WELCOME TO AUTO SPONSORSHIP 101 - WHY IT'S NOT ALL IT'S CRACKED UP TO BE....
by Trey Palmisano
Recently, I had the opportunity to explain what vehicle sponsorship entails to an individual on gotstang.com who held some pretty strong assumptions about this fiscal arrangement. As I delved deeper into his opinions, I surveyed more opinions and soon realized that other stang enthusiasts held the same assumptions, largely out of ignorance, and to no fault of their own. So I decided to write this article to clear up some of the urban mythology that comes with this territory. There are also some good articles out on the web addressing vehicle sponsorship, if you're interested in doing the legwork to find them.
First off, I think the general impression most people have is that sponsorship is somehow the cashcow of auto enthusiasm meant to solve all your cashflow problems. That is, for a car to attain sponsorship status, the driver has reached the pinnacle of success; he's no longer required to finance his ride. It's smooth sailing thereon in. Remember, I'm limiting myself strictly to show cars and perhaps the occasional racer who finds his way into some bracket competition every now and then.
Then there are other people who tacitly despise sponsored vehicles. Because they assume that a sponsorship was "handed" to these lottery-winning car enthusiasts, and that they could in no way be worthy of it, they write them off and thus diminish the quality of the work that's been put into their project car. On one website here at gotstang.com, , a member proudly displays his banner: "Built Without Sponsors"! I don't know about you, but as much money as I've sunk into my ride, acquiring a sponsorship seems like a nice way to get some positive validation from companies who think I've done a good job and want to see their products in my car. I doubt very highly, given the same opportunity for free product, that sponsorship antagonists would pass it up.
But how does a car get to the point where it's sponsored? This represents perhaps the greatest area of misperception. In my own personal experience, my car started as a bone stock V6, bought brand new, and financed completely out of my own pocket. No sponsor begged me to send them the bill! As I made a few modifications here and there, and as my enjoyment of the hobby grew, I started attending shows. I think sponsorships tend to be more prevalent outside of the mustang world. It's actually more in step with the tuner culture. Going to these shows where there was much more variety than rows upon rows of mustangs, and seeing all types of cars, and making friendly with people (yes, even people with 4 cylinder cars), and chatting, I got to realize that a number of the cars showing had stickers on them. What I found out was that this billion-dollar aftermarket had many companies that were willing to give you free product provided you do something for them in exchange. So I continued to dump money into my car. This is important because, to burst the bubble on the myth, I never rolled up a bone stock mustang to Dunlop or Goodyear or Toyo or Blaupunkt or JL Audio or Flowmaster, etc., and demanded parts. Before I even considered sponsorship, nearly 90% of my car was spoken for. Meaning, every area of the car was modded to some degree.
So what next? I decided to get on the internet and research companies selling products that I could use. I literally spent hours doing this. Where I could, I found phone numbers rather than emails and asked to speak to the marketing department or anyone who handles sponsorship questions. Emails generally enter a vacuum from which they never return. Not always, but a lot of times. When I got a person on the phone, I began to talk up my mustang, explaining how much time, effort, and money I had invested. It didn't always work. Some people politely declined. Others said they didn't sponsor. What I realized quickly was that it was extremely hard to break into the aftermarket sponsorship game. I put a ton of fishing lines out there. When I finally got a bite, I put together a nice portfolio using a Microsoft Powerpoint program and inserted a bunch of pictures. I had the portfolio professionally bound and I sent it along the way, hoping to get validation. Next, I wrote a lengthy letter, explaining what my car was all about, why I built it, and how I thought I was capable to promote that company's product on my car, not to mention, why I was the best guy for the job. All this, and sometimes for just a lousy 50.00 dollar part! Folks, it really is that labor-intensive and detailed. Think of it as a job interview. Companies don't want you making off with free product if you have nothing to offer in return. They want people who are articulate to some degree and who can converse on their products and companies. Most importantly, they want a car that turns heads. To be even more frank, if you're looking to show, while engine modifications are nice, more people spend time looking at your I.C.E. (In Car Entertainment) than anything else. An engine is an engine. A supercharger is a supercharger. If you don't want to go in this direction or "bling out" your ride, you may as well race your car if pursuing sponsorships is what motivates you.
After a numbr of rejections or dismissals, I finally got a person at a company who said he would give me "discount" parts. I nearly gagged. I too was under the impression that I was entitled to free products, but was now rudely awakened. In the long run, I reasoned it was better than paying full sticker price for the parts. However, sometimes I rejected the "discount sponsorships" - I didn't really "need" the product, but would have liked to have seen it on my car. This was true of my experience of Corbeau, for example. Another note, sometimes discount sponsorships are not all what they appear to be. A company looks like it's provided you with a discount when all you have to do is visit eBay or another vendor to find the part for significantly less. Companies aren't stupid, and many have set up "faux sponsorship programs" much in the same way as a store puts on a "sale" to get you in their door. It's the enticement of getting something for less that's attractive, when in actuality, there really is no significant markdown to brag about. While you think you are getting a deal, the company is still finding a way to make money off a consumer who might have otherwise not have purchased product. On the flipside of this coin, yes, you are most of the time getting a small discount from that vendor and that's always better than paying full sticker.
Not too long after, I landed a company that said, not only would they give me product, but that there was no obligation on my part. Let me assure you that this the exception not the rule. If this happens to you...kudos! But don't expect it everytime. So rather than "take the money and run," I promised I would update them with information and how I am promoting their products and company. This tactic proved to work out; so instead of a one-time donation, I now have a relationship with the marketing department at this company who still donates product to our mutual benefit.
So what was the cost to me? About 40K later, I've only gotten about 2K worth of parts from sponsors. If I was a betting man, I wouldn't take these odds. But what I hope you understand from this is that...I don't know of a single car out there that hasn't spent tons of money to attract a few sponsors. Cars that you see being built from the ground up are usually project or shop cars that the companies own. It doesn't happen to us "normal guys." No one approaches us and says "boy, I'd sure like to hand you a blank check to upgrade your ride." Furthermore, every once and a while, a company will put out a general bulletin saying they need a test car and will let the person who donates the car for that time keep the product when they are done. While this might seem like a sponsorship, you have to be in the right place at the right time, and of course, have another mode of transportation while your other car is under seige for weeks, even months.
The thing I did was to be persistent. I believed I could attract companies with my car. I put in plenty of time, I mailed the letters and the portfolios, spent the money to do that, hey 7-8 bucks for a portfolio here and there adds up quick...all this for a small amount of product.
Was it worth it? Depends on what you're after. For me, putting the name of a reputable company on my car and knowing I truly have a relationship with them is far better than the actual product they are giving me.
So this is the road to sponsorship...not as glorious as you'd hoped it would be? Me neither. But now that I'm here, I guess I'll take them as they come.
Sponsored vehicles aren't charity cases that have somehow hit the lottery. The owners are articulate on the products, they know the companies, and they do the homework required to make it all happen. They also deal with a lot of rejection too!
So get out there and build a car worth looking out. You never know whose eye you'll catch.
PLEASE TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO VISIT MY SPONSORS AND THOSE WHO HAVE HELPED ME BUILD THIS RIDE. I TRULY RECOMMEND THESE COMPANIES AND SHOPS FOR COURTEOUS SERVICE, ATTENTION TO DETAIL, AND OVERALL EXCELLENCE!
IF YOU CHOOSE TO BUY ANYTHING, LET THEM KNOW THAT "TREY" SENT YOU. UNFORTUNATELY, I DON'T GET ANYTHING FROM THE REFERENCES OR MENTION. IT'S JUST A FRIENDLY GESTURE.
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