We have talked about a general overview of the sponsorship business and how to put yourself in the potential sponsor's shoes. [see
Part 1, Issue #5, 1988]. You'll recall we identified three basic types of potential sponsors: 1) the
locally-owned and operated business, looking for direct advertising and profit returns; 2) the
locally-operated business affiliated with a larger national or multinational parent organization, looking for the same results but possibly with participation from their parent organization; and 3) large corporations interested in name recognition as a special kind of sales tool. Any of these company types can benefit from the right promotional program involving your kart racing. Now we'll take a look at how to approach the companies you've picked and nail them down.
OK, so what are the basic elements that need to go into your sponsorship proposal? It's really not necessary to overwhelm your prospect with information at the outset. Your written proposal and the personal presentation you make should be complete but concise and to the point. That sounds contradictory, but here's the idea: You want to give your prospect enough information to whet his appetite without taking up too much of his time either with reading the proposal or hearing your personal presentation.
What you're proposing will most likely be different from anything your prospect has been involved with before, so it's not likely that any positive decision will be made on the basis of that first exposure. Be prepared to work with him by having answers ready and giving him a little time to think it over (more about that later). Remember, if you're not sensitive to the prospect's needs, you may find yourself with a negative decision right away.
Every proposal should begin with a cover letter. Tell the prospect that you want to help him develop new markets, expand his exposure in current markets, increase his visibility ...whatever your research has shown that he needs and you can do. Follow that with a very general description of your proposed Karting effort (weekly participation is a
state-wide dirt racing series, long haul travel to national Enduro points races, etc.) Finally, briefly outline how you intend to use your program to accomplish his goals.
Tell the prospect in closing that the package includes some basic information for him to review but that, at his request, you'll be happy to provide whatever detailed information he may require. Close by saying that you're looking forward to exploring the possibilities with him and, if you're mailing the proposal, that you'll be calling to arrange an appointment.
In Part 1 of "Sponsor;" we listed several sources of general and demographic information to help you in putting together your proposal and tracking down, potential sponsors. We've since become aware of two more that could prove useful.
One is a company called Document Publishing. They put together a monthly newsletter called The Guide" that lists companies involved with sponsorship programs as well as demographic information on general racing audiences from national advertising agencies. (See Part 7 for more on demographics.) We have no phone number for the company and didn't have tune to send for a preview copy so we can't vouch for the quality. For more information, write to: Document Publishing, 1'G~ Box 361, Southbridge, MA 01550.
Another publication is a bi-weekly newspaper called "Sports Marketing News" that's packed with information (and ads) on who is doing what in the
multi-million dollar sports advertising industry. You can find names here worth pursuing and lots of helpful and plain interesting. facts. A sample issue costs $2.25 (get a
couple-a full subscription :uns $49 per year). Write to: Sport' Marketing News, 1460 Post Road E., Westport, CT 06880 or call (303) 255?9997.
Your cover letter should never exceed one page, double spaced. Research has shown that unsolicited correspondence of more than one page is most often discarded unread.
Next in your proposal should be a brief personal profile. Include your name, address, age, occupation and career objectives, hobbies and any other personal information so as to give the reader some sort of picture of who you are and whether or not you're the type of person they'll want associated with their business. Again, the key word here is brief; keep it to about half a page.
Follow your personal profile with a description of your recent racing history: How many events did you attend and in what general geographic area? If publicly visible advertising such as on a trailer is part of your plan, how many highway miles did you haul the trailer last season? Did you participate in any sort of promotional projects with your kart that might translate into more sponsor exposure (auto shows, trade fairs, county fair booths for your kart club)? Race results are not necessary here, let the prospect ask you for that information. It's a natural question for him to raise and it gets him thinking about you and your effort. Again, not too much detail is the key here. You want your prospect to want more information. That's what opens the door.
The next page will outline your racing and promotional plans for the coming season. How many events can you realistically plan to attend? In what areas? In front of how many people? The local club at each event can help you here. Are there special events, like those listed above, that you can plan on using to get your prospect's message across?
Be creative but be realistic. Consider making up sample flyers and announcements to the media or handouts to be used at shows and mall exhibits. These samples should be included in the presentation. If you can, draw up a sample plaque or exhibit for the sponsor to take to trade shows or display at their place of work. On all these samples (and later in reality), always feature the sponsor's name prominently. If you are approaching many potential sponsors, you can use a generic name ("The Acme Company") to give them the idea.
