Get Rid of the Sponsorship Proposal
Yep, get rid of the sponsorship proposal, or at least don’t make it the first line of defense in talking to people. The sponsorship proposal is an industry standard and here’s why I hate it; how am I supposed to tell you why partnering with me is the best idea for your company when I don’t even know what your company wants or needs yet? Sponsorship proposals force the think inside the box mentality and force both parties to generalize the relationship when in reality the best benefit is going to come from a mutual understanding of what each party truly needs. What are your goals as a company with marketing? Do you benefit more from brand awareness or can you benefit more from brand education? How do I know what I even want from you in return? What kind of resources do you have access to? What have you done in the past that has or hasn’t worked? My point is there are so many questions I have for a potential partner long before I can even determine if the partnership would work.
There have been many great opportunities missed because of the sponsorship proposal being the gatekeeper to that initial conversation. There are companies that I am absolutely positive would be perfect for our endurance racing program that I can’t even express my ideas to because I can’t get past the proposal stage. I make initial contact, they ask for a proposal, I give it to them, and it gets added to the pile of 1,000 others never to be seen again. It’s the same with job resumes in real life. Some of our best candidates may not look as good as they truly are on paper. You never know what you have to offer each other until you each have a deep understanding of what each other needs. If you’re thinking to yourself that there’s no way that you can have a conversation with everyone that comes to you asking for sponsorship or partnership then don’t. Spend your time figuring out who you want and then go to them instead. If someone approaches you that you already know has a respected and successful program then take the time to listen.
Quality Over Quantity
Let’s say hypothetically you have $50,000.00 to spend on partnerships: Option A, you give two hand-picked teams $25,000.00 each and with that $25,000.00 you become a major part of their program. That $25,000.00 actually helps their program get bigger and better and now you’re able to grow with them. You’re putting all of that money into the hands of programs you can trust to use every dollar of it wisely. Or option B, you give $250.00 to 200 different teams who could care less about having an extra $250.00. That $250.00 does not change their program in any way and the program and your $250.00 dies out. And which option is easier to manage? Would you rather work closely with two teams you are heavily invested in to ensure each other’s success, or would you rather try and keep track of 200 teams to make sure they are following through on what they promised you in return for your $250.00? Now if you’re the recipient, do you want to have 100 partners that each give you $250.00 but don’t have the time of day to help you with your program, or would you rather have a small group of partners that are heavily involved and invested in you and are actively working with you to ensure each other’s success? Do you want to be a big part of a small program or a small part of a large one? To me, the answer is clear. If you see a race car with 100 different stickers on it, that’s a huge red flag for your company. If you are a race team with 100 different sponsors that is a red flag for your program. You aren’t doing it right.
Invest in Each Other
This is a two-way street with each party having as much to lose as they do to gain and if that sounds scary to you then that is why it is very important to choose your partnerships wisely. This is a business deal and it must be treated like one. As a company, do everything you can to make sure that your partnered teams have everything they need to best represent your brand. If they don’t have the proper tools necessary to do what you’re asking of them that is nobody’s fault but your own. Make sure they are educated on your product and your marketing goals. Whether a potential customer hears about your product from a magazine ad or from the mouth of one of your partnered teams the message should be exactly the same. If your product fails, fix it. Nothing looks worse for a company than not standing behind their own products. When your product does fail, use that experience to make that product better. If done properly a product failure on one of your partnered race teams cars can actually be a marketing benefit so long as you let the world know that you partner with race teams that put them through the most abuse so you can make the best product possible. And make sure that you have everything in line on your end to take the most advantage from the partnership as well. If you partner with a team that has a big presence on Instagram but your company doesn’t have an Instagram account for them to tag or link back to, you are not allowing yourself the full benefit of what they can offer you. Advertise your teams with pride and make sure you’re choosing teams you can actually be proud of. If every partner on a team advertises that team through their social media then the reach grows tremendously. Help each other gain other relationships outside of your own so long as that relationship helps the overall program. Make a conscious effort to GROW TOGETHER.
Under Promise, Over Deliver
This should be taken just as it sounds and this goes for both parties. To make it simple, just do everything you can to ensure the success of the relationship from both parties. Promise what you know you can deliver on but if something else comes along that can help the other party out then by all means take advantage of it. If this works out well, the two parties should enjoy a long relationship together that is constantly growing bigger and bigger. Get creative with it as well. Sometimes what you give back to the other side of the table has no direct benefit to you at all, but you’re credited with bringing the value to the table. For example, if you have a contact at another company that you think would be a great fit for your partner, make the introduction. We all grow together, that’s the goal.
