Sponsorship etiquette and things to keep in mind when approaching sponsors
As racing season draws to a close, racers and team managers are beginning to make plans for 2013. Whether you’re a first time racer or a seasoned veteran, having the right team of sponsors and supporters in your corner is essential to putting together a winning program. In a difficult economy, it’s all the more important to make yourself stand out from the crowd and show a company why you’re a worthwhile investment.
I worked for a season as the sponsorship program director for a reputable tire and wheel manufacturer. In one season I reviewed over 400 sponsorship applications ranging from first timers to multi-time national champions. I’ve seen just about every format of resume imaginable and even debated with racers as to how much they believed they were entitled to.
The important thing to keep in mind when approaching potential sponsors is that sponsorship is a business arrangement. A company that offers you any level of support by way of free product or even a discount believes that you will promote its brand and ultimately help it sell product. Yes, most companies believe in supporting the sport and for that reason will sometimes offer discounts to racers knowing full well that they aren’t getting a great deal of exposure. That is their way of promoting the growth of the sport and helping young up and comers get a jump on their racing career.
As the racer, your responsibility is to do everything in your power to show a sponsor that you believe in a sponsor’s brand and want to help sell product. As you tackle the battle of finding sponsors here are a few things to keep in mind.
Submit a Proposal
Unless a sponsor approaches you, every sponsorship agreement begins with a proposal. Begin by reviewing the company’s website or calling and asking if it is accepting sponsorship applications. Most companies do, but many have specific guidelines as to how they handle sponsorships. Some companies accept hard copies, many will only accept emailed submissions and others employ outside websites like Hookit.com and MXsponsor.com to handle sponsorships. If you can, ask them which method they prefer.
Personally, I found that it was much easier to review and respond to electronic applications than it was to review pages of hard copies and then scour the document for an email address to send back an offer. You’ll score points with the company by making its job easier and it will also clue you in on how to format your specific proposal.
Many racers go to great lengths designing custom posters and even rider playing cards to highlight their accomplishments. Those are nice, but in my experience an electronic copy of a PDF or word document is the safest bet. It’s easy to keep track of and easy to submit through email.
There is no rule on how long an application should be, but from my experience shorter is better. Most companies are reviewing literally hundreds of resumes and they don’t have time to read through your entire racing history. One to two pages is usually sufficient enough to provide a brief introduction and explain your accomplishments, your goals for the coming season, and ultimately how you will represent your sponsors.
Make sure to include a few pictures on the document itself: action shots, at least one head shot without a helmet, and pictures of your machine and pit area so companies can see how well you promote your sponsors.
Tell Them What You’ll Do For Them
In terms of representation, running a sponsor’s sticker and saying thanks from the podium is a given. If you want to wow a sponsor you’ve got to offer a level of exposure or promotion that sets you apart. Much of this has to do with your personality and your ability to make friends. Are you well known and respected at the track? Do you have a unique outlet or opportunity to promote their product to an area that they don’t currently reach?
Consider offering a riding school or even just spend time with younger racers answering their questions. This builds rapport with younger racers and allows you to influence their purchasing choices. It’s a fact that people want to use the brands that the top athletes use. Why do you think Nike offered LeBron James $90 million at the beginning of his career?
If you have a website, prominently display and promote you sponsors there. Consider doing a spotlight feature on the products you use from each of your perspective sponsors.
It might seem like a small and obvious thing, but maintain your machine and your pit area. A professional looking pit with clean equipment and sponsor logos or banners prominently displayed shows potential sponsors that you will maintain a professional appearance at all times.
When you get ready to submit your proposal, include a brief cover letter specifically tailored to each sponsor. Some people send out their resume to dozens of companies in one mass email. Honestly this just makes you look lazy and it doesn’t personalize it. Sponsorship is a mutually beneficial relationship, so take the time to be professional and personalize your request for sponsorship. On that note, be sure to proofread your submission. Poor grammar and misspelled words will likely get your resume filed in the big round can
It’s important to realize that not everyone is going to be able to help you out or provide you with the level of support that you think you deserve. Budgets are tight and sponsors have to sell product to keep the doors open. They are, after all, in business to make money.
If a sponsor makes you an offer that is lower than you were expecting, you have a couple of options. You can accept it and make it a personal challenge to do such a good job of of promoting the product that the company can’t help but do more for you next year. Or you can decline the offer and apply elsewhere. Whatever you do, don’t badmouth the company or make statements about not being treated you fairly. Telling a company off or that it will be sorry for not supporting you is the quickest way to blacklist yourself. Believe it or not, the off-road industry is pretty small and people talk. You’ve got to remember that companies get hundreds of requests for sponsorship and it’s just not possible to help everyone.
Conducting yourself professionally, even if you decide not to accept a sponsor’s offer, will keep you in good standing with that company should you ever decide to apply for sponsorship with them again in the future.
Keep Them Informed
Once you’ve landed a few sponsors it’s your job to let them know how you’re doing. Periodic updates let them know how your season is going and that their investment in you is paying off. Sharing race reports via Facebook and Twitter and tagging them in photos not only shows their product in use, it helps bolster their online presence. A lot of people still don’t realize that social media is a huge marketing tool and the more action happening on a company’s Facebook page, the more online traffic it is going to generate.
Go out of your way to show sponsors that you appreciate their support and that you are sending people their direction. You don’t need to call them every week or send a detailed race report after every event, but make a point to keep them informed on your season and that you appreciate their help. You can be sure, as the person responsible for sponsorship, I remembered the people who took the time to call the office or stop by at the track and say thank you. This can come back to benefit you the next time you apply for sponsorship.
Despite what many people think, sponsorship is not a reward system. Yes, if you achieve a certain level or success or manage to go above and beyond in marketing your sponsors, many will increase their level of support or even give you product at no charge. But it is a great fallacy to believe that just because you moved up in a class or won a few races that a sponsor owes you something.
Your job as a sponsored rider is to help sell product. Keeping that in mind, conducting yourself professionally and showing sponsors how you are helping sell product is the best way of getting a company to increase its level of support.
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