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Smartsheet and McLaren Racing shine a light on nonprofits with ‘Sponsor X’ campaign

June 14, 2023 | 7 min read

The campaign won in the Social Purpose category at The Drum Awards for Marketing Americas 2023.


Credit: Smartsheet

Smartsheet and McLaren Racing leveraged the enormous popularity of Formula 1 to promote organizations aimed at empowering historically disenfranchised demographics.

The Brief

Smartsheet wanted to place clear differentiation between itself and emerging competitors. It was time to boldly define what it stands for – beyond a simple brand impression and on an international scale.

Smartsheet runs on the belief that it can empower anyone to drive meaningful change, and its business is only successful if it is helping create a world where anyone can thrive. Its ultimate goal with this new campaign was to walk the talk of its brand’s mission in a new, creative way that would create more positive change for more people.

Smartsheet and its new partner, McLaren Racing, have shared values of “we before me” and “performing with integrity,” so decided to highlight some worthy causes – instead of themselves.

The Idea

With an audience of around 55 million people, the Australian Grand Prix gave it a huge podium to unveil its ’Sponsor X’ initiative.

The first Sponsor X, DeadlyScience, provides Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth with Stem educational materials and mentoring. It helps 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. Smartsheet wanted to shine a light on its hard work inspiring and diversifying the next generation of scientists.

At the 2022 Australian Grand Prix, DeadlyScience’s logo replaced Smartsheet’s logo on the McLaren racecars, making it 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, Smartsheet used teaser videos to attract press coverage and to build intrigue and excitement across its social properties (including a Smartsheet TikTok takeover). The campaign took off when it tapped McLaren’s huge social presence and the celebrity of F1’s only Australian driver, Daniel Ricciardo. Smartsheet also created a Sponsor X landing page highlighting the purpose behind the campaign.

Throughout the three-day race, the team on the ground at the Grand Prix also conducted on-site interviews using key Smartsheet and McLaren executives in addition to DeadlyScience leaders.

In October, Smartsheet brought ’Sponsor X’ to the United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas. This time, the challenge was to make it bigger and better. Smartsheet chose to partner with The Hidden Genius Project – making it the first Black nonprofit featured on a Formula 1 car in the US. For the last 10 years, its organization has trained and mentored Black male youth in technological development, entrepreneurship and leadership skills in an effort to transform their lives and communities while tackling the misconception that there’s a lack of Black Stem talent.

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Smartsheet also co-hosted a ’Tech Slam’ event with The Hidden Genius Project ahead of the Grand Prix. Local high school students of color got 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 behind-the-scenes tour of the Circuit of the Americas race track. The event, which showcased the impact of The Hidden Genius Project on local youth, also attracted Austin government officials as well as local and international media.

Brandon Nicholson, executive director of The Hidden Genius Project, summed up the race weekend this way: “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 [and] the paths begin.”

The Results

’Sponsor X’ was a first-of-its-kind initiative. And it worked.

  • Drove 400% increase in donations to DeadlyScience.

  • Generated nearly 1,000 new social followers for The Hidden Genius Project – four-times the goal – during race weekend.

  • Reached a global audience totaling around 1.6 billion through media coverage in The Guardian, Forbes, The Athletic and elsewhere.

  • Garnered 7.4m social media engagements and received 99% positive consumer sentiment.

The campaign also positively impacted Smartsheet’s business and workplace culture. One team member commented that she’d never felt more connected to the company or her work than she did while working on this project. And several job candidates said they applied for roles at Smartsheet because of its work with these nonprofits.

This campaign won at The Drum Awards for Marketing Americas 2023. Find out more about The Drum’s Global Awards program or head to our case studies hub to read more award-winning stories.

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