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Marketers, start your engines

Joe Gibbs Racing visits UNC Kenan-Flagler

When you think of sports marketing, football and basketball are likely the first sports that come to mind. But some of the most exciting and unique B2B and B2C marketing and advertising opportunities can be found in a sport that’s often overlooked: NASCAR.

That’s one reason that Dave Alpern, chief marketing officer of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), makes the trek to UNC Kenan-Flagler every year to speak to Undergraduate Business marketing strategy classes.

NASCAR is a sport that primarily survives on major sponsorships and relationships, creating a unique environment for marketing professionals. Because there are no franchises in NASCAR, racing organizations like JGR must bring in a certain amount of revenue each year to stay in business. The constant pressure to secure major sponsorships makes Alpern’s job of understanding business sponsors and building relationships that much more important.

Alpern offered the following insights and advice for success.

Find your “secret sauce”

In the highly competitive world of sports marketing, developing and communicating your unique value proposition to potential business partners is extremely important.

Most sports sponsorships revolve around advertising opportunities in broadcast and other media. But technology now allows viewers to skip over commercials, which presents a challenge for advertisers.

NASCAR offers sponsors the unique opportunity to become part of the team, says Alpern. Racing teams and cars are named for the companies that sponsor them – such as JGR’s M&M’s show car, which Alpern brought to UNC Kenan-Flagler on display for the day. NASCAR sponsors’ logo placements, which appear on the hood and sides of cars and on drivers’ uniforms, are constantly in view of spectators and are DVR-proof.

Use referrals to build relationships

FedEx is one of NASCAR’s largest sponsors in general and sponsors one of the four JGR teams. Alpern, whose work is focused on cultivating sponsorships with B2B brands, encourages every other company that signs with JGR to use FedEx for all of their corporate shipping needs. The approach helps build business relationships between sponsor companies and increases ROI for FedEx, resulting in the firm renewing its sponsorship with JGR.

Realize that you can change your mind

Alpern seems to be living the quintessential success story. He married his college sweetheart, is a father to three sons – two of whom are Carolina students – and works for a company founded a childhood idol.

On the surface, it might seem as if Alpern and other successful business executives had their lives planned out from the start. But in reality, many have gone through periods of uncertainty and change that have shaped them into the thoughtful power players they are today.

Alpern attended George Mason University with the intention of pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.

“My father was an engineer, and I thought I wanted to follow in his footsteps because I was good at math,” he says. “After the first day of classes, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.”

He then decided to pursue a degree in broadcast journalism, with hopes of becoming a sports caster at ESPN. But JGR came calling – and the rest is history.

Work your way to the top

As a northern Virginia native and avid Washington Redskins fan, Alpern had always looked up to former NFL coach Joe Gibbs. The opportunity to intern at JGR was an offer Alpern couldn’t refuse, even though it was initially an unpaid position.

Alpern’s journey with JGR got off to an auspicious start. “I had interned at the company for six months and they still did not have a place to put me,” he says. “I literally started off in a closet with a table, a chair and no electrical outlets – just an extension cord from the adjacent room.”

Now one of the company’s top executives, Alpern appreciates the experience he gained from working his way up and learning the ins and outs of the business.

“It’s been a crazy ride, but it’s been well worth it,” he says.