ROBIN FENWICK wasn’t short of opportunities. With his contact book bulging and his last employer a potential client, all he had to do was pitch his idea.
“As head of sponsorship for Hilton Hotels I had suggested the company focus on its core sponsorship deals with Formula One and rugby by employing a specialist marketing agency,” he said. “It was the perfect opportunity to set one up.”
Hilton agreed and Fenwick had his first client. In July 2009 he founded sports marketing agency Right Formula, specialising in creating sponsorship opportunities in F1. The company, based in central London, had sales of £4.5m in the year to last June and will move to bigger offices in the City this year.
Clients such as Santander, Hilton Worldwide and BSkyB pay the agency to make sure their brands feature prominently at F1 races and other big sporting events. Once a deal is struck between a sponsor and the rights holder, Fenwick ensures the partnership delivers a decent return on investment. “There are some companies that don’t use their sponsorships effectively enough,” said Fenwick, 33. “I wanted to prove there are genuine benefits from associating with sport.”
Fenwick and his team depend on close relationships with F1 management, teams, co-sponsors and the media.
“There are many millionaires in the world of F1, and on race day they are not cooped up in the hospitality box,” said Fenwick. “I make sure the key people meet each other in the paddock. Those are the business transactions that count.”
Specialising in F1 has distinguished Right Formula from larger rivals, he believes. “There are so many competitors in the world of sports marketing who cover more sports. They are not as effective. We’re able to say exactly what we do and how we do it.”
Fenwick also believes that his well-educated staff of 20 display a passion for F1 and a knowledge of the industry that set his agency apart.
“We recruit individuals who have the best experience, knowledge and relationships in the industry. There are clear business benefits from that.”
Fenwick was born in Southwark, south London, and grew up in the western suburb of Teddington. His father was a corporate film producer and his mother a graphic designer. He has two stepsisters from his father’s first marriage.
The family moved to Cobham in Surrey in 1986 where he attended Parkside school and then the nearby City of London Freemen’s school. In 1999 Fenwick enrolled at Durham University to read sports management, developing a passion for cricket and rugby at the same time. He graduated in 2002.
“It was obvious to me I wasn’t going to become a professional sportsman but I enjoyed the camaraderie and I wanted to stay close to it.”
Fenwick spent his university summer holidays as an intern with small agencies, including Benchmark Sport, and the breakfast television programme RI:SE, which took over from Channel 4’s Big Breakfast in 2002.
“Most of the time I was making tea, keeping my eyes and ears open,” he said.
Fenwick’s patience paid off. On graduating he landed a job at the global sports marketing agency Octagon. He worked on sponsorship for the European Rugby Cup, involving Heineken, Peugeot, Orange, Parker Pen and Norton Rose. “I was intrigued by the business of the sport.”
Fenwick had his first taste of F1 when one of Octagon’s staff dropped out of an event at the last minute. “Vodafone was sponsoring Ferrari in Italy that weekend. ‘Who would like to go to Monza and fill in?’ we were asked. My hand was first in the air.”
Contacts were made and in 2003 he was approached by the McLaren team. After several interviews — and psychometric tests — he was offered a marketing job at Imperial Tobacco, the team’s title partner at the time. There he was introduced to Hilton, also a key McLaren sponsor.
“I had lived and breathed Formula One for three years. I knew I could open doors for Hilton quite easily.”
Hilton took him on in 2006 to work on its partnerships with Aviva Premiership Rugby, the Professional Cricketers’ Association and Wembley Stadium. By 2009 Fenwick had the knowledge to go it alone.
“Sports sponsorship was often seen as an opportunity simply to enjoy hospitality at events,” he said. “The entry point for sponsorship is in excess of £1m. I wanted to see what these brands were getting out of it — and better it.”
Fenwick lives in West Byfleet, Surrey, with his wife Samantha, an events director at Samsung.
He advises entrepreneurs to stay determined: “There are frustrations and setbacks in business. Focus on one goal and work with people who are as good as you, if not better.”