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Ignition Productions

Motorsport, TV and Sponsorship – part 2

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Here’s part 2 of my interview with Nathan Prendergast of Ignition Productions.

In part 1 of the interview we covered:

  • Exposure and being unique
  • Being prepared
  • Create and leverage your media opportunities

Keep your eyes open for opportunities…

Kym: So you’ve got to always be thinking. You can’t just focus purely on what you’re doing right now, but you need to be looking for opportunities, keep your eyes open?

Nathan: You can’t just sit there. You can’t chase the sponsor. They give you a check and go, “Great. Deal Done.” I can go race for the rest of the year because what benefit is a sponsor going to get out of that unless you win every single race, and there’s only a couple of people in our sport that are good enough to do that. I think you need to be constantly thinking, “Okay, how can I service this sponsor better?

Darren Morgan’s a fantastic example of a guy that goes over and above to make sure that he gets as much exposure as he can for the sponsors that he’s got on board. He’s understood very early that these people have given me money. I want them to either give me more or I want them to at least stay on board. He’s constantly doing things like he did a burnout at Bathurst. He goes to the Clipsal event… I think he goes to all these trade shows, car shows, all places where there’s no drag racing event on, but he fires up the car and does a few blips on the throttle. It’s just thinking outside the square on how else you can get exposure for your sponsor that doesn’t necessarily cost you a fortune.

Kym: So let’s say you’re passionate about your sport. You’ve got to come to an understanding that whilst you may be very passionate about the sport itself, you also, once you’re engaged by somebody to represent them, that you also need to be passionate about their brand, or passionate about helping them achieve their goals. I reckon a lot of people aren’t.

Nathan: Most definitely, because you’re representing that product, or that company. You need to understand it, be passionate about it, and be willing to vouch for that organisation because you’ve just gone out there and basically taken money and you’ve put their name on the side of your car. Your name is on that car with it. So, yes, you need to be extremely passionate about making sure that that name is well serviced.

Kym: I suspect that it’s pretty easy to tell when you’re not and your relationship won’t last too long if you don’t exhibit that passion?

Nathan: Exactly right. And there’s examples in history where you may not necessarily have been comfortable supporting a brand. People that have had cigarette sponsorship over the years may not have necessarily been overly chuffed that it’s a cigarette company. However, you still need to conduct yourself professionally when you’re representing a particular sponsor.

Kym: If that’s the case, should you even actively seek out sponsorship from companies that you may not actually be in tune with from a moral or from a business perspective?

Nathan: I think it’s a matter of thinking outside the square. It’s demographics that support the sport you’re in, so what sort of people will attend drag racing events? What sort of people watch drag racing on television and then you can work out, “Okay, what products and services” fit those types of people. It doesn’t have to be necessarily something that’s anything you do or with the sport, but it appeals to the target audience and it’s something that those people buy, or a service that they use it’s of interest. You can help the sponsor by bringing in a whole bunch of people and potentially increase profits for them as well.

The importance of creating a personal brand…

Kym: Okay. Moving on to another question. Creating your personal brand, being aware of where you fit in the spectrum of personalities. How important is it to create your own brand, and stick to it? And, is it necessary for it be natural?

Nathan: Yes, I think it’s necessary for it to be natural; otherwise, you’re going to get caught out. People will pick up a fake interview or a fake response from a mile away, and it will actually have a worse response. You’ll get backlash from being false, so yes, whatever brand or image that you create for yourself, it needs to be one that fits with you comfortably. I think it’s extremely important to create a brand or an image or a look that is clean and professional. Regardless of how you might respond in the interview, the first and the majority of interaction that people have with you as a racer is actually the car.

So, when you rock up to the start line, let’s take drag racing for an example, when you rock up to the start line the car needs to be clean and not cluttered, your crew need to be well-dressed, you need to understand where to stand and how to behave on the start line. There’s nothing wrong with emotion, but no blue singlets and people looking rough around the edges. And your car, if you’ve got a sponsor on it, your car needs to be nice and neat and well sign-written in colors that are appropriate for television as well.

Kym: Okay. They need to be big and bold for television and simple?

Nathan: Yes, simple’s good and it has to be done professionally. It’s not a matter of going home and getting a can of spray paint. It’s going to a graphic designer and coming up with a couple of concepts and working with your sponsor coming up with something that’s going to work. A lot of the trickiness is based around what sponsors want with the logos, because there’s some very strict guidelines on how you can and can’t use certain companies logos and they have to be on the back in certain colors and depending on how much money they’ve given you, they may not warrant the whole car but whatever level of sponsorship that they’ve given you, it just needs to be effective and not cluttered and ugly.

