By Aaron Waldron
I’ve tried for years to screen the number social media “friend requests” I accept from RC people that I don’t really know, but race reports are inescapable - and so are complaints about them. And yet no matter how much hobby shop owners and grumpy old-time curmudgeons (like me) don’t like it, the scope of manufacturer “sponsorship” in the world of RC has changed forever.
Long gone are the days when club races ruled the weekly calendar - instead replaced by hundreds of “events” around the globe every weekend complete with podium photos and cheesy plastic trophies. And the splash radius of the championship fish stories told by those who frequent the many stops of this traveling carnival has spread far beyond the pit area and local 24-hour diner; instead, the focus has shifted to social media, various company blogs, and the email inboxes of media sites.
There’s a problem, though: most race reports are more boring to read than a phone book.
I know this because I’ve been copy/pasting them into articles on LiveRC’s home page and sharing them on social media for over a year now, and I can see the statistics and web analytics for the articles. Go look at the pages of other news sites and manufacturers who post links on Facebook to race reports on their own sites, and note how often fewer than .1% (that’s one-tenth of one percent) of the page’s “Likes” total even “Liked” the post - now think of how few went three steps further: clicked on the actual link, read the post, and digested the info.
Don’t get me wrong - if you’ve got 2000 “Friends” on Facebook and a couple hundred Instagram followers, you’ll probably score a few dozen “Likes” by asking your friend (parent) to snap a cell phone photo and thanking your sponsors with five lines of cheesy hashtags. For most racers and brands alike, that’s more than enough to satisfy the minimum terms of a “sponsorship,” but if you truly want to gather a following - and perhaps actually provide some value for the company that agreed to give you a discount in exchange for your direct purchases - I’ve put together a few tips.
(NOTE: Using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation is a given. Re-read what you’re saying before you post it, consult Google if you’re unsure, and do your best. At the very least, don’t misspell your sponsors - or your own name.)
1. Snap better photos
Unless you are trying to take pictures with a potato, there is no excuse for blurry, grainy, abstract image that makes a preschooler’s finger painting look like an Annie Leibovitz portrait.
Not even the most high-tech smartphone will take a decent shot if neither you, nor your pit area photographer, know how to use it. Pay attention to the background and framing. Make sure the sun or other main source of light is behind the camera man - but that his big dumb shadow isn’t covering the subject of the photo. Tap the person’s face on the phone’s screen, which will trigger the camera to auto-adjust its focus and lighting conditions. Use your phone’s native editing tools (or any of the hundreds of free applications available for your operating system) to straighten the picture, crop it to a reasonable size, and even brighten it up so that you can see your smiling face. Take multiple photos so you have a better chance of getting a good one, and check the pictures before you leave the track.
And for crying out loud - shoot them with the phone held horizontally. Vertical photos look terrible on web page templates and push the text of your social media race report off the screen of a smart phone - horizontal photos always look better. Also, don’t take a bunch of mismatched pictures of different areas of the track when a panorama will show the whole thing in a way people can understand it.
The photos should be interesting, too. One can only see so many dudes crouching next to some dirt mound, holding his car and plaque near his junk, before learning to thumb past your race report subconsciously like your annoying aunt’s Candy Crush Saga high score updates.
Have someone shoot a picture of you wrenching, driving, or standing at your turn marshal cone relaxed instead of trying to look not-awkward with some sort of Zoolander facial contortion. Rather than settle for a picture of your clean car on your pit bench (#HopeMyWheelNutDoesntFallOffAgainInTheSportsmanBMainLOL), try to get an action photo -even if it’s secretly of your car going 1/4 throttle in practice. And if you absolutely have to go for the “forced elementary school Picture Day pose,” have your portrait taken on the drivers’ stand so the track and view is in the background rather than blocking two or three letters of a trackside banner (after all, didn’t you pay for custom t-shirts with the logos on them already?).
2. Provide context
If you go to a race where it’s likely that a half-dozen other people are going to write race reports for wherever they finished, capture greater attention by actually giving information. Mention how many entries were there that day, and how many were in your class. Talk about what happened in qualifying - who else was fast, what the fastest lap times were, how close the top five times happened to be in qualifying, and how track conditions changed. Pretend you’re actually, well, writing a race report.
Offer some insight that makes it sound like you know what you’re doing - especially if it can help others. “The track was wetter than usual, so I tried a different tire sauce - and applied it with a tooth brush rather than just dripping it on” or “the weather was hotter than expected, so I turned down my motor timing and went up a half-weight of shock oil.”
Talk about the actual race, too. I think we can all agree that you’d rather skip past “I won and would like to thank my sponsors” if the guy who finished second wrote “We had a clean start until the fourth turn, when three of us crashed before the double and (Driver Name 1) got by for the lead - he checked out and won by five seconds. I was fourth after the wreck, but passed (Driver Name 2) for third coming onto the straightaway about two minutes into the race and got by (Driver Name 3) in the last corner for second.”
BONUS TIP #1: Don't refer to yourself in the third person - you'll sound like a whacko. Rather than writing your own name, use "I" or "my" or "me." And since you're not a group of people, you shouldn't be using "we" or "our."
BONUS TIP #2: Don’t use the word “would.” Repeatedly misusing the present conditional verb tense only makes it look like you’re trying to convince everyone you’re fancier than you really are. Instead, use the past tense of each verb.
Wrong: “I would go on to win by five seconds.”
Right: “I won by five seconds.”
Wrong: “(Driver Name) would jump past me over the triple for the win.”
Right: “(Driver Name) jumped past me over the triple for the win.”
Wrong: “The second qualifier would try to win it in the first turn, and the takeout maneuver would cost me the win.”
Right: “My friend that started behind me drove like an idiot, so I guilted him into buying me a milkshake at McDonalds.”
Got it? Cool.
3. Don’t be a sell out
Even if every driver secretly wished his 50% sponsorship made him the Ken Roczen of RC racing, no one tunes into Supercross to watch every robot on the podium blow off the post-race interview for the chance to rattle off 15 different sponsors. For a buying public who complains about how product reviews performed by media companies are worthless, a lot of you Kool-Aid drinkers struggle to come up with more than “my car was on rails” and “my tires were super hooked up.” Remember - a huge chunk of your Facebook friends have their own sponsors, too, and the chance that your phony endorsement actually changes someone’s buying habits is basically zero.
The discounts might be nice, but not everyone “couldn’t be where they are without the help of their sponsors.” Even worse, sounding like Billy Mays, that creepy “ShamWow” guy, or any of the unprepared dimwits on Shark Tank, will only make you sound even more full of crap when you switch sponsors next year and all of a sudden THOSE tires were the key that you won the Sportsman class for the third year in a row.
Remember - you’re wearing the custom t-shirt for a reason. Let that do the talking.
It may take a long time before manufacturers realize that stealing sales away from the facilities where their products are used might not be the healthiest move for long-term industry health, but you can help keep the bubble from popping by engaging - rather than annoying - your audience.