• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

7 FOR '07

August and September usually are interesting months. That’s often when deals get done for the following season, even though we might not learn the news until October or November.

With that in mind, I'll post NOW my list of 7 PR pet peeves, with hopes they will (finally) get done in 2007:

1. Truth In Publicity: Any race billed as a “500” that is not 500 MILES should be labeled as such by the promoter -- and the news media has the same obligation. The average American ticket-buyer who hears or reads about a “500” automatically assumes that means miles – not kilometers or laps or anything else. This has long been a burr under my PR saddle because it’s at best a gimmick, at worst, a borderline attempt to deceive. That’s bad business. The metric system isn’t widely taught in the public schools, otherwise, we’d be talking about Tiger Woods making a 152 centimeter putt or Adam Vinatieri kicking a 45,720 millimeter field goal. Chuck Newcomb and Jim Foster, the original promoters of CART’s Cleveland Grand Prix, understood this and incorporated the kilometers identification into the event’s original logo -- all the way back in 1982. Almost a quarter-century later, it’s time for some others to follow their example.

2. Put the News Back Into ‘News’ Releases: Any publicist with a solid journalism background understands there is no “news” in a release that touts how “excited” a driver is or how he/she is “looking forward to” an upcoming race. Isn’t it natural to assume that’s how the driver feels? In fact, among routine pre-race releases I’ve authored over the years, the one that probably got the most pick-up came before the 1989 Michigan 500. The first graph read this way: “Michael Andretti is NOT looking forward to Sunday’s Michigan 500.” The text went on to explain the issues of escalating speeds on the two-mile oval and efforts to make the cars longer-and-stronger in the front to help protect against leg injuries. In fact, that handout got a second wave of use when Andretti won, despite a spin on pit road and two stop-and-go penalties!

3. Park the Clichés: If anything makes media hit the “delete” button faster than those “excited/looking forward to” releases, it’s the too-clever ones. Trust me, reporters have had it with every pre-Las Vegas release written around the theme a driver "hopes Lady Luck will be riding with him/her,” or how "hot" the racing will be in Phoenix. Not to mention those headlined, (Kasey) “Kahne Is Able.”

4. Promote the Championship: Yes, the Daytona 500, Indianapolis 500, U.S. Nationals, Sebring 12 Hours and Rolex 24 stand alone in their series. All, however, are part of a season-long championship, which, supposedly, is the ultimate goal. Except in NASCAR, it’s amazing how often there is no attempt to put current news into the context of the title chase – the unifying theme of what otherwise would be a collection of individual events moving circus-like from city-to-city. This isn't a new problem: As CART's communications director, I led a seminar for race organizers and sponsors before the 1983 season titled, "Promoting the Series as a Series." Of course, it doesn't help when sanction officials don't insist producers include an updated points graphic before a race telecast signs-off.

5. Photo-Op: Every media guide should include a good-size photograph of the PR representative(s) for that team, sponsor, track or organization. It sure is nice to know who you are looking for in a crowded press room. No surprise, the NASCAR Nextel Cup guide does this.

6. News at Internet Speed: Some still don’t get it – the Internet is a near-instant form of communication – faster than Bill Elliott at Talladega. I’m left shaking my head when a few sanctioning body web sites don’t have reports, results and updated point standings three hours after the checkered flag. (And, even worse, the server capacity to handle post-race traffic.) Team, track and sponsor sites should post releases at the same time that news is announced to the media.

7. Common Courtesy: Amazing this needs to be written, but sadly, some so-called "PR people" require the reminder. Here goes: Rarely, if ever, is there a valid excuse for not returning phone messages or answering E-mails. Including when the answer is "no." Enough said.

[ more next Tuesday, if not before . . . ]