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Ignition Productions

Motorsport, TV and Sponsorship – part 1

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Hi and welcome to the third interview here at Practical Sponsorship ideas. This week it’s my pleasure to introduce Nathan Prendergast, head-honcho of Ignition Productions.

Nathan has a long history with motorsport, growing up around race tracks his family owned and operated during the 80s and 90s. From the age of 16 Nathan began commentating at drag racing events at Eastern Creek Raceway. This led to opportunities to work in front of the camera on TV programs like Speed Week here in Australia.

Keen to work behind the camera, Nathan honed his editing skills by putting together drag racing promos. After demonstrating his abilities he was given the opportunity to become an editor with AVE. For close to ten years Nathan worked with AVE, learning how to edit, produce, direct and manage the cameras.

In 2005 Nathan left AVE and began Ignition Productions. In 2006 he got a gig working as an audio operator for the V8 Supercar tour. From here he moved to pit producer, all the while Ignition Productions was growing steadily larger in the background. And in 2007 Nathan was offered the top of the mountain TV director role for Bathurst.

Today, operating through Ignition Productions, Nathan is the senior TV director for the live broadcasts of the V8 Supercars and support categories.

So as you can imagine, he knows a thing or two about motorsport, TV and sponsorship.

Exposure and being unique

Kym: Hi Nathan. From a TV perspective, how can I demonstrate that I’d be worthy of sponsorship and that I will be able to meet the demands of being in front of the camera?

Nathan: Okay; well in my opinion, there’s two aspects to it. One is performance based. First of all you need to be good at what you do. You need to either be running at the front or showing speed or have something unique about you that will first of all attract someone to you because at the end of the day, the reasons someone’s going to spend money with you is because they’re expecting to get something back out of it. Generally, in the television world, that’s exposure.

So, to get exposure, you need to be generally performing, so running at the front, or have something very unique about you, be it a style of driving, or you know, something unique about you. You often have something unique about your car that might not necessarily make it the fastest; in drag racing you have so many body styles that you can actually be a little bit more creative with what you do. Secondly, not to be beige. It’s one thing to be out there and loud and effervescent and you know, “Oh… the car did this and the car did that” and certainly engaging and that’s extremely positive, but then you also have to look at examples in sport where people have made a name for themselves for being the opposite of that.

You really need to have heroes and villains. I think it’s a matter of not being beige, down the middle and bland, and either working on your strengths as some sort of hero or a villain. The villain one’s a tricky one to pull off because you can actually, if you don’t play it correctly, certainly in a sponsor land, you can drive the people the opposite way. There have been examples in motorsport like, for example, Russell Ingall, who’ve done it right and they’ve got that enforcer tag, that sort of forceful hard-going, do anything to win type attitude that they’ve worked on. He’s played that opportunity very well, and if you did it wrong, well, you’re just one of those guys that punted anyone off the track, or one of those racers that staged on someone early and played dirty all the time. You just have to careful how you work that.

Kym: Okay. So, is it really more about being an anti-hero than a villain per se, so you’re not completely unlikable. You’re forthright, don’t pull any punches, you’re not the most smiley, happy person that’s going around. Would that be more the type of thing?

Nathan: Yes, that’s a fair description. I think it’s not so much being hated. It’s just not conforming, I suppose, is the best way to describe it, and people like it when you stand up for what you believe in, and too often, people get out of the car and they smile and they go, “Oh, you know, everything went great”. We’ve all seen that a million times. It’s coming up with some sort of a way to express yourself honestly and clearly.

Kym: So, what we’re talking about there is not being beige, how to offer a sponsor something different than the ordinary. Give yourself some sort of hook, something that you can market. Is there any techniques or ways that you can prepare yourself? Would you suggest people take media training or should they learn how to do a bit of public speaking?

Nathan: I think media training is a good one. It’s something, in particular drag racing, there hasn’t been enough of. It can turn people around. I was very fortunate enough in the very early days of Speed Week to meet Scott Dixon, who is now a very successful Indy car driver, an Indy 500 winner. Scott was one of the worst interviews on the planet. He was this shy kid out of New Zealand, who said next to nothing and was horrendous. You see him now and he’s fantastic and engaging and that’s only come from some sort of training.

Now, granted he went to America who are the kings of sound bites, but the only way that Scott Dixon became the way he is now on camera with the general public is because someone trained him. Certainly media training is important. I certainly wouldn’t know where to start. Apart from that, I think it’s a matter of watching these professional athletes and professional motor racers, and the way that they engage with the public. I think a perfect example of how not to act is like Formula One. Formula One is one of the very rare motorsports where it doesn’t matter to them. They’re not driven by what sponsors want. They’re almost above the sponsor so they’re less engaging. It’s watching the American motorsport people like drag racers and the NASCAR guys and how they engage.

A point on that, though, one thing that I dislike and I know it’s less favored here in Australia than maybe in the U.S., is I hate it when someone gets out of the car and says, “The Samsung Apple iPhone Camaro went really well today”, because you’re not telling us anything. I think if you want to give your sponsors a plug, get out and tell us that we don’t know. Tell us something about the car, how it behaved, show some emotion about the race if you won or lost. If you’re savvy enough to get out of the car and the camera crew’s not smart enough to do it, just make sure you stand somewhere where you know your car’s behind you. Make sure your sponsorship logos are placed in the right places. It’s no good having Coke-Cola down here on your waist because the camera’s going to shoot a mid-shot from the chest up, so you have all your sponsorship logos on your shoulders or up high, have a hat in the car that you can put on, stuff like that.

