Of course, if the company is a little more relaxed in its attitude and dress, as many are these days; your clothes can reflect that vibe. But again, be cautious of going too casual. Just because the CEO wears jeans to work doesn’t mean that’s how you should show up. In a case like that a clean, pressed pair of khakis or something similar with a collared shirt might be appropriate. But if in doubt, err on the side of conservatism. You can always lose the tie if no one else wears one, but it can be a deal killer if you don’t have one and it’s expected. Remember, your personal contact may be absolutely fine with your average raceday look, but the CEO, CFO, or VP of Marketing may have very different ideas about what’s appropriate and who they want representing their company.
In coaching would-be pilots, my former employer spent a lot of time on technical aspects, but also made sure the applicants had well-thought-out answers for standard interview questions like what made you want to be a pilot, why do you want to fly for us, and the ever-popular tell us about yourself. As a racer seeking sponsorship you should mentally prepare answers for similar queries, but most important is the need to develop and practice your sponsorship pitch.
You have to make a convincing case as succinctly as possible, meaning the initial presentation should wrap up in no more than five minutes, preferably much sooner. Practice your performance until you know it back and forth, until you can recite it with confidence and conviction. If it’s too long, cut it down. Make it precise.
If using graphic aids, whether a PowerPoint presentation or just simple handouts, keep them simple, on point, and legible. And have a large, professionally shot photo of your car available, no snapshots taken by your buddy in the backyard. If you or someone you know is proficient with photo manipulation software, you may even want to digitally create a second version showing your car sporting the potential sponsor’s colors or logo. Seeing is believing, after all.
In your speech, avoid getting trapped in a rambling, run-on description of your entire racing career. Just explain who you are and how sponsoring your team can benefit the sponsor’s company, now. The bottom line always needs to be how backing the racer can benefit the company, not the other way around. Never tell a potential sponsor how his money could buy you a new engine and you’d finally start winning races! Stick to how sponsoring you will lead to a positive return on investment for the company.
Using terms like return on investment (ROI) is important, too. Few industries employ as many acronyms and code words as “pilot speak,” but when approaching business professionals it really helps to convey your proposal in a language they relate to and understand. It all goes back to preparedness, where a few evenings spent poring over a basic business book, or just reading the financial pages of your newspaper for a few weeks can give a racer insight to the world he hopes to tap into. And it’s not necessary—or even desirable—to be spouting as much business-related gobbledygook as you can think of; you just want to sound well-versed and aware of the way business works.
Finally, regardless of the outcome of an interview, but especially if not offered a job, the pilot consultant firm always encouraged interviewees to follow up with a letter of thanks to the airline. Likewise, racers who are ultimately turned down after a meeting could benefit from this protocol because it demonstrates maturity and awareness of the process, as well as leaves the door open should circumstances change in the future.
I watch a lot of racing each year and meet a lot of drag racers, some with huge sponsor packages, some who are comfortably racing on their own dime, and others who are just barely getting by and probably shouldn’t be spending so much at the track if truth be told. But I think most fall somewhere between these three examples and would eagerly welcome any kind of backing for their racing endeavors. If any of the tips in these last couple of columns help anyone to secure even a small associate deal, I’ll feel happy to have contributed to the effort.