The times they are a’ changing!- Brian Sims

September 26, 2012

I can still vividly recall my first ever sponsorship deal, pill way back in 1974, erectile which appropriately allowed me to enter my first motor race. It wouldn’t have been possible without a major change in the RAC motorsport rules just six years previously.

In 1968, diagnosis Colin Chapman, legendary boss of the Lotus F1 Team, commercially exploited a rule change in respect of advertising on race cars. Until then, the only stickers that you saw on a race car were for trade suppliers such as Castrol, Dunlop or Shell. Chapman negotiated a deal to enter two cars, driven by Jim Clark and Graham Hill, in the 1968 F1 World Championship, painted in the distinctive red, white and gold livery of Player’s Gold Leaf cigarette brand. Officially entered as Gold Leaf Team Lotus, the cars looked like cigarette packets on wheels.

It was the start of a tobacco sponsorship revolution in F1 and soon spread to other sports. It also opened the door for many other non-tobacco brands to follow suit.

For many years, it was the fashion in F1 to brag about the size of a team’s sponsorship budget. Many sponsors took the view that the sport’s sheer financial extravagance sent out a clear message to their market: If we can afford to be a F1 sponsor, we must be a highly successful company.

Sadly, the tobacco era was responsible for bringing about some incredibly lazy attitudes by teams towards commercial sponsorship. They quickly realised that in the case of tobacco sponsors, the Holy Grail was brand awareness, the more of it the better, especially if it was on global TV channels.

It was all too easy! In 1996, when the writing was already on the wall for tobacco sponsorship, I secured a substantial multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with FedEx for the Benetton F1 team. At that time I was Head of Motorsport for API, Benetton’s exclusive sponsorship agency, owned by Alan Pascoe.

Eighteen month’s into the sponsorship, I was at a Grand Prix with FedEx’s European Marketing Director. He told me that he was far from happy about the way in which the sponsorship was being managed by the Benetton team. Subsequently, on trying to discuss this with the high profile figure who was then the team’s CEO, I was told quite clearly that FedEx was more trouble as a sponsor than it was worth!

Yes, FedEx, a corporation that had the financial clout to take over as the team’s Title Sponsor when Mild Seven departed, too much trouble! FedEx eventually pulled out of Benetton F1 and became a long term sponsor of the Ferrari F1 Team. As you can imagine, I was none too happy about this, having worked hard to bring this huge corporation into F1 for the first time.

The problem was that tobacco had spoilt F1. When companies started demanding a lot more than brand awareness, some senior F1 figures were quite frankly out of their depth in understanding what else sponsorship could actually deliver.

How times have changed since those heady days of free-flowing tobacco money within motorsport!

Today, business decision-makers are becoming increasingly concerned with the negative perceptions sent out by being a motorsport sponsor. In other words, they’re worried that even if they can afford to be a sponsor, they can’t afford to be seen to be a sponsor.

Like it or not, the perception sent out to customers, shareholders and also employees by a company announcing that it is to become a motorsport sponsor can often be extremely negative. Motorsport is seen as an elitist sport by many people, extremely environmentally damaging by others. It doesn’t matter one iota what you might think.  What matters is what the company thinks.

You’re probably feeling that I’m being very negative. Believe me, I’m not. I personally believe that now is a very good time to be presenting companies with motorsport sponsorship opportunities. When times are tough, business people are looking for cost-effective, innovative ways of increasing their market share. Only last year, I structured a major motorsport sponsorship deal with insurers Hiscox. The key was that it was primarily based on the provision of innovative opportunities for business development.

To be successful in this tough economic climate, you have to offer viable, sustainable and most importantly, measurable business development strategies. These must provide solutions to businesses desperate to sell more products or services. It’s also imperative that they take into account the negative perceptions to which I referred. Don’t try arguing with companies that motorsport isn’t elitist or environmentally flawed. At best you might win the argument, but you’ll probably lose the deal.

Instead, you need to develop your sponsorship sales strategy in such a way that it offers help to the decision-maker in presenting the opportunity to their peers and board members. So often I’ve comes across situations where the marketing director is really enthusiastic, because he can see the sales opportunities, whereas the financial director, CEO and other senior executives are more worried about the perception created by being associated with motorsport and pour cold water on the concept. Try to help the person driving the proposal forward by providing a range of entitlements that help outweigh any negative perceptions. It’s not difficult once you start thinking about it in this way.

If you want to know more about this aspect of selling sponsorship, why not make contact with me. I may be able to help….on a commercial basis of course.

About Brian Sims:

Brian Sims is one of international motorsport’s most experienced and successful sales exponents, securing over £60 million of sponsorship deals at all levels of the sport.

He is the author of a highly acclaimed book on the subject of securing sports sponsorship, the second edition of which was published in October 2011.

His career in sport included 11 years as a championship-winning professional racing driver, in the UK and in South Africa. He also spent some years as the Marketing Director of the Kyalami F1 Grand Prix Circuit in South Africa.

On returning to England, he established the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA), securing sponsorship from Andersen Consulting, Hewlett Packard and Ford Motor Company.  This was the first trade association established to represent the British motorsport industry.

After three years as CEO of the MIA, Brian became Head of Motorsport for the international API Agency who represented the Benetton F1 Team. Brian secured over $14,000,000 of sponsorship for the Team subsequently becoming the Benetton F1 Team Commercial Director.

Brian then spent four years in South Africa, establishing the South African Motorsport Industry Association. In August 2010 he stood down as its CEO, to allow a South African to take over.

His latest major sponsorship acquisition deal is a three-year agreement with specialist insurance group, HISCOX, on behalf of the Official Aston Martin Racing Team, Jota.

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