Sponsorship 101: How to find and Keep a Sponsor
By Rich Bailey, driver and owner of the Capitol Auto Group Dragster
Part I: How do I find someone?
Well, it's that time of year again and people are looking for sponsorship. There's a lot of racket on the internet about sponsorship dollars being hard to find and this year may be harder than ever. If you are looking for millions of dollars it is. In fact, It's a wild goose chase most of the time, with few racers ever coming close to securing those kinds of dollars. We're not NASCAR and the reality is that the cost of running a professional top fuel operation out weighs what the exposure is worth for not all but most corporations. So let's get realistic. This is not the lottery but it may as well be for racers seeking to join the million dollar club, especially those looking for money with no interest in giving the the company much in return.
The good news is sponsoring a car from junior dragsters all the way to top alcohol can be an attractive way for any business to advertise whether they like drag racing or not. As long as you are up to the task of doing it the right way, your chances of getting a marketing partner is good. Here's a Q and A session on successfully finding and KEEPING a regional or local sponsor.
How do I find a company interested in sponsoring me?
First, you have to have the mind set that you are an advertising agency. Any sponsor you find is your client. They are hiring you like they would if they were hiring an ad agency or buying ads on TV or radio. It's the same dollar you're chasing. So how do you find them? I have tried to beat the pavement like any salesman would and for the most part those efforts didn't work. I was lucky enough to get a $2,000 fuel sponsor from beating the street but the timing was on my side as they were looking to do some radio advertising anyway and I was able to provide them a radio advertising package while I was with KYKN. In fact, exchanging sponsorship for airtime with a radio station is a good way to go. You take the air time you receive and package it two-for-one to prospective sponsors. The sponsor gets radio advertising and space on your race car and you get money, product, or services. It works well. The radio station gets their name on your car and the rights to show it at their radio remotes. I've done a lot of them!
But the best way to find a sponsor is to get out there and display your car. First, you will become known in your community. Second, displaying your car will give you the chance to meet someone with the decision making power to help you out. Look in the paper, find events coming up where the car would be appropriate. We have had great success at generating interest by having the car at a popular pumpkin patch around Halloween, the feed back was great. We also show it at an Independence Day celebration. If the event listing has a phone number, call them and tell them that you want to display your race car. Usually, they will be excited about having you there, if not then you probably wouldn't want to be there anyway.
Once you get a "gig" lined up and the day arrives, set up early and stay with the car. Be well groomed and look presentable. Don't smoke and use profanity, it's an instant turn off. One time I brought a helper with me that did just that. Before it got out of hand I told him to walk around to the back of the store if he was going to do that. Some people don't have the proper people skills to represent you let alone a sponsor, even if they mean well. They will unknowingly do more harm then good.
During an event, let the kids sit in the car and make sure you have some kind of hero card or picture of the race car to give them. You won't believe how much good will is generated by doing this. It also gives you the chance to get your five minutes of fame with a decision maker if one happens to come your way. You won't know who it is until you strike up a conversation with them, so be friendly with everyone. I know of a couple of racers that got BIG sponsorship deals doing this.
The bottom line is we are in the business to make people happy. Whether you are searching for a sponsor or have one, displays become a frequent part of life to be successful. You may find a sponsor after the second display or twentieth display but you will make a connection eventually if you continue to display your car and optimistically sell your program every chance you get. When you do have these chance conversations while displaying the car, make it known to them that you are looking for marketing partners both big and small. They may then give you a business card or pass on your information on to someone they know that could be in a position to do something.
Of course most sponsorship leads are "back door" and happen via existing business, family, and personal relationships. In those cases, it's up to you on how to initiate the conversation. Only you know how to come across in those situations. Contrary to what a lot of people think, few if any of my sponsorships have ever been back door.
One other thing you will want to do is join a great organization like Race Against Drugs or some other national organization. Joining a local group such as the Rotary, the JC's, or the Kiwanis is also a great way to meet people with influence and get leads on upcoming events where you can show your car. Our racing team are proud members of Race Against Drugs and we have developed a great relationship with the local Chamber of Commerce.
So, I found someone interested what do I do now?
