Forbes meets Rush CEO Tom Potter
Auto Racing Agency Adds the Rolling Stones And Elton John To Its Portfolio
JUN 11, 2014
Hong Kong-based auto racing agency Rush Sports Marketing has been appointed to represent upcoming tours by the Rolling Stones and Elton John.
Rush was launched in September 2010 by its chief executive Tom Potter who was previously responsible for commercial alliances at the Williams Formula One team. It has quickly built up a valuable niche thanks to its specialism in the Asian market which is one of the biggest growth regions in F1.
Just ten years ago only 12.5% of F1 races were in Asia compared to 42.1% last year. Rush has more experience in the Asian market than any other sponsorship agency in F1 and Mr Potter has used it to his advantage. He revealed to Forbes that the company has recently hit a landmark in the amount of sponsorship it has secured for clients.
“Rush has so far brokered over $50 million (total contracted value) in sponsorship and licensing deals across 6 F1 teams, V8 Supercars, a Premiership football team and the Rolling Stones,” says Mr Potter adding that the value of the deals ranges from $450,000 to $10 million.
At Williams Mr Potter worked with a suite of Fortune 500 brands including AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Philips, Thomson Reuters and PepsiCo. This feat was made all the more impressive by the fact that Williams is one of only four F1 teams which is not owned by a major corporation or a billionaire. Instead, 50.8% of its shares are owned by its founder Sir Frank Williams with 24.1% floated on the Frankfurt stock exchange and the remainder in the hands of other investors and management.
“We were competing against teams that were essentially underwritten by car manufacturers and we were an independent team reliant on prize money and sponsorship,” says Mr Potter. “That meant we had to work harder and we won some big deals on the basis that we really got under the skin of their business and were able to deliver a proposition that was aligned with their business and drives value.”
He adds that “we focussed on Business-To-Business relationships because that is an obvious and immediate way you can directly associate bottom line value to the sponsorship. If you can go to the chief financial officer and say ‘as a result of the new relationships we have developed through the sponsorship we have tracked this much incremental business’ then all of the other marketing intangibles and brand building benefits are the icing on the cake.”
Rush was built on this principle of applying business rigour to the decision-making process for sponsorship and setting at the outset key performance indicators to monitor its effectiveness.
“There are two things that make us unique and different,” says Mr Potter. “The first is our approach. The focus of Rush is getting to know the brand’s business.” This is no idle boast as Rush takes a hands-on and thorough approach which even extends to interviewing key executives in the company which is seeking sponsorship.
“We prefer to interview key stakeholders from across the business, not just sales and marketing, to gain a deep understanding of what drives value for the business, what strategies they are employing to grow their business, what their individual challenges and objectives are. It’s often proved an enlightening exercise for the business itself.”
This helps Rush to identify the key performance indicators which the company sets to monitor the success of the sponsorship. “I believe that our process of identifying what your objectives and KPIs are from the outset and then tracking them through to an impact on the bottom line makes it much more tangible,” says Mr Potter.
He adds that Rush’s objective is to apply to sponsorship decisions the same due diligence which is done on major financial investments. It differs to the emotional approach which often drives sponsorship deals and sees brands partnering with certain sports because the owner or chief executive are fans of them. When this happens, brands tend not to do research into the opportunity which in turn makes it harder for the commercial department to track the return on investment.
“Especially during an economic downturn, a chief financial officer wants to know, just as they would if they were making an investment in a new factory or a new product, how many more units have been sold as a result of the sponsorship deal and has that affected our margin or the value of our business. So it is nice if you can go in and say that,” says Mr Potter.
He adds that the second factor which differentiates Rush from the competition is its focus on Asia. “Our market expertise is obviously in global sponsorship and high profile sponsorship properties but also in understanding the Asian market.”
Mr Potter says that before he founded Rush he had identified Asia as an ideal base of operations but the opportunity to set up the company there was more of a coincidence.
“I wanted to be in Asia because I felt strongly that there are quite a few sports marketing agencies in Europe and the UK and it is a difficult environment to stand out in whereas there are not many F1 agencies that have got a footprint in Asia with the level of competence and track record that we have.”