Three Magic Words to More Effective Sponsorships
I began my professional racing career in October 2015. I had no fan base and no name recognition. The team I was driving for (our family race team) hadn’t fielded a car in NHRA competition in a decade. We had no *recent* performance track record. In spite of these hurdles, I signed a major primary sponsorship for my first two races, and then renewed and expanded that relationship the following season.
I attribute my success in selling the sponsorship to a frame of mind that can be summed up in three magic words:
Can I help?
Sponsorship seekers that don’t ask themselves ‘can I help’ a sponsor, and sponsors that don’t ask themselves ‘can I help’ race fans are both doomed to fail.
Too many sponsorship seekers think about themselves first. How is this company going to help me get what I want? What do I need to say about myself in this meeting for them to justify writing me a check?
Sponsors can also fall into this trap. Many sponsors can be shamelessly selfish, disrupting an event to spread their message or simply not bringing a relevant message to an event experience. No one at an event is obligated to care about your company. Don’t just bring a tradeshow booth to an event and wait for the crowds to sign up. Don’t just play a commercial.
Make your presence relevant. Make it fun. Bring value. In other words, sponsors must also ask themselves, ‘can I help’ these fans?
Which activation will be more effective?
A: Your tradeshow booth parked in the concourse showcasing your beautiful products.
B: A branded driver meet and greet where the driver credits your brand for making the experience possible, and the autograph cards include your brand on the front and a promotion to try your product on the back.
Strategy A is disruptive to the fan experience. Strategy B enhances the fan experience.
An effective sponsorship strategy enhances a fan’s experience, which in turn enhances the fan’s engagement with the sponsor’s brand.
Here’s what a sponsorship sales strategy guided by ‘can I help’ looks like:
The sponsorship seeker only approaches potential sponsors that have a target market and brand alignment with their fan base.
The First Meeting
The sponsorship seeker attends the first meeting with the potential sponsor with simply a pen and paper. They spend the first meeting asking questions and listening for opportunities to help the sponsor. Questions like:
- What are your business objectives near term and long term?
- Are there key performance indicators that you’ve discovered have the highest impact on those objectives?
- What challenges are you experiencing in meeting those objectives?
- Currently, which marketing initiatives are working well for you, and which are underperforming?
- If I could use the tools at my disposal to help you achieve your objectives would you be interested in working together?
- What can I tell you about NHRA drag racing and its fans that can help drive brand engagement?
Following the first meeting, the sponsorship seeker engages in a collaborative process with the potential sponsor to build a marketing strategy and help their contact sell the strategy to all internal decision makers.
From the sponsor side, a sponsorship activation strategy guided by ‘can I help’ puts the fans and their interaction with the brand(s) first, and uses the goodwill created to drive action on their key performance indicators.
Pricing is established based upon the value received by the sponsor, NOT an arbitrary number the sponsorship seeker needs to meet their goal.
How the ‘can I help’ mentality helped me secure the first sponsorship of my young racing career:
Through my network I set up a meeting with an ecommerce company whose target market was an overwhelming match with NHRA race fans.
The First Meeting
I spoke about myself as little as possible in the first meeting. Instead I asked enough questions to understand the following:
- The sponsor’s target market was indeed in direct alignment with the NHRA fan base. Note: most sanctioning bodies have great demographic / psychographic data to be leveraged.
- The sponsor built a strong ecommerce business based upon very effective SEO and PPC strategies, however their brand awareness among their target market was low.
- The sponsor had a robust email and social media strategy, but desired higher email open and click-through rates, and better engagement on social media.
- The sponsor valued their employee culture and was looking for ways to engage their employees.
- The key performance indicators we established were incremental site traffic, email open and click-through rates, social engagement, and brand awareness.
- The company had never sponsored anything previously, but they were willing to explore the idea.
With these insights, I asked for permission to continue conversations with the sponsor and present ideas of how I could help them deliver on their objectives.
Over the next several conversations, we built a strategy to address each of their key performance indicators, and I worked with the internal decision makers to gain buy-in to greenlight the program.
The following are the specific elements of the strategy and the results they produced:
STRATEGY: Build brand awareness through bold branding on my race car at select events, and an extensive publicity campaign targeting NHRA fans and media.
RESULT: The branding and publicity campaign resulted in huge increases in ecommerce site traffic, especially in race markets. A later brand study showed a spike in brand awareness and recall following the sponsorship.
STRATEGY: Email exclusive racing content to their database to supplement the sales promotion emails they regularly sent.
RESULT: Open and click-through rates of racing emails spiked. Racing content emails re-engaged subscribers that hadn’t opened an email in over a year, and those re-engaged subscribers began opening and clicking through promotional emails again thereafter.
STRATEGY: A year-long content initiative featuring regular social posts with racing content, Instagram and Facebook takeovers, and live streams from the racing pits.
RESULT: Engagement increased with existing followers, and followers increased as NHRA fans were introduced to the company.
STRATEGY: Ongoing employee engagement with the race team could serve to enhance the company culture. The engagement strategy would include keynotes to staff at company-wide meetings, race tickets for employees, and driver video messages for employees.
RESULT: I announced the sponsorship to employees with a presentation live on stage at an annual all-staff meeting, debuting the branded race car in person and providing free race tickets to employees. Employees and their families were able to sit in the race car and take pictures with the team. I filmed video updates for employees and even filmed one in Spanish for the company’s employees in Mexico. Employee feedback was tremendously positive, and the sponsorship served to galvanize the staff around a shared interest.
The above strategy was a no-brainer for management. The fact that I was a rookie driver was a feature, not a bug, because it added additional novelty to the program. The strategy worked, because they delivered additional value to race fans, customers, and employees.
Sponsorship seekers, focus on helping your sponsors and fans first.
Sponsors, focus your strategy on bringing value to fans, customers, and employees.
It is not the sponsor’s responsibility to understand how to utilize the sponsorship to drive returns on their objectives. An effective sponsorship seeker will facilitate a process to determine how to deliver on sponsorship objectives while bringing value to fans. It is a collaborative process between sponsor and sponsorship seeker.
We can work together to accomplish our respective goals, but it starts with a pen and paper. Let’s talk about your company and your goals. Email me at [email protected].
About the author
Brandon Welch is the driver and President of Beal Racing, a Top Fuel Dragster team competing on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. Brandon’s career spans sponsorship support, sales, and activation roles in the NFL, special event, and racing industries. Learn more about Brandon’s approach to racing sponsorships here.