World Solar Challenge: doing media right

I’ve often pointed out that a solar car team is more like a startup company than anything else. A little like the early days of Google, really. The main product (the solar car, the search engine) is a gigantic money sink, and any cash coming in relates to something else (sponsorship, advertising). Overall success requires multiple skill sets working together. In particular, making sponsorship work requires an excellent media team (as well as a car fast enough to generate lots of good news). A number of teams have a track record of doing this well – Twente, for example, and Punch.


Deufol Technics packs Punch’s car and gear yesterday

An important example of sponsorship relates to transport. Here, the team acts as a kind of giant billboard for a tricky logistics problem handled well. This year, Punch provided a textbook example of superb media handling on this topic:

‘Voor mij is het de eerste keer dat ik voor zo een uitdaging sta,’ zegt logistiek manager Pieter Galle uit Leuven. ‘Het batterijpakket versturen is de grootste uitdaging voor het team. De batterijcellen die wij gebruiken zijn vaak niet toegelaten op vluchten. Om deze toch te kunnen versturen moeten er veel veiligheidsmaatregelen getroffen worden. Gelukkig heeft DHL Global Forwarding, in samenwerking met Deufol als verpakker van de goederen en batterijen alles tot in de puntjes kunnen regelen, zodat wij ons met het team volledig op het wereldkampioenschap konden concentreren.’” (Translation: “‘It’s the first time I’ve faced a challenge like this,’ says logistics manager Pieter Galle from Leuven. ‘Transporting the battery pack was the biggest challenge for the team. The batteries we use are often forbidden on flights. To be able to send them, many safety measures need to be taken. Fortunately, DHL Global Forwarding, in cooperation with Deufol our packer, has managed all the details, making it possible for us to focus our attention on the world championship.’”)

And Pieter Galle wasn’t just engaged in hyperbole there – transporting lithium battery packs really is tricky. In 2015, and again this year, there have been horror stories involving battery packs. I should also point out that some good photos really help the sponsorship game too, like these from Twente this year, or this one from Michigan, or this one from Nuon in 2015:


Nuon’s 2015 flightcase being loaded (photo: Jorrit Lousberg)

Another important sponsorship category relates to the team’s university. Here Western Sydney provides an excellent example, with their 2015 car being part of a major university rebranding exercise:


Western Sydney University’s 2015 car (photo: A. Dekker)

Michigan always does a great job of this during the American Solar Challenge. Their media team generates local news coverage everywhere they go. And the University of Michigan can afford to take the long view. If a 12-year-old boy or girl somewhere in rural America gets excited by the car, and decides to study engineering at Michigan one day, that’s a win. And not just for the university – if the sponsorship money keeps rolling in, the cars keep rolling on, and the fans can keep watching.


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7 thoughts on “World Solar Challenge: doing media right

  1. Thank you for the compliment! We’re doing our very best to deliver our story in a comprehensible way. Almost ready for the BWSC, where we will go live on Facebook from our campsite at the end of every raceday.

    • Once gain, well done!

      My comment “a solar car team is more like a startup company than anything else” was intended to get smaller, newer teams to learn from the more established teams like yours – in particular to learn that the overall activity is not just building a car, it’s also sponsorship, and media, and logistics, and race strategy, and team-building, and more.

  2. I’ve missed these blogs on their website completely. Wel written summary though! Teambuilding and strategy would be an interesting topic for a blog to. Are you perhaps planning on writing these blogs? 🙂

  3. Ironically, that the WSC itself is “Doing media wrong” by letting the teams and independents like you do the race covering makes it more fun to follow. Unlike strictly organised closed and limited events like the Olympics and Soccer matches that do media ‘right’ to maximize income, we get information from a lot of different sources, including your and Most Dace’s coverage.
    Only recently I was again reminded of this during a Formula One race, when the commentator complained that the video edit in the country was following the (boring) leadership then the real matches later in the field. And that I knew there was no technical reason not to have individual news stations choose their own from the 20+ camera’s at the race, or even show multiple. Because at the solar Challenge we got multiple streams at once provided by team members with cellphones streaming on their own dime from the outback.
    The same applies to Champions League matches where we mis incidents because the people in charge prefer the third rerun above the already continued match.
    With current data streams, giant screens and multiple devices, there is no reason why we can’t receive both and chose what to watch.

    • Thanks! Both MostDece and I try to cover everybody, not just the “top teams.” And that’s partly because we understand that just getting into the race takes an effort deserves respect and coverage.

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