I was recently asked by one of the delegates on a sponsorship-acquisition course that I was running, what I considered to be my most significant ever sponsorship deal. I told her that weirdly it was the one I’d secured over 21 years ago.
I’d just been appointed Motorsport Sales Manager for Alan Pascoe’s API Agency. My role was to secure sponsorship for its very first motorsport client, the Benetton F1 Team, whose Team Principal was then a certain Flavio Briatore. In the process of securing this representation deal, API had agreed to a £500,000 guarantee of sponsorship, so if I failed to secure at least that much in total, it could become very expensive for the agency.
Within three months, I’d signed Gillette as a multi-million pound partner, so that took some pressure off. I then adopted my favourite strategy of targeting by industry sector, choosing the logistics industry as a priority. I made contact with FedEx, DHL, UPS and Parcelforce Worldwide.
I was told that every year half a dozen Formula 1 teams approached FedEx with the usual brand awareness, hospitality and PR proposals.
My first meeting was with UPS. Sadly, their answer was an emphatic “no” to any Formula 1 involvement. Parcelforce, on the other hand, were more positive, but it soon became clear that the fee levels were too high for them. That left FedEx and DHL. Through my contact network, I sourced a senior manager, working for DHL in the Middle East, and we started a dialogue, which in turn got me a meeting with a senior level director within the UK head office. He liked my approach, which was based on measurable, sustainable business development.
Whilst these discussions were progressing, I’d also developed a contact within the FedEx HQ, Memphis. The company was just finalising a transportation sponsorship with C.A.R.T.; I was told that every year half a dozen Formula 1 teams approached FedEx with the usual brand awareness, hospitality and PR proposals. It seemed that these were consistently declined as being irrelevant. My strategy then allowed me to meet with the marketing and sales directors of FedEx EMEA, who, like the DHL guys, found my strategy unusual, but interesting. This didn’t surprise me, why wouldn’t it interest them? Being in the same business sector, it’s not unreasonable to expect that what works for one company, might also just grab the interest of a major competitor.
Within a surprisingly short time period, I gained the interest of FedEx EMEA. I now had a “champion” to help drive my proposals at a global level through the corridors of power in Memphis. With that assistance, it was not too difficult a task.
I adopted a similar approach with DHL and my time was spent nursing both of these strategies to a conclusion. It came towards the beginning of May, just under four months from initial contact. To my delight, I had two deals on the table. FedEx took the initiative and suggested that instead of waiting for the start of the 1998 season, they would like to start the contract from the British Grand Prix in July 1997. Sadly, when we put this opportunity to DHL, they were forced to decline, due to corporate governance issues. The FedEx launch went ahead at Silverstone in July 1997, with a sizeable three-year sponsorship deal that I’m sure most Formula 1 teams today would love to fight over.
The significance of the deal to me? It confirmed that targeting by industry sector and focusing on the delivery of measurable, sustainable business development, rather than brand awareness, hospitality and PR works more often than not.