Interview with Nicky Grist: Former World Rally Championship Co-Driver

Article excerpt

Nicky Grist is probably best known as a former World Rally Championship (WRC) co-driver and for his achievements in the arena of world rallying. He is most closely associated with Colin McRae, for whom he was co-driver between 1997 and 2002, when together they won no fewer than 17 WRC events. He has also co-driven for Armin Schwarz and Juha Kankkunen, and is the second most successful co-driver in the history of the WRC. After a 14-year career in the WRC, and with a massive 21 World Rally victories to his credit, he founded the Nicky Grist Co-Driver Academy to help young co-drivers wishing to make an impact in the sport. He has also formed NG Motorsports Ltd, a retail and wholesale supplier of motorsport products.

AW: Given the demise of mass markets and the growing cost of media advertising, do you consider sponsorship as a viable promotional medium for your company's marketing strategy?

NG: Because my business is centred in and around motorsport, sponsorship is much more appropriate than advertising in that it enables me to get directly to competitors, who are my primary target audience. When it comes to advertising, however, it is not necessarily just buying column inches any more: it's about trying to target more specific audiences and not just placing an ad.

AW: It has been suggested that sponsorship is similar to advertising in terms of its measurement. Do you agree?

NG: To a point, yes. A number of large organisations--Ford Motor Company, for example--tend to quantify the success of a campaign based purely on the press coverage that it receives. So for them it would be a success. From my point of view, however, press coverage of a sponsored event or individual is beneficial only if it directly relates to my brand. If the emphasis is placed on a product that doesn't carry the NG Motorsports name, then it's clearly of little or no benefit.

AW: When embarking on a sponsorship campaign, do you follow a set of detailed objectives?

NG: It varies depending on what you are trying to achieve. Ultimately, my prime objective is to generate brand awareness, and one means for evaluating sponsorship's effectiveness is by raising awareness of the brand.

Looked at from another perspective, my name is my brand and I'm selling on my experience. So hopefully when someone hears Nicky Grist state that a product is good, they will believe that it's good and come to me for it. I'm selling on the basis of my years in rallying; I am attempting to communicate confidence in my brand via the experience I have gained in the WRC arena.

AW: Do you engage in sponsorship activities for financial returns or philanthropic purposes?

NG: I don't think you can separate the two. My co-driver equipment, for example, is basically a loss leader, but in the same way that NG Motorsports sponsors local events and drivers, it's my way of giving back to the grass roots of the sport that launched my career. It also serves as a carrot to persuade people to spend more on other things at a later date. Furthermore, sales are more than likely to be an outcome of a successful sponsorship campaign. That said, success will depend considerably on the strength of the brand. When a well established brand launches a new product, it can concentrate its efforts on the brand extension because of the equity that the core brand already has. NG Motorsports doesn't enjoy that degree of brand awareness, and therefore it's the company name and not its products so much that the focus has to be on.

AW: Do you feel that money invested in sponsorship activities could be spent more effectively on other forms of marketing communications?

NG: When all things are considered, the visible part of sponsorship that the public sees is only one aspect. For every pound spent on sponsorship, an equal amount is often spent on corporate hospitality showcasing your investment to existing and potential clients. …