Create a Trusted Network and Leverage Industry Relationships
This is a part of our industry where I see a lot of room for improvement. Companies need to realize that when it comes to marketing and partnerships they can all benefit much more by working together than on their own so that the entire industry succeeds as a whole. Imagine if you had a network of companies you could count on to work together with you on your top tier partnerships. Imagine going to your top teams and bringing them a handful of partnerships instead of just yours. Imagine how much larger that program could become overnight with all of that collective support. Now you have all of those companies advertising and marketing the same car and in turn, all advertising each other’s companies along with it. If you plan to give away 100 units of product as sponsorships why not take 25 of them and send them out to other companies to pass along to their top programs. In return, you get to be indirectly involved with many top tier programs for just the cost of your product that you were going to give away for free anyway. Sure that program doesn’t directly promote your product but make it a part of the agreement where in return you have the right to promote the fact that these programs use your product on your own. There’s so many ways that business to business partnerships and sponsorships can be every bit, if not more, beneficial to your business than individual partnerships and sponsorships. Find brands and companies that compliment yours and work with them to grow your entire network as a whole. There’s strength in numbers.
Partnerships and sponsorships in the automotive industry have lost their effectiveness through devaluation of the concept in general and it’s hurting the entire industry in the long run. Fortunately this can be fixed but it will have to start with the companies themselves making an effort to bring value and exclusivity back to the people they choose to partner with. Customers are no longer willing to pay full price for product because they simply don’t have to anymore. Re-establish the perception of value for your product and in the long run everyone wins and the entire industry grows again, together. If you’re reading this as a decision maker in this part of our industry I urge you to be proactive and change the way your company does things and do not wait around for others to test the waters first. It’s clear to me how we got ourselves in this mess in the first place and none of us can afford to keep it going the way it is. Go to some of the most respected brands like Ferrari, Rolex, Louis Vuitton, and try to see how easy it is to get them to give you something for free or at dealer cost. See if they’ll even give you a discount at all. Those brands didn’t get their reputations by giving discounts and free product to anyone who put in enough effort to ask. They built their reputations by being exclusive, but remaining attainable so that people know that it is something that they have to earn and they want to work hard to earn it. If they work hard to earn it then they will work hard to keep it.
About the Authors
Although this article may read as if it is written by one person the thoughts and views expressed in this article are a collective collaboration between myself (Mike Bonanni) and Jordan Yost. You are reading this article on the website of our endurance race team Yost Autosport. We are a privately owned race team that has been building our race program for four years in grassroots endurance racing have actually been campaigning it for the last two years for races like the N.A.S.A. 25 Hours of Thunderhill. Although our race team is a mere four years old, Jordan and I each have over 12 years in this industry from many different points of view. First and foremost we are both race car drivers who grew up in modest income households so everything we have done in racing we have had to learn to accomplish through creating and leveraging partnerships. Jordan and I have been through many journeys in motorsports, both good and bad and we have learned from all of these experiences and use them to our advantage. Our story is just like many others but the struggles, upsets, and broken promises have only fed our passion to build a different kind of race program. We run our race program with integrity, honesty, passion, and transparency. We thrive on creativity and the ability to bring new ideas to the table. In developing this process, we have created value to our program; a value that we expect all of our partners to uphold. Our belief in holding firm to the value of our program has only increased the integrity of the end product. Having the ability to say no to partnerships that do not benefit the program or our other partners has not been an easy thing to do but sometimes this must be done to protect the overall vision of the team. We are not shooting from the hip in the ideas and concepts we express in this article, we are actually implementing them and we know first-hand how successful they can be.
Outside of the driving, I have also worked on the other side of partnerships having owned an online retail storefront for aftermarket parts in the past, I have worked on helping set up and implement partnership and marketing strategies for other companies, and a few other random odd jobs related to marketing and partnership within this industry.
In addition, both Jordan and I are business owners outside of the automotive industry and although this particular article is tailored toward the automotive industry the basic principles are true for any sort of business relationship designed and intended to help a company grow.
We both feel very strongly about this subject and love to talk about it with anyone who is willing to discuss so please feel free to email us regarding this subject matter or just simply to let us know what your goals for your particular company are. We have our hands in a lot of different things outside of our own race team; you never know what any relationship is worth in this industry unless you open up the line of communication.
Please feel free to share this article within the industry and if you see us at a race track, SEMA, or anywhere else please introduce yourself!