Sponsorships Fox Marketing PASMAG Lead

Here at PASMAG, we get endless amounts of questions about sponsorships. It’s like some of you guys think we give them out sometimes, I swear. To be honest, our knowledge on the topic of sponsorships was getting a little foggy, too, so to clear the air, I sat down with Brian Fox, the head honcho over at Fox Marketing, and asked the master himself about the art of sponsorship. Why Brian Fox? Fox has been on both sides of the sponsorship spectrum. He manages high profile accounts like Takata and BASF, so he knows what he wants when he’s looking to sponsor. Alternatively, he also chases sponsors as he builds for clients like Lexus, Nissan, Hyundai and Ford to build standout show vehicles. Throw in over 16 years of industry experience, and who else would you think to ask, really?

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MICKY SLINGER: How can you make yourself stand out from the crowd when applying for sponsorship?

BRIAN FOX: I think it really has to do with the opportunity that you present to a specific company. It’s all about being unique at the end of the day. 

Creating your own unique look, looking at the trends that are going on, looking at what the magazines are featuring - you have to really do your research. You have to size up the competition. Look at all the cars that were built in that category and make yourself different. Don’t try and imitate; innovate. That is the best thing that you can possibly do. Try and be the first to market with something.

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MS: Say someone's got an older model year car that’s not necessarily the hottest car out there. What would be the best way of getting that car noticed?

BF: If you’re building the most awesome thing out there, it’s going to get attention, right? If you’re building something that looks like a car that was done 10 years ago, what’s the selling point here? We're visual. We're attracted to things. That’s why we love cars. That’s why renderings are so important to capturing your idea and getting it canvased. 

There are marketable vehicles and there are not marketable vehicles. You have to look at the companies that are making aftermarket parts. If it’s a car that’s selling a lot of those said parts, then it's way more marketable than a vehicle that nobody else is hooking up. It’s good to be unique within your chassis, but you also need to be realistic.

Look at the Scion FR-S. There’s a ton of them at shows. That might give you a little bit better opportunity to get sponsorship, but the competition is a hell of a lot harder, too. You’ve got to find that happy medium. Look into magazines. Look online. Google is your friend. Use your friend. Do your research and create something awesome!

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MS: What’s the best way to approach a company about a sponsorship?

BF: It’s all about your vision, your plan, your rendering and your concept. Take that concept and make it sales-driven. I want to know about that person’s network. They might belong to a local car club or have a great reach. You need to tell us about your reach. How is your reach going to help me impact my sales? Paint isn’t cheap. When I sponsor somebody, it’s a $3,000 to $5,000 investment. That’s a lot of cake, so I better sell 10 paint jobs off of that and you better have a plan to do that. That’s what I want to see. 

You’ve got to understand business and how it operates. You’ve got to work for it; it’s not just a free handout. What are you going to do for that manufacturer? What are you going to do to help the local business that’s helping you out with discounted labor? Think about it locally and on the national level.

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MS: So, at the end of the day, it's all about Return On Investment (ROI)?

BF: I don’t really like all those fancy marketing terms, like exposure, branding and ROI. If that vehicle creates a lot of attention, you’re going to get exposure and that person looking to sponsor you should have enough vision to see that. You’re going to get ROI because the opportunity (if right) will automatically provide that for the brand. It is going to help you drive sales because that’s its job.

The business also has to activate its sponsorship. It has to use it in its marketing and you should be discussing that plan. It has to be an active partnership with the person. Truly, sponsorship is a partnership; a partnership between two parties that are equally vested in that said opportunity. Have the mindset of talking partnership, NOT sponsorship. There is a difference.

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MS: What differences in the sponsorship world have you noticed today compared to when you started?

BF: When I first started out, you had to have confirmed magazine exposure. If you weren't going to get in a magazine with a major feature, you weren't getting anything from anyone.

So, depending on what chassis I was building, I'd contact the editor first. I'd put together my proposal and I'd send it right over to the editor. I'd say, “Okay, this is what I'm building, but I'm building it for your magazine.” You’d have to get that feature guarantee.

They have to know you can deliver and where you’re going to have it debuted. When is it going to be done? I've done 76 cars in 16 years, and there hasn't been one that wasn’t debuted when I said it was going to be debuted. Your name is everything in this industry, but your team you work with needs to know that as well. It’s your name on the line and you only have one chance to make a first impression.

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MS: Now, there are a lot of cars that have never had any magazine involvement, and they're getting sponsorships because they purely have thousands of followers on Instagram. Can you speak on that?

