Best of Ask a Pro: Sponsorship

Alongside driving techniques, one of the most common questions in our Ask a Pro series is about how to get sponsorship. While there is no magic formula to acquire it, we’ve compiled the best answers and advice from our pros so you can increase your chances of finding that all-important backing.

I’m an 11-year-old go-karter and I’m having difficulty finding sponsors due to the lack of having something to offer them in return for their financial support. What can I do to help persuade someone to invest in me at this point in my career? David Sims Jr.

Dario Franchitti (Four-time IndyCar Champion): Jackie Stewart always taught me that regardless of what stage you’re at, you should think about what you can offer the sponsor in terms of value.

It may not be exposure or any of the traditional things, but it might be the emotional value of getting involved. I think that’s the key. Funnily enough, in my current memorabilia area, I have a letter my grandmother wrote to Jackie when I was racing go-karts, asking that very same question, and that was the advice he gave.

If you have the opportunity and you have a friend who you think can help, or friends of friends, go to people you know. Don’t just go to anonymous companies; go to people that you or somebody around you has a connection with.

What is the most important thing for a young aspiring race car driver to do in order to get their name out into the racing world? Sam Adams

Will Buxton (F1 pit lane reporter for NBC): Well you’re well on the way with a great name. If you don’t pick up sponsorship from a certain American brewery then there’s something wrong. First thing… win. You can be the nicest guy in the world but if you don’t get the results, there’s no foundation for anything.

Well I say that… there are some drivers who have never won a thing in their life but who have somehow sweet talked their way into frankly mind boggling deals. But nobody gives them any credit, and rightly so. Be a racer. Be hard but fair. Be gracious. Learn, with every corner and every lap. Don’t dwell in the past. Move on quickly but use the experience. Give your time: to your team, to your sponsors, to your fans. Talk to everyone you can, even the press. Be open but don’t be a door matt. Everyone get’s screwed, but only an idiot gets screwed the same way twice. Allow people to know you and what drives you.

Make your dream their dream. Take them with you on your incredible journey. Never, ever, think you’re better than you are. Be humble, be genuine, be kind and friendly. Then pull your helmet on, lower the visor, and kick ass.

What advice would you give to grassroots competitors about acquiring sponsorship from both local and, potentially, national/global companies? Ryan Lower

Andy Lally (Three-time Grand AM Champion): I’m certainly not an expert in this area but in my opinion you need to start with and then build on three things. For a legitimate sponsor to get behind you or your team for business reasons, you need to be able to show an obvious return on investment (ROI).

If you can establish that, the second thing you may need to show them is that you are the right image for them and someone that they will be proud to have as an ambassador for their product in whatever media you will be part of.

The third thing will come as you interact with people within their organization. Your goal is to try and grow roots and become an integral part of their organization. You will need to build personal relations in a business atmosphere and get to know the guys at the head office – the president, the head of marketing and anyone that who may even KNOW these people.

These decision-makers are human, they have friends, and they are influenced. When the entire office or department is talking about what a good guy you are and how personable you are, it is a lot easier to keep your deal going year after year.

Are there any tips for increasing followers on social media? I am a driver in the junior ranks. Also, is this something that potential sponsors look at? Thanks for your time and help. Anonymous

James Hinchcliffe (IZOD IndyCar driver): This is a huge element of our sport. Sponsors definitely look at what your ‘reach’ is on social media. The best way to gain followers is to interact.

Interact with fans, sponsors, series and other drivers. In a way social media growth comes from word of mouth, so the more mouths talking to you the better chance you have of growing.

Do you have any advice on the sponsorship side of the sport? Kerry Nelson

Alexander Rossi (GP2 driver): It is very important to make sure that you are seen and noticed to attract as much sponsorship as possible. The reality is that motorsport is incredibly expensive and in order to raise he appropriate amount of funds needed, there is no black and white answer.

You definitely need to find your “hook” and develop that so you are targeting the correct companies and brands that fit your image.

I have been struggling for the past 2/3 years to acquire sponsorships to go out and race. Contact with teams and interest from racing teams isn’t a problem as I have been offered to race in F3 before, but I just don’t have the fund to compete. What advice would you give to young racing drivers struggling to acquire sponsorship to go out and race? Daniel Justice

Bruno Senna (Former F1, current Formula E driver): Finding funds to race in Europe is always tough, especially if you’re a foreigner. Normally it’s less difficult to race in your own country as the sponsors get more local brand exposure (except for F1, of course).

A few countries, such as Brazil and the US have sports sponsorship policies where sponsors can deduct some of their taxes if they’re supporting their local talent, so maybe you could look into something like this. Best of luck!

What is the best way to gain sponsors in motorsport? Luk

Karun Chandhok (Former F1, current Formula E driver): Raising sponsorship is very difficult in this sport. There are a lot of fast drivers all chasing the same money so you need to discover your USP I suppose. You need to try and leverage that in the best way possible – it could be your nationality, race, colour, looks or personality.

Graham, obviously one of the issues about switching from karts to cars is finding sponsorship. As you deal with big sponsors often, what are the keys to securing a sponsorship? Where would you or your team look for sponsors? Jeff Drake

Graham Rahal (IndyCar Series race winner): Sponsorship is all about giving whatever the company may be the biggest return on its investment. Keeping that in mind, think “business-to-business” – how can you link a couple of companies together that need to or can do business together and then you benefit from it? Look at it as a business relationship where multiple companies have marketing budgets but with you they can do it together and cheaper. I think securing sponsorship is always about finding something special that sets you apart from others. Drivers often overlook what makes them special to a company. At the end of the day, the companies are sponsoring you, not just the race car you drive!

How exactly do you work on sponsorship deals? Do you work through connections or cold calls? If both, which seems to work the best and do you have to take different approaches to each? Thanks again and best of luck finding a ride for next season! Andrew Pinkerton

Conor Daly (IndyCar series driver): It is harder than ever to get support for anything, but at the moment I’m just trying to get introductions to people through people I already know. If you can get in touch with people who might be interested through a person who you are already friends with, that might open a door more easily for you. I’m hoping it does in my situation at least! Always be looking for business-to-business deals as well. Those are happening more often than regular corporate sponsorship these days.

How can an amateur with little funding get started in racing? Michael

Oliver Gavin (Four-time Le Mans class winner): Any driver will tell you how difficult it is these days; it’s never been easy but it’s even more difficult in today’s economy. Most people will start in karting to learn their race craft and that’s what I did. My Dad bought a kart for me and my brother and he used to run it, with us learning how it worked and how to work on it, all really good training for the future. From there I moved onto car racing, with my Dad paying the way to begin with and then with some sponsorship as I moved up. Getting sponsorship is mostly about who you know, rather than what you know, and think about what you can do for a sponsor instead of what they can do for you and you’ll have more success. Anyone can go karting, at any age, or you could do something like stock cars or dirt racing…do whatever you can within your budget and have fun.

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