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FEMALE FOCUS – Sponsorship in Racing: Is it harder for Males or Females?

Dummy Grid Rolls away

We all know the feeling, you fork out for an expensive championship with the view that not only will you be competing at a top level but you will also be paying to be noticed by that elusive “talent spotter”. You know, the guy with all the cash that hangs out by the side of a rain soaked kart track, sees potential, approaches you and decides to sponsor you for the foreseeable future. Well unfortunately for many of us this character is never seen, instead at the start of the new season we have to make that difficult decision on whether to spend our hard earned on less important things like eating or hygiene, or go in guns blazing with a new chassis and another self funded year of racing.

Sponsorship, it seems, is likened to the Holy Grail, extremely hard to come across and no-one’s really sure if it exists. In motorsport especially it seems the emphasis on your success rides primarily upon “who you know” as opposed to “what you can do”. Many of the karters that are noticed and move onto the higher echelons of racing either are extremely lucky, or have the cash in the first place to be able to put themselves in a position where they’ll be noticed.

Here comes this crux of my article, is sponsorship harder to come across for males or females? Arguably females have that special selling point of, evidently, being a woman in a male dominated sport. Just think of the advertising possibilities, especially if the fortunate woman is attractive. Let’s not forget the demi-god that is Lewis Hamilton, despite being a run of the mill male, he had his special KSP (Key Selling Point) too, being mixed race. This was wrung dry at every opportunity. But what about the average looking male out there, what selling points do you have? Essentially your progress up the motorsport ladder is riding primarily upon the amount of success you have within your championship, and how good you are at boasting about your achievements.

Clearly there never seems to be a good time to start looking for sponsorship, especially now in the grips of a widespread economic recession. At a risk of sounding bias[DW1] sed, interestingly within karting especially there seem to have been more male racers that I’ve been made aware of that have been coaxed into sponsorship schemes such as the famous “McLaren[DW2]  Driver Programme”. Obviously these drivers have to be talented to start with, and probably competing in a class that has more coverage than others, and is higher up the karting “hierarchy”. As I mentioned earlier, being a woman in a highly dominated sport, and succeeding within it, is a priceless selling point. However, there have been no women that I know of in karting that have been chosen by the “omnipresent” sponsorship God. Now this could fall under a multitude of arguments, ranging from “Maybe there aren’t any good female drivers in karting?” Wrong. Or perhaps, “There are so few of them that they’re hard to come across?”. Maybe. Although, Jenson Button was once famously quoted for saying, “Women can never race in Formula One because their breasts would get in the way.” However extreme, or maybe even amusing this statement seems to be,  there is still an element of this stereotypical view of female racers. Perhaps no matter how unique they are to the sport, women will never be quite so desired an investment as a “reliable” sportsman. It can be argued that a male provides less “risk” for the company and therefore they know what they’re buying into and what the potential audiences will enjoy.

It’s a tricky theme to look into as the statistics from successful sponsorship deals emerging from the karting scene can be counted 1on one hand. The fairytale of poor “Johnny No-one” from “nowhere that special”, being turned into a superstar racer overnight is a rarity to say the least. Perhaps this leads to the only conclusion that can come from a pastime that became the sport of the “elite”. Sponsorship in any form is a dirty word, karting provides little glamour for major companies to revel in, whether you’re male or female. Perhaps you have that key selling point and provide the exterior of uniqueness that could potentially attract a company, but until you re-mortgage that house, and wait for that Grandma to pass away with the inheritance money you have a tough ladder to climb just to reach that goal of being a sellable, desirable product.

So, don’t invest in a sex change just yet for that magical moment where you get spotted for being a certain gender, save it to get you as far as you can go. Who knows, a Leprechaun may be waiting at the side of the track with a pot of Gold. After all Eddie Jordan is Irish.

