“That’s an experience you can’t buy!”

More than once I’ve heard hospitality guests of a Formula 1 event say something like “that’s an experience you can’t buy!” Indeed there are few things that compare with the quality and excitement of attending a Formula 1 race as a guest of a thoughtful sponsor. Let’s consider what goes into creating such an experience.

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Building up to the race

Hospitality planning needs to start nearly as soon as a sponsorship agreement has been signed. There are a number of items that need to be considered in advance, not just the race weekend logistics.

Basic goals of hospitality should include providing a consistent, top quality experience that strengthens a vendor/customer relationship. This can’t be done the night before, so ensure the experience is considered well in advance and from the point of view of your customer.

The point is to think through the internal and external audiences and identify the right people to invite to a race. Then, with as much advance notice as possible, extend your invitations.

As a sponsor, you will want to ensure your brand identity is carried through on any and all materials developed for the hospitality program. This can include creating:

  • Branded templates for communications and literature
  • Give-away items such as shirts, caps, pens, etc.
  • Signage or banners

You will also want to put careful consideration into whom to invite to be your guest at races. Generally, you’ll consider decision makers and influencers at key customers and prospects. You may also want to invite key people from corporate partners or suppliers, and perhaps your business has an employee recognition program that enables some lucky employees to join the event.

The point is to think through the internal and external audiences and identify the right people to invite to a race. Then, with as much advance notice as possible, extend your invitations. This is important to do early enough to ensure you can get on the calendar of busy executives. Ensure that the right members of your sales team will also be in attendance in order to help host the customer and to discuss business.

Don’t overlook how to measure the results of your hospitality program when you still are in the planning phase. Develop a process for tracking all hospitality-related expenses and the sales that can be attributed to hospitality. Work with your sales team on a procedure for tracking sales as you’ll find some deals may be closed during a race weekend and others in subsequent weeks or months. Corporate hospitality is one sponsorship tactic that offers a relatively clear way to track return on investment, so track those numbers and report as appropriate!

A bit on logistics

Travel and lodging are things to consider here. If customers need to fly to race locations, perhaps you will want to provide that travel. Many companies though have rules against accepting such travel, so be sure to comply with relevant business practices.

But there’s likely nothing to get in the way of providing transportation from the airport to the hotel. Ensure modern vehicles are used for this, and staffing is an important consideration. Indeed, some sponsors have a team of employees that support the sponsorship at each event, and one thing they do is greet guests at the airport and drive shuttle vehicles between airport and hotel.

These employees should also conduct various activities over the course of the weekend, such as gathering and registering guests at the beginning of each day, helping to guide guests from parking at the circuit to the Paddock Club venue, and possibly joining guests at dinner. Obviously, these employees will need to be carefully selected and trained in proper hospitality techniques and corporate messaging.

Hotel selection needs to be done well in advance and in fact, there may be little selecting to be done. You’ll likely want to host your guests at the same hotel as the race team, assuming you are a team sponsor. This somewhat simplifies things logistically but it also reinforces that your company is partnered with an F1 team, an impressive kind of thing even if your team isn’t one of the current leaders!

So in keeping with the “experience you can’t buy” concept, ensure your guests are staying at a top quality hotel. Once they arrive at the hotel, it is helpful if there is a sponsorship or sales team member there to greet them, provide a “goody bag” and information, and help with questions.

Avoid leaving your guests dangling in the wind by organising breakfasts and dinners each day. Breakfast naturally will be held at the hotel, perhaps in a private dining room or reserved area of the restaurant. Dinners should be organised at high-quality restaurants, with your sales representatives in attendance with their customer.

A word about Monaco – it is a bit crowded and it may be that you stay at a hotel outside of Monaco, in either France or Italy. The French side is popular with Nice not very far away, which likely will be your air travel destination for Monaco. Of course Nice has abundant high-quality hotels. Your final decision on hotel selection should take into account the availability of helicopter travel to Monaco, with local ground transport as needed. Expenses for the race in Monaco will stand out above the others, and this is one reason why.

The main event

The Formula 1 Paddock Club provides a superb experience for hospitality guests. Paddock Club suites are luxurious and located directly above pit lane, creating a sense of being in the midst of the action complete with fine drinks and food a few steps from the circuit.

The sense of exclusivity is reinforced throughout the weekend with comfortable suites and fine cuisine and service. Supposing your business is a team sponsor, you’ll likely host your guests in “your team’s” Paddock Club suite. The team usually will arrange for the drivers to make a daily appearance in the suite and do a Q&A with a knowledgeable commentator, perhaps a former driver. Daily walks along pit lane are another feature of Paddock Club hospitality.

Don’t overlook how to measure the results of your hospitality program when you still are in the planning phase.

Paddock Club tickets are available as two-day (Saturday and Sunday) or three-day (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) packages. Tickets are priced in accordance with the high quality of the experience, and prices will vary depending on the race event. Anticipate prices in 2015 to a range approximately from £2700/€3500/$4200 to £4700/€6000/$7250 per person.

Assuming again your business is a team sponsor, work with your sponsorship contact at the team on reserving Paddock Club tickets for each race. Be aware of the deadlines for each event and plan accordingly.

Following each day’s track activity, the hospitality suite is a great place to wait for the departing crowds to thin out before making your own exit. Team drivers may make an appearance in the suite at the end of the day and again offer a unique experience for your guests.

Once the departure time has arrived, escort guests to their transportation back to the hotel for a chance to relax or do a bit of work. Do plan on taking them to dinner and optionally an entertainment event afterwards. Don’t make the mistake of inviting VIP customers to a race, perhaps in a foreign city, and leave them on their own for dinner and entertainment.

You will also want to provide transportation back to the airport on Sunday evening or Monday. Get your guests’ travel information in advance in order to ensure there are enough shuttles at the right times.

Final Impressions

Thoughtful planning, adequate time and first class care should provide customers with that sense of experiencing something they can’t buy. For one, the quality of Paddock Club accommodations, view and access just isn’t available to standard ticket holders. But proper “care and feeding” of customers, with an appropriate level of business discussion, should round out that experience and ultimately lead to more business with your customer.

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