If you have gathered demographic material on the audiences at the races (see
Part 1), include that information here. Again, be sure to list the source for all information. If you gathered it yourself, say so and explain how many people you talked to and where. You can make estimates and round figures off, but never
exaggerate-it will hurt you later. If the numbers on your proposed race schedule look pretty dismal, don't bother to include the information in the package.
Getting It Together
Just like you are going to represent your sponsors, your proposal is going to represent you. If your prospective sponsor is a stranger, the proposal will also be his first impression of you. And if you look good in the eye of your prospect, he knows you'll make him look good.
Everything from the cover letter on (see text) should be kept simple-complete but brief. The prospect doesn't want to read a
novel any more than you want to write one. Get help on your grammar if you need it.
Type everything. Do it yourself or go to a professional. Many such services now use word processors, which can make corrections and revisions easier and cheaper. (Look in the phone under "Typing Services" or "Secretarial Services:") Fees generally range from $3 to $5 per page or $15 to $25 per hour and a good service will check your spelling.
Get letterhead made. Many small printers can design and put together a simple layout for about a $20 to $25 minimum charge. Some typesetting services also offer design and
paste-up for a little less. A professional artist or ad agency will run considerably more but can offer you more in the way of original logos and artwork.
You can get 100 sheets printed up for about $8 to $20, depending upon the quality of the paper. Colored ink adds about $15. If your letterhead design is simple, use it for all the pages in your proposal. If it's more complex or takes up considerable space, use the letterhead only for the cover letter and buy matching paper from the printer for the rest. You might also look for a wholesale paper warehouse in your area. Type or print on one side of a sheet only. Stick with smooth paper finishes and conservative colors (white,
gray, tan, pale blue).
Assemble the proposal in a report binder. A box of 50 transparent plastic covers with
slide-on spines costs about $15 from an office supply store. These allow you to make up a cover sheet with artwork and your name (or team name) to dress the package up. Get colored spines to match your letterhead. If the cover sheet is simple, get matching colored folders.
You might also opt for paper covers with inside pockets. These allow the reader to examine individual sheets. Stay away from folders with metal tabs where you have to hole punch each sheet. You can affix your name (typed!) to the front with a stick-on labels. If you have an attractive letterhead/logo design, you can cut it out carefully and affix it to the cover with spray adhesive.
For a little more money, you can have the proposal attractively bound with either "spiral" or "comb" binding. Check with local printers and graphic arts services. Prices run from about $1 to $1.50 per piece (proposal). Some places may have minimum charges or
set-up fees of about $5 to $10.
If you bind the proposal, you can get the cover printed from original artwork with typesetting or
rub-on lettering. However the proposal is assembled, keep the look clean and simple. A simple typed cover looks better than anything makeshift or tacky. For the title, all you need is your name or team name.
Among the materials in your presentation should be a photograph of you in your suit with your kart or by your trailer. If you have a team, preferably with matching outfits, it's a good idea to show them off (with you and kart or trailer) in a second photo. A clever idea is to fix the potential sponsor's name or logo to your trailer, kart and racing suit. You can get stickers, patches, etc., from companies that advertise at stores or public events or you can ask for them directly from somebody at the company other than who you will be speaking to about the proposal. Let them know that you want the materials to promote their company and they should be glad to help.
If you are going after a particular sponsor and decide to spend the money on getting his name painted on your trailer, always list him first and yourself second; eg: "Acme Print Shop Racing / driver Joe Karter" not "Joe Karter Racing sponsored by..." The sponsor is paying for people to see his name, not yours. This rule holds for signs, banners, placards, etc., to be put on display. If you plan to take a different shot for each potential sponsor, you can attach stickers and patches temporarily (but neatly!) with tape, Velcro, thread, etc. Also take generic photos without sponsor logos for those companies that can't supply any.
You can have the photos taken professionally for the best effect, if you can afford it. Sitting fees run from $30 to $50 per hour (this includes several poses) and printing will run you from about $15 to $20 for a 5 x 7 and $20 to $30 for an 8 x 10. Multiple prints from the same shot will reduce the cost per print, but it adds up quickly if you're planning on a lot of proposals. A group shot and especially one with a trailer will probably mean an additional travel fee, which will double the cost. Someone with an outdoor studio can accommodate you and your kart (though probably not a trailer) to avoid that fee. Shop around for the best prices and expect to be put on a waiting list for the sitting (two to three weeks for a location shot).
