• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

CONGRATULATIONS KEVIN KENNEDY!

Mike Harris (right) joins me in presenting the 2006 Jim Chapman Award to Kevin Kennedy. (Photo courtesy of Dan R. Boyd.)


Right after John Force, and just before Jack Roush, I went to the podium in the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency-Indianapolis Saturday night. The occasion was the 37th annual American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's All-America Team ceremony. My role was to remember my great friend James P. Chapman and introduce the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. Mike Harris of the AP followed me to announce the 2006 honoree, Kevin Kennedy, long-time Ford Racing representative and current executive vice president of PCGCampbell, Ford's agency.

At the request of the Chapman family, I am honored to serve as chairman of the Chapman Award selection committee. The award is chosen by a blue-ribbon group of AARWBA media members, all of whom knew Jim, and so they best understand the high standards required to be a Chapman Award winner. In selecting Kevin, the committee chose well and chose wisely. Congratulations, Kevin!

Here's what I said:

One evening, many Mays ago, American film icon John Wayne was a guest in Jim Chapman’s downtown hospitality suite before the Indianapolis 500. Jim once showed me a black-and-white photograph of that occasion.

When I visualize that image of Jim and the Duke, it reminds me of one of John Wayne’s most famous movies – nominated for the Academy Award – titled The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Near the end of the film, there’s a GREAT line, one of interest to journalists and PR people alike.

The actor playing the role of a newspaper editor says to Wayne’s character, "When the legend is bigger than the truth, print the legend."

In considering the professional life story of James P. Chapman, the legend and the truth are one and the same.

Since AARWBA resumed the Jim Chapman Award as part of our 50th Anniversary Celebration, it has been my high honor – at the request of the Chapman family – to come to the podium each year to remember Mr. Chapman. Jim was my closest friend and had a profound influence on my life and career. Among many other things, Jim was a man for his times, so while I will recall a few of Jim’s accomplishments, the times demand that tonight I also do something a little different.

Jim was blessed to live a great American life, one full of interesting and successful experiences. For those of you who didn’t know him, the best way to begin is to tell you Jim was Babe Ruth’s PR man. When Jim began his PR career in 1946, as regional PR director for Ford in Detroit, he hired Ruth as consultant to the company’s sponsorship of American Legion Junior Baseball. They traveled together and became confidants. They were so close that Jim was at Ruth’s bedside when he died. In the business of public relations – especially motorsports PR – Jim Chapman remains as much of a legend as Babe Ruth is in baseball.

Jim began his professional life in journalism, and that continued through a stint at the New York Times. He served in the Air Force during World War II. Then it was on to PR. In 1950, Jim left Ford to form his own PR firm. One of his first clients was Warren Avis, who was just starting Avis Rent-a-Car. Jim’s first venture into motorsports was in 1951, when his client was Detroit’s 250th birthday celebration. He teamed with Bill France Sr. to promote a 250-lap race at the Michigan state fairgrounds. In 1967, Jim first became involved in open-wheel racing, when Ozzie Olson sponsored Dan Gurney’s team. As Dan said, “Jim practically invented most of what is now considered routine sponsor PR work.” He was one of the first to think of putting up a trackside sponsor hospitality tent. Jim also organized the Driver of the Year award at New York’s famed 21 Club.

Jim’s greatest acclaim, however, came from 1981 through 1992 as director of racing for CART series sponsor PPG Industries. At the time Jim signed on, PPG’s prize fund was $250,000. It grew to more than $3.75 million at the time of his retirement in February 1993. Jim negotiated with then IMS President Joe Cloutier to put politics aside and make the Indy 500 a points event in the PPG World Series. The all-female PPG pace car driving team was another Chapman innovation. So were the PPG Editor’s Days, when he brought non-sports journalists to tracks for lunch, pace car rides, and quality time with the drivers. The PPG hospitality tent was the centerpiece of the CART paddock area. Again quoting Dan Gurney: “Jim created a home in the shape of a tent. Here, everybody gathered for the family lunch, and it was there that contacts were made, relationships started, networks woven and friendships cemented, with Jim as the beloved and wise patriarch who orchestrated it all.”

Indy Car magazine named Jim the sport’s “most influential man” of the 1980s and wrote that Jim turned “a public relations assignment into an art form.” Jim then served as honorary chairman of Mario Andretti’s 1994 farewell tour. He died in October 1996 at age 80. Ironically, of complications from throat cancer, just like Babe Ruth.

That’s only a brief review of Jim’s many achievements. I would urge all of you to learn more by reading the story in your program book. Last month on my SpinDoctor500blog, I published the transcript of Jim’s last formal Q&A session, which remains wisdom for the ages.

As I said earlier, Jim was a man for his times, and the times now demand that ALL of us learn from Jim’s great example. As Jim once said: “There is almost NO decision made, about ANYTHING, that doesn’t, in some way, involve PR.”

