Sponsorship: The unvarnished truth

 Robbie Dalgleish shows you don't have to use a manufacturer's graphics to look stylish Chris Walker

Robbie Dalgleish shows you don’t have to use a manufacturer’s graphics to look stylish
Chris Walker

By Jerry Thurston

‘Publicity, darling. Just publicity. Any kind is better than none at all.’ Rhonda Farr (1933)

If only we had some sponsorship… It would make such a difference. How many times have I heard that?

Although the middle of a recession has got to be the worst time to be looking for somebody to pay for your racing even in these constrained times sponsorship is out there. You just have to be far more creative to get it.

We can’t guarantee that you will hit the jackpot and sweep a season’s expenses in a single visit, it is pretty unlikely that a complete unknown is going to walk into the headquarters of a national bank and be handed a fistful of money.

However if you are willing to invest a little cash and some time and patience you will come across companies that will be willing to make a contribution to your racing efforts. And, to pinch the advertising slogan… Every little helps.

Here are our top tips for attracting (and keeping) a sponsor:

Prepare the ground:
Why is you or your driver wearing an XYZ-kart branded kart suit? If it is because they are contributing to your racing in some way, for example selling you their chassis at a heavily discounted price / for free or they have given you the suit that’s fine. If it is for any other reason, ask yourself. Why are you paying to give them publicity – because it makes you look like a works driver? Sorry, but you aren’t kidding anybody. A smart suit that doesn’t declare your allegiance to any particular brand is going to be cheaper and probably just as effective in an accident plus leaves plenty of room for sponsors logos come the glorious day!

Kart manufacturers spend a huge amount of time designing and producing graphics that make their chassis instantly recognisable when they are out on the circuit. This is absolutely brilliant… for them. For you, it means that your kart is one or maybe a dozen carrying the same livery. If you want to be different pull the stickers off and clean the plastics. If you can’t stand the plain look invest in some new unbranded graphics from one of the firms that offer a design and print service. Between £70 and £100 plus the VAT will get you some custom vinyl that will really raise the game.

Get your publicity machine running before approaching potential sponsors. Use all the tools that are available to you including website/blog/social networking sites. Taking your lap-top to a presentation and having your potential client a look at your wonderful website or the huge amount of hits on an interesting blog can be a powerful tool.

Don’t discount the tried and trusted methods like keeping the local papers and specialist press supplied with titbits. These often generate news stories about you, which become part of the portfolio that you will be presenting at a later date.

The basic sales pitch:
The first mistake that people make when approaching a potential sponsor is that they forget the basic principles of what is effectively a sales call. It’s easy to go into raptures about what a difference a load of money will make your racing. New kit, new kart, we’ll win easily etc. This means nothing to your potential sponsor, you need to be thinking about what’s in it for them, not what’s in it for you.

Sponsorship in its most basic form is swapping money for publicity, which means that you will be up against everything from local newspapers to national TV advertising campaigns. Offer a business good value for their advertising money and you are in with a real chance.

Do not run off at the mouth and gabble on about how we will do this… and this… and this. Instead, ask questions that help you to gain a clear understanding of what your potential sponsor wishes to achieve. In other words, shut up and listen! When they have told you what they want to achieve, you can then tell them how you will help them achieve their goals.

During the pitch:
Take a leaf from the professional’s books and go armed with props. Prospective sponsor might like to look at and touch, so bring the kart and have it in the car park so that it can be inspected. If you think that it will help clinch a worthwhile deal, consider investing some money in professional visuals so that your prospective sponsor can see what they will be getting.

The more professional and slick your presentation is the more chance you have of the big score.

Target effectively:
For a national company a series that involves you travelling widely may be a real turn on. However, for a local business with a couple of branches in nearby towns the fact that you race everywhere from the tip of Scotland to the Channel Islands is only of academic interest, they’ll be far more excited by the idea of you turning up in their local papers on a regular basis.

Perhaps the ultimate temptation (at least for a national sponsor) is a televised series, if you are involved with such don’t rely on the fact that “we might be on the telly.” Go armed with some facts and figures, at a minimum find out when it will be aired and the approximate number of viewers per episode.

Know what you want:
Have a good understanding of the costs involved in a seasons running then split it split it down into chunks or packages. When you have got a sponsor interested, establish what their budget is and then offer them a couple of different options for their money. Don’t be greedy, don’t be over generous either.

Be respectful, £500 is a lot of money to a small business and while it may not keep you in tyres for more than a couple of meetings the person offering that sort of sum will feel that they are making a significant contribution your years expenses. Any offer they make is always ‘very generous, thank-you. For that we can…’ On the flip side unless you have a very good reason for doing so don’t go overboard and re-brand the kart totally for the £500 donation.

A good sponsorship deal doesn’t necessarily mean cash grants, product or even a hefty discount when you buy things can work out very nicely indeed. Being able to purchase essential products ‘at cost’ can make a very significant difference to the amount of money you have spent by the end of the year.

Stand out from the rest:
It isn’t by accident that professional racing teams always present a smart and professional appearance. Smart corporate livery that extends from the mechanics work-wear through the driver’s overalls and even to the team transporters is all designed to do one thing. Tell the world that they mean business.

It doesn’t matter if you run you kart out of a shed in the back garden, by comparison to a seasons running expenses it doesn’t cost much to arrive at the circuit and look as good as the ‘big-budget’ guys, so much of the following applies equally to your karting activities pre or post sponsorship.

Invest in a couple of sets of well fitting overalls for everybody that’s involved in maintaining the kart while it is at the circuit. While you are at it buy a few polo shirts and fleeces in the same colour maybe even some pairs of matching work trousers.

Best behaviour:
When you are wearing corporate clothing, more than ever you need to be on your best behaviour, although ‘any publicity is good publicity’ most companies won’t want to be associated with a driver that gets punchy any time that a race doesn’t go his or her way. A bad-boy image is one thing actually being a bad boy is quite another. Last but not least, continue to reward your sponsor.

If you do get sponsorship remember to push it when the opportunity arises, that includes mentioning them in any interviews you do right down to wearing your sponsors clothing when attending any Karting related functions that don’t specify a dress code.

Keep working for your sponsor throughout the season, regularly update them on your progress especially good race results. Collect and send copies of any press features especially photos that feature their name or logo.

Don’t underestimate the power of a really nice framed picture taken during the season, presented to them with a cheery ‘thank-you for your support so far message’.