At this point, it's time for testimonials. These are letters from someone who can encourage the prospect to become involved with you as an individual, or with racing as a promotional tool, or both. Sponsorship packets from the major sanctioning bodies in big car racing will almost always include letters from the advertising Big Wigs of the major sponsors telling the reader how wonderful sponsoring a series, an event or a team has been for their business.
If you know someone with a successful sponsorship program in kart racing, ask them if you could ask their sponsor for a testimonial letter. The sponsor will be glad to do it because writing the letter will remind him of how good he feels about the program and help him validate those feelings. Remember, there is security in numbers and getting other companies involved in kart sponsorship will make a current sponsor feel better about his decision. (Use this argument when asking the sponsored
karter to help you get access to their sponsor.)
A personal testimonial, along the lines of a character reference, is also appropriate here. Along with one or two letters from satisfied and enthusiastic kart sponsors, include one from someone who can serve as a good reference for you. Many times, your employer is a good choice for this but your local kart shop owner or a family friend is a good bet, too. what you want here is a testimonial to what a hard?working, honest person you are. Don't let it get out of hand, but you want the reader to feel like you will be a good representative of his business.
If all this makes your proposal sound like a resume, that's because that's exactly what it is! You are looking for a job as your sponsor's representative and promoter.
It's finally time to talk money. That is, after all, what this whole business is about. On the next page, lay out a sample budget based on the proposed program for the upcoming season that you outlined a few pages back. Cover all the basic costs, describing each on a separate line entry fees, any required new equipment, travel expenses, operating costs, etc. Don't forget to include promotional costs for whatever you are suggesting. (There's nothing worse that getting a sponsor to commit to supporting your program only to have to tell him that the costs of the shirts, painting or whatever will be extra. That's a quick way to lose a sponsor before you get started.) Try to include all the expenses you can reasonably expect to incur, but don't try to get the sponsor to buy you all new equipment if what you have is serviceable. Total the expenses at the bottom.
Now here's a little psychological trick. Figure some substantial portion of the total and subtract it, listing it as "funds contributed by driver." The difference is what you're asking him for. This does two things. First of all, it establishes in the prospect's mind that you are not just a
free-loader, looking for a free ride. Secondly, your prospect knows you've been racing at your own expense and it's only reasonable for him to expect you to continue to contribute to the program.
How much should you ask for? That depends on what you can afford to contribute and what the prospect can afford to invest. That doesn't mean you have to shy away from smaller sponsors, even if you have an ambitious and expensive program. Be prepared to offer different levels of sponsorship for different amounts of money. Obviously the major sponsor putting up the big bucks can expect to take preference over a smaller sponsor in terms of top billing on the kart and related promotions, access to you and the kart for personal appearances and such, but there's still a place for smaller sponsors to get involved and get their money's worth.
Making Contact __________
Your proposal presentation is ready. Now it's time to decide who to send it to. Wait a minute, didn't we settle that last time when we started making lists? That's right, but who within an organization you send your proposal to will have a lot to do with whether or not the presentation is successful. You only want to deal with people who have the power to make decisions about your proposal. Don't make the mistake of thinking that you can work your way up. If you send your proposal to some assistant underling, even if he likes it and passes it upstairs, and you may have robbed yourself of the opportunity to pitch it to the top guy personally by setting up a layer of insulation between you and him. The easiest way to find the key player in a large company is to ask the receptionist or secretary answering the phone. Tell them you have a business proposition to make and you would like to know who is responsible for handling such matters. In a
medium-sized company, just ask for the president or CEO (chief executive officer). In a smaller company, ask for the owner.
Now you're armed with the right name. If you mail your proposal in, address the envelope to that specific person's attention. In the heading on your cover letter, address that person by name and title. If you're mailing a lot of proposals, you can save yourself some expense and bother by sending just the cover letter and indicating in it that you have a full presentation put together and will be in contact soon to set up an appointment. Sending a full proposal, however, will have more of an impact from the start and will show the effort you are willing to make.
