FSAE: Securing Sponsoring for Your Team
This post was triggered by a question in the LinkedIn FSAE group. After writing 5 posts in response (due to the comment length limitaitons) I finally concluded that this topic is worth some blog space. This has been written for Formula Student Automotive Engineering teams, but a lot of it is applicable to anyone trying to secure sponsoring for something.
In my time with High Speed Karlsruhe from 2010 to 2012 I secured several sponsoring agreements, most of which are still active today (by mutual agreement to extend).
You need to have some processes in place before you start contacting potential sponsors.
What to Offer to Sponsors
The first thing you need to decide is what you can offer your sponsors, here is our list:
- Link/banner from the homepage
- Company logo on the sponsoring wall
- Company logo on the vehicle
- Appearance at company parties (exhibit a former season car)
The sponsoring wall is a large stand-up display with logos from all sponsors. One of our old cars is rigged up as a racing sim controller so you put a computer and large monitor in front of it and people can play a racing sim from inside a real race car - a crowd favourite.
The racing simulator makes it easy to attract attention at public appearances and is one of the main reasons sponsors want the team to exhibit at their parties or on their trade fair booths. Our exhibit usually consists of last season’s car, the sponsoring wall and the simulator.
How to Keep Your Sponsors
Acquiring sponsors is a lot of work and it is essential for the future of your team not to piss any of them off. Work on that starts even before you approach any potential sponsors:
- Coordinate, make a list of potential sponsors and have only one person contact each
- Keep some kind of database, HSK has a Wiki page for each sponsor
(and contacted non-sponsor), marked with a sponsoring tag. Keep
the following information:
- Team member to contact the (potential) sponsor
- Sponsor contact
- Sponsor technical contact (optional)
- Record of agreements (just copy/paste your e-mails)
- Their logo as a vector image (raster images are fine for the homepage)
- When handing a contact over to a different team member, call your contact and introduce your successor
- When sponsoring is secured all contacts to the sponsor go through the responsible team member
- Build beautiful cars, have one person in your team dedicated to making pictures and post them on the homepage, facebook etc.
- Write a report to software/hardware sponsors about your experience with their products at the end of the season
- Send Christmas presents like a couple of calendars with your cars on them to important sponsors
- Give sponsors who offer services like machining time or welding to you the opportunity to pitch into your team wear orders
E.g. for the 2011 season we built a combustion and an electrical car. We overextended financially with the electrical car (batteries are really expensive), so that was the only season we built one. But building an electrical car got us sponsoring from Infineon.
Even though Infineon only sponsors teams building electrical cars they made an exception for us, because we put a real effort into our relationship with them, i.e. writing a report about our experiences, mentioning errors in the documentation and testing results, such as the XC878 5V µC still works after half an hour at 14V.
To this day the team uses Infineon µCs and Power MOSFETs.
When to Loose a Sponsor
Some sponsors are really great to work with, others are somewhat of a hassle. Our PCB sponsor, dating back to 2009 (AFAIK) was one of the latter.
For 2012 we wanted to build a lot more electronics than in previous seasons. So as soon as we had agreed on what we wanted to build I contacted the sponsor and haggled with them. We got to an agreement and a schedule for when we would supply them with the layouts and get the PCBs.
When the time came I sent them the layouts and to my surprise they wanted to talk about it and come to an agreement first. After a week of slow communication it turned out that they had restructured and nobody there knew anything about our agreements. Once it turned out that it was a mistake on their part, they agreed to honour the previous agreement, but by then we’d lost so much time that we simply couldn’t keep our schedule any more.
So I picked up the phone and called a PCB manufacturer which prided itself on speed. Half an hour later we had a new sponsor who agreed to print more PCBs than our original sponsor in less time.
Ever since they have printed PCBs on relatively short notice for us often two or three revisions per season. This is the kind of sponsor you want to keep. A sponsor like this is worth your investment in time to keep them happy. The previous kind only as long as you don’t have an alternative.
In general you don’t want to switch sponsors. You want to build and maintain long lasting relationships. But sometimes it is better for both parties to part ways.
Being prepared is the greater part of securing a sponsor.
Who to Ask for Sponsoring
Basically you can ask anyone, not just providers of goods and services you require, but also local banks or a convenience store. Maybe the DIY store in town is willing to sponsor you a couple of boxes and duct tape - that’s great, race cars are made out of duct tape.
Asking for software is the easiest, many software vendors sponsor any student project, all they want is a picture of what you build, and their logo on your homepage. There is really no reason to pirate software.