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Round The Bend: Boardroom Antics

Stock-FlagBoardroom antics

As the end of another season looms, drivers are, inevitably, beginning to review their options for next year. For many, the almost obscene budgets required to stay in karts means that cars are a cheaper option. Even so, if daddy isn’t a banker and mummy’s not an heiress, entry-level single-seater or saloon racing requires a sponsor – or two, or three, or four. So, what you need is a business plan, or to do a ‘Prince Harry’ with a novel twist…

When a driver or parent arrives at this point, it is usually the precise moment things start to go very wrong. Their first mistake is to think purely in terms of themselves. Driver A expects Firm B, or the as yet unknown Benefactor C, to stump up a huge amount of money for them to go and have fun in Formula D.

A good friend of mine works for one of the world’s biggest sportswear brands and he is constantly being asked to supply kit to young drivers. When he asks why they need Driver A, competing in Formula D, the answer is almost always purely selfish rather than that individual is going to personally assist my chum to smash his sales targets.

Many drivers either forget – or simply do not recognise – that when the family dosh runs out and they are faced with asking a business for money, that firm, or more specifically, the person signing the cheques, cares about one thing; themselves. If you need sponsorship to go racing, the company you ask will look for a return on their investment.

If you expect a wealthy individual to simply give you money because they like you and enjoy seeing you try your best, they are either a relative, a generous ex-racer who knows what you’re going through, or simply a fan. They are not, in the truest interpretation of the word, a sponsor.

Try the consultative approach. Rather than flogging a ‘great idea’ to them, sit down with your potential sponsor first and talk to them about their marketing activities, target audiences, etc. Then try and match what they say to the ‘offer’ that, let’s say BARC Renault has. Do they tie up?

If so, they might be perfect for you. If not, tell them. Some people simply can’t afford the extra budget on top of their existing marketing expenditure. Ironically, saying ‘You can’t afford motorsport just now’ can work in two ways. The sponsor will either thank you for your candour and honesty and accept it, or they will fall for a little bit of reverse psychology and insist that they can. If the latter happens, my commission fee is 20% of the total investment agreed, thank you very much dear reader.

Also, speak to your local advertising and marketing agencies. These are creative institutions that exist to flog stuff to people. They might see an angle in motorsport – and you – that matches one of their client’s needs.

Having identified your potential sponsor, or marketing partner as many F1 teams prefer to call them, you need to demonstrate how karting, or your chosen first step into cars, will give them access to a vibrant, willing and new marketplace. In either scenario, be careful of offering increased ‘exposure’ of their brand. You having a sticker on your kart or wing mirror, plus some cloth patches your mum or girlfriend sewed onto your racesuit is not generating awareness. Not really, anyway.

Being photographed in flagrante delicto with Ice T’s missus, whilst playing a trumpet and juggling guinea pigs will definitely raise awareness. Stickers and embroidery of a small firm’s logo are far less likely to, even if you win a big race and are photographed on the winner’s podium with the sponsor’s brand name clearly visible. Besides, companies like Coca Cola, Nike and McDonald’s have already spent vast sums on creating awareness of their brand images and products. If they want more and see motorsport as a brilliant way of generating this, they’ll go to the likes of F1, Indycar and NASCAR, not karting or junior formulae car racing.

Being realistic is vital. And please don’t go for the sympathy vote. No one cares, especially inside motor racing, if you’re talented but skint. Sponsors want to know if you and your racing will flog more products. Ironically, many drivers fail to sharpen up their marketing skills and therefore get upset at the supposedly less talented guy getting the race seat they so badly want because the other guy brought a (bigger) budget. Come on, you wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you were in your rivals’ shoes and could outspend the other bloke. It’s not particularly nice but that, as the saying goes, is motor racing.

Before you get this far, make sure you have marketed yourself. Is your website the best you can afford? Is it up to date? Are you something approaching a sports personality in your local media? Can you generate interest even when you’re not winning? ‘Driver A makes sweet music with Coco Austin & breaks world Peruvian rodent juggling record!’

And finally, a bit of role play. Imagine I’m a Lord Sugar-type boss. I have a sign in my office that says “Show Me Something I’ve Never Seen Before” and you walk in looking for a few of my millions to get you all the way to F1. I’m short, beardy and aggressive. I point the famous finger at you and growl: “I wanna bloody know how you’re gonna generate a bloody profitable return on my bloody investment, as my potential marketing partner?!”

If you can’t answer it, don’t even bother turning up. Clothed or otherwise.

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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’.