“Must be nice to get all those free parts!” This statement peeves me off and I want to explain it. I understand the term “privilege” in context, and I admit that I have worked in environments with unlimited budgets for tools, equipment, and parts. That is privilege; I get it. “Hello, My name is Kevin Tetz and I’m parts-privileged.” In 12 years of automotive TV shows and dozens of magazine titles as a freelance writer, there’s been hundreds of sponsors of parts, tools, and equipment that I have worked with. I know I’m a lucky SOB and that I’ve gotten some “perks” along the way.
I started writing in the late ’90s, bartering articles for advertisement in low-circulation magazines, trying to advertise my Paintucation company when I couldn’t afford the ads. Keeping a full-time job in body shops, I’d work on editors’ cars for free, and do the story for free just to have a published article. That was a “win-win” that gave them a good story and me some good exposure. Jeff Ford was my editor with Modified Mustangs & Fords and gave me assignments on subjects in my wheelhouse, and I found a niche in the magazine world delivering paint and body articles. Wayne and Miles Cooke, as well as Donald Farr took me under their wing(s) and taught me finer editorial and photographic points, and the value of having an ongoing build within reach so when an editor needed a story, you could deliver quickly.
One bonus of writing tech was that usually I got to keep the parts from the article. Sometimes not. TV is similar to print since parts manufacturers pay to get their stuff installed and demonstrated on vehicles. Did I keep the parts from TV? Umm, no. Almost never. Seriously. One perk from TV was to be able to build cars with other people’s money. The real rewards have been building relationships based on mutual respect. Respect has to be earned. Dream job? Yes! Still, it’s a J-O-B.
What if the parts don’t fit? If you tell your viewers that the parts “just didn’t fit,” you burn a bridge with that manufacturer, and you won’t get another story with that editor and you have just pissed off an advertiser. That equals short career as TV guy or writer (saw it happen). The truth is crucial, but telling it in context is just as important. A rep for an exhaust company told me that they factor in a 2-inch variance when making a late-model exhaust system. Two inches? How could a bolt-on exhaust possibly fit? Do you cheat the camera and fake it? No. You make it fit with the cameras rolling, within the rules of the instruction sheet, and with your own skills. You spend the time, take the photos, and make it work. This happens a lot, and typically turns a 2-hour installation into a 4-day assignment, but it’s what we signed up for. Is free still free?
Tim Strange (Strange Motion Rod & Custom) talks about the deadline/thrash that happens in dozens of shops across the country. I got some good insight…
“To some, especially the younger ones, they think sponsorship is all about getting free stuff and it’s a one-way street. That cannot be further from the truth. Companies are not sitting by the phone waiting to give away free parts. They are in business to sell their parts to make money. They must have a return on their parts if they choose to give you parts or just a discount.”
Tim says, “Once you get the parts, your job has just begun. I know a few stories of people getting parts donated and missing (SEMA) deadlines or showing poor build quality and the company has either asked for the parts back or given the builder a bill for the parts on site. And don’t think that companies don’t talk to one another. If you take advantage of one company, thinking you can easily move on to their competitor on the next project will catch up to you quick.”
Tim Strange has sponsors. It’s interesting what 30 years of backing up your reputation will do…
I’ve pitched sponsorships for print and TV, and as a builder, and with each one, you have to “sell” your concept. That means a project rendering, a timeline, and some kind of guarantee of exposure or it’s just not gonna happen. Pitching a project takes hours of preparation, and during that process it’s humbling to stand there with your hand out since it really comes down to whether they trust you and your integrity as much as the concept of the project. “Quit yer cryin about how it’s worth it if you get the free stuff.” Maybe. But on the backside, there is a lot of pressure. Ask editor Licata about pressure from sponsors or advertisers.
I get paid to write now, but if you factor the hourly investment, sometimes it would still be cheaper to buy the parts at retail. Networking in this industry is my job, and it’s my passion, and it’s where my best friends live and work, so in just buying the parts from a Summit catalog, I am missing the possibility of building alliances and partners, working with friends, and securing future employment. The hours of unpaid overtime get swept aside in favor of the bigger picture.
It’s ironic what it costs to get “free” parts. That’s why it tweaks builders, TV guys, and writers when somebody says, “he didn’t pay for any of that stuff,” or a forum flames you for “not understanding what it’s like for the average guy” poop! Any one of us “privileged” understands what it’s like. We’ve been there. So hear me when I tell ya nothing is ever free, we just pay it off with different currency.
About Kevin: Kevin Tetz is an automotive restoration expert, TV personality, freelance automotive journalist, and owner of Paintucation Instructional DVDs.