First off you need to decide if you really want to go after sponsorships. There are responsibilities and commitments that come along with sponsorship. With sponsorship one thing that you will always need to do is display stickers on your car. So if you don't like stickers than sponsorship is not for you. Also be ready to sign a contract that requires you to keep to certain provisions.
These provisions often include attending a certain amount of shows or events, getting magazine coverage or allowing them to utilize your car for display at trade show events. Depending on the price of the item that you are trying to get you may also have to provide a form of payment that will be charged if you don't fulfill your end of the bargain. Many of the people in charge of sponsorship at companies know each other so if you tick one off then it could greatly affect your chances with others.
What it comes down to is this, if you make a promise be ready to keep it. If you love street racing and your plan is to get exposure on the streets than sponsorship is not for you. Sponsors want nothing to do with street racing and the negative image it brings. Imagine a street racer gets in a horrible accident and injures or kills someone with their company logo plastered all over the side of the car, the negative press would be immense.
Also if you plan on building a race car then you have a much harder road ahead of you and these articles do not really apply. To get sponsors for a race car you need to compete and do it at a high level. With success you will gain sponsorships.
If after knowing everything that comes with sponsorship you have made the decision to go after sponsors then I will help you go about it in a way that has worked for me. Like I explained earlier sponsors aren't just going to line up to give you stuff. What you need to do is build the car and take it out to as many shows as possible. Once you have attended a few shows and taken pictures to prove it you can start approaching sponsors.
Car shows are great place to meet sponsors but it’s tough to have them remember you. At a show the companies’ rep will talk to dozens of potential applicants. When I worked for Valvoline I would leave the show with tons on materials and rarely take any of it home. So just stopping by and handing them your proposal is not going to work most of the time. What you want to do is introduce yourself and try and get them to look at your car. Talk to them about your car and what makes it special, try to be memorable.
Now you could just leave your proposal with them now and hope for the best but in my experience that doesn't work. Since they get so much materials at shows from companies, applicants etc yours will most likely get lost in the pack or left behind. I prefer to Get Get their business card and let them know I will send out my proposal to their office. When you get home from the show email them a copy of your proposal (PDF format is best) and priority mail them a printed copy. In your cover letter or email remind them of who you are, what car your have and what show you met them at. Try and include something about your conversation that stuck out, like remembering that they like rally racing or something.
Give them at least 1 week before giving them a call to discuss things. If you don't get through leave a nice message saying that you were just following up to see if they got your proposal. If you don't hear back try again a week later. Don't call more than once a week but keep trying for at least a month or two.
The old saying is "the squeaky wheel gets the grease" applies here. You contact enough to stay on their mind but not enough to be annoying. No matter the outcome keep their information on file and send them email updates on the car about shows and press coverage not that you got a new shifter.
Magazine coverage is like the golden goose in this industry. If you have a confirmed magazine shoot lined up it goes a very long way to grease the sponsorship wheels. Getting magazine features is tough, what you need to do is make your car something a little different from the norm. Now remember different does not always mean better. Just because nobody has ever done a polka dot paint job doesn't make it cool.
Most magazines find their feature cars at car shows, so go to as many as you can.
Stay by your Car!
I know there is a lot to do at a show and you want to go out and do it all but stay by your car as much as you can. Sponsors and photographers will walk shows looking to find cars and if you are not by your car they just walk on by.
Strike up a Conversation
You never know who the person looking at your car is. I picked up one of my first sponsors at a car show by striking up a conversation with someone who was looking at the car. After a few minutes of conversation the guy asked me if I had any stereo in my car, at the time I did not. Right there he gave me his card and 3 weeks later I had $5000 worth of audio equipment sitting in my bedroom. Now if I wasn't standing by my car and willing to talk I would have never gotten that sponsor.
Magazines look for well balanced cars, with bright paint jobs and a unique look which is the blueprint I have been laying out this whole time. To get a feature you need to have most of the major areas hit. You will need a nearly fully built car. If you just have rims, drop and a kit you don't really have a shot.
Trust me when I say find a photographer, and try and get them to come look at your car. A lot of photographers for magazines work on a freelance basis, they get paid if magazines use their photos. If they think your car is ready they will be more than happy to shoot it. Photographers also can help give you tips on what you can do if they don't think your car is there yet.
