’ve heard a lot of businesses say they’ve sponsored racing drivers (or teams, or race series) and not really got anything back from it. Unless you are truly supporting that driver out of the goodness of your heart and as a supporter of the sport, you’re going to expect something in return.

The Advertising Myth

Motorsport sponsorship as an advertising tool just doesn’t work. At least not for the majority of businesses.

If a racing driver offers you branding on their car with the promise that it’ll bring you new business, be wary. I’m not saying this to devalue any driver’s pitch because I want to see more racers get funding but it’s important for businesses to be savvy to what works because that’s how long-lasting relationships are built. Life is better when everyone wins (metaphorically speaking, of course, motorsport would be pretty pointless if everyone actually won).

Start off by thinking about your target market, are they likely to hang out a race tracks? If yes, then your sticker on a car may do some good but to get the most bang for your buck, you need your racing driver(s) to work hard to promote your brand.

It’s great to have a presence on a car and it’s really cool for your social media, but you’ll need a little more for that to turn into sales.

Look for a willing brand ambassador

A good complement to your presence on the grid and in the paddock is a brand ambassador. This is usually a racing driver (but it could be a team boss or race series spokesperson, depending on what you’re doing).

It’s the job of a brand ambassador to promote your brand to their audience. This means they need to try your products/services and they need to love them. Try to find someone genuinely interested in what you do who can sing the praises of your business with genuine passion and authority.

That’s pretty easy when you have a drinks company but a little more difficult if you sell IT services for businesses. In the case the case of the latter, look for someone who is a business person during the week and a racing driver at the weekends.

If you can team up with someone who knows business and actually fits into your audience, you’ve got a better chance of reaching new customers.

In short, look beyond the race track to see how a racing driver could drum up sales and awareness for your business.

Look at the online benefits

If one of your goals is to increase your presence online then look for a driver with a suitable following on social media. Not only do you need to look at numbers but demographics too. You’re going to have better results for your remote controlled cars if you target a driver with a younger petrol-head audience, than if you target one that has a mature ABC1 audience.

Mentions on a well-ranking racing driver’s website can also do wonders for your presence within the search engines, consider your SEO strategy when working out what you need from a driver.

Magazine editorial over advertising

If you spend a lot of money on adverts within the local, national and industry press but notice that your racing driver appears in similar publications, you’re onto a winner. Editorial coverage can often be more effective than an advert in the same magazine, as readers put more trust in this content (because it doesn’t appear to be paid for).

Consider working with any driver that can help you get into those publications. Not only will you reduce your advertising spend but you’ll be reaching potential customers with a whole new level of authority.

Consider your goals

When coaching, I always tell drivers to think about the goals of the business they’re approaching. Of course, most businesses just want to make more sales but how? Is that business actively trying to achieve more press coverage, do they regularly engage users with video content, do they host swanky dinners to engage with VIP customers?

Before a driver pitches to you, they should have some idea of your activity and how you’re currently reaching new customers.

Flip this around and it can give you, as a business owner, a good idea of what you should expect from a racing driver.

Let’s say you’re currently trying to grow your business by attracting new customers in a different demographic to the one you’re used to. To do this, you’re targetting the new demographic with advertising in the local paper, you’re talking to them on social media and you’re attending the same events where they hang out.

Imagine working with a racing driver who shared the same audience. That driver is already getting in the local paper and talking to these people on social media, they might even be going to the right events (motorsport or otherwise). If you love racing, want to support local talent and need to reach these customers, it makes perfect sense to team up with a racer.

How much should you pay?

This varies from person to person. I know a high profile racer who charges anything from £20,000-£30,000 per year to be a brand ambassador for a business to help sell its products and increase awareness. On the other hand, I know plenty of hard-working, eager racing drivers who just want to get out in a car they built and would happily sign themselves over to you for a year for £1000.

Think about how much you already spend on marketing, is there some more cash available for this or could you move funds from a magazine advertising budget to sponsorship?

I tell racing drivers that businesses usually have some money set aside for marketing, or have money in reserve that it makes sense to spend rather than save (hello, corporation tax). The reason businesses so often say ‘we have no budget’ is because there probably isn’t a budget for supporting a local racing driver.

However, if you knew that racing driver would be 10x more effective than your current advertising and marketing activity, you’d find the money.

Don’t be afraid to talk about money. Don’t be afraid to throw a figure out there. Don’t be afraid to guide a racing driver. We’re all too scared to talk about money and that’s hurting this industry.

Build a relationship

Once you’ve signed a deal (and make sure you actually sign something), you need to keep in touch with your racing driver. It’s so important that these partnerships are formed on a proper relationship. Meet with your driver(s), discuss with him/her/them what you’re doing and what you’re trying to achieve, bring them into your business in the same way you’d expect to be brought into their team.

Tell them what you want and work with them on how to get it.

Be honest

If a racing driver approaches you with a pitch and you don’t feel like you’ll get anything out of it, don’t ignore them. Tell them why you don’t think it’s for you, because a little insight could change everything. They might be the perfect match for your business but you might not know it from an initial email.

Feedback is important but it’ll also stop racing drivers from following up again and again when you don’t reply.

Finally, I want to say that you should trust your gut. If you’re wary of a deal, don’t go for it. If something sounds like it’ll change your business for the better (and you’ve done research to confirm this…), grab it with both hands and go.

Sponsorship isn’t all about money hungry racing drivers who want to go and play in race cars. The business-savvy racers and team bosses are vital marketing tools that no business should overlook.