How Williams F1 is evolving sponsorship to partnership with one of world’s biggest recruitment specialists

Formula 1 marketer Chris Murray talks to Simon Canning about the way the sport has had to evolve its sponsorship model to a partnership approach, struggles with digital thanks to a TV focus and its new virtual reality initiative.

Chris MurrayThe way Formula 1 teams are having to engage sponsors and connect with both race fans and people with only a passing interest in the sport is undergoing a radical overhaul in a move that could influence how other sports approach sponsorship in the future.

Williams Martini Racing marketer Chris Murray admitted that with its heavy focus on TV the sport may not have made the most of the digital opportunities – something which is now being addressed with Williams launching a virtual reality program in partnership with Sky Sports in the UK this weekend.

At the same time, one of Williams longest standing sponsors, global recruitment and HR specialist Randstad which has been with the team for eleven years, has talked about how it is utilising Williams resources not directly linked with racing.

Randstad’s international marketing director Joost Schriever said the partnership had evolved to the point where Randstad was utilising the Williams Academy, a growing global academy for aspiring engineers, to connect with its audiences.

Schriever has seen sponsorship with Williams move from signs to an academy

Schriever has seen sponsorship with Williams move from signs to an academy

“At Randstad I can truly say that this is a best buy for us. I can say as a marketing investment in building name awareness we are keeping track if on the end this is having enough ROI and that has been happening all along so all these years we have been expanding it,” Schriever said.

“Ten years ago we were maybe 16 countries, and now we are 39 and so we have really grown our business and measurement over time has been showing that this (Formula 1) is working for us. It started as an exercise to build name awareness and now we see possibilities that we can engage and that Williams  do much more than we had thought in the beginning. Randstad was focussing on building the future of engineering and IT which led to the creation of the Williams Academy which is promoting learning for young engineers.”

Murray said working with Randstad and other sponsors had become more about finding synergies rather than just delivering an advertising platform.

“The best partnerships are the ones where you have shared core values and the two organisations share a significant number of values,” Murray said.

“Then its investing the time in understanding what their objectives are and then working collaboratively to build programs that address those objectives. Then it’s trying to find ways to keep it fresh. Recognising that the sponsorship environment is changing and the platforms have to evolve.”

“It’s how can we help them in areas of engineering and IT where we should have the capability to do powerful things together.

Schriever said even in markets where F1 was not popular, Randstad’s local staff were still finding ways to leverage the partnerships and elements like the academy were extending that influence.

Despite a slide in TV ratings – albeit one where more than 300m people tune in globally each weekend – and broader challenges to the world economy, Murray is upbeat about the new opportunities,  growing sponsorship beyond signage and hospitality represents.

“Can we host a bespoke event in a particular geography that is away from a race but maybe connect to a race that is happening where else,” Murray said.

“You fish where the fish are. So if we are looking for IT people, are we hosting an event in California? We know that F1  resonates amongst that group even if it doesn’t resonate amongst the wider population. But lets just be more targeted about what we are doing, lets make it easier to buy into. We can’t simply rest on our laurels and rely on the power of people watching TV.”

Murray admitted that there remained a huge untapped potential to drive the sport and its value for sponsors through emerging digtal and social channels.

While individual teams have managed to capitalise on social following and Red Bull is an example of a brand creating its own channel, the sport as a whole still has a way to go.

“If you look at some of the initiatives that have started to come on stream now, the app’s been a success, Formula 1 as an entity started to embrace Twitter, and I think the driver of the day (where fans will vote through the F1 app for the best driver in a race) will start to move it into an area where that younger generation are more comfortable with as they are with XFactor and most other talent programs where there is voting aspect to that.”

He said that broadcasters were also chasing a digital agenda and looking for younger viewers which was also beginning to shift the dial for the sport.

Murray said Williams was committed to building its digital channels and growing its engagement.

Williams launched a VR experience with SkySports at the Australian Grand Prix

Williams launched a VR experience with SkySports at the Australian Grand Prix

This weekend the team revealed a new virtual reality offering which has been created in partnership with F1’s UK broadcaster Sky Sport.

“Which is really exciting,” Murray said.

“So there is an immersive experience we can create and I think we need to do more of.”

The 360 degree videos hosted on Facebook will give users of VR devices such as the Samsung Gear VR and HTC Vive an immersive experience putting them into the cockpit of the car.

Global sports intelligence service Repucom has also released its 2016 report into how the commercial landscape in F1 was changing from one of sponsorship to partnership, highlighting the work that Williams was doing.

Nigel Geach, Repucom senior vice president of motorsport, said like Williams, the entrance of the Haas F1 team this year, promoting its own engineering capabilities and Hilton hotels was emblematic of the shift.

“We’re starting to see a real shift in the commercial landscape of F1, where once brands were really only concerned with logo visibility and the global TV  exposure the sport offered, to one much more centred on companies utilising their F1 partnerships across  three key areas; to increase direct sales to businesses over the race weekend, to demonstrate their  capabilities and expertise and to provide engagement through client hospitality,” Geach said.

“Haas and Hilton offer perfect examples of how they are using their different partnerships to directly increase sales around the race weekend. Haas F1, the new US based team owner will be able to translate their successes in the US in providing precision tools in engineering by creating a showcase each race for small to medium size companies who are interested in buying their products, a model which has served a company like Hilton very well.”

Simon Canning

Mumbrella’s Sports Marketing Summit is returning on July 28 and will take a  look at the biggest issues facing marketers, broadcasters and agencies in sport. Tickets are on sale now.






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