EXCLUSIVE: I don’t really know how to introduce this one. We were fortunate enough to get in touch with David Jones, Business Manager for Excite Rally Raid, the first professional, all-British Dakar Rally team, who generously spoke with us about sponsor relations, team funding, prototype reliability, what it takes to compete at the international level, and why rally matters. You’re about to read over 2,200 words of AWESOME.
Considering Great Britain has long possessed a vibrant, motorsport culture, why do you think it is only now we’re seeing the first professional, all-British Dakar team?
There could be various reasons for this. One of the main reasons is that there are considerable barriers to entry (particularly the financial side of things). To be truly competitive on the Dakar, you need to be able to tap into staggering resources. Added to this, the Dakar hasn’t really been in the public eye in the UK as it probably should have been and certainly not as much as other forms of motorsport have been.
For many motorsport professionals, media coverage & financial backing are something of a chicken-or-the-egg debate. We know Excite Rally Raid chose to court the media first, implementing some “really unique” ideas. It would seem you’ve been successful, so I wonder if you could share some of these unique ideas. If not the ideas, could you tell us about how the team went about discovering them?
The world is in a recession and to really make the most of off-track exposure you can generate (both for the team and for its sponsors), we have considered a much-wider range of methods than is typical in motorsport – everything from using social media to engaging directly with fans at events. We are looking at a whole range of PR and marketing ideas that will add value for a sponsor. One of these is a TV project (still top secret, but quite a long way advanced) – a documentary featuring the team and an internationally-recognised TV celebrity. We could see that we needed to stand out from the crowd – being the only professional, British team has made this easier and generated a lot of interest worldwide.
Many of our readers are grassroots level and often curious about sponsor- and partnerships which enable more dedicated motorsport efforts. These partnerships must be mutually beneficial if they are to last. What goals do Excite Rally Raid and RaBe Race Cars have for this venture? Can you share any KPIs (key performance indicators)? In essence, we’d like to know, beyond increased media coverage and brand awareness – generic objectives commonly tossed around – how these strategic partnerships drive tactical results for everyone involved.
The first KPI we MUST satisfy is to finish the race. You can’t win if you don’t finish. Therefore, before we can consider going all-out for victory on an event, we have to make sure that we are in a position to be there at the end of the race. So reliability of man and machinery comes first (involving testing, training, mental and physical preparation).
We’ve also got to keep an eye on behaviour and performance – we don’t want to “do a Tiger Woods/England Rugby Team!” So we all have to pull together and keep our eyes on the prize. The drivers have to work as one to help the team achieve its results – to this end, if need be, one of the drivers might have to give up his race to support a faster team-mate. (This doesn’t happen in stage rallying, so the Dakar is quite unique in this regard).
Another KPI is to secure as much media attention as possible (ideally with quantifiable viewing figures, giving verifiable return on investment). Our involvement with the TV project in particular should help us to achieve this.
Finishing the race and delivering best-in-class publicity for sponsors are key, but could you drill down even deeper for our readers? It’s a somewhat tricky proposition, but there is so much more to sponsorship than simply delivering brand awareness. Can you shed any light on specific outcomes sponsors look for in such partnerships and how your team tailors it’s activities to drive those outcomes? In essence, why increased publicity and brand awareness is desired and how the team is looking to drive those KPIs?
Our aim in motorsport is to focus on business to business (B2B) transactions amongst sponsors within the sport. We’ve been able to make some great connections with agencies and sponsors within motorsport. For instance, we’ve worked over the past 2 years with a nationally-recognised vehicle bodyshop. The owners love motorsport, but they are more interested in acquiring more corporate accounts. So we approach corporate help as a partnership. We are offering a service to the partner in return for support of the team.
This works in different ways, but the bottom line is that we are working with them not just approaching them with our hands out. At the outset, we research their marketing campaigns, look at their core market and see what their business aspirations are. We also focus on the markets they would like to penetrate. We have to consider this as an international business activity – it just happens to be centered on motorsport! We then develop a plan designed to match their own business plan and marketing focus.Yes, RaBe is interested in generating new leads for its cars and for the other services that it provides – we have managed to get the manufacturer a significant number of additional enquiries through our recent public relations work. We have a lot going on with the manufacturer and supported the owners at the scrutineering session (in France, last month) for next year’s Dakar Rally.
In the past few years, it has become increasingly important to raise our game when it comes to sponsorship proposals. Marketing executives have seen many motorsports proposals and are very familiar with the various values and levels of sponsorships available in the marketplace. We always try to offer sponsorship assets appropriate to the company we are approaching for the partnership. We identify their target audience/consumer and consider if they are interested in the business to consumer, business to business, or both orientations.
Within this, we have to, of course, consider the size of the company and its potential marketing budget. Companies are no longer interested in mere “vanity sponsorship”, where they really only get to show off their name on the car or on circuit/stage signage.
If companies are no longer interested in “vanity sponsorship,” how do you pursue the mutually beneficial business relationship with potential sponsors?
