D(r)iving into the abyss


As we are over the end of the Formula 1 season, some parts of Formula 1 are looking to wind down, but not the commercial teams. Whether they are in-house for a team or an agency brokering deals for brands and teams, the winter months are usually full-steam ahead. Melbourne is only 3 very short months away, and teams need investment.

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For an integrated sponsorship agency such as Rush Sports Marketing, there is little to no downtime, especially with other series such as Formula E filling the winter months these days. For our negotiations team and our activation support teams, the winter months are the busiest time of the year, actually.

Rush Sports Marketing’s Head of Sponsorship Management and Activation, Jonny Odell, has worked in Formula 1 for over 15 years, across a variety of brands and business sectors. Jonny’s experience and knowledge of Formula 1 is invaluable to Rush’s clients when it comes to effective planning and extracting the most value from the partnerships.

In 2009 Jonny worked closely with LG Electronics to formulate and deliver an activation plan for their inaugural season, a plan that would involve a considerable amount of education and learning for the local market marketing teams within the LG business. “Jonny led the partnership between LG and Formula 1 by contributing deeply to all operational projects and tasks. In short, LG could have not been able to manage F1 property in such a short period of time without his capability and expertise in the sport”, said Edward Choi of LG Electronics.

A delicate balance between controlling the use of assets to ensure proper and maximised use is one thing, but dictating terms, restricting inventory use can stifle a sponsorship and have the opposite result.

Over a decade and a half in Formula 1, Jonny has helped a number of blue chip clients maximise the value they see from their partnerships. If you’re coming into Formula 1 or scaling up your activation, Jonny shares some tips to ensure your partnership gets off the ground smoothly:

  1. Open and honest dialogue with the rights holder

Hours of negotiation will have gone into the contract, the rights and the fees. Sometimes offers will have been made, accepted, but not put down on paper and this can often lead to tension once the deal is closed. More often than not, the team negotiating the deal are not the same as those who are developing and delivering the activation. Careful relationship management is needed at this stage to ensure a solution can be found to solve any issue. Act fast though as the honeymoon period doesn’t last long so get these niggles out into the open sooner rather than later and get them resolved. This is also where an agency, acting as a middle-man can be of great service and value.

  1. Get the right partner on board

Getting the right support is key. There is often a temptation to “do things in-house”. This is fine for smaller programmes, but if you’re looking to maximise your effectiveness, then you’ll need trusted and credible partners.

Previously there was a fixation on large networked agencies. These proved to be expensive and often ineffective. The smarter brands now appreciate that a trusted supplier network with a specialist hub agency lead is more effective and delivers greater results and value.

  1. Keep it simple, please

It seems obvious, but we’ve seen it a number of times where the excitement of a new partnership overtakes smart thinking. Use the KISS fundamental and don’t try to go from 0 to 100 mph in the first month. This fundamental helped LG Electronics ensure its partnership with Formula 1 got off to a fast, considered start that ultimately engaged 65 markets in the first year.

  1. Maximise sponsorship value by engaging multiple stakeholders

The adage “strength in numbers” rings true, however, the temptation for sponsorship managers to over-control their sponsorships is strong. The new partnership attracts a lot of interest, people in the business will notice you as you’ve got something they want. A delicate balance between controlling the use of assets to ensure proper and maximised use is one thing, but dictating terms, restricting inventory use can stifle a sponsorship and have the opposite result.

  1. Sweat the contractual assets

This may seem like a no-brainer, but some sponsorship assets do get squandered. This is often due to a number of factors, not least of all a lack of planning.

An example of the need for effective use of assets is around the use of the driver time. This is without doubt the single most valuable asset and the most called upon by stakeholders in the business.

It is possible to extract a huge amount of value from a driver day. With a finite amount of time and a driver who is usually adept at ‘weaselling’ out of commitments, a carefully choreographed day comprising all of the major elements is a crucial must.

We’ve worked with many drivers over the years and one thing stays true for all of them: they like to be busy and hate standing around. As soon as they lose the focus, they prefer not to be there and at that point, it’s an uphill struggle to re-engage them. Whilst it might seem like loading them up with work, drivers prefer to be busy. Your brand has paid a lot of money for this time – use it wisely, get the most out of it.

  1. Harness the power of the brand of Formula 1

Formula 1 has been around the block a few times. The sport is complex, compelling and has a huge global audience. Use it to your advantage as the Formula 1 brand offers so much. Sure, from time to time it erupts, and there are news stories that seem scary, but these usually fizzle out and disappear.

Storytelling is key to developing good content – we all know that, yet a great story is very rare in motorsport. You’ll need to be honest, open and engaging for your audience to find you authentic. Johnnie Walker’s evolution of Step Inside the Circuit and Shell’s virtual garage tour are good examples of this.

Formula 1 can seem closed and limiting with what brands can and can’t do, but with creative thinking, these limitations are what make the sport exclusive and therefore content that opens this up becomes more sought after and valuable.

With more access to content than ever before consumers are savvy, they can spot authenticity – when they don’t, they switch off and you’ve lost them.


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