Lately, I’ve been spending less time on Facebook or Twitter and more on Google Plus. Seems like there’s far less noise there, and what noise there is can be easily filtered away by assigning people to circles with names like Obvious Shills, Illiterati, and Noise. I like Google Plus. That’s where I came across Matt Cotton.
INTRODUCTIONS: MATT COTTON
Matt hails from a small village in the southernmost county in the UK – Cornwall – where motorsport is not high on many peoples’ agendas. As he’s been involved in rally for some time, Matt’s been working to change that over the last 30+ years. In addition to being marketing and warranty manager for a pair of multi-franchise Nissan-Vauxhall (Opel) dealers, he also runs a small marketing agency specialising in motorsport media and promotions, which allows him to keep the motorsport buzz going when he’s not actively competing.
INTRODUCTIONS: THE CARS
Suffering from the same crisis as the rest of us gearheads – budget – Matt says he hasn’t had as many different cars as other competitors over the course of his rally career. “This has really hampered me to get any further than the British Championships, and has meant that I always seem to ‘miss the boat’ as it were. Basically, I could only ever afford cars that had had their day years prior to me getting hold of them, thus always feeling like I was playing ‘catch up.'”
Matt started with a self-built, 1981, rear wheel drive, 2 litre Opel Manta that was, as he puts it, “a labour of love” for many months prior to contesting his first event. We all know the drill – with the help of many friends, they built this little Manta up, entering it in a handful of events before Matt realized he wasn’t very good at RWD. He hastily jumped into FWD, picking up a highly modified, Group A Peugeot 205, which would prove a nightmare to maintain and operate, requiring endless attention. Once he rolled the 205 at a local event, he decided to try something a little less extreme.
A Vauxhall Nova (aka: Opel Corsa) came into the picture which Cotton says gave hours of pleasure, as they turned it into a rapid, 1400cc screamer. “We then needed to progress up the ladder, so I bought a homologated MG ZR I could use it in any event I wished. This car brought many successes and led to my Citroen C2 drive in the British Championships in 2008. The Citroen C2 was an amazing car with over 180bhp, a fully sequential gearbox (push/pull) and its only downside was how short it was, meaning handling was unpredictable as best.”
Matt returned to international rallying this year in another front wheel drive car, a Ford Fiesta ST which was a great all round car to drive. “Whilst lacking in overall power, it made up for it in handling and braking.”
2WD vs 4WD RALLY
At first, I misread something on Matt’s blog and asked him why he’d recently stepped out of 4WD into 2WD rally. Surprisingly, then, Matt replied, “In fact 4WD is the only medium I haven’t tried out competitively.”
“British Rallying and the British Championships (BRC) have undergone a fairly major transformation in the last few years which has meant that the BRC is now only for 2WD vehicles. This may seem like a strange move, but with costs spiraling, the organisers looked for a way to try and address falling entries and reduce costs. They returned to the 2WD drive only series this year (previously tried in the early 90’s) and that has attracted manufacturer support, which is great. This has meant that, whilst I may very well have gone to a 4WD this year, the series change meant I had to stay with 2WD.” Matt’s not upset about that though. He tells me he loves 2WD and that top flight drivers capable of getting the most out of a FWD car are just as great to watch as the 4WD guys.
What’s more, “The costs to maintain are lower and you really can have just as much fun in the car.” That’s not to say all you need to take home first prize in the BRC is a Dodge Neon and a dream. Says, Cotton, “To win the BRC you need a £100k car and probably another £50k to run it for the year, but it’s still much more affordable than the 4WD variants we saw in the 2011 championships. There is still a place for the Mitsubishis and Subarus, etc., in our club level championships, but for now, 2WD rules in the UK.”
MARKETING & SPONSORSHIP
Working in dealership marketing, combined with decades of motorsport experience, makes Matt uniquely qualified to discuss motorsport marketing – sponsorship. I asked Matt to share some thoughts on the subject, as there are no shortage of grassroots competitors eager to get sponsored all over the world. Says Matt, “Its tough out there! Tougher than its ever been.”
“You’re right in that I am in the lucky position to be able to see it from both sides; from the guy desperate to get sponsored at weekends, to the office professional who would receives the proposals from that guy during his 9-5 job.” He tells me, “To be fair, it’s not easy being on both sides of the coin. As a marketer, I have a duty to deliver the best possible value (we call this ROI – return on investment) for our business when we spend money on promotion or marketing. There are so many options available to businesses these days that to get sports sponsorship considered by any company – no matter how large or small – will be a really tough task. And, even though I work in the automotive industry for a large car dealership, the idea of sponsoring a rally driver would be pretty slim. How would my company benefit from a guy hooning around some 500 miles away from us in a car with a few stickers? Truth is, it wouldn’t. Marketers are shrewd puppies and you really have to get lucky to get support from anyone other than family or friends these days.”
IT’S ALL ABOUT PARTNERSHIPS
I asked Matt how motorsport marketing/sponsorship has changed over the years and about the most important thing an aspiring competitor needs to keep in mind when developing sponsorship proposals. Stickers on a race car are just frequency and reach. These days, there’s a real charge for ROI, so how can competitors (and organizers) better partner with sponsors to realize greater mutual benefit?
“I don’t mean to sound depressing with my answer to the previous question, but we all have to have a little reality check once in a while. Don’t forget, I’ve been there, suffered, and come back again with all the t-shirts you can imagine, so I do feel the pain. Money is tight globally. That’s probably the biggest nail in the coffin for sports sponsorship. Many companies see sponsorship of any kind as a luxury and not a promotional tool. They are misguided however. You just have to look at the recent Felix Baumgartner space jump to realise how Red Bull took that opportunity with both hands and made the best out of it.”
“The other side of the coin in how the proposals are delivered to companies. I’d be willing to bet many competitors mention words like ‘stickers’ and ‘passenger rides,’ etc., in their proposals. Get real. Sponsorship is a message branding and promotional tool that needs to be looked on as a business transaction. You need to put yourself in their position whenever you are writing your proposals and just take a step back. Why would YOU sponsor you?”
“Don’t ever, ever, ever send generic sponsorship proposals. Tailor each and every one to the company you are sending it to. Be specific to their business. If they are a localised company, why would they spend a small fortune on you rallying somewhere they will never deal with? Research each and every business you approach well enough to be able to have a 20 minute conversation with an employee about how business is going. If you can do that then you should have a basic enough understanding to know what makes that company tick.”
“Talk to people who talk to people who talk to people. Present yourself well and get into networking meetings and groups and get to know local business decision makers. I’d be willing to be 75% of sponsorship is gained from people who know the sponsor. That makes it tough for the rest of us.”
PRESS ON REGARDLESS
In closing, Matt says, “It’s a tough world out there and I won’t pretend I can get sponsorship just like that. Lets face it, I’m still searching for the 2013 season without success, but I’m pretty clued up about the do’s and don’ts, and if there is one message I’d send about obtaining sponsorship, it’s this… Never, ever give up.”
CONNECT & GO FAST WITH CLASS
You can connect with Matt via his website, MattCottonRallying.co.uk, on Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, or even LinkedIn (isn’t there a 2WD rally group on LinkedIn? wink). Until next time, press on regardless.
Special thanks to the following for the images which make this story what it is:
Fiesta Sporting Trophy | Marcel Grabowski Photography | Geoff Mayes Photography