Ask for an appointment to meet with them and who ever else from their company makes these kinds of decisions. This is important as some people will want to sponsor yo u but are not authorized to make those kinds of decisions. Make sure that you aren't wasting your time talking only to people with good intentions but can't write the check or has no pull with upper management. KINDLY let them know prior to the meeting that you want to be sure that someone representing the marketing end of the company is there. That doesn't mean you won't have to go back for a second or third interview but just be sure that who ever you talk to can at least get you to first base. I knew a racer that wined and dined some business representatives for weeks and even flew them to races only to find out that they were just sales people with no pull. In fact, the owner of the business they represented was pissed when he found out what they were doing. These people are like con artists and will spend your money knowing full well they can't do anything for you.
Be prepared like you're going into a job interview. It will eventually be your job to generate sales and good will for them. Go in optimistic about the sport and what you are selling them. Don't go in there thinking you are selling them soap or something they don't want! Take in a proposal and a rendering of what THEIR CAR is going to look like. The proposal should introduce the sport, introduce you, provide current demographic information, and most importantly what you are going to do for them.
Here's my one and only shameless plug: If you need a proposal and rendering I can set you up with the complete package for under $350.00. I know it seems like a lot of money on something that's not a sure thing but the bottom line is you likely have one chance to make it happen and good sponsor material is your second biggest asset besides you! We also do affordable hero cards and web sites. Contact us
Once you have had your meeting, try to sew the deal up right then and there if at all possible. Try not to leave without a decision. However, you are at their mercy so if they aren't prepared to make a decision then you will have to wait it out. Send them a follow up letter thanking them for their time. Then within a week's time call them back and ask if a decision has been made. Don't let to many days go by before making this call! What happens with any sale is the excitement slowly falls off and it's not such a good idea all the sudden and they pass on it. The sad thing is you never had the chance to show them how well it works.
I had two people from Capitol tell me a lot of people who worked there had their doubts when the sponsorship was announced. By the end of the year they thought it was one of the best things they are involved in. Now that's a compliment, even eight years later.
Part II: What you are going to do for them?
So what do you offer a prospective sponsor? ......Lot's of good will and exposure, that's what!
A lot actually, as you are selling them a multi-faceted advertising package. Not only that, but you will be selling yourself as an ambassador and representative for their company. There are several different types of sponsors and levels of what they will expect in return if you are given the chance.
Here's a few kinds of deals that are out there floating around:
But first, how do you find them again? DISPLAYS! We'll start with what I call the "lotto" sponsor. This is where someone is looking for a tax write off and expects little from you in return. They are generally happy with their name on the side of your car. These types of sponsors pop-up once in a while but I wouldn't count on finding one. You will get much more satisfaction by working hard for someone and giving them great exposure for their advertising dollar. But if you are able to find money for nothing, then good for you, but the reality is they may as well spend the money on themselves since little effort is put into making the deal work. Beware, that these kind of deals never last long.
Next is the sponsor that's willing to let you use their name in exchange for product or image (the rights to sell t-shirts). These can work if they provide you a large inventory of product to make it feasible, but you need to have the means to turn the product into money. Sometimes these kind of deals are arrangements where your business is greatly benefited in some way, and that's fine. If you're not sure you can make it work, don't try it. My radio ad program worked but if I were unable to sell the air time, then I would have basically gave the radio station a free sponsorship at my expense, so be careful.
Finally, there is the sponsorship where you are trading advertising exposure in exchange for their hard earned dollars. This is the kind of deal that I'm focusing on here. These are the most difficult sponsorships to land, but the most rewarding. You must sell them everything including the kitchen sink and then throw in the refrigerator. It's a title sponsorship where a company's identity is everything, their name will be everywhere, screaming out at everyone who sees it or connects with you.
Here's the tools I would include to make your proposal appealing to them:
For a major sponsor you start by giving them the naming rights to the car. Few teams do this but it adds more value to the deal. Our car for example is called the "Capitol Auto Group Dragster" and that's how I refer to it either in person or in print. The Capitol Auto Group Dragster or "Capitol car" is a known brand and is familiar to people in drag racing circles nationally and familiar to non-racing fans locally.
