• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Thursday, September 21, 2006

NOTING THE NEWS

Last week's primary election in Arizona provided my latest lesson from the world of politics.

As explained in my August 1 "Why Spin Doctor?" posting, I've developed much of my PR philosophy, plus strategies and tactics from the political pros. Here in the Grand Canyon State, the favorite to win the Republican nomination for governor was Don Goldwater, nephew of the late Barry Goldwater. Barry, who was a racing fan (I met him in the pace car room before the Indy 500 one year), was a senator and presidential candidate and remains Arizona's No. 1 political icon. Don started the campaign with what many -- including me -- thought was the most powerful advantage possible: Almost 100 percent name recognition.

It turned out Goldwater's main challenger, Len Munsil, had something better: CASH! While Goldwater was so slow to fund-raise that he didn't have money for broadcast spots until a few days before the election, social activist Munsil had a healthy database of potential contributors and outspent his rival many times over, buying advertising and building an organization. The result was an upset and an easy Munsil victory. Name ID couldn't overcome cubic dollars. This is a case study I'll remember for a long, long time.
I've said it many times: UNLESS you are a member of the championship team (my honor five times), the end-of-season awards ceremony in any series is a necessary evil. Something more to be endured than enjoyed.

Even so, the IRL's title tribute cries out for comment. It was staged at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a Monday (!), the day following the exciting Chicagoland finale. I wasn't there, but from what I gathered from news accounts, website pictures and the ESPN recap show, the motif was supposed to minic some tropical paradise. As pure showbiz, however, let's just say it wasn't Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. The setting was as foreign to Indiana as Indonesia. If that's the casual atmosphere Tony George seeks, I recommend he vacation on the Big Island. (Or wait for November's IRL cruise.)

Some Enchanted Evening it was not. The photograph of Sam Hornish, in a garish Hawaiian-style shirt, standing side-by-side with sportsjacketed Roger Penske was as bizarre as posing Don Ho with Frank Sinatra. I can't fathom what image the League's planners thought they were projecting to the motorsports community-at-large, but one was left with the impression this celebration was thought-out with one objective in mind: Let's get this season done and over with! (And hope for better TV ratings, more teams and sponsors, and a sold-out Indy 500 in '07.)
It's decision time for Danica Patrick. The news that controversial Internet domain registrar GoDaddy.com will be an associate sponsor on her Motorola-funded Andretti Green Honda next year reopens the question if Patrick will be viewed as a serious racer, or someone less serious. GoDaddy is best known for its 2005 Super Bowl TV spot, judged so inappropriate, that Fox yanked it in the middle of the game. In its release, the company trumpeted its "racy commercials" and the CEO was quoted thusly, "You can expect to see Danica starring in a GoDaddy commercial early next year."

Let's remember this from the March 23 South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Asked if she would again pose in a suggestive manner for FHM or a similar magazine, Patrick was quoted as saying, "No, I wouldn't do it now. I'm so fortunate to be able to pick what kind of media I want to do, what direction I want it to go." Given that statement, the sales failure of her autobiography, a second winless season, and in the aftermath of Maria Sharapova's victory in the U.S. Open, I'll say this: How Danica allows herself to be portrayed by her new patron will tell us a lot about Danica herself.
My purpose here is to provide as much useful and legitimate industry info as possible. With that in mind, I'm pleased to share some data about the recently concluded Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, as provided by Adam Saal, senior director of marketing and communications, Nate Siebens, PR manager, and Lauren McCrystal, series corporate communications. As a reply to my Sept. 7 "Forcing Some Issues" posting, Saal and Co. report a third-consecutive season of growth, with TV numbers and media placements at an all-time high.

Ratings on SPEED finished up four percent to a .27 average. Households and viewership increased eight percent. That translates to almost a quarter-million viewers per race. Of special note: Miami jumped 220 percent, Phoenix 160 percent, and Laguna Seca 127 percent. (Ratings Source: Nielsen Media Research.) Through August, total media placements were up 48.1 percent, to more than 4,750. Total circulation of these outlets was more than 450,000,000. Consumer magazine placements were plus 18.7 percent. (Source: Bacons Information Inc.)
Those who believe Formula One is an arrogant and insular world got fresh ammunition by the way Michael Schumacher's retirement was announced. Journalists were teased that the seven-time world champion would reveal his plans after the checkered flag waved at the Italian Grand Prix. It turned out nicely in that Schumacher won at Monza, Ferrari's home track, and had the forum of the worldwide TV feed's post-race news conference to speak as he wished. If Michael hadn't finished in the top three, however, what loomed was the spectacle of a media scrum back in the paddock. This truly was a story of international sporting importance. The lack of proper planning and organization within a team that spends well above $100 million a year was inexcusable.

“I can’t believe it’s being done in such an amateurish way,” Jackie Stewart told SpeedTV.com. Stewart's own farewell announcement as a three-time titlist was properly staged at a London hotel after the 1973 season. “It’s the biggest sports story in the world at the present time, and for that to not be organized and packaged correctly . . . He shouldn’t be doing a press conference here, it should be in a major media center. This is not just a bunch of motor racing journalists that need to do this, this is the New York Times, this is the L.A. Times, this is the Nashville Chronicle or whatever it’s called . . . This should be a global event for a global man who’s achieved an enormous amount in motor sport, and this thing is being thrown around like it’s a Mickey Mouse party."
Latest example of a "news" release not written as "news": Last week it was revealed that Pittsburgh Steelers' running back Duce Staley plans to own a two-car team in the NHRA's Pro Stock class in '07. After the usual and tiresome quotes about how "excited" Staley is, blah-blah-blah, one had to read until the fourth paragraph to learn the minor detail of who Staley's drivers will be -- Jim Yates and Billy Gibson. Another essential point, the make of car to be raced, was never mentioned.


PR PS -- A BAD CASE OF PR HEARTBURN: That's what team owners and drivers sponsored by Citgo should have right now after Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez lashed-out against America yesterday in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. Chávez called the President of the United States, among other things, "the devil." USA Today published the following last January: "One of the USA's largest refiners, Citgo is a subsidiary of Venezuela's state-owned oil company . . . As such, it ultimately belongs to . . . Chávez, an avowedly anti-American leader who counts Fidel Castro among his closest friends . . ." Any Citgo-backed racer who expects to enjoy the support of U.S. race fans should immediately disavow Chávez's remarks.

[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]