Vodafone are no strangers to Formula One racing, having been involved with the sport in one form or another for more than a decade. After a spell with Ferrari, the global communications giant switched allegiances to McLaren in 2007, becoming the British team’s title sponsor. Four years later, and with that initial deal now extended until 2013, the relationship between the two parties is clearly stronger than ever. Speaking exclusively to Formula1.com, Daragh Persse, Vodafone’s global head of sponsorship, cause marketing and media, explains why the sport is the perfect platform to reach out to customers around the world…
Q: Daragh, Vodafone has extended its involvement with the McLaren team until 2013, which suggests it is a very healthy partnership…
Daragh Persse: Absolutely. We are delighted with our sponsorship of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. The partnership allows us to continue to build value for the brand worldwide, but more importantly it allows us to engage with Formula One fans and customers, and showcase how our total communications solutions help the team on and off the track. Under the new agreement, we’ll remain as title partner but also become the official total communications partner of Vodafone McLaren Mercedes. The partnership will continue forwards with a particular focus on empowerment and technical innovation. We’ll also be bringing Vodafone customers closer to the passion of Formula One through our services, events and experiences. The team partnership delivers an innovative, powerful and integrated marketing platform enabling Vodafone customers to get closer to the action through unique experiences, innovative content, events, advertising, offers and promotions. As I just said, we are bringing our customers closer to the passion of Formula One and empowering them to live the experience through our sponsorship programmes.
Q: 2011 will be your tenth season of Formula One involvement. Such longevity suggests F1 is the perfect platform for a global company. What have you gained so far from your involvement and what do you seek to gain in the future?
DP: Formula One is a passion for many customers across our markets, so it’s a great platform for us to open up a conversation with them and demonstrate what Vodafone has to offer. We can empower our customers, allowing them to get closer to the action and rewarding them with amazing once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Q: In 2007 Vodafone switched from being a Ferrari sponsor to being McLaren’s title partner. It seemed to be an unusual step, as the philosophies of the two teams are perceived to be very different. Can you explain the reasoning behind the move?
DP: Vodafone and Ferrari explored various sponsorship opportunities in order to continue the partnership beyond 2006. However, Ferrari was unable to guarantee a sponsorship opportunity that was agreeable to us for 2007 and onwards. The opportunity to be title sponsor a winning, successful team is one that arises rarely. And our partnership with McLaren-Mercedes as title partner is the ultimate in F1 sponsorship, as one of the clear synergies between Vodafone and McLaren is the constant desire to be leaders in our field. The obsession to win in the marketplace - or on the racetrack - is one shared goal. Ultimately, both companies are focused on making the most of every minute, be that on the racetrack or empowering our customers.
Q: How much can you influence the direction of the team? Can you influence driver line-up or the team’s marketing strategy for example?
DP: We don’t influence those decisions. The team is responsible for driver line-up selection and marketing strategy. However, we work very closely and of course support the team.
Q: Sponsorship involvement almost always depends on the guy at the top. During its participation in Formula One racing, Vodafone has had three CEOs. Are they all racing fans?
DP: In previous times it might have been the case that the interests of a CEO culminate in a sponsorship deal - at least that’s what I have heard from hearsay! But believe me it is not the case that we go racing because the CEO likes the sport. Our sponsorships are selected on merit of delivery against meeting our current business objectives and ensuring an acceptable return on investment. We strongly believe in the power of sponsorship as a way to help build our brand, delight customers and drive revenue. Sponsorship remains a critical element of brand-building activities, particularly in an environment where customers’ consumption of media has become increasingly fragmented.
Q: You must have learnt a lot after a decade of sponsorship. What advice would you give to someone thinking of becoming a sponsor?
DP: Sponsorship must play a role in engaging customers and delivering beyond pure awareness, otherwise it is in danger of becoming a pure branding exercise. For Vodafone, we are about empowering our customers to get closer to their passions, and this approach has served us well during 10 years in Formula One.
Q: What assets are included as part of your sponsorship agreement?
DP: The assets provided to Vodafone as part of the partnership with McLaren are key in bringing the ‘Power To You’ message alive. These obviously include rights to imagery, video footage and social media updates. Included within our core rights are driver appearances for events, filming and PR work and in-store promotion. We also use replica cars and pit-stop challenge cars - again, for events, promotions and filming. We also offer customers the opportunity to join the team, becoming a team member in order to enjoy unprecedented access during a Grand Prix weekend. We’ve created relationships within our local markets, too. They’ve been able to offer local businesses or charities the opportunity to place their company logo on the side of both cars during a Grand Prix weekend. We also run a hot laps promotion, offering our customers the chance to be driven around a circuit at high speed by Lewis (Hamilton) or Jenson (Button). It’s the ultimate thrill ride, and a good encapsulation of both the closeness of our relationship and the mutual thrill we share for racing.