For a major program, lettering and logos should be included on the top or hood and on the sides of the car, of course. The paint design should also include the colors associated with the company.
Truck and Trailer Signage:
Sadly, more people may see the tansporter than the actual race car so this is another big slice of the pie. Some racers are concerned with DOT laws concerning signage but as long as it's not a tractor trailer or perhaps a semi size Toter you should be OK as this is a gray area in most states. (If you do have a semi or even a toter then you are likely subject to CDLs and weight mileage tax anyway)
This is a great way to advertise a company. A friend of mine washes windows and tells me that it's not unusual to see my cards hanging on a wall in a bedroom. We have given out thousands of these to kids, and even adults love to collect them. Baseball style cards are OK and so are big posters but the 8x10 cards are the perfect size and most popular. We go through about 2000 cards per year and I sign about 90 percent of them. Always sign it personally with the person's name on the card. In Boise, I signed lots of cards and let the kids sit in the dragster when we were all done racing. Here we had the fastest car on the property and we were letting all these kids get a thrill by sitting in it. I didn't see anyone else doing this, and that's where going the extra mile comes in.
T-shirts are also a great medium as the sponsor gets great advertising every time someone wears one. A good number of shirts to have printed would be between 100-250. We randomly give out some and sell the rest. Whether or not someone gets a free shirt they are doing your sponsor a big favor every time they wear it. Hats are OK too but I don't believe they get worn as often and will likely end up in the closet more times than not.
Now days no sponsor package is complete without a Web site. When I first launched mine it was a train wreck and it rarely got updated and I didn't know what I was doing, but of course web sites were fairly new then. Now there are no excuses! When I found out people actually visited capracing.com, I sprang into action and improved the look and the quality of the content. I went from a few hits per month to thousands and all of our sponsors benefit as a result.
Again, a great way to give your sponsor some additional exposure at your home track. Generally, these signs aren't too expensive and It adds to the package while supporting the local track.The sign will always be in the background whether you're racing or not.
An employee day at the track:
This is another good service to include although it can be costly and the amount of tickets you give to a sponsor should depend on the size of the company, available budget, and employee interest. I would leave this open to discussion because you don't want to be accountable to tickets that either don't get used or fall into the hands of freeloaders that don't have any real connection to the company. This happened to us by the way. You may need to adjust your asking price if they want more tickets than your budget will allow. At these events include lots of food, pop and bottled water. For a whole host of reasons, don't offer to provide alcoholic beverages for your guests. That's something that individuals should buy on their own from a vender at the track. Opening the beer tap could open a can of worms and lead to all kinds of trouble including fights, drunk driving, minors drinking, etc. and of course your function will get the blame.
The car should be available to the company for displays that don't conflict with your team's race schedule. In addition you should be clear that you plan to make the car a visible part of the community, and that you will have it available for community events. Also, I would point out to them that you will let the kids sit in the car. Again, the goodwill that you will generate out weighs any wear and tear on the car. As I like to say, buying a new carbon fiber seat will be money well spent.
As I have already outlined in Part 1, Community involvement is a big deal, and should be a major selling point for your program. It will also tell them a lot about you and your character. We do a benefit event for someone truly in need every year and would do it REGARDLESS IF WE ARE SPONSORED OR NOT! These events benefit the local car culture and are worth while to do. Not everyone is an organizer so you may want to direct your involvement elsewhere such as visits to hospitals, schools, and scouting groups. To be honest, locally we get more positive feed back for Capitol doing these kind of events then we ever do racing, and they are a lot of fun to promote. I look at each event we do as a challenge to make it better than the one before.
The answer is no...
So now you have gone through the process and you have the answer and it's no. Of course it's inevitable to try and figure out what you may have done wrong but I wouldn't dwell on that too much. There maybe a million reasons other than you as to why they passed. What you're selling is not easy, that is they don't have a crystal ball so they don't see the vision. Remember, you have to draw a verbal picture of it for them.
