• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

UPDATE: U.S. Nationals TV Commentary

See my video commentary on how NHRA can make the U.S. Nationals bigger-and-better, now available at 1320.tv.com.


http://www.1320tv.com/straight_talk/article3.asp?vid=straight_talk/bor_indianapolis&title=The%20Business%20Of%20Racing&des=New%20commentary%20by%20Michael%20Knight

DRAG RACING's BIG WEEK (Pay Attention)

"IF IT'S GOT WHEELS, HE KNOWS ABOUT IT": That's the very kind way KPNX (NBC, Phoenix) reporter Nick Calderone introduced me for a story that aired on the station's Monday 6 p.m. newscast. TV 12 reported that the controversial Champ Car race, scheduled for Dec. 2 on the streets of downtown Phoenix, will be canceled this week. Cited as the source was its sister station in Las Vegas, where the same promotional group staged the season's first race. With most CC movers-and-shakers in Europe, I was not able to independently verify the story. I did comment about the PR and business issues a cancellation would mean for the series and the political fallout for Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and City Council members who voted in favor of the event.

UPDATE: The Phoenix Champ Car race was officially canceled Tuesday at 5 p.m., Arizona time.

It's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals week and that is worthy of your time and attention. Before blowing this off because you think drag racing is strictly "blue collar" and not as important as say, Champ Car, please read on -- and check comparable CC ratings on ESPN2 vs. those "unsophisticated" straight-liners.

On August 29, 2006 -- prior to last year's "Big Go," I wrote about NHRA and it's most important race. I just went back and re-read it and I stand by everything, so I won't repeat it all here. There is plenty for those in other series to learn if they'd just bother themselves to go out to any NHRA Nationals and have a look-see. Start by touring the pit area, where spectator access is unparalled, and observe the amazing level of driver availability to fans and media alike. (Hell, most of the PR people even say an enthusiastic "YES!" when asked to set-up an inteview!)

I admit to a certain fascination with the 7,000-horsepower Top Fuel (such as the Tony Schumacher Army dragster pictured here) and Funny Car machines. How to explain what we've seen numerous times this season? That is, a driver qualifying No. 1 or winning one week, and then not making the field the next?

What's new at this 53d running of the "Big Go" is it starts phase two of NHRA's new NASCAR-style "Countdown" format. For the next four events, the top eight in points in all four classes will try to perform well enough to advance to Las Vegas and Pomona, where everyone will race but only the top four in each division will contest the championship. Will it make a difference in ticket sales, TV ratings or national media attention? I don't know. As I've said before, it's worth a try.

The biggest off-track story this year has been the intended sale of NHRA's professional racing assets to HD Partners. (See June 5 blog.) The larger issue -- and Big Question -- hanging over the U.S. Nationals and the series is: What aggressive, pro-active measures will the new businessmen-owners take to squarely address the crucial areas of overall prize money, new team-and-series sponsorship, and national marketing and media development? There is no question most of us thought -- and were led to believe -- Powerade was prepared to utilize Coca-Cola's considerable corporate sports marketing resources to establish a much larger footprint for NHRA via retail outlets and PR firepower. That simply hasn't happened; one of the most significant Business of Racing letdowns of the last decade.

For now, though, I recommend a first step for many is simply opening your mind to the virtues of drag racing -- the most American of any U.S. motorsport. (Who among us, even if in a moment of youthful misjudgement, haven't put pedal-to-the-metal?) ESPN2's 12 hours of Indy coverage -- including six hours on Monday -- the best produced motorsports on TV with racing's best analyst, Mike Dunn, is a good place to start.
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One of the biggest myths perpetuated by those who don't understand the first thing about the Business of Racing is the tired old cliche: "Any publicity is good publicity." WRONG! Anyone open-minded enough to get some education outside the garage area will want to check out the August 31 Entertainment Weekly

( http://ew.com/ ). The cover story is "Summer of Scandal" and offers case studies from industry insiders on how bad news in an actor's private life can translate into bad business from a career standpoint. In an interesting sidebar, "How to Spin a Scandal," two Hollywood PR experts explain how they'd handle fictional crisis situations.

I've been giving drivers this counsel for several years: In our celebrity-obsessed society, where cell phones, camera phones, handheld video cams, Blackberrys, text messaging, Internet chat rooms and blogs are tools which can be used for good or ill, ALWAYS ASSUME someone is watching -- and recording.