Magazines are the green light to sponsorship, unfortunately most people don’t take advantage of them. 90% of people who are approached for a magazine shoot at the show are shot the same weekend as the show. This is great for photographers because they can get a lot of work done on one trip. The problem about this is that you don’t get to exploit the magazine shoot to pick up new sponsors.
Ideally what you want to do is meet a photographer at a show, introduce yourself get them to look at the car and get them interested. Once you have them interested ask them when they will be back in town again. Most of the time they will not want to do this, what you need to do is say that you have something you need to finish on the car, repaint the front bumper, brakes on the way something. You want to buy yourself at the very least 3 weeks. This will give you time to call some companies and tell them that you are being shot and would love to run their product. Make sure you get the photographers card, so that you can give the company their name to verify the shoot.
Once you have your shoot lined up begin by emailing your proposal to potential sponsors. A great way to identify potential sponsors is to look at who is sponsoring the shows you are attending. In your email make sure that you let them know that you have a photo shoot coming up in a few weeks. Give it about 3 days before you place a call, that is if they have not gotten back to you yet.
Some great types of companies to approach are, appearance (cleaning), tires and audio. These companies generally run large sponsorship programs. Sponsorship is like credit, when you have it everyone else wants to give it to you. Once you get your first sponsor you can then use them as reference when talking to other sponsors. By having other companies that trust you it makes you look like a more credible person.
Networking is huge in the sponsorship business. Most of the people who run the programs all know each other. If you can impress one sponsor it can open many doors to others. Most of my sponsors all stemmed from referrals from other sponsors. Be friendly but not pushy. These people meet tons of people at shows and they would rather talk to a cool person than hear all about your car. Make an impression about you first, your car will come in later.
My first sponsor for my BMW was a tire company that I met through a friend of mine that was already sponsored. They invited me to go to dinner with them the night before the show. At dinner not one bit of the conversation was about cars. We talked about just about everything else but not a word about cars. Think about it, all they talk about at shows and work is cars. It’s nice for them to just hang out and talk.
After the meal on the way to the parking lot they asked, so do you have a car? I mentioned the bimmer and brought them over to where it was parked. I mailed them a proposal the following Monday and referencing the dinner with them and I had my first real sponsor.
Once you have gotten a company to sponsor you now you need to keep them happy. The sponsorship program we ran at Valvoline had over nearly 500 cars in it. Most of the people we initially sponsor don’t get picked up again. They didn't keep in contact with the company and when renewals come up it looks like we got nothing for our money.
The ones that got the renewals were the ones who keep in contact with us. What you want to do is send an update, by email, after every show you attend. Take pictures of your car at the event and make sure they can see their logo (you would be surprised how many people send pictures of their cars in where you can’t see the sponsors logo). If you have a banner or and type of product that you can display with your car, take pictures of that also.
Constant communication will keep you and your car in their mind when renewals come around.
Once contact is made things are usually pretty simple from there. You will negotiate what the sponsorship deal will be. Always try to get the item for free, but be ready to accept a discount. A lot of companies just don’t do free. Also be aware that a lot of the top companies just don’t sponsor, they don’t need to. They know that you already want their product.
What should your proposal say?
Here is an outline of a proposal I use for members building their first cars.
Introduction: This paragraph should be about you and your passion for cars. Keep it short and simple but explain why you like building cars and your goals.
Why Sponsor Me: In this section detail why you think they should sponsor you, what makes you and your car special. Explain that you are not just out looking for free stuff but understand that sponsorship is another for of advertising.
About your car: Give a summary of your car and what your vision for it was. Include pictures of the vehicle. Include your spec sheet that you prepared for car shows.
Exposure: If you have any media exposure talk about it. If you have any web features or magazine features list them here. Also list any awards you may have won. Include pictures of the magazines or screen shots from the web articles.
Event Schedule: Give a list of the events that you plan on attending.
Closing and contact: Thank them for their time and let them know that you look forward to working with them in the future. Give them your contact information to reach you.
Keep the whole thing short and to the point. They get tons of these things and don't want to read through 30 pages of every detail on your car. Print it on nice paper and have it bound into a little book. They sell these at office max etc. If you don't have a nice printer the copy places can print and bind it for you.
That's it in a nutshell. I hope this helps some of you go out and get a few sponsors. If you have any questions just leave a comment.