Smartsheet runs on the belief that we can empower anyone to drive meaningful change, and our business is only successful if we’re helping create a world where anyone can thrive. That’s why we wanted to clearly differentiate ourselves from competitors in the industry but also convey what we stand for—beyond a simple brand impression and on an international scale.
In our first season as a McLaren Racing partner, CEO Zak Brown challenged us to think outside of our logo on their Formula 1 cars. Enter Sponsor X: a world-first initiative that flips the sponsorship concept on its head—using our benefits to put a worthy cause front and center.
Most sponsorships are about getting a brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible. But for Smartsheet, sponsorship isn’t about what we get, it’s about what we give. Whether it’s a logo, tools, opportunity, or visibility, we offer a platform. Why? Because our greatest power is in unlocking the power of others.
As a company, Smartsheet is focused on antiracism and eliminating sexism by working with local organizations already on the ground making a difference. For Sponsor X, we partnered with two nonprofits that align with these corporate values so the initiative would resonate externally and internally. We set out to increase their exposure and raise donations, and also provided free software and consulting hours to help them run more efficiently so they could dedicate more funds to their core mission.
With a record-breaking audience of 55 million, the Australian Grand Prix gave us a huge podium to unveil our world-first initiative: Sponsor X.
The first Sponsor X, DeadlyScience, provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth with STEM educational materials and mentoring. They help kids all over Australia—shipping more than 20,000 books and STEM resources to over 100 communities. DeadlyScience was already making an impact but could never afford the awareness a sponsorship with Formula 1 could provide. We wanted to shine a light on their hard work inspiring and diversifying the next generation of scientists.
At the April 2022 Australian Grand Prix, DeadlyScience replaced Smartsheet’s logo on McLaren’s race cars, making them the first indigenous organization in history to be featured at a Formula 1 race. But the logo switch was just the beginning.
All marketing and PR efforts for the race, including media buys, were used to promote DeadlyScience in an effort to increase awareness and drive donations. The week prior to the race, teaser videos launched on all Smartsheet social properties to build intrigue and excitement. We revealed DeadlyScience using video-first social media posts from McLaren and Smartsheet influencers, including a Smartsheet TikTok takeover. The campaign took off when we tapped McLaren’s huge social presence and the celebrity of F1’s only Australian driver and hometown hero, Daniel Ricciardo. We also created a Sponsor X landing page highlighting the purpose behind the campaign, and made it easy to donate.
In October, we brought Sponsor X to the United States Grand Prix in Austin, TX. This time, the challenge was to make it bigger and better. We chose to partner with The Hidden Genius Project—making them the first Black nonprofit featured on a Formula 1 car in the U.S. For the last 10 years, their organization has trained and mentored Black male youth in technology creation, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills to transform their lives and communities while tackling the misconception that there’s a lack of Black STEM talent for careers in the tech sector.
We upped the Sponsor X ante of the logo swap and earned / social media promotion by co-hosting a Tech Slam event with The Hidden Genius Project ahead of the Grand Prix. Local high school students of color got unprecedented hands-on experience learning about sports and tech from a McLaren Racing engineer, McLaren’s F1 driver Lando Norris, and technologists from Google, Splunk, and Salesforce—plus a bonus behind-the-scenes tour of the Circuit of the Americas race track. The event, which showcased the local impact of The Hidden Genius Project on local youth, also attracted Austin government officials and local and international media.
Brandon Nicholson, Ph.D., Executive Director at The Hidden Genius Project summed up race weekend best: “Seeing our name on this car. On one of the biggest stages in the world. In front of tens of millions of people—it’s priceless for these young men. Getting to meet the race team at the track. This is where the dreams start. The paths begin.”
Sponsor X was a first-of-its-kind initiative. And it worked.
Drove 400% increase in donations to DeadlyScience
The Hidden Genius Project gained nearly 1,000 new social followers—4x the goal—during race weekend
Smartsheet was the #1 mentioned Formula 1 activated sponsor
Sponsor X drove more and higher-quality conversations and engagement across social media than competitor Super Bowl ads
Reached a global audience totaling 1.6 billion through top-tier earned media
Garnered 7.4 million social media engagements
Received 99% positive consumer sentiment
It also positively impacted Smartsheet’s business.
Most shared content on employee social channels in 2022—increase by 12x for participation in employee advocacy program and 10x increase for number of shares compared to all other content.
One team member commented that she’d never felt more connected to the company or her work.
Several job candidates told us they answered Smartsheet’s call because of our work with these nonprofits.
Potential customers noted that they added us to their consideration set because of the campaign.
Most importantly, the initiative boosted the confidence of DeadlyScience’s kids, helping them truly feel “seen” for the first time. And The Hidden Genius Project hopes to build on the Sponsor X opportunity to create more exposure for their youth—hammering home the message that their Geniuses can do anything.
Sponsor X is the embodiment of Smartsheet’s mission to empower anyone to drive meaningful change and proved that social impact brand initiatives can work hand-in-hand with business goals.
Because sometimes leaving a mark means removing one.
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