BF: As a sponsor, you have to look at that person’s reach or network, and in some cases that can help obtain a sponsorship. A lot of companies make mistakes and sponsor people they shouldn’t just because they have this huge following. I look at the network that person has, the interaction on their account to see what is real and what is not. Personally, I don’t just sponsor someone because of their Instagram account. Sorry, but I need more exposure than that.

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MS: Are there companies that prefer that you are only sponsored by a minimal number of other companies, or is it the more the better?

BF: I do not like a vehicle that is sponsored by 30 people. You get lost with all the other brands on board. How is your brand going to stand out? They really need to get creative on how they’re going to market and expose my product, and how they’re going to sell my product at the end of the day. I look for the guys that have maybe five or 10 partners, or someone who has an awesome car with no support. Those guys really appreciate things. 

Sometimes what I do is call some of my industry partners and I’m like, “Dude, this guy is building something pretty epic here.” I’ll get them involved, too. I’ll get them sponsored by somebody else because that’s more marketing for the company that I’m representing, as well. It gives us more legs. The more marketing and the more help we can get from the industry, the better. It’s about the partnership at the end of the day.

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MS: Should you tailor your proposal depending on what parts you’re after?

BF: I get universal proposals all the time. They never tell me what they’re looking for. They never tell me what I’m going to get out of it. They’ll send it to a tire company. They’ll send it to a harness company. They’ll send it to a wheel company. You put no thought into this. You really don’t care. You’re just looking for free parts. Do your research on the company first, please!

I want to make sure that people that I work with are educated on my product so you don’t sound like a quack when you’re standing next to your car. This is not a bragging contest, like telling everybody that you’re hanging out with that you’re sponsored by Rockford Fosgate, for example. I want a person to SELL my product and tell them what kind of amp it is, how much wattage it’s got, why you selected it in your car. You’ve got to interact with people. If you’re not trying to interact with people and have fun with this stuff, why are you at a car show? Fellow enthusiasts ask questions because they want to learn what to do with their car. Help them!

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MS: Does gender have any effect on getting sponsorship at all? Should that info be included in a proposal?

BF: Absolutely. Look at it. This is a male-dominated industry, right? You go to SEMA or any car show and it’s dudes everywhere. The most marketable thing in the automotive industry is an awesome girl that’s got a badass ride. She’s going to get more exposure than any dude can possibly get because she’s a girl. It just adds to that uniqueness factor.

The more women in the game, the better. It also has to do with how she presents herself. There are a lot of criteria involved. I get requests from females a couple times a year. There are some that just catch my eye. If she presents herself well, she can represent my brand well.

There’s a girl that I work with; her name’s Danielle Murphy. She’s a professional drifter over in Ireland. I sponsored her years ago with Takata and she’s done a fabulous job, even on the global standpoint. She’s a good person. She’s into the game. She’s a great drifter. She does a better job than most of the guys I sponsor.

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MS: How about what not to do?

BF: Here's something that drives me insane. Somebody will send me an email and tell me this five-paragraph story about all this stuff . I’ll never read it because you know what? I didn’t ask you for an essay, dude. I asked you for a proposal. I’ve gotten five sponsorship requests since I started talking to you, and not one told me what they want. Here’s one from Chicago: he has a Skyline and wants some racing seats. Okay then. I make three different racing seats. Which one do you want? Do you need a recommendation? It just drives me insane, dude. Would you go to a wheel company and say, “Hey, I want some wheels?” That really narrows it down…

Be specific! Go to the company’s website and do your research. You need to educate yourself on the company before you go to them. Figure out what the product’s retail value is.

And don’t be afraid to pick up the phone! I don’t do business via email all the time. I get 400 emails a day. It takes too long. Call me. That’s your best bet if you want an answer and to close the deal.

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MS: What’s your best advice to someone looking to acquire sponsorship(s)?

BF: Don’t ever think just because you haven’t built anything before, that you don’t have a fair shot because you really do. You’ve just got to prove yourself.

Most importantly: in this industry, if you burn your name, you're done. You're out because everybody knows everybody. You're only one person away from knowing someone else. All potential sponsors - we all know each other. We're only an email away from contacting each other. Do we do background research on you? Absolutely! If I don't know you, then I'm going to find someone who does and what they have to say about your reputation.

If you start name dropping that so-and-so's sponsoring you, it better be what you said it is. So many people blow smoke and play it off like they're fully sponsored, but the guy got a 10% discount on some parts. That's not a sponsorship, so don't front like it is. There goes your credibility. Now, you're done. I'm not working with you.

Once you get sponsored, update your sponsor with video and pictures from each show you attended the day after your event. Did you win any awards? Are you talking to a magazine? You have to update people and let them know what’s going on. Send them pictures and you’re more likely to be on their social media channels, growing your network. Think about what you can do to help them, and they’ll help you in return.

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