AN OPEN LETTER
I’m writing this at the behest of a colleague who thought my years of experience in the automotive aftermarket might be of some value.
A little background:
I’ve been in this industry for 27 years. One of my first jobs was as Motorsports Marketing Director for NGK Spark Plugs. I saw hundreds of sponsorship proposals each week, managed their racing sponsorship programs, toured with the NHRA, CART series among others as well as handled most aspects of the company’s SEMA show setup.
After that, I went to Eibach Springs as their Marketing Director. Among my many duties was evaluating sponsorship proposals as well as performing may of the same tasks I did at NGK.
From 1997 to 2002, I was the Executive Director of the National Import Racing Association (NIRA). I sold sponsorship programs to vendor partners, ran the whole series for Petersen Publishing and oversaw all the marketing. It was in this job that I became friends with many, many Marketing Directors of other companies.
Later in 2002, I helped NOPI develop the NDRA, essentially a mirror of NOPI which had been sold.
I also spent about two years of my life helping Universal with their first Fast and Furious movies which included getting parts for cars using sponsorships.
From 2002 to 2006, I was serving as Global Marketing Director for MagnaFlow. I had many of the same duties I did in my earlier career.
I’ve built my own fully sponsored cars for SEMA going back as far as 1996, including a Mustang GT, a Supra, an R34 Skyline and an E46 BMW M3 widebody to name a few.
Today, I run a digital media company that not only builds websites, we do content marketing, inbound marketing and social media influence marketing.
Perhaps my insights will be of value.
WHAT IS A SPONSORSHIP?
For starters, it’s not about free parts. In fact, most sponsorship agreements do NOT include free parts but instead offer discounts.
A sponsorship in today’s terms essentially means discounted parts in exchange for exposure. Real, tangible, documented, exposure. It does NOT mean you’re going to a few Cars & Coffee events or going to a couple of track days. It’s really a partnership between you and your sponsor, one in which you actively promote the vehicle at physical appearances, in videos and in social media. You do this for a period of time, say one year or so.
HOW MUCH EXPOSURE CAN YOU OFFER?
For the “exposure” to have ANY value to your sponsors, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of views of any one vehicle during the course of the agreement.
All of this assumes that you have a HUGE following in social media. What do I mean by huge? If you have 100K followers on Instagram, you definitely have value. If you have 5,000 followers on IG, you still have a little value.
If you want numbers, I’ll give you some: Client “A” recently paid a social media celebrity who has 625,000 followers $15,000 for one post. Client “B” recently paid a similar celebrity who has only 5,000 followers $400 for one post. Get the picture?
It’s about value, so if you’re not prepared to show documentation of your “following,” you’re probably not a good candidate for sponsorship.
THE RULES YOU SHOULD KNOW
I’m going to be perfectly candid here, but what I’m about share with you are things that are shared with me in conversations with other professionals in the industry. They can’t say these things publicly because they’re professionals. Privately, we speak without filters.
Don’t you dare ask for a sponsorship unless you’re fully prepared to pay full price for that part right now. Why? Marketing people are very smart. They’re not about to give you a part for free or at a discount if they know damn well you wouldn’t buy the part in the first place.
Questionable “project” cars using only parts owners got for free are easily identifiable at SEMA. They do no favors to the sponsor or the “builder.”
You better have the budget to finish building the car completely at your expense and at a level that is show worthy on a national level. You know what that means. If you don’t have the budget to build the whole car, even if some “sponsors” drop out, don’t even think about picking up the phone.
Always call the company directly. Do NOT deal with middlemen. I say this because over the years, I personally know of many stories where some crafty, shady person steps in makes all kinds of promises to you and to companies. What you don’t know is behind the scenes, they’re making side deals to put money in their pocket. It’s an old scam and it just happened again.
Put it in writing. No written agreement, no deal. Ever. Period. No exceptions. You should have a signed deal with your sponsor outlining what they will give you, at what price and what you will provide in return. Your written deal should be directly with the sponsor. No one else. Not your buddy. Not the guy who’s ‘got the bro hookup.’ Not your friend’s shop guy. The sponsor.
Further, you should be providing high quality pictures (at your expense) to the sponsors regularly, along with a monthly report showing copies of posts to your FB, IG and other social media channels to show the exposure you’re getting. It’s called “accountability” and if you’re not willing to have any accountability, sponsors will ignore you.
Choose a late model “aspirational” vehicle. In other words, is their a 16 year old kid sitting in his room somewhere dreaming of your car?
Yes, I know some people build old hot rods that aren’t new, but in most cases, very few sponsors will be interested in your 1996 BMW 328 unless they focus solely on old BMWs. You get the idea.
Car modifying is a hobby. No sponsor is under any obligation to lift a finger to help you. Sending a sponsor a professionally worded proposal documenting your previous car building success is a good approach. Begging for parts from a sponsor on the premise that you ‘need help to finish your car’ will be promptly round-filed.
In short, if you want your car at SEMA, you better be prepared to spend every cent necessary to build it. If you follow my advice, you might be lucky enough to get some products at a discount.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE ONLINE CAR SPONSORSHIP COMPANIES?
I’ve seen this over and over again throughout the years. One company I recently reviewed has a long list of alleged “sponsor partners.” I’ve been in this business for 27 years and I’ve heard of two of the nearly 80 companies they have listed. I clicked on more than a dozen “sponsors” and found that most were re-sellers or selling out of a tiny shop or garage.
My recommendation? If you want to drop what few dollars you have into having someone call no-name companies for discounts on parts you had no intention of buying in the first place, be my guest.