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Best Practice in F1 Sponsorship Activation

It sounds simplistic, but I think Formula One teams need to understand what an existing or potential sponsor wants to achieve. Every brand will have different objectives. Do they want brand awareness? Is it to shift perception of the brand to increase consideration? Do they want a B2B relationship, meaning the focus is commercial? Or it might be something completely different, like access to innovation resource? I think sometimes we ignore that a brand is involved in sponsoring a property for a reason, or for multiple reasons.

"It’s imperative to have a set of established KPIs and objectives"

From a sponsor’s perspective, when negotiating a partnership, it’s imperative to have a set of established KPIs and objectives – otherwise you don’t know what assets you need to fulfill these. A team may place too much value on assets that might not be relevant to the brand’s objectives, resulting in a situation where they are overpaying for a set of assets that hold no value. One sponsor will place value on brand awareness or exposure, but for many brands that’s the least important part of their objectives. So that has to be your starting point.

I’m a big believer in insights – looking at the data and understanding a brand and what it wants to achieve. From a rights-owner’s perspective, it’s also important to understand the brand. A sponsor may want to target a particular demographic – if so, how does the property stack up against that?

The brands that have a clear proposition, with insights and a strategy to deliver against objectives, are the ones that, in my opinion, achieve the most.

Sports sponsorship is an incredibly powerful marketing tool, and when it’s used intelligently, it can achieve so much. Saying a brand is in the drinks or software category, and then just creating activation ideas that are grounded in nothing other than the category is not going that extra mile. It’s not a granular enough approach to how sponsorship should be activated.

"The alcohol industry is coming in for a bit of a shoeing at the moment, but look at what Johnnie Walker is doing"

There are so many good operators and agencies out there doing really great work who apply a more scientific and strategic approach, rather than always starting at building brand awareness. I’m not saying brand awareness is the wrong thing, but if that’s always the starting point – or if it’s always about hospitality or driver appearances – that doesn’t feel like the way we should move forward. It is changing for the better – with FOM (Formula One Management) and the teams’ approach to digital and social media – but I think there’s a way to go still.

When I was at McLaren, whisky brand Johnnie Walker was very strong. It’s an aspirational brand and there’s a strategic approach to its sponsorship and the ‘Keep Walking’ campaign. All of its sponsorship activation also supports its responsible drinking message – the alcohol industry is coming in for a bit of a shoeing at the moment for its relationship with motor sport. But if you look at what Johnnie Walker is doing, it has really strong activation around responsible drinking and driving. And they use it in a positive way.

Software company SAP is another, not only in its Formula One partnership with McLaren, but other sports partnerships. It communicates by placing SAP services at the heart of everything, and by integrating what it does into the property. There’s a strong commercial rationale behind why they are involved in certain sports. The layman might question why they are involved, but if they engage five or 10 per cent of a particular audience on a B2B level then the value is huge.

What SAP does with McLaren is very well-thought through in terms of products and services integrated not only just in the McLaren racing team, but the whole McLaren Group. It’s an opportunity for them to showcase their technology and innovations, and where better to do that than in a sport that is rich for technology and innovation, and a Formula One team like McLaren whose holding company has just changed its name to the McLaren Technology Group?

Those brands stand out because they’ve got a clear proposition at the heart of what they do. But there are other brands that do a really good job – Red Bull has been around a long while and it seems an obvious one to say, but I think they do great stuff. They are a market leader in what they do in terms of activation; they control everything, and even have their own media company, and that’s really impressive.

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