We always look at existing partnerships and relationships and consider how introductions might create business leads for our sponsors. Some of this can be done through B2B networking opportunities at our race events, shakedowns and training sessions. Creativity is very important and managing the relationships on a regular basis is critical – we have to stay in touch with our partners and remember to invite them to anything appropriate we are doing.
We make sure we have a current list of marketing and sponsorship benefits and we are prepared to discuss everything with our sponsor/potential sponsor: at the initial stage, we are open to all kinds of weird and wonderful ideas and then we whittle these down to what is practical, worthwhile and cost-effective. We try to provide a list of possible benefits and features in our proposal, in case the lead can’t imagine how we might be able to work together.
The Sponsorship Presentation
You should never underestimate the power of the sponsorship presentation. It has to be a professional presentation, delivered in a professional manner. It should be thorough, well-researched and show that you have considered how you could work with the potential sponsor.
Be a Problem Solver
We have found that to be a worthwhile partner for a sponsor, you have to be interested in helping to find solutions to their business problems, as well as providing positive ways to showcase their product or service.
Another example of how we have worked with a sponsor recently was in the case of a men’s grooming product: every male member of the team is now using this product – not only because there’s cash involved, but also because it actually works and fits into our busy schedules better than other similar products. We are currently working on an online promotion with this company that would involve a viral ad (showcasing the product in use on a rally – only reflecting reality!) and exposed through social media, with a competition to engage with the team’s facebook friends and the wider users of the product through the company’s own online presence. Hopefully that will kick off early in the new year. In this case, the product is one that is likely to be something used by a large proportion of the team’s followers and the product’s association with the team lends it an added element of “coolness.”
David shared some of Excite Rally Raid’s sponsorship materials in confidence, granting us permission to share some insights with you. In essence, they look to give their sponsors a sense of ownership in the team and being part of the international motorsport community. Some of these offerings include:
- Use of team vehicles and personnel for sponsors’ promotional purposes
- VIP event experiences for sponsors’ assignees (up to and including seat time)
- Dedicated staff at events to help market/sell sponsor merchandise on-the-scene
As you can see, sponsorship at the top level requires so much more than offering to slap a company’s logo on the side of our race cars. It’s a process of relationship-building with a long term business mindset. The best sponsorship deals are those with companies we believe in, use ourselves, and are willing to work just as hard to help them achieve their objectives as they are us and ours.
Moving on, David, in four plus years of testing, you’ve seen 100% reliability from all five prototype vehicles where it counts – testing at Dakar. What obstacles have been overcome – physically, psychologically – to make this possible? (100% reliability doesn’t mean Dakar testing was any kind of pleasure cruise!)
That’s absolutely right. We believe Dakar is the toughest race in the world and you do need a strong, reliable chassis and engine. The fact that the testbed RaBe cars have all lasted the course proves their resilience. We have had to overcome phenomenal obstacles to reach the point we are at already, but we are very conscious that our toughest obstacles are yet to materialise!
We know to expect to see you guys in several off-road rallies in 2012. Which events are we most likely to find Excite Rallye Raid live and “local?” (I live in Phoenix, Arizona, USA, so I’m considering the UK local, relative Morocco).
We are definitely looking at doing some events in Morocco, Egypt and probably Spanish and Portuguese Baja events.
Why have you invested so much of your life into rally? What is the appeal? (Answers from John Hardy, driver)
Rallying has always been my passion and I see the Dakar as the ultimate rally. It’s not about being the fastest – you also need to prepare yourself and your team; you need to have reliable support and you need a hell of a lot of luck! As there are very few British drivers, to be part of the first professional British Dakar team is a dream come true and I want to live the dream. Nothing comes close to the buzz that I get from competing in rallies.
How does preparing for Dakar differ from preparing for a more regional event? How is it similar?
It’s impossible to compare these events. The longest stage on a special stage rally in Wales may be 25 miles long. On the Dakar, a stage could be 150 miles long! And the road sections between them can be virtually the length of Britain! Also, the types of terrain and the issue of heat and altitude are something that few drivers have ever had to contend with.
Looking ahead, what milestones excite you most about this journey? What are your greatest, personal concerns? How are dealing with these?
Crossing the start line of the Dakar Rally (and hopefully finishing the thing first time out)! Next time around, I want to be really competitive and I have high hopes for the whole team – especially for Martin Rowe. Greatest concerns: will I cope with the dunes and the long days? Will I murder my co-driver?
Finally, what advice would have for someone at the grassroots, clubman level, whose dream it is to be part of a motorsport adventure of this magnitude in the future?
Start with a smaller event you can cope with and gradually step up. Funds are critical, as is plenty of practice, patience, supportive friends and family and again a hell of a lot of luck. It also helps to come up with some unique ideas for promoting yourself.
[Additional thanks to RaBe Race Cars for photos of the car and Alison Orchard/Excite Rally Raid for photos of the team members.]
- How do YOU feel about getting sponsored?
- Have YOU ever been sponsored? Tell us about it!
- What other questions do YOU have about sponsorship?