This is the last step in a...
This is the last step in a successful sponsorship search: applying their decals!
Having bloodied my knuckles knocking on doors over the past 10 years searching for sponsorship, I have found one common trend-success is based on education. Education, or lack thereof, could be the reason that finding sponsorship has long been perceived as one of the most difficult things a racer can accomplish, as well as the reason that so many racers might not achieve their racing goals. How many times have you heard or said, "We will move up if we can find sponsorship"? If we can agree that the definition of insanity is a state of mind that causes someone to do the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, then we can also agree that approaching racing sponsorship from a different perspective may be required to advance your racing career, while relieving some stress on your personal finances.
Sponsorship is the most underutilized, misunderstood, and abused tool in the corporate marketing war wagon. As a racer seeking sponsorship, you have learned that many companies have had less than favorable experiences with sponsorship. The one variable seldom considered in all of the sponsorship books, articles, and workshops, and something that you just can't learn in a classroom is that many local, regional, and yes, national companies do not know how to maximize the value of sponsorship. Even worse, they don't know how to use it properly as a tool to drive business. A common mistake is to confuse sponsorship with advertising. While you are competing with advertising, direct mail, and other marketing programs to get your share of the corporate budget, you are not offering the same capabilities. Well-designed sponsorship programs offer the ability to distribute coupons, generate sales leads, enroll new customers, conduct corporate entertainment, test market/introduce new products, directly increase sales through rights agreements, and more through a single avenue. Those things are referred to in marketing speak as activation, or "promoting the promotion." The rule of thumb is that for every dollar spent on sponsorship, a company must spend an additional dollar on activation. Keep this in mind when the time comes to talk dollars and cents. Sponsors that cheapen or don't budget for activation will certainly be disappointed at the end of the year, and you will lose a sponsor.
On a much more touchy-feely note, sponsorship has the ability to create an emotional connection with fans, or in your sponsors' words, potential customers. It is a fact that NASCAR leads the way in fan loyalty, which in part is an emotional reaction that fans have because of their passion for the sport. But that concept goes beyond just NASCAR. Regardless of the sanction, this fan loyalty can quickly turn into brand loyalty. It's your job to educate your sponsorship prospects of this fact as well as the many opportunities that exist by partnering with your race team.
Have you ever called a prospective sponsor and heard, "We're not interested. Sponsorship doesn't work," or "We've sponsored things before and think it's a waste of money"? If so, chances are they agreed to sponsor something, be it racing or the ballet, and didn't understand how to use this valuable tool. However, companies that sponsor usually stay in it. According to IEG, the leader in sponsorship intelligence, 82 percent of sponsors plan to maintain or increase their sponsorship budgets in the coming year. Timing is key to getting a piece of that action, as 43 percent of companies determine their sponsorship budgets between October and December, while an additional 23 percent determine budgets between January and March.
As the sponsorship numbers continue to grow at the national level, where companies are being sold sponsorship programs by well-educated marketing professionals, it is our job locally and regionally to be in a mode of education in terms of how we are selling sponsorship. Many local business owners and regional executives have never sponsored anything because they don't understand how to make it work for them.
Identify companies that are currently in the mode of advertising. Check out the newspaper, TV commercials, SPEED Channel, other racing broadcasts, and of course, companies that are local track sponsors. Spend quality time with your research in order to save tons of time and money commonly wasted by calling companies that have neither the budget nor a good alignment with racing.
The First Call
After you have done your research, you should be able to identify no less than two good reasons that a company would want to work with you and sponsor your race team. Find a way, based on the capabilities of sponsorship outlined above, to help companies achieve their business goals/objectives. Do they manufacture a food product that can be sold in the track concession stand? Are they seeking to entertain their customers? Do they want to generate excitement at their retail location with a show car visit? Whatever you do, don't ask, "Wanna sponsor a race car?" Rather, ask, "Are you interested in sampling 1,500 people per week for 20 weeks?" or "Are you interested in distributing 10,000 coupons over six months in X, Y, and Z markets?" Sell them on the benefits or deliverables of sponsorship-not the word sponsorship (which may be a dirty word if they don't understand it).
Your proposal should focus 10 percent on you, 10 percent on racing, and 80 percent on how they can earn a positive return on their investment through sponsorship. If possible, get away from mailing your proposal. Most computers are sold with Microsoft PowerPoint, which is a very versatile presentation program that you can use to create your proposals. If you don't use the computer or aren't sure how to use PowerPoint, ask a crew or family member to be your race team's marketing director. Make that person responsible for creating proposals and following up with prospects. The greatest advantage of PowerPoint is that it can be e-mailed, which saves you money in printing and postage.
Work with your Track or SeriesWorking with your track or series is perhaps the best way to give yourself an advantage in selling sponsorship. They can provide you with billboard space, tickets, track program ads, and most of all, the ability to sell products in the track concession or souvenir shop. As you work out a partnership with your track, you should ask for discounted pricing, as it's in their best interest to have well-funded teams racing at their track. You also become a sales agent for them, so it's a win-win situation no matter how you look at it.
While attending Cornell University, I had the opportunity to work as an intern for a very large tobacco company. My first foray in corporate America forever changed my view of sales and the selling process. While many other competing tobacco companies were selling cigarettes, the philosophy of the company I worked for was the following: "We will help store owners grow their business-and they will look to us as consultants." As the consultant, or teacher, store owners would look forward to seeing us, and would find value investing in our relationship, which eventually led to success for both of us. It is with this mindset that you will find success with your personal racing sponsorship program. Rather than feeling the guilt of asking for money, make their needs your first priority. Dollars will follow, as will success with your racing career.
Bill Catania of Erie, Pennsylvania, is a third-generation racer, marketing professional, and author. As President of RaceFan Marketing, Catania developed and managed marketing programs for such clients as Valvoline, U.S. Army, Primedia, Discover Card, and MBNA America. He has also authored a series of books to help racers as well as track and series promoters find, manage, and keep sponsors.
The married father of two has competed in dirt Street Stocks, Limited Late Models, and NASCAR Late Models. For 2007, Catania has teamed up with ARCA veteran Andy Belmont to compete in the ARCA RE/MAX Series under the PRISM Racing Group banner.
You can find Bill's books at www.racequest.com. For more information, contact Bill at firstname.lastname@example.org.