Sponsorship Is Out There But It Takes Effort To Find It

Editor’s Note: Ernie Saxton has been involved in sponsorship marketing for more than 40 years. He has presented seminars on the subject throughout the U.S. and Canada. His newsletter, Motorsports Sponsorship Marketing News, is now in its 25th year of publication and his motorsports columns appear in a variety of publications. His website, www.saxtonsponsormarket.com, provides free information and a variety of tools that will help you in your sponsorship efforts. ...

There are many racers who will tell you that they have not been able to secure serious sponsorship. That is usually followed by a long list of excuses why they have not been successful. Some will tell you that it is because of the sluggish economy, others will tell you that they just have not been able to reach the right people and the list goes on. Truth be told most racers are not successful at securing serious sponsorship because they are not prepared properly to seek sponsorship, or they just never make a serious effort.

Notice that we talk about serious sponsorship. That is sponsorship that involves serious money, being paid in return for a serious effort being put forth by the racer, to make sure the sponsor gets a serious return on their investment.

At a Marketing Summit that we had the pleasure to be part of for NASCAR, racing legend Junior Johnson told the group in attendance that you have to give the sponsor a 200 percent return on their investment. We don’t know if you have to give them that much, but I would say that you certainly have to give more than you get to be successful.

He also made a point, that we’ve been telling racers for years-you have to keep your sponsorship marketing efforts a secret. Don’t share your information with anyone.

We represented a racer some years back who shared information about his potential sponsor with some friends. He told them that he was 90 percent sure that a well known company was going to come on board as his sponsor as a result of a presentation we’d made. His friends-excuse me, so-called friends-had proposals to the company the next day. Each proposal undercut his price and offered to do more and he lost the deal. That is one very good reason for not sharing information with your friends. It’s even more important these days with the sluggish economy and so many racers out there looking for financial support.

Be Prepared
So what should you be doing to secure serious sponsorship? First on the list is getting prepared. You should have a brochure, a selling piece, that gives a potential sponsor a good idea of what you have to offer them, what you are willing to specifically do for a sponsor and offers some information about your race team. This could be a six-fold brochure that can be handed out at personal appearances, mailed to potential sponsors with a cover letter, or is available when someone asks about sponsorship. It amazes us to see how many racers who claim to be looking for sponsorship have absolutely nothing prepared to give to someone who asks about sponsorship.

Now, included in the brochure/pamphlet should be information about the race team, the driver, a schedule, demographics, and a list of things you can do for a sponsor and some photos, plus contact information. Again we’re amazed to find that many racers seeking sponsorship offer no contact information.

Keep in mind that if you are looking for sponsorship you are most likely going to have business people call. Your phone should have voice mail with a professional message, and if you have somebody answering the phone for you make sure they are capable of taking a good message. Be sure that you don’t have small children answering or leaving cute messages on your phone. Keep in mind that sponsorship marketing is a serious business.

Let’s include here how important it is to keep a scrapbook or file of photos, news articles, column mentions, and stories that have been written about you in track magazines. You wouldn’t believe how many racers can’t remember how many wins they have or other important information about their racing careers. All of this is important when you are looking for sponsorship and putting together that brochure. To complement the brochure you should have business cards and stationary.

Something that can be very helpful to a racer as he or she looks for sponsorship is educating the racer on marketing. You do not have to become an expert but you should have some basic knowledge of marketing. Pick up a book on marketing at the local bookstore and even a second book that covers some
selling tips and skills. Educate yourself on some of the terminology used in the marketing and selling. It will be helpful in understanding what the potential sponsor might have to say and it will impress them if you understand the basics of marketing.

Put together a “hit list” of companies/businesses that you want to contact. Research them to see if they would fit in the sport and have the marketing budget to do it. Look at what they are doing in the way of marketing.

Create a cover letter that outlines key selling points/reasons to sponsor your race team. In the letter list three selling points and make them want to look at the brochure. In the brochure you have additional selling points/reasons to sponsor your race team. However, always save some of the key selling points for use later.

Need some ideas for your brochure and cover letter? Here you go.

  • Build brand/name awareness for your business.
  • Build a winning image for your business among your targeted audience.
  • Build employee morale.
  • Potential for public relations exposure for your business in local and regional print and broadcast media along with the internet.
  • Create a high-excitement merchandising vehicle for cross promotions and tie-ins.
  • Create business-to-business opportunities with other sponsors in the sport.
  • Increase your business industry visibility through trade show, grand opening, sale day appearances and tie-ins, plus vendor hospitality events both at and away from the racetrack.
  • Enhance supplier loyalty through VIP hospitality events (night/day at the races).
  • Distinguish your business from the competition.

And there is more that can be added. Check your local newspaper, magazines, TV, and billboards. See who is doing a lot of advertising. They are the ones that you want to contact since they understand the value of advertising and will see the value of sponsorship when presented properly. These are places that you want to mail your cover letter and brochure.

Do some detailed research to find out the proper person who should receive the mailing. Don’t waste your time sending your materials to Marketing Manager. You need to make sure it goes to a real name. Call the business and ask who handles the advertising.

