Marketing GT Racing – Ian Forbes At SRO
The motoring media is abuzz with talk of the renaissance of GT racing,
with new and exciting cars coming to the track.
weekly and monthly motoring magazine lately has featured one or
more of the new breed, with the Aston Martin DBR9, Chevrolet Corvette
C6.R and Maserati MC12 capturing the imagination of writers and
photographers who would seldom normally take a second look at motorsport.
The potential to draw
in a more mass market audience is clear but, with the cost of bringing
the new breed of GT1 cars to the track somewhat on the pricey side,
the challenge to draw in commercial backing is becoming more necessary
SRO Ltd is, of course, now seen as the driving force behind GT racing
in Europe (and perhaps beyond!) But there is a pressing need to
help drive commercial interest in the sector, a task made more difficult
by the prevailing attitude that the mass market, manufacturer-supported
series (F1, WTCC, DTM and BTCC among others) should get a perhaps
unduly generous portion of the mass media attention and organisational
challenge then for SRO is to change attitudes both within motorsport
and in the wider commercial world. It’s a huge task and the
pressure is firmly on the shoulders of both Stephane Ratel and the
new Managing Director of SRO Marketing Services, Ian Forbes.
Forbes has brought a
dash of Aussie realism to the SRO mix: a hugely professional and
massively experienced advertising and marketing man, his brief is
simple to explain but tough to deliver. If he manages to achieve
his goals however, he could just make the single biggest leap forward
for GT racing in Europe for a decade, not in terms of the cars or
the racing on offer, but rather in terms of the commercial support
that sustains the racing.
So just who is Ian Forbes?
“My early career
was spent in advertising in Australia working as an Account or Strategy
Director with international groups, and subsequently as Managing
Director. After establishing and selling a successful agency, I
was looking for a new challenge and a new area of focus.”
It was during this period
that Forbes developed his key specialism, pitching - an area that
had “always held great interest” to him. Forbes joined
an international consultancy that worked with senior executives
to help them win many of the world’s biggest contracts. This
company, the largest in its field and headquartered in Australia,
was best known for helping Sydney win the 2000 Olympic bid, as well
as its work in the media, IT, defence and construction industries.
Joining as a Pitch Practice
Leader in Australia, after three years he moved to London, to be
the European Practice Leader. Pitching is an often underestimated
skill which, if you get it right, can reap huge rewards. He did
get it right – and often!
“Throughout my time in pitch practice, our clients had a 68%
success rate, winning more than £3 billion. That’s even
more impressive than it sounds as you have to remember that clients
don’t hire a pitch agency if they’re expecting to win!
Typically they rated their chances of winning at 20-50% before taking
The lure of motorsport
beckoned, and Forbes then had a spell as strategy director for one
of the top F1 marketing agencies.
“I worked alongside
F1 teams and sponsors developing commercial partnerships, as well
as providing a ‘marketing audit’ service that helped
a team understand the commercial opportunities that existed and
showing them how that might be best realised, using the knowledge
I had gained from working as a consultant to many different industries.
“Doing this stuff
for an F1 team was interesting, but perhaps a little frustrating
at times. The budgets in F1 so enormous that there are only ever
a small number of potential sponsors that can afford to spend what
is needed to make an F1 sponsorship work. It was around this time
that Stephane asked if I’d review his series to assess the
It would be a turning
point for Ian Forbes.
“I found there
were fantastic possibilities. The opportunities for commercial partners
are enormous, and affordable. The challenge is helping them all
to realise that, bringing them on board and keeping them here.
Services’ role is to identify ways in which all stakeholders
can benefit – circuits, teams and sponsors. We all need to
understand the value of what we have and its limitations. Essentially
there are no mass volume car sales involved for the marques that
race in GT. A far more realistic and appropriate commercial model
for us is corporate or brand linkage. This is where a brand benefits
from being associated with the prestige names in GT racing. This
is not the same as in, say, BTCC, where mass market sales of the
cars themselves drives the investment in that series.”
Forbes is a firm fan
of the concept of ‘aspirational motorsport.’
are the ones most of us would be choosing to drive if we could.
The appeal of touring or rally cars is obvious, they are the cars
most people actually ARE driving - but GT cars are dream cars, the
ones on the front cover of car magazines, on executive desks as
models, and on the bedroom walls of youngsters.
“These cars are
recognised all around the world, not just in one part of it. Racing
these dream GT cars therefore holds great appeal to fans of cars
and motorsport, and increasingly, to manufacturers. Aston Martin
is a great example of this. They had the option to badge an engine
or build a prototype, but decided the best way to promote their
brand was to build a fabulous looking GT car.
now is to start to translate this burgeoning interest into a major
push to draw more brands (automotive and non-automotive) into what
could be the next major player in the world of motorsport –
“The basis of a marketing package based on aspiration is simple,
and motor manufacturers already understand it. Major volume motor
manufacturers invest a disproportionate amount advertising their
most expensive models. It’s the same for brands in other markets
too. There is a definite ‘halo’ effect which boosts
the image of their other products in the hearts and minds of other
potential customers.” (Think Golf GTI, Ford RS, AMG Mercedes
“We need to show
major brands that investment in GT racing can deliver them a major
advantage, not just a strong return in exposure, but also by proving
the business case for linking their brand to some of the best automotive
As an example of the
sort of concept he was endeavouring to explain, Forbes points to
a laptop computer on his desk, an Acer co-branded with Ferrari,
both companies’ logos placed side by side on a high quality
“Our initial focus
is talking to brands, introducing our product and explaining to
them where the advantages lie from linkage with GT racing. We can
now show exactly the financial value we deliver to a sponsor, and
we can also show them through research how the association with
GT cars can attracts more attention to their brands in advertising,
and hence greater sales. It is then a short step to proving that,
for many brands, GT racing would deliver a better return on investment
than from other motorsport categories or from other sports, including
tennis, golf, sailing or football. Importantly, the size of the
investment is far more realistic and a far more saleable prospect
for most companies, especially compared to F1.
“We must however make sure that the product lives up to the
billing. We know that the cars and the racing do the job but the
supporting package needs to be top drawer too. Hospitality for instance
is a key part of the attraction to a commercial partner and the
standards we need to demand on that front have to be just as high
as the engineering standards applied to the race cars.”
Forbes recognises though
that the corporate support is merely one part of the overall picture:
support and building the consumer show, the two are inextricably
linked. Bums on seats are important but I firmly believe we have
to gain a groundswell of corporate support behind GT racing to begin
with. With that in place the available resource to market the whole
package to the public becomes easier to source and justify.”
Sort of “If you
build it they will come?”
But the difference here is that we’re already preaching to
the converted in some respects, there is already an audience for
these cars and for this sort of racing, the challenge is to improve
the status and packaging of the ‘events’.
and has been done with individual races (Spa, above) and
many of the elements to build upon for a full Championship effort
are already in place. Our paddock has to be an impressive and coherent
spectacle in its own right and massive strides have been taken in
recent years to achieve that. Our sort of fans also want to get
close to the cars and drivers and this is where we can start to
win over support from other areas of motorsport.”
Ian can certainly
talk the talk. Teams and fans will wait for the visible results
of his efforts with eager anticipation.
The first move
seems to be an association with crash.net, rather than dailysportscar.