It’s the question everyone always asks when they find out that you’re sponsored, “How can I get free stuff too?” It’s a question I get asked a lot but it unfortunately does not have a simple answer. By the end of this series of articles you will have a better understanding of how sponsorship programs work, what sponsors look for and how to go about approaching them. In addition to sponsorship information I will also give you tips on, winning trophies, getting magazine shoots and much more.
Quick LinksPart 1: Basic Info | Part 2: The Car | Part 3: The Style | Part 4: The How | Part 5: Car Show Tips | Part 6: Getting the Sponsors
You may be asking yourself, who is this guy and why should I care what he says. Well in short I am just like you, an enthusiast who loves cars and modifying them. I started out in all of this about 11 years ago as a wide eyed kid who knew nothing about imports, that’s what we called them before all the American manufactures started to market to us and the sport compact or spocom term was coined.
I had just moved to Orlando from New Jersey with my new Ford Probe GT, that’s right I didn't even start with an import. I got no respect from people with American cars because I didn't have a Mustang or Camaro and the import guys didn't consider it import either.
After some searching on the internet I found another probe owner who was president of this club called Jade Motorsports. Jade was a small club of friends who loved cars and who just happened to be all Asian. After hitting it off and working on my car I was accepted into the club as the original white guy.
My first real job as a designer was at the company that owned Jensen Audio. I worked as a graphic designer with the marketing department and they mentioned they needed a display car for the Annual Spring Break Nationals show in Daytona Beach. After some pleading and begging I convinced them to use my car and thus I had my first sponsor.
After a few successful years winning awards I wanted something new so I got rid of my Probe and picked up a BMW Mroadster and began to work on that. I had no intentions of heavily modifying such an expensive car but when you have the bug you just can’t shake it. I proceeded to build it up and haven’t looked back since.
I had great success with the BMW winning dozens of trophies and picking up multiple sponsors. Since the BMW I have had a Porsche 911 Targa, a 2003 Infiniti M45 or “Project VIP” as I called it and currently I have a 2013 Scion FR-S.
Over my "career" I have won over 50 trophies with the various cars and been a part of over 20 best crew awards with Jade Motorsports. My cars have been featured in multiple international magazines, internet websites and the BMW even had a cameo in 2Fast 2 Furious. Thanks to all of that success I have received 10's of thousands of dollars in sponsored product for myself and helped Jade get even more than that.
Back in the heyday of Hot Import Nights I was a member of "Team Synpower", which was a hand picked group of car people that Valvoline thought could help promote their product to the youth market. Other members of "Team Synpower" included RJ DeVera and Craig Lieberman which is some good company to be in. Due to the success of my car I had the opportunity to travel around the county working for Valvoline Motor Oil during the hey days of Hot Import Nights for over 3 years. Part of my responsibilities included selecting cars and more importantly people to sponsor.
OK enough about me, on to what you really want to know.
The Basics of Car Sponsorship
“Nothing in life is free.” Someone said it and it’s really true. Everyone always asks how they can get free stuff too. The first thing I try and do is to let them know that it’s not actually free. Anyone who runs any kind of decent business won’t just give things away for free. The reason that companies run sponsorship programs is advertising. It’s just another way of reaching potential customers, like ads in magazines and TV spots.
With the high costs of ads in magazines and online a company can spend a ton of money to reach a group of customers. Instead of spending that money on a magazine ad they can give their product to a car that has the potential to get a feature in a magazine and achieve essentially the same effect. The other reason for sponsoring cars is the “follow the leader” affect. People want to be part of the “in crowd”. It’s the same thing that clothing manufactures due with celebrities and athletes.
If anything can prove my point it’s the whole trucker hat phenomenon from way back. Cheap mesh trucker hats became all the rage because of Austin Kutcher and MTV. Although they may not admit it but that that is why so many people wore those things, it may not be directly related to Austin Kutcher but he made it popular and so popular that others followed the ones following him. That is the goal for a company when they sponsor people and cars.
