of competing, but it also means that you have to work hard and smart to keep that sponsor satisfied so they return year in and year out.

First on the list is creating a prospect list. Find, perhaps 25, companies or businesses that you think would fit into your sponsorship plans. In previous articles I have written I gave some tips on how to find information on companies and businesses. Head down to the local library or check with the area business journal, which usually can be found in the library. The Internet is a worthwhile place as well.

Put together a list that includes the business name, contact information, a key contact name, information on the business, what makes you think they would fit into your plans, and what you have learned about them. Research them. Find out everything you can that will be useful in your selling effort.

I suggest writing a contact letter. Do not send by email. That may be the easiest way but you would probably be surprised how many emails are deleted without being read. Just not having an interesting subject line on your email can get you deleted. Many just delete emails because the recipient is not familiar with the sender’s name. Someone should do an analysis to see how much business or how many great opportunities are lost to businesses because someone was too busy or just too lazy to open the email.

I suggest a letter, a well-written letter, that outlines, briefly, who you are, what you offer, and why you feel their involvement with your race team would help drive business to them. The entire purpose of this letter is to be able to set up a meeting with a decision maker. You want a few minutes to explain what you have to offer, what benefits they will gain, and that you want an opportunity to learn more about the business so that you can create a proposal that addresses how you can fit with their business and make things happen.

Most executives don’t have time to read through an initial package that offers everything anyone would ever want to know about your race team and how your team can create a blip on their marketing results meter. I suggest a letter that is one page or two at the most. It should be written in good, clear English, no grammatical errors, and on good quality stationary. It has to be addressed to a specific individual. Anything addressed to Dear Sir or Dear Marketing Director will most likely find the waste basket. It probably will not make it past the very vigilante executive assistant. He or she feels that the executive must be protected from correspondence that was not expected.

Your letter needs to show that you have some knowledge about their business and shares some ideas that you have that will be instrumental in marketing the business. Perhaps as a result of your research you have come up with an idea that your race team can carry out to create interest in their business and drive customers to their business.

Getting the meeting is an important step in being able to attract a business to be a marketing partner/sponsor. The meeting will be an information gathering session that will allow you to take the information home and spend time creating a formal proposal that will address your plans to be a serious part of their marketing efforts. This meeting should not be looked at as a sales call. Don’t expect to sell your sponsorship on that first call. However you can certainly rejoice if it is offered.

Don’t make the meeting about you and your race team. Spend a little time talking about you and the team and plans but use most of the time allotted for the meeting to learn more about the business and how they go to market. And when you get back home you can sit down and create a proposal that addresses what you can help them do to be more successful with their marketing. This is a key point, as far too many racers don’t understand that understanding and catering to the customer’s needs and goals will allow you to land and keep a sponsor.

Driver’s uniforms are an excellent branding tool for sponsors that should automatically be included in your initial proposals.

Perhaps even set a date for the next meeting and give yourself enough time to be able to create a good, solid proposal. I will talk about some new proposal ideas next time.

On another subject that relates to sponsorship, just recently I had the chance to sit down with a racer who was seeking sponsorship and had questions. We had made an appointment to do this so he should have been prepared just as he would have been expected to be prepared for a meeting with a potential sponsor. Needless to say, he was not.

He arrived dressed in shorts, his favorite racing T-shirt, and flip-flops. He had not shaved in a few days but that seems normal for many men these days, and his finger nails had enough dirt under them that he could have grown vegetation. He carried nothing. He had to borrow a pen and paper from me to take some notes. Quite frankly I just felt it was a wasted effort but I could use the session to improve my own skills.

Needless to say I did point out to him that his attire and appearance left a lot to be desired. His response was that he was on vacation. I never did ask if this was the way he would have shown up to meet with a potential sponsor since he was on vacation.

He told me that he did not bring any of his sponsorship materials because he figured that I knew what they looked like and what they contained and quite frankly he was being protective of his sponsorship materials.

When I asked him what he does to activate his sponsorship, he looked at me with a blank stare. He did not know what that meant. I pointed out that lack of activation is the reason so many sponsorship programs fail. Too many deals seem to be based on putting the logo on the race car and, maybe, the hauler and that is it. Activation is what is done by the racer and the sponsor to bring attention to the sponsorship program. That is what is done to create an ROI. And that brought another blank stare. He did not know what ROI meant.

Hopefully, most of you know that ROI means “Return on Investment” and that is the reason most businesses get into sponsorship. They want to get a return on investment for their sponsorship dollars. These days there is more attention paid by businesses to the ROI from a sponsorship than ever before. It is not just enough for most to gain media coverage.

ROI is the measurement of the economic return from their sponsorship investment. If it is a local business they will want to know how much customer traffic the sponsorship drove through their doors. And that is where the activation of the sponsorship comes into being. What did you do to bring attention to the sponsorship? Were there personal appearances with the race car? Was the race car and racer part of the business advertising? Were there promotional materials being distributed at the races by your team so that fans were acquainted with the business? And the list goes on.

However, keep in mind that the benefits of sponsorship cannot always be measured in ROI. Oftentimes, your program may create product loyalty and that is hard to trace. However there are those who make an effort to trace loyalty through surveys, perhaps with coupon giveaways to fans, and other such efforts. It is not a perfect science but when presented correctly it can be a huge plus in selling a sponsorship. Again activation of the sponsorship by both the racer and the sponsor can produce great returns on investment.