Jim loved the PR business. He would have taught us to resist declining standards and insist that phone calls be returned and E-mails be answered. He knew people prefer the honesty of an answer -- even if it’s NO -- to the discourtesy of indifference. As a gentleman, and a professional, he believed in developing solid one-on-one relationships with journalists. And, when Jim became your friend, he ALWAYS was your friend. While he extended many more courtesies than anyone returned, Jim never forgot if you did him a favor. Ladies and gentlemen, these are things worth remembering . . .

In 1991, the Jim Chapman Award was established by his peers and the news media, honoring PR excellence in the CART series. AARWBA resumed it, with the permission of the Chapman family, and expanded eligibility to representatives from all forms of motorsports. This is the highest honor in racing PR.

Jim took great pride in this award. He wanted it presented before an audience of drivers, team owners, sponsor executives, track operators, sanctioning officials and industry leaders so that – at least once a year – they would be reminded of the importance of high-quality PR work.

Tonight’s recipient was selected by a blue-ribbon media committee, all of whom knew Jim, so they best understand the high standards required to be a
Chapman Award winner. I thank the committee members, many of whom are here tonight, for their most thoughtful consideration. As always, my own test is simply to ask, “Would Jim approve?” I have no doubt Jim would agree with this selection -- and would smile at the connection to his own career.

To tonight’s recipient, and to those who follow, I say the honor is NOT in the plaque you will receive. The TRUE honor is having your name forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.

In announcing Kevin as the recipient, Mike Harris noted that Kevin has been a mentor to younger PR people, as was Mr. Chapman. Kevin, who did not know of his selection until it was announced, was gracious in accepting and here's some of what he said in a follow-up E-mail:

"Needless to say, I am humbled . . . to be mentioned with Jim Chapman is an honor in itself, since he was a true gentleman, a man who knew how to get things done behind the scenes, and was someone never 'too big' to give advice and counsel (and a smile) to budding PR people like myself.

"Mike Harris' speech mentioning that I have mentored many PR people in the motorsport and auto industry touched me, and that is truly one of the things I feel most proud of in looking back over my career. In fact, three of my 'boys' -- now involved with Dodge and Chrysler work -- invited me just before Christmas to join them at a local watering hole to discuss the business, and laugh about old times as we learned the craft together. It's situations like that, and the time I mentioned when I realized the Big 3 motorsport PR programs were all being run by people I had hired at one time, that make me most proud.

"I have been truly blessed to work with great people in this industry -- drivers, owners, media, executives, team and sanctioning body marketing and PR folks -- but also with a great group of people here at PCGCampbell who have been very willing to buy into the concept that media relations is not about how to say no to media, but how to always look for a way to say yes, no matter who the media person is and who they work for. It's certainly what Mr. Chapman always tried to do.

"Thank you again for this great honor."Congratulations to Tony Schumacher, winner of AARWBA's No. 1 honor, the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy. Jerry was a professional journalist, and a skilled pro racer, who was killed in a Trans-Am event at Road America. The Titus goes to the driver who received the most All-America Team votes. Tony, who won his fourth NHRA Top Fuel title for the Army team on the last pass of the last race of the 2006 season in one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, joins Don Prudhomme, Shirley Muldowney and John Force as the only drag racers to claim the Titus, AARWBA's Driver of the Year. Force, Sam Hornish Jr., Sebastien Bourdais, Frank Kimmel, Scott Pruett, Jorg Bergmeister, Rinaldo Capello, Luis Diaz and J.R. Hildebrand were the other Team drivers in the audience of about 250. Jack Roush was the featured speaker.

AARWBA President Dusty Brandel chose well in selecting national VP Mike Hollander as winner of the President's Award. Mike has served AARWBA over many years in many ways, including as webmaster, dinner show producer, and program editor. He's also a pioneering Internet journalist -- Mike was putting racing news on-line before most of us even knew where was such a thing!

As dinner co-chair, I offer thanks to the PR representatives and others who helped arrange for the drivers to be at the AARWBA dinner, or assisted in other ways:

Mike Lewis, Chris Dirato, Dave Densmore, Jerry Archambeault, Anthony Vestal, Chris Schwartz, Steve Shunck (no longer with Champ Car as of last Wednesday), Kathi Lauterbach, Ron Green, Kevin Kennedy, Torrey Galida, Bob Dickinson, Adam Saal, Bob Carlson, Drew Brown, Tamy Valkosky, Kelby Krauss (heading to North Carolina from Indy to work on the Ganassi NASCAR team PR), Nate Siebens, Tom O’Connor, Barry Bronson, Dan Layton, Stacie Shain, Jeremy Riffle, Dean Case and Karen Holschlag.

[ much more from the AARWBA dinner next Tuesday . . . ]