The 90/10 Rule:
After years of doing this I have come up with a theory that I call the 90/10 rule. The 90/10 rule is basically that there are two main groups of enthusiasts in the sport. 10 percent and what I would call trend setters, these are the people that do tons of research, constantly watch what’s going on in the sport and are willing to try new things. The 10 percent in a sense end up becoming the “celebrity” in my previous story, they are in the magazines, win the awards and get all the media attention. It’s really hard to market to the trend setters since they do so much independent research so marketing jargon does not usually affect them.
Then there are the other 90 percent of people out there who want to be part of the “in crowd” and follow the trend setters. These are the people that companies are trying to reach since they comprise the majority of the market. One great way to reach this group is to get the trendsetters to use and promote your product. Once again they are hoping for the “follow the leader” effect to happen.
If you notice I keep saying that companies sponsor people and cars, not just cars. Not only are they giving you product for your car but you now represent that company in some small way. Think about this scenario; if a company gives their product to someone who is an absolute ass people make a subconscious link between that person being an ass and the company on the side of the car. So companies are also looking for people who will represent their company in a professional way. Now I’m not telling you that you should be wearing suits and speaking the queens English but I am telling you to act responsible and be polite and enthusiastic when you are around people at a show or an event.
I learned a lot from my friend RJ DeVera in this aspect of the industry. RJ is the consummate professional, while still being the cool fun guy that people want to be around. He has got to be the hardest working guy I know when it comes to promoting himself and his sponsors. He always had fun but made sure he still did his job.
A sponsored car and person is the celebrity, they are banking on your reputation to influence others to want to buy their product. They are hoping that by you using their product and going out to shows that the other people at the show will want to have the same product on their cars.
It’s very important that you understand the why’s of sponsorship before we get to the hows. Having the right mentality and attitude is very important when approaching a potential sponsor. Think about how many people that must approach them everyday looking for “free stuff”. The people in charge of sponsorship programs deal with this everyday and they know how to spot the “free stuff” people. These are the people who don’t understand the why’s and have little to no chance of getting past the front door or so they say. By approaching the sponsor in a professional manor with the correct attitude you will make a lot more opportunities for yourself.
OK fine I get it, but how do I "Get It'?
Now that the what is over we get to the hows, and that is quite possibly the hardest part of it all. Sponsorship is kind of like credit, it’s hardest to get for the first time but after that it seems like everyone wants to give it to you.
First and foremost nobody is going to give you anything for a car that you “plan to build”. Unless you are a car celebrity like RJ DeVera companies won’t give you stuff to build a car. The reason that people like RJ DeVera can go to a company with a proposal to build a car is because they have a really solid reputation for building top notch cars that get major attention. So if you planned on using this article to learn how to build you car for free I’m sorry that just won’t happen.
A lot of people get mad at those people who have sponsors, saying that it’s not fair that they have to compete with them because they got everything for free. That’s not a fair thing to say because the truth is you need a fully built car to get sponsors. It sounds kind of backwards, I mean if you already have a built car why do you need sponsors? Well sponsors make things easier, they help you keep your car competitive or even bring it to that next level. Also most of all those people who are mad at those with sponsors don’t understand everything that goes into getting and keeping a sponsor. It’s actually a lot easier to go out and buy the part 99 percent of the time than going through everything it takes to get it sponsored.
There are two main ways to use sponsorship to your advantage.
Option 1 to Use Sponsorship for your car: Upgrade Items
Use it to replace and upgrade items you already have on your car like wheels, tires and other items. This is one of my favorite things to do. The major benefit from this is you can then sell the item you are replacing and pocket that money. If done right this is the closest you will get to building your car for free. Although if you are like me you just take the money and put it back into the car.
Option 2 to Use Sponsorship for your car: Round out your Car
The other way to use sponsorship is to use it to round out your vehicle. What I mean about “rounding out” your vehicle is to build your car mainly in one area and then approach sponsors for the other areas that you are lacking in. It's the inside out approach, build the exterior then try to get audio and interior sponsors.
Check out Part 2 where I go over the particulars of how to best to use sponsorship. Also in Part 2 there are tips on how to use sponsorship to your benefit plus some tips about building a show vehicle worthy of getting sponsored developed from my experience with my own cars and helping Jade's members.