• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, November 06, 2006

STORIES/$TORIES; INTERVIEWS/INTERVIEW$

Defending Checker Auto Parts 500k winner Kyle Busch visited the Valley of the Sun Oct. 24 to publicize this weekend's NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway. Busch was sporting enough to smile for this photo-op on the streets of Tempe. PIR recently received two awards for tourism and economic development from Westmarc, a consortium of civic and business leaders, which promotes a positive image for western Maricopa County. Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr. will try to qualify for his first Busch Series race, Saturday's Arizona Travel 200. Juan Montoya is entered, too.


I am friends with quite a few racetrack PR directors. A basic part of the job is to set-up driver interviews with local media in the weeks leading up to their speedway's event. Even at most Nextel Cup ovals -- and even during the Chase -- it's necessary to work hard to fill those empty grandstand seats.

Publicity really is all about selling, you know . . . or didn't you?

Here's something far-too-many don't understand: There are stories and then there are stories that help sell tickets. There are interviews and then there are interviews that interest people in going out and seeing for themselves.

I can't help but roll my eyes listening to many local sports radio talkers when they try to talk racing. It's easy to tell they really don't understand the subject just by their phrasing and the super-superficial questions asked to driver guests. ("Do you enjoy coming out to Phoenix?" As if any driver is going to say "NO!" Yeah, that's the ticket to promote your sponsor and sell T-shirts!) Just last week, I heard a Valley of the Sun host say that Elliott Sadler drives a Ford and is in the Chase. (!)

Sure, this counts as airtime, and it looks good on a PR activity report to management. But it surely does not create event "buzz" or contribute to the box-office bottom line.

Some PRers I know recognize this issue and try to deal with it. Pre-interview, they provide copies of news and feature stories about the guest, and a few even dare to send over suggested questions. Sometimes that helps, but too often, these chats are the biggest duds since Indy Cars ran Atlanta. Sharp drivers I've worked with, like Mario Andretti, Gil de Ferran and Nigel Mansell, actually enjoyed talking with knowledgeable media people. A positive encounter made it much more likely they'd agree to future requests for a few minutes of their time. A flopper, though, was considered a waste of valuable minutes and made my next proposition as dicey as oval racin' in the rain.

My experience has been that many media folks are willing to at least speed-read clips -- might be a good idea or clever line to borrow -- but most resist planted questions. Journalistic integrity, you know. So, how to make the strictly stick-and-ball types sound like they've been reading NASCAR Scene for a decade?

Why not ask them? "What can I do to help you have a good interview?" A simple gesture, to be sure, but let's be honest: 1) Most of these guys (and, for the most part, they are guys) want to look slick and sound smart. (Good for the ego -- and the career.); 2) Such help means less effort on their part.

Anything else? Try to steer them toward friendly in-the-know experts in your area, preferably, those perceived as "independent" and who will tell them the "straight" story and guide them in the "right" direction. A local voice-of-authority is frequently appealing to those cynical after being pitched non-stop with spin and hype.

My great friend, the late PR legend Jim Chapman, was regarded as a gentleman and had such stature that he was frequently quoted as an admired industry expert even when he had a client who was part of the story. Now, that's respect!Texas tales:

* Two victories in the battle against promoters who fail to label races that are not run to a mile distance -- which is what the average customer assumes -- as kilometers. Both the AP and NASCAR.com clearly reported Friday's Chevy Silverado "350" as being 350k. Too bad SPEED didn't do the same. Note: This Sunday's Checker "500" at Phoenix is 500 kilometers.

* A silver lining to Ray Dunlap's recent one-race suspension is Krista Voda has been moved into the host's chair for SPEED's pre-Truck race shows. Voda, who was a solid anchor on the old Totally NASCAR, is better suited to that role than Dunlap, who is a good (and respected) pit reporter.

Popular broadcaster Bob Jenkins, my friend going back to when he anchored ESPN's first CART race telecast at Milwaukee in June 1980, will MC the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's 37th All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 13, at the Hyatt in downtown Indianapolis. Since I'm a dinner co-chair, I consider Bob's participation to be great news. Also, the Army NHRA Top Fuel car will be on display in the Hyatt lobby, next to the dinner registration area. My thanks to Mike Lewis, senior VP of Don Schumacher Racing, for this courtesy to the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals. Jack Roush will be the featured speaker.For tickets and program ads and Hyatt room reservations at a discounted rate, go to http://aarwba.org or E-mail President Dusty Brandel at aarwba@compuserve.com . Contact me for newsletter and other sponsorship opportunities.
[ Tomorrow is election day. I encourage you to cast an INFORMED vote. I'll be serving as a local election judge. More Blogging the Chase Tuesday (Nov. 14) . . . ]