Kym: Who are good role models when it comes to branding? Who’s really established their brands and  who’s a really mailed the concept of what their brand is?

Nathan: I think Craig Lowndes is probably the most recognisable brand/personality in V8 Supercar racing. He’s the kid, although he’s not right now. He’s in his late thirties, but Craig’s always had that uncompromising, extremely talented on track approach. Yet out of the car, he’s always been bright and bubbly and real easy to talk to, not only on television, but here’s another point that we probably haven’t touched on which is fairly important. It’s with the fans as well because the fans are obviously the ones that are going to buy your sponsor’s products or use your sponsor’s services, and where Craig has absolutely smashed everyone is with the fan base. They all love him. They all think he’s a hero, even opposing manufacturer’s fans still want to see Lowndes do well. He’s really a role model and a good example of how to conduct yourself in the general public.

I think in drag racing, Victor Bray’s a good example. He’s like the underdog tomato farmer that’s done well. Victor has, although in recent times he’s not been as successful, paved the way for Doorslammer racing in this country. He set all the original records and broke all the benchmarks up until the five second pass. He didn’t get the five, but he was the man and him and Ben were again loved by the fans. People could walk up and have a conversation with Victor and he was open and personable. In V8s and drag racing they’re two good examples.

Forget the camera and be natural…

Kym: If you’re not a natural speaker how do you overcome, and it happens to a lot of people, the potential shyness not to be yourself around fans or the media or whoever may be watching?

Nathan: Well, I think with the media, one thing that I used to tell people when I’d interview them, you should forget that the camera’s there. It’s a discussion between you and I, because people would get out of the car and walk up to me if the camera’s not there and I’d say how’d it go mate and they would naturally engage because I think human beings generally will operate on a one-on-one level but as soon as the camera rolls, they feel they have to think about what they say. It sounds contradictory because I was saying earlier that you need people to have some idea of what they’re going to say, but if they pre-plan that, and if they’ve thought about I might have to speak to someone, then finding those key pieces of information will be easier than trying to do it on the fly when they get out of the car. When you get out of the car, try to ignore the fact that there’s a camera and just remember what the key points are, and just consider it as a discussion between the interviewer and the driver as two people would, then you’ll get a far more relaxed response.

When dealing with fans, I think most racers are pretty comfortable because we all like the recognition. Some people are shyer than others, but if someone wants your autograph, or someone wants to talk to you about your performances, if you have time, just humor them, just chat with them, engage with them, smile, you know, and the more you do it, the more comfortable it’ll be.

Kym: That leads me on to an interesting question. We all love a bit of controversy and that seems to get the greatest level of response from fans and the media. During an interview, let’s say you’re emotional, something’s happened, and you bad-mouth a competitor because you’re upset. You’re in the moment, which creates great television, for example. What happens if you cool down and you didn’t really want to say that? Have you got a comeback from that position? Is there any recourse if you got emotional and say something you later regret?

Nathan: Not really. I think it needs to be dealt with depending on what it is that you’ve said and how much you actually meant it. I love people speaking honestly. If you just got turned around on the racetrack or someone staged on you early and burned you down and cost you the race and some money, I don’t want you to get out of the car and go, “Oh, yes, it’s really disappointing.” I want you to get out of the car and go, “I can’t believe it.” Definitely don’t swear; definitely don’t personally attack the other person.Tell me that you’re upset with what he did to you. Tell me that you don’t like the way he just raced or engaged.

Be honest. As long as you’re not swearing you’ll be okay. If you calm down later and you’re not happy with what you said, you don’t go hunting the camera crew and go, “I want to retract that. Can I say something else?” You go up to the guy and you say, “Listen mate, I said these things. I wasn’t happy about it”, because if you said it and you weren’t happy about it, chances are you were being honest anyway. You didn’t fabricate it. You deal with it with the guy personally. You say, “Listen, I might have been a bit harsh on you. I’m sorry, but I didn’t like it.” I’d deal with it on a one-on-one level and based on the individual case.

Kym: We’ve covered a number of things, from preparing yourself, how to service your sponsor, creating personal brands and some examples of people who are very good at that. Is there any other areas that you think would be good or valuable to share?

Nathan: I just think that it’s important to present well, to stay clear of the politics of the sport, particularly in drag racing there’s a huge amount of politics. Be honest with your delivery, engage with your fans, and be creative with other marketing options.

Read part 1 and part 3 of my interview with Nathan Prendergast.

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