Suppose you, the racer, win a big event. How do you place value on that when talking about sponsorship? Now you are getting into a new word to learn, valuation.

Such a valuation will give the potential sponsor a very good idea of what the return on investment should be. There are people out there who provide this service but there really is no perfect way to come up with a positive valuation. Being able to offer a success story in your racing and in your sponsorship marketing efforts will up the value that you have to offer.

Many companies can reach a value number by some of the activation programs that they put in place or you put in place as part of your sponsorship package. Did you offer coupons? How was the response?

Branding for your sponsors goes beyond just a decal on the car and the driver’s uniform. Take a look at the T-shirt this crewman is wearing as he changes rearend gears. Nice branding, huh?

Here is a suggestion. If you have hero cards that you give out you should include a sponsor’s coupon on one end of the hero card. It should be perforated so that the person receiving the hero card can tear off the coupon and put it to use without damaging the photo. The coupon should be identified as coming from you so that the sponsor can use it to value the results of the sponsorship.

Of course if you offer some sort of hospitality at a race event then you should have a guest book so that those who attend can sign in and list the name of the company they represent. Again this is a form of valuation of the sponsorship.

By the way, how many of you racers would be able to provide information on one or all of your sponsors if someone, a fan, asked about doing business with one of them.

And the final part of this article will be devoted to a subject that is near and dear to me. When was the last time that you or someone involved with your racing program contacted the media? A large number of the sponsorship proposals that I am asked to review for racers and event organizers promise media exposure but it amazes me how few keep the promise.

Working with the media, keeping them informed, is an important part of the sponsorship marketing effort or what I would call the sponsor satisfaction plan. You might even say that working with the media is part of the activation of the sponsorship. You are now familiar with what activation is all about.

It is true that some sponsors do not make media exposure a priority but I am sure that the sponsor will appreciate any good media exposure they receive.

As some of you know I pen columns in a variety of publications, including two daily newspapers, a trade publication, magazine (Canadian), and publish a newsletter, Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News.

Understanding how important media exposure can be to the success of a sponsorship program, I make an effort to make mention of sponsors when I receive such news. You probably would be surprised to find out that I receive very few news releases regarding sponsorship announcements. And there are some that I receive that should never have been sent. In total, during the racing season, I receive about 800 emails each day and many of them are never considered for use because they are poorly written, do not contain information of interest, come across as ads rather than news, and finally do not follow the rules for good press releases.

How many of you are aware that the early part of a release should include who, what, where, why, and when? Answer those questions in the first few paragraphs and you will have a lot better chance of getting my attention and getting the release used.

One trick to keep in mind when setting up your pit area is to make sure that the logos of the products you use in the pits are facing out for all to see.

If you do not have a decent command of the English language then I would suggest you find a friend who does or hire someone.

News releases should contain news. Right about now the season is coming to an end or is over for many of you so it would be a good time to do a “season wrap” release that talks about the highs and lows. Work into the release mentions of the key sponsors. Mention them in the order of their importance so that when the release is edited the important ones have a better chance of surviving and appearing in the story that is written as a result of your release. Offer a good quality photo that shows the driver and race vehicle. Of course with publications making cutbacks there is a good chance the photo will not be used or will be cropped (made smaller).

What I am finding these days is that the weekly newspaper that covers news of your area is becoming important. They are often called throwaways. However those weeklies, with small staffs, are often looking for news so your well-written news release, in a story format, will have a good chance to be used. And your release has a good chance of being used in its entirety. In essence you want to make the editor’s job as easy as possible.

There are a large number of motorsports and sports websites out there that will use your releases and often without cuts or changes.

You should also have your website (you do have a website don’t you?) updated so all the information is current and there are new photos. And don’t forget your Facebook page. With a website and Facebook or other social media you market yourself and your sponsors.

News releases should be kept tight, not wordy, and to the point. Use bullet points to highlight key information, making it easier for the recipient to scan through the information. The more you do to make it easier for the media the better the chance it will be used.

Storytelling in your press release makes them more interesting and easier for the media to use. Again it is important that in your story telling you include mentions of the sponsor but try to limit those mentions or they will become a turnoff. The primary sponsor gets the most play.

When sending your release by email be sure to include a subject line that attracts the interest of the media person receiving it. Example: “Local professional race car driver finishes successful 2014 season.”

Work on building relationships with the media that cover your sport and those that cover sports and business in your local media. Make sure they know who you are. Put them on the list to receive all your releases.

An important aspect of the activation that Saxton talks about is your driver’s interaction with the fans. Remember the driver is also a salesman for his/her sponsor.

Be sure that your releases have contact information (name, phone numbers, and email) so that the media that receive them and have need of additional information or want to turn your release into a bigger story and have need for more information can reach you.

In a recent edition of Success magazine, I found the results of a survey that really caught my interest. With all the hype about Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and more, 62 percent of Americans say social networks have zero effect on their buying decisions. Thirty percent said social media has “some influence;” 5 percent, a great deal of influence; 3 percent were undecided. U.S. businesses spent more than $5 billion on social media in 2013. That is some information you just may want to store away for future use in your sponsorship efforts.
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