Very important: Mark your calendar or appointment book with reminders to call your prospects back. If you send many proposals or letters out, keep a separate list to track who you have called and the status on each call (busy, call back Tue. 12th, interview set for Fri. 15 at 1 p.m., etc.). In your notes, mark exact dates so you don't get confused from one week to the next. Plan to make your
follow-up calls one week after mailing. This allows time for delivery and hits the prospect shortly after he has seen the letter. This way, you can make sure he received it and spur him on to read it if he hasn't already. Keeping your promise to call also assures the prospect that you are responsible.
Be careful to schedule calls and appointments so they suit you. Don't plan two meetings on opposite sides of town a half hour apart. If the first meeting looks promising, you'll want to give him more time. Don't ever show up late for any appointment.
Dress properly for each visit. Slacks and a clean shirt will do for Sam's Deli but a blazer and tie is more appropriate for A?1 Hardware and a full suit is better at Regency Travel. Women must be even more sensitive to their clothing because they'll have a tougher job being taken seriously by people unfamiliar with Karting. Wear conservative colors and go light on the jewelry.
At the meeting, always maintain a business-like attitude. You're not in the pits now. Exchange pleasantries but don't waste his time with
chit-chat. Get to the point. Be sure he has read the proposal. If not, or if you are presenting it to him there, give him time to do so while you wait. Don't be in a hurry; make him feel important. (He is!)
Ask if he has any questions or if he can suggest other ways that your program can meet his needs. Remember, developing an advertising or promotional program is a dynamic process. It will take some time and some creative input from both parties to reach a satisfactory agreement.
Now one of three things is going to happen: 1) you'll get a flat turn down, 2) you'll get some agreement to look into it further, or 3) your proposal will be accepted at face value and you're off and running. If it's the flat turn down, don't despair. Unless the prospect tells you he's not at all interested and he doesn't even wish to talk about it, don't give up. Ask him what about the proposal does appeal to him. (Get him thinking positively) Ask him if there are ways that you might rework your program to do a better job of meeting his needs. Just get him talking and thinking about it and he may tell you just what you have to do to get his acceptance. Even if you can't, you'll learn valuable information from him that you can use on your next prospect (maybe on one of his competitors).
If you get his agreement to look into it further or a flat acceptance, then move to set up a definite next meeting to close the deal. It's important here to set a specific appointment. Don't let him put you off with a vague "Oh, sometime in a couple of weeks..." His enthusiasm will fade and you may end up losing the deal. Counter his vague reference with "How about Wednesday the 23rd? I think I can have all the details worked out and be ready for your final approval by then. Is morning or afternoon better for you?" Be positive: put him in the position of committing to a specific date and time. That fixes it in his mind. Even if you're just meeting again to work on the details, never leave the prospect without a specific date and time for the next meeting.
But what about those turn-downs? What do you do then? Well, get used to it, for openers. The odds are you'll get lots of "no's" before you get the first "maybe." Remember, there are thousands of ways for every businessman to spend his dollars and he probably knows more about most of them than he knows about kart racing. Every day someone walks into his place and tries to sell him something, whether it's newspaper advertising or imprinted
glow-in-the-dark key tags. Just because he turns you down, don't miss the opportunity to learn from it. Then thank him for his time and head on to the next prospect.
This process of qualifying a prospect, preparing a proposal and presentation, giving the presentation and dealing with the objections can be a slow and discouraging business but it can also be very rewarding. If you sincerely want to build a successful sponsorship program, it's absolutely vital. Every rejection should teach you something, whether it's how you need to present a more enticing promotional package or what sort of objections to anticipate and how to be ready for them, or possibly some new directions to go looking for prospects.
The key is to stick with it! Nobody ever found a sponsor by sitting back saying "This is too much work. Guys that find sponsors either know somebody or are just lucky."
Racers who find sponsors make their own luck with hard work and preparation.
Sponsor-finding luck is like racing luck: Roger Penske is quoted as saying "Luck is where preparation meets opportunity." So do your homework, plan your strategy and follow through. Prepare your program and present it again and again until the opportunity appears. Good Luck and Good Hunting.
John Copeland is the owner of Fox Valley Kart Shop in Lafayette Indiana and counts more than 50 fully or partially sponsored
karters among his current customers.