Get involved with charities. Most successful businesses get involved with charities and those businesses like working with people who are also involved in the charity. It will create great networking opportunities. Make your race car available for charity events.

Some years back we represented a racer who chose to pass up a racing event to participate in a parade that had a charity involved. The car dealer sponsor that we had gave us some coded key chains to toss out along the parade route. The result was 21 cars sold to people with the “lucky key chains” and a sponsor that renewed for a bigger deal for the next season. You could offer to do something similar for a business that you are looking to have as a sponsor.

Local Events
Become a supporter of the Chamber of Commerce. Make yourself and your race car available for their activities. Again, this is a great opportunity to attract the attention of people who are in a position to put you in touch with decision makers at their company.

Make sure you have your race car ready for mall shows or race car shows. There have been many sponsorships found with a little effort in this arena but make sure you have your brochures and business cards ready to hand out.

When you participate in these various events make every effort to collect business cards so that you can follow up. If you give out a brochure or business card, get a business card in return. Then work the telephone in an effort to set up a meeting with the person you met.

When you do the shows/events make sure you present a good image. Dress so that people take you seriously. Business casual works just about everywhere but old racing T-shirts, blue jeans, and sneaks just don’t cut it.

When setting up a meeting, plan to spend some money. Offer to buy breakfast, lunch, or even a cocktail. People are more receptive to what you have to say, or feel better about you, if they are being treated well. That doesn’t mean you have to take them to a five-star restaurant, but it doesn’t mean Taco Bell either.

Make sure you keep your website current. A website that is not current is worse than not having a website at all. If you don’t have a website you should. It’s not hard or expensive to have one created. It’s a good selling tool so make it part of your sponsorship offer. You can put a sponsor’s link, product information, and more on your website to add value to the sponsorship

Once you have approached companies about sponsorship make sure you keep them informed of what your race team is doing. Create a newsletter that goes out by email or U.S. mail that offers news of what your race team has been doing and is planning to do. Cultivate relationships with your hometown newspaper, radio, and TV station. Get to know the sports staff and keep them informed on what you are doing. Include them on your press release mailing list. If you are not doing any of this, you should be, as it is an important part of sponsorship marketing.

The Meeting
Once you are able to set up a meeting with a potential sponsor, you need to have something to show them. Put together a flip chart of all the key information you have about your team and your sponsorship offer or a Power Point presentation. Keep in mind that this first meeting is a learning experience for both you and the potential sponsor. You want to do a lot of listening so that when you leave you have a good idea of how they market and what they want to get out of the sponsorship.

When the second meeting comes, and there will be a second meeting if you did a good job at the first meeting, you will want to come with a restructured presentation that answers all their questions from the first meeting, addresses how they go to market, and has some added features of your sponsorship program that you did not include during the first meeting.

At the second meeting you should have artwork that suggests just how their name/logo will fit on the race car, the hauler, the uniforms, and even the equipment. Remember all of it is subject to negotiations. The sponsor always gets a say in what is being created.

Something that is often forgotten by racers who are not experienced at sponsorship is the contract. There should always be a contract. They will want one and you should want one. It shows what you will be doing and what they will be responsible for. It will outline the payment arrangements. No one gives you all the money up front. Most likely, almost guaranteed, they will want their attorneys to review the contract and often when it is returned it will not look much like the one you gave them.

When it comes to the guts of the contract be realistic about the money you are requesting. A sponsor should not be asked to pay for building a new race car from scratch. Pricing the sponsorship should be based on the value of what you deliver.

Also often forgotten, especially if you are talking about a serious amount of money, is the attention that will be paid to your reputation and credit status. Many sponsorship deals are lost when a racer is found to have a questionable reputation or doesn’t have a good credit standing.

Never promise to do something that you can’t guarantee. You can’t guarantee to win a race, a championship, or have the sponsor’s name used by the announcer, and so on. You can offer to make the effort to make all those things happen but you can’t guarantee it, so don’t promise it. There are many things that you can guarantee and that should be more than enough to sell the sponsorship.

Almost forgotten, but a key point, is the attire you wear to the meetings. You can never overdress, but you can underdress. Wear a jacket and tie. Be clean shaven unless, of course, you have a well-trimmed beard. Look like a professional. You might just be amazed to know how important that is.

For the racer who is successful in signing the sponsorship the real work begins. You will have to start immediately protecting your sponsorship from others who will be making a serious effort to steal the sponsor away from you. Even the sanctioning organizations that you race with will be looking for an opportunity to attract your sponsor to one of their programs.

One of the best ways to protect your sponsorship is to make sure both sides understand what has to be done and who will be doing it. At a time when we have so many communication tools (telephone, email, fax, and so on) communication seems to have become a lost art. You have to keep the sponsor informed on a regular basis as to what you are doing and the sponsor has to be doing its best to activate the sponsorship.

What should be done could be the subject of another entire story. We hope that we have, with this article, got you started on your way to be successful in attracting that elusive sponsorship in this sluggish economy. Good luck to you.
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