Apart from talent and determination, there is another important element in every race driver’s career: a budget. Unless you have a big family fortune behind you or have won the lottery, the other option – particularly in the early stages of your career – is to find sponsors.
To do that, you need to know first of all that sponsorship is a business. People or companies sponsor you because it helps them reach their targets. That you happen to be in motorsport hardly ever is their main motivation. But of course, if they also like motorsport, that’s a bonus.
Finding sponsors is no different than offering products or services to potential customers. You need to understand who your target audience is, what they want to achieve, and how you can help them. Once you have understood that, you are more than half-way there.
For the other half, follow these eight steps:
Use personal contacts
Nothing new here. Everybody knows somebody who knows somebody, etc. Who of those people has a company? Are they looking to spend their marketing budget differently? Does their product or service have a connection with motorsport? Is the CEO a motorsport fan? Whenever you meet somebody new, get their business card or contact details. Don’t forget to take notes on where and when you met them, what you talked about and how this person could help you in your future career.
Determine your ideal sponsor
Just like any business, you sell your sponsorship offer to a particular type of company or person. So, who are they? What do they want? Do you fit their company product and philosophy? For example, if you are driving in a national championship, don’t ask companies abroad or whose main business is export. If you don’t like coffee, don’t approach a company selling just that. Simple, actually, but still very often forgotten. Also, it is preferable to contact just 10 companies that match the description of the ideal sponsor than 100 because you think that ‘doing a lot will help a lot’.
Go for a niche
Contacting companies that already sponsor a lot usually is a disadvantage in my experience. You will be up against strong competition, and companies that have big sponsoring budgets are usually big in size. This likely means there are a lot of rules and requirements for you. Rather go for a small company or a start-up that is flexible and needs the PR just as much as you. You could also try companies based where you live which will give you one point in common and a good starting point.
Don’t waste your time with long presentation documents
Once you have determined who to contact, don’t start by sending an extensive presentation straight away. It is like submitting an unsolicited application to a company. Most of the time, it falls through all the holes and never gets read. Positive answers, meaning that the company invites you in a first step to get to know you, are rare that way. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have information available. But we’ll talk about that a little later on.
Establish the first contact
In my experience, a phone call to somebody you know (even if they are only an acquaintance) or an email introduction by somebody you both know are the best ways to get in touch. Have your elevator pitch ready. That is the time you’d have to introduce yourself while traveling with somebody in an elevator. So, who are you and what can you bring to the company to help them achieve their targets? Bear in mind that the times of just offering space on your car or overall to put the company’s logo are long gone. Any sponsorship needs to be activated with events and constant content. Once you have their attention, keep it short and ask for a personal meeting.
Have a beautiful sponsor deck
Now is the time to invest in a great presentation. Spend time and money on a professional designer and a PR professional to help you create this document. Both content and graphics need to be spotless – and to the point. This document or sponsor deck, as it is called, will outline in a visual form what you do and what you are offering. You’ll need to include facts and figures about the championship, your team and yourself, including social media following, website visits, or newsletter subscribers.
Use this deck to illustrate your presentation when you meet in person. You can also leave it with your contact, so they can show it to others once you have left. Don’t forget to make a concrete proposal before you leave or make sure you send one within a couple of days (that means no more than two!).
Know your subject and offer real value
Of course, you know all about your championship, cars and racing. But do you also know the TV figures for the country(ies) that your potential sponsor is interested in? Do you know how many journalists cover the races, how many of those are relevant to your counterpart? Can you explain in a few words how hospitality works and how the company would fit in? And what events could you create for them to activate their sponsorship? Of course, you don’t need to outline a full year’s communication plan, but you do need to make them want to be on board with you.
Don’t take it personally
As any athlete knows, it is not winning races that let you grow but losing them. It is the same with sponsorship. If nine companies say no, don’t cancel the meeting with the 10th one because they might just be the one who says yes!
The bottom line
If you are just ‘after sponsorship’, you have the wrong approach. Instead, you have to interiorize that it is your mission to help your sponsors achieve their targets through your sport and image. In return for your efforts, the company pays you an agreed amount. That’s sponsorship in a nutshell.
By the way: How to raise your profile is a completely different story which you can read up on here : 5-steps-to-get-your-communication-strategy-on-track.