• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

WHAT A PRO CAN DO

Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks, we've had to review here some bad PR. What's raised my antenna are the comments made directly to me by two of America's top-10 motorsports journalists, that certain PR people -- one for NASCAR's most controversial driver, another for one of the IRL's three main teams -- are "afraid" of their driver or owner. They apparently are scared to speak truth to power.

When I attended the SummitRacing.com NHRA Nationals in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, I sat down with Gary Scelzi. He shared with me a fascinating tale of how a PR representative took him to task -- and taught him. It's a terrific example of what a professional can do. I'm happy to share Gary's words with the rest of you:

"I was trained by the very best. A gentleman of the name of Rob Goodman with R.J. Reynolds. Rob would send out a B-roll tape, weeks before, and a bio. What Rob would do is call and talk to whoever was going to do the interview and say, ‘Did you read the material?’ ‘Yeah, yeah, I read it.’ ‘Well, did you see the part about Gary raises goats?’ And if the guy said, ‘Yeah,’ then he’d say, ‘Well, no you didn’t read it, because he doesn’t raise goats.’ He would force these guys to read it.

"Well, we did this media tour in New Mexico. We went in to see two or three different newspaper guys. I was new at this. The guy asked, ‘How fast does your car go?’ ‘Well, my car goes 300 mph.’ They were stupid questions, in my mind. So, we got in the rental car and were going to the next place and I told Rob,
‘You know, this is BS. Why are we doing this?'

"He pulls over the car, and was really upset at me. He said, ‘Wait a minute. Who’s the moron here? The guy asked you how fast your car went and you said '300 mph' and stopped and rolled your eyes. Why didn’t you say, ‘My car goes 300 mph in a quarter-mile. But did you know that our car goes from zero-to-60 feet in less than a second at over 100 mph with five Gs and the only two people who feel those Gs are a fighter pilot or an astronaut?' Then you take that and roll into anything you want to talk about all the way up to the times you’re going to run in qualifying. You would have answered everything this guy wanted to know and mentioned everything you wanted to, including your sponsors, and he doesn’t even know you did it.’

"That turned the light on for me."

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The newspaper business has produced more bad news than Tony Stewart in recent weeks. The latest Audit Bureau of Circulation study reveals weekday circulation at U.S. dailies fell 2.1 percent in the most recent six-month reporting period. Sunday circ fell 3.1 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. The Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune announced plans to cut up to 250 jobs to "offset declining circulation and advertising."

Longtime Baltimore Sun racing writer Sandy McKee informed publicists that the paper has "discontinued its motorsports beat." In a recent staff reorganization, the Arizona Republic essentially did the same, although Jim Gintonio continued to lead the paper's NASCAR coverage at Phoenix International Raceway. I noticed, in only a quick look-around, about a dozen "regulars" missing from the PIR deadline media room. (Racing on Saturday night, making for impossible East Coast deadlines, didn't help.) The word I'm getting is editors think "any general assignment reporter can cover a race."

One item did give me a bit of hope: Those who love to follow the news, especially political news, prefer newspapers over every other medium. That's according to "The State of the News Media 2007," a 700-page report released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. The study says 66 percent of those who "follow political news closely" get information regularly from newspapers, bettering the broadcast and cable networks, radio or blogs.

Take note, publicists who fall-over-yourselves catering to the network TV types, while failing to develop good relationships with the print press.
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Congratulations to my friend, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, on the North American introduction of the Indy 500-logo Playseat. Arie is working with Playseats, a company selling an authentic racing seat, fully adjustable for size and every game and steering wheel including PCs, Playstation2, Xbox360 and Logitech. Learn more at Playseats.com . Playseats wisely is highlighting the Indy-logo seat to the media by sponsoring the May AARWBA newsletter. Arie will show the seat to members and guests at the annual AARWBA breakfast, sponsored by Firestone and Honda, May 26 at IMS. I'll be co-MC with Mike Hollander.

The 38th annual AARWBA All-America Team dinner has been scheduled for Saturday, January 12, 2008 at the Indianapolis Hyatt. I'll again serve as dinner chairman. An important change has been made to the format, with a session for news announcements/interviews scheduled prior to the dinner. Our desire is to make the evening as much a NEWS event as a SOCIAL occasion. Also, for the first time in AARWBA history, we've set in motion a long-term strategic plan for the dinner.
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More Indy 500 reflections:

+ In 1995, Paul Tracy and I "drove" laps ABOVE the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- in the Budweiser blimp. Paul was driving the Kmart/Bud Lola for Newman/Haas that year and I was the team's PR director. I invited several groups of media types to join us for flights over the Speedway on a beautiful race-week morning. The pilot allowed Paul -- and, somehow, even me -- to take the wheel. With favorable winds, we were able to make some reverse-direction laps directly over IMS. A montage photo hangs on my office wall.

- In 1985, as an offshoot of the historic Beatrice sponsorship, Beatrice-owned Eckrich became the "official hot dog" of the Indy 500. A five-state consumer sweepstakes was created around the race. To promote this activity, I scheduled a media hot dog roast at the Beatrice hospitality area at the close of a practice day, a fun event for journos which also would give them some quality time with Mario Andretti and a photo-op of Mario at the grill. As a function of courtesy, I delivered invitations to several IMS execs and staffers. In short order, word came from IMS we were not allowed to cook -- we would have to go to a Speedway food stand and buy all the hot dogs we needed! I immediately canceled the event.



It has to be said: Yet more evidence of how far Indy has fallen -- ESPN isn't even providing its usual half-hour of weekday coverage. For several years the network did a few HOURS of "live" weekday practice. A few years ago that got reduced to a 30-minute recap. This May, zip. Also gone is "live" Carb Day action and the Pro Series race, now wrapped into a 90-minute summary.

With the prospect of three female drivers in the field, however, I'll bet the hypsters try to drum-up a faint echo of TV interest by letting us know, "For the first time, there will be TWO female pit reporters, Jamie Little and Brienne Pedigo." Add in Nicole Manske on the Radio Network, and that makes three! Set the headline in 96-point type.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]