Large companies often require you to go through an application process, which is basically a competition against other teams to get their sponsoring. Give it a try, but don’t rely on that. Sometimes you score underdog points for mentioning that your team is small or underfunded, but you found some creative/unusual solutions in the past.
Trying a lot of novel things hurts the reliability of your car and thus your performance on the race track. But if you have trouble performing because your team just doesn’t have the means to perform proper testing you at least score experience points for trying new things. So unless you are one of the top teams, play the cool underdog angle.
What to Ask for
- Hardware (catalogue parts)
- Services (welding, machining, PCBs)
Money is the most flexible, but also the most difficult to acquire. Software is the easiest to acquire, raw materials usually need to be bought.
Right Before Contact
Spend 30 to 45 minutes with the homepage of a potential sponsor, look for the following information:
- Where are the branches of the company located, what is the scale of the company (# of employees)
- What kind of products do they make (not just the ones you might be interested in)
- How old is the company
- Is it already sponsoring another team (that can be good or bad for you)
- What is their mission statement
- Phone numbers
Basically you want to know who you’re dealing with.
Requirements for Personal Encounters
There are the three ways of acquiring sponsoring I know. Via phone call, e-mail or by personal encounter.
All but one sponsoring I secured was acquired via phone, one by e-mail. But I have seen the personal encounter work out several times. If you want to go that way you should target trade fairs in your vicinity.
- Business cards
- A list of interesting exhibitors at the fair
It’s convenient to seek sponsors on fairs you yourself are exhibiting on.
The goal of a personal encounter is to create rapport. Explain FSAE, invite the contact to look at the car, exchange business cards. Don’t hide that your goal is to secure sponsoring, but don’t start haggling unless invited to, instead contact your future sponsor via phone, about a week after the trade fair.
Explaining What You Do
Before getting started practice explaining what your team actually does with a team mate, you want to get the core points across as quickly as possible:
- Design, construction AND racing (and statics)
- Student groups, without supervision, participating is a huge achievement
- It’s a global competition against competitors of which some get a lot more support from their universities
- It’s the only racing series besides Formula one with a real focus on cutting edge technology development
- Try to carry on the enthusiasm, it helps if you’ve already been through a season and have seen it all
Once you hit the phone try to get through to the marketing department. Usually you are screened in some way, so you may have to explain several times:
- You are seeking sponsoring for a student project
- What FSAE is
In small companies you might end up talking to the owner, that’s fine.
After introductions are over and you hopefully managed to convey some of the excitement and challenges of an FSAE event. Tell them what you can offer to a sponsor and what you want from them. Be bold, tell them what you want, not just what you need.
Usually you have to haggle and paddle back a little, but that’s not always the case.
I once secured sponsoring valued about €100,000 in equipment and software licenses (so their actual costs were much lower, but far from insignificant). The contact on the phone asked me if I was out of my mind when I told them what I want. Then he told me he has to talk to his boss about this. The next time I talked to him I was told we would get it all.
In return they got their logo prominently displayed on both sides of the car for 3 years.
At this point I would like to remind you how important it is to keep a record of agreements. Lots of sponsoring deals involve signing a contract and you really don’t want to burden your succeeding team mates with liabilities they don’t even know about.
After a Call
If you come to an agreement or are told to wait for a return call, write an e-mail with a summary of the conversation to the contact.
If the return call does not come on time, call again the next day. In general call weekly until you come to an agreement or your request is denied. You want to be persistent, but not a pest.
If You Succeed
You require a logo package from the sponsor. Preferably you want a coloured raster image logo for your homepage and a single colour vector image, so you can use a cutting plotter for the logos that go on the car and on your team wear.
Sometimes a sponsor doesn’t have a professional logo package. Someone in your team may have to pick up tracing. I use inkscape for manual tracing. Don’t use an auto tracer, the results will not be satisfactory.
Everyone can secure sponsors, practice explaining to people what you and your team do and even introverts will be able to talk to strangers to make them want to give you their stuff.
Remember you are doing something amazing, something the person you are talking to may never have had the opportunity to do. By sponsoring you they have an opportunity to become part of that. And that, I think, is the main reason for most sponsors. You have to offer them incentives so they can justify the decision to their peers and themselves, but you win a sponsor by convincing them, that you are doing something awesome.
BTW, if you ever run out of logo space, build cars with wings. Plus they make your race car faster, the ultimate goal in your quest for sponsors.