Being prepared

Kym: So, that comes down to being prepared, too, doesn’t it – making sure you’ve got all your, for lack of a better word, your props and all of your merchandise stuff ready to rock ‘n roll, even if you’re not expecting it?

Nathan: That’s right, but you should know when it’s going to happen because it’s pretty much, I mean, going off the experience I had as the EP of the drag racing up until recently, if you’re at a Rocket Allstars event, or a pro-series round, if you’re in the semi’s, we’re going to interview you pretty much, because there’s a camera crew at the bottom end of the track from the semi’s on, and if you make the final one hundred percent we’re going to speak to you. It’s sort of understanding how the media you’re going to engage in works.

TV for example, you should know that being in the semi’s there’s a chance if I win this, they’re going to talk to me and I need to think about what I’m going to say. I need to think about how I’m going to get what I need at the bottom end. A lot of people just may want to focus on driving the car. They want to win more, which is fair enough, but if they’re truly interested in leveraging whatever sponsorship they have, they need to consider these things. They need to think about “Okay. I’m in this semi, could be going to a final. Chances are I’m going to be spoken to. I’m going to have a hat. I’m going to prepare myself”. Go over the “What am I going to say, how am I going to say it,” and try to keep it concise. Try to keep it within a 30-second response.

Kym: Of those types of situations, how much of it ends up on the cutting room floor that you can’t really use, particularly in this neck of the woods?

Nathan: I would say most of it ends up on the cutting room floor. I mean, I’m not a good example of it because some of my responses in today’s interview have been extremely long, but you really need to try to get your information across as quick as possible. Like I said, no longer than 30 seconds.

Kym: Thirty seconds. Wow. Okay.

Nathan: Well, because a commercial half an hour of television is twenty-one minutes and thirty seconds. If you talk for two minutes, that’s 10% of the program. No one’s going to ever put a two-minute interview to air for a race winner. You might be lucky to get a two–minute feature story, and that’s going to include a number of different topics; overlay, colour, music etc. You really need to try to get your message across as quickly as possible. Otherwise, we’re just going to feature the easiest grab, maybe stitch a couple of things together to get it done.

Kym: So, in this instance, you can create a real competitive advantage in the sponsorship stakes by being savvy enough to understand this process?

Nathan: One hundred percent.

Kym: If I was racing group one and I was known to be able to deliver those 30 seconds sound bites, then you’d probably come looking for me?

Nathan: That’s exactly right. There are people in the sport that are extremely good at it. Shane Tucker is a great example. He’s very media savvy. He’s a good-looking guy, gets out of the car, says the right things, shows some emotion. We know if he’s going to the semi, we’ve got a chance of a good interview. There’s Peter Kapiris who is incredibly emotive. There’s a great example of not being beige. Peter’s lucky, though. It’s natural. He’s not thinking about the interview.

He’s getting out of the car and he’s just overwhelmed with the fact of what he’s done, and he goes and thanks his guys. What Peter does, which makes it easier for us to edit it in post production, he shows more emotion,and says, “Yeah, yeah, thanks, great” start, stop. Whereas, if he started a big diatribe about, “Oh, the car left the line and it shook the tires, and then it turned left and went towards the wall, but I was lucky enough to pull it back, and then I thought to myself”, and by now, right, you’ll suddenly go, “Where’s this going to go? How’s it going to end?” So, conciseness is the key.

Create and leverage your media opportunities

Kym: Moving on, one of the other questions we talked about was how can you best service your sponsor? Obviously, with regards to television coverage and leveraging that opportunity, what would you say would be the best way to be able to service your sponsor?

Nathan: Well, if you’re not performing on the track, if it’s not just about being able to run at the front, you need to think of other ways that you can get exposure through gimmicks or other media opportunities. For example, this weekend you’ve got the race on at Adelaide. You got some media contacts down there. Some of these cars have passenger seats. I would, if it was me, I would have gone to the local networks and offered the weather people or other local personality a burnout and a launch on a Saturday or Sunday morning before the event.

Just thinking of other ways that you can ensure that someone’s going to want to come in and film your car, because the hardest thing about drag racing is it’s not a mainstream sport, people aren’t going to turn up and do a news story, so if they’re going to come, it’s going to be because there’s some sort of gimmick in it. If you can sort of exploit these opportunities through getting someone in your car that’s maybe a personality and someone’s going to want to see that happening, and that’s one way to do it. There’s other issues with insurances and being able to do it through ANDRA and so forth. There’s ways it can be done because it happens now. I mean, by Maurice Fabietti has ride days so there’s ways you can do it.

Kym: Is it your responsibility, or is it the responsibility of the sponsors team and their PR company to do that sort of groundwork, to leverage or activate the sponsorship in that way?

Nathan: Well, it depends on the level of your sponsorship. Some sponsors in our sport don’t have those departments. Some of them are just fairly successful businessmen that just like drag racing and pour money into it because they like the car or like the guy. You have your high-end Castrols and so forth that have those departments, but I think it shouldn’t just be left up to your sponsor to come up with these ideas. They’ve given you money. You should be trying to work out how you can help them. Even if it’s not you that actually engages the network or tries to set it up, you should at least be coming up with these ideas and throwing them at your sponsor.

Kym: So, in effect, you should, whether it be yourself, or if you’ve engaged contractors or professionals in this area, at least understand the idea behind PR – how to be successful with PR, who to contact, how to get those releases out there and written properly, etc, etc. Really, you need to know how to do that to a certain degree?

Nathan: Or you at least need to be creative enough to be constantly throwing these ideas at whoever is writing it for you.

That concludes part 1 of my interview with Nathan Prendergast. Part 2 and part 3 are available now.

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