How To Get Sponsors: Part 1

Posted on June 23, 2016

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How To Get Sponsors: Part 1

By: Rob Oakman

Richard Petty making STP very happy with their sponsorship! (courtesy of nascar.com)

Richard Petty making STP very happy with their sponsorship! (courtesy of nascar.com)

Making a living behind the wheel is the dream. Fulfilling that dream isn’t a matter of talent though, it’s a matter of money. For most of us that means finding sponsors, probably a lot of them. In order to get sponsors however, you have to know what they want. In this series I will break down the underlying mechanisms you need to understand to help you fulfill your dream. The focus here will be on people who don’t have money, financial connections, or staff working to find money. However, if you do have those things already, this article will still help you understand how to help your people succeed in supporting your career.

The Sponsor

What you need to understand above all else is that no one is giving you money for free. Business, by definition, exist to make a profit. Sponsors are businesses that expect something in return for their money. Know as Return On Investment (ROI), a company has to have a reasonable expectation that they are going to get back the money they spend on you, plus some extra, by increased sales in the future. Otherwise, what is the point in them putting the money into sponsorship in the first place?

What Are Sponsors Paying For?

Companies are paying for eyes and ears. But not just any eyes and ears. Every company in the world sells products or services to fill the needs of a particular customer. Know as Segmentation, people are grouped (or segmented) based on things like age, income, gender, usage, hobbies, where they live, etc. Segments for each product are shockingly specific. Every company has a Primary Target Market, which is the segment that they focus their efforts on,  and at least one Secondary Target Market they service as well.  You need to be able to show that you have an audience of your own that is made up of at least one of these targeted market segments already, or that you have a reasonable way of getting to them successfully.

How Do You Gain An Audience?

In four words: awareness, connection, reach and consistency.

It's amazing what a helmet can mean to a fan. (Courtesy of motorauthority.com)

It’s amazing what a helmet can mean to a fan. (Courtesy of motorauthority.com)

Awareness means that people have to know you exist. That means being as visible as possible so that people can find you both at the track and online. Make sure you stand out. Does your helmet stand out? Your paint job? Your suit? Your pit? Your personality? Are you on the internet? Are you easy to find in a Google search? Does that Google search relate directly to your racing? Do you have a YouTube channel? Do you have a good looking website? If your answer is “no” to any of these things, then get started. It may seem like a lot of expensive work, but if you take it one step at a time, you can do all of this yourself. It won’t take as much work or time as you might think, either. Just remember that if people don’t know you exist, and don’t have a way of finding out about you, then they can never become a fan.

Connection means that people need to be able to relate and connect to you. At the track people see you and might like how you race, or your paint scheme, or how you look, but regardless of whatever reason people initially connect to you with, when they come and find you in the pits, they need to leave liking you even more. Basically, don’t be a dick to them when they come up to say “hi”. Think of drivers you met at the track as a fan. The ones that didn’t give you the time of day or were rude to you dropped off the list of people you liked. The ones that were nice were added to your list and probably shot up to the top. This isn’t about giving people your whole day. A smile, a signature, and a few words can create a fan for life.

Reach means that when a new fan gets home, they can easily find you online, and in more than one place. This is related to awareness, but is worth its own mention because you don’t know what a person’s favorite way of interacting with the outside world is. Some people like personal websites, some like YouTube, others like social media like Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram. Your job is to make it easy for them to find and interact with all things related to you. Be in as many places as possible so that they can find you the way they want to. If they get home and see nothing in a Google search, or its on a site they don’t like or understand, you will end up fading away in their minds.

And finally, Consistency means that the person people see at the track, online, in commercials, interviews, or out on the town is the real you. What they see must be interesting to them and reinforce what they saw at the track. Don’t lie about who you are. It is so much easier to take aspects of your own personality and just turn them up a bit, then it is to make them up. And nothing turns fans against you faster than lying to them. If you get caught doing things in your daily life that are in contrast to your persona as a racer, people get pissed. The glaring exception to this is the villain persona. A racer with a “good person” persona getting caught doing something mean is a scandal. A villain doing something nice is a happy headline. Your persona is important to your racing career and I will talk more about it another time.

Work With What You Have

Jeff Gordon standing out!

Jeff Gordon standing out! (courtesy of nascar.com)

It’s not enough to just stand out in a field of forty other drivers, potential fans also need something to connect with beyond their initial interest in you, and it should be something that speaks to them on a personal level. If you can gain an audience because you’re a good looking man or woman, do it. Accidents of birth are nothing to be ashamed of. If you are the only Hispanic racer in the series, wear it proudly. Gay, Trans, tall, athletic, tough, artistic, autistic, use whatever you have that is authentic to you, but can also position you a little differently than other drivers. All of these things can gain you an audience and support. I am not saying you have to use these things, nor am I saying they are the only way to get attention. These can be deeply personal decisions. The fact is that you can use them for your career and there is no reason you shouldn’t.

What About The Haters?

Hate if you want but, she gets paid to race every weekend. Do you?

Hate her if you want but, she gets paid to race every weekend. Do you? (courtesy of nascar.com)

Guess what? Every great racer in history was hated by a large group of people. Often by more people than they had as fans. Haters build your name by polarizing your fans and helping create new ones. They talk about you, write about you, and watch you do your thing, and your sponsors want them too. Think of Earnhardt, Waltrip, Senna, Schumacher, Unser Jr, Tracy, Kyle Busch; they all have a huge number of haters. Even the nice guys like Edwards, Hinchcliffe, or Vettel have haters, and it builds their name. Embrace the haters, but understand that you don’t have to address them either. You don’t have to read their internet comments, you can ignore the boos, and remember that trolls feed off of engagement. Instead, let them stew in the background, listen to the cheers, talk to your fans, and choose to feed them instead. Your fans become more loyal when they hear someone saying bad things about you, especially when they just shook your hand and have your autograph on their hat.

This seems like a lot for one day so I’ll stop for now. The next article will expand on what I’ve covered here.

Remember to have fun out there and thanks for reading.

Subscribe for new articles and follow on twitter at @oakmanonracing for updates. If you have any questions or comments about this topic, or anything else, feel free to ask.

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