Perhaps you didn't explain that vision in a clear way that justified in their minds to write the check. Or perhaps you gave them all the reasons NOT to sponsor you. I heard a racer jokingly say the other day, "I'm good at promoting and I have one of the fastest cars out there. I had a bunch of people over in my pit at the last race. But I need a new trailer, I'm broke, I need money, and I'm getting a divorce." Would you sponsor such a racer? That doesn't sound like a business approach to me. In all fairness to him he wasn't pitching a deal but you'd be surprised how many racers would say something like that to a sponsor. Again, this is not trying to raise money like the Jerry Lewis telethon, seeing how much money you can come up with. It's about selling them a service that will benefit them, it's an advertising program.
So what do you do? Don't get down on yourself, you just need to continue to do the things necessary to keep you out in the public to increase your chance of finding more contacts. One thing will lead to another but it doesn't happen if you're sitting at home and your race car is in the garage.
The answer is yes!
If it's yes, pat yourself on the back and go to work. Do all the things you told them you would do as outlined above and then some. Look for every possibility to get their name out. Don't be a pest but begin to build a relationship with the employees there. In some cases this may take some time and you may have to win some of them over. I had to do that. The bigger the company the longer this might take. Over the last four years I have slowly developed a pretty good relationship with the management of our title sponsor, but this didn't happen overnight.
The more solid the relationship, the better off your program will be when the road gets a little bumpy. And in racing, so it will. Name a pro driver that has had a perfect career? That's why it's so important to do the public relations work and build the program and brand like you are building a business. BECAUSE THIS IS BUSINESS! Make yourself a value to the company. No sponsor lasts forever but the ones that last the longest are the ones where the car owner and or driver developed strong relationships and over deliver. Those are the two key words right there.
If they only see or hear of you just around renewal time then unless it's a rich relative writing the check...forget about it.
So there you have it. If you present these key points then you will have a much better chance of securing a marketing partner. If you have comments or questions feel free to write as I love feedback, email comments here at Contact us
An illustration based on a recent event...
The Bowman Farms Effect: Families are Key
So what is the "Bowman Farms Effect"? It's having your race car in a public place where people would not expect to see a race car such as Bauman Farm's Pumpkin Patch. People who visit this site from time to time have probably seen pictures taken there with kids hanging all over the Capitol Dragster. It's one of our most successful display venues year after year and where the car gets photographed the most in a single day.
Once again, we did a display at an event that would likely cramp just about any racer's style but for us it was the perfect place to be: The Northwest Family Festival at the Oregon State Fairgrounds. This event was all about our sponsor's target audience: young families that will likely buy a new or used car or even shop for a mortgage in the next two years. If we represent our sponsors well then our sponsors will have a good shot at getting their business.
Make no mistake about it young families are our demographic. And every single adult that came by our booth with their kids to see the car enthusiastically took a track schedule when offered one. Many wanted to know more about the dragstrip and stood by and watched our short four minute video. Try getting that kind of interest at an art fair in the Pearl District of Portland. You won't get it there folks.
It's time track owners and NHRA realize who there fan base really is and and accommodate them. It's not single urban professionals, it's families both single parent and traditional. I see it first hand everywhere we go. Sadly, they are the group with the tightest discretionary income and why drag racing events have seen a noticable decline in attendance the last several years.
Would these people have been reached some other way had we not had the opportunity to be there? NO. It's that simple. Capitol Auto Group Racing has always reached a very desirable demographic that makes our program a great ROI (Return On Investment) for sponsors. I know that we had personal contact with 500 people this weekend based on the amount of one type of product that was given away. Each person that walks away remembers us and they remember the sponsors in a favorable light. Add to that a very positive story in Keizer Times this week and the exposure that our team and backers got in two days is off the charts.
You might think that 500 people is not a lot of people but when you consider that this is personal contact and not just eye balls it is. And it snow balls from there when you consider past and future contacts.This is a great gig we've got going. It's good for us, the sponsors, the local track, and the sport as a whole. As I always have said in the past, if we wear out that carbon fiber seat from all the kids sitting in it, that would be money well spent. Special thanks to Todd Martin and Brent Sanford for all their help this weekend. Also thanks to Loren Brown of Excel Marketing.