Here are some on-topic lines from the EW cover package:

" 'In Los Angeles, we've created 24/7 paparazzi packs,' says Ross Johnson, a crisis consultant. 'They roam the streets like wild dogs. And anyone who's recognizable can be under attack at any moment.' Racks of celebrity tabloids, and an entire nation of camera phones have created a climate of constant surveillance and a culture of insta-infamy. 'In the old days, a scandal could be supressed by a studio lawyer and never reach critical mass,' says one studio exec . . . Now . . . it can become a scandal in a nanosecond.' "

"Scandal may make you famous, but it doesn't make you bankable. Something as benign as, say, jumping on Oprah's couch can have serious business implications. Less than a year after Tom Cruise hopped up on that sofa -- and later took issue with Brooke Shields' treatment for postpartum depression and lectured Matt Lauer about psychiatry -- Mission: Impossible III opened at $10 million below its predecessor. Coincidence or consequence? Didn't matter. Viacom head Sumner Redstone publicly blamed Cruise for the film's subpar performance and severed the star's relationship with Paramount . . . And did A Mighty Heart open at an anemic $3.9 million because of its tragic subject matter, or because people blame star Angelina Jolie for the end of Brad Pitt's marriage? Almost certainly the former, but who's to say for sure? . . . In a rare case of meritocracy, the stars who keep their private lives calm . . . are getting the best roles these days."
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FAST LINES:
Part of knowing "how to play the game" is understanding when to use the stick and when to dole-out sweets. Bernie Ecclestone, well-known for his ability to do the former, looked every-bit a master Sunday with the latter approach. When SPEED's Peter Windsor approached Ecclestone on the grid before the Grand Prix of Turkey, Bernie whispered into his ear (caught by Peter's "live" microphone) that actress Bo Derek was walking alongside. An obviously unaware but delighted Windsor did a gushing interview with Derek, the star of 10. Ecclestone thus cleverly collected yet another IOU . . . The NFL suspended, for an indefinite period, quarterback Michael Vick. Now that Haas CNC Racing owner Gene Haas has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy tax charges, to the tune of a reported $34.3 million, shouldn't NASCAR follow the NFL's lead? Especially since the IRS says Haas' fake-invoice scheme involved his race team as well as his machine tools business and a land title company . . . Gary Scelzi has been selected to receive AARWBA's Rick Mears "Good Guy" Award for his long-time cooperation with the news media. The honor is presented occasionally, with the last recipient being Rusty Wallace in 2005. The presentation likely will take place at the NHRA season-finale at Pomona, after which Scelzi says he will go on "hiatus" . . . I'm still stunned by the lack of Biz of Racing smarts when Morgan Lucas eliminated teammate Melanie Troxel from a shot at NHRA's playoffs by racing -- and beating her -- heads-up at Maple Grove. Except for the "purity" of sports argument, it defied logic . . . During rain coverage from Michigan, ESPN2 showed Robby Gordon signing autographs. Very nice. One problem. At a NASCAR race where he was driving a Jim Beam-sponsored Ford on Goodyears, Robby was wearing a pullover ID'd with Monster, Hummer and Toyo Tires, his off-road team. That falls under the category of Wrong Time, Wrong Place. Plus, not paying attention to the details . . . One of TV's worst nightmares -- having the screen go blank during an exciting finish -- happened to ESPN2 Friday night during the Busch race from Bristol. The network said it was due to "human error." Jerry Punch quickly apologized once he was back on-air and the last two laps were shown on replay . . . Last week was the 40th anniversary of the Big Mac, but McDonald's didn't use any of its motorsports sponsorships -- including Kasey Kahne at Bristol -- to publicize the corporate and cultural milestone. Puzzling . . . With the LMP2 class Penske Porsches regularly beating the LMP1 class Audis, American Le Mans Series telecasts need frequent graphics showing the OVERALL running order, not just by class. Sunday's presentation from Mosport on SPEED was most unclear and difficult to follow . . . Once again, Sunday's IndyCar event at Infineon Raceway had two names. The promoter's official title was "Motorola Indy 300" (should have been labeled as KILOMETERS) but ESPN sold it as the "Optima Batteries IndyCar Grand Prix of Sonoma." Cash for the network aside, two names for one event is confusing and just plain bad business . . . Blog reader Mike Harbour kindly provided a link to the Rolling Stone article, "The Ethanol Scam," referenced here last week: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/15635751/.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

BOGEY, ERROR for NASCAR.com

As one element of its various media deals, NASCAR turned over operation of NASCAR.com to Turner. The perils of such an arrangement were never more evident than last week.

First, Beau Estes tapped into his decades of NASCAR knowledge for a feature on Tiger Woods' caddy, Steve Williams. Included was the revelation that Williams has "ties" with "Penzoil." Not only did Estes get his spelling wrong, he bogeyed his fact, as even one casual look at Williams' shirt would have told him Steve's personal sponsorship is with Valvoline. (The editor was so informed; a correction was made.) I've written before about the lack of editing/fact checking in the contemporary media, and this is yet another example that makes me wonder if anyone actually did any editing, or if Estes' words were just automatically posted.

The next day came another in a recent string of head-scratching columns from David Caraviello. The first line was: "J.J. Yeley never really had a chance." Caraviello's thesis was Yeley, who will be replaced by Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car next season, hasn't been competitive because sponsor Interstate Batteries doesn't spend enough $$$ on the team. Using this logic, I guess Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won a race this year because Budweiser doesn't write large enough checks, or Ryan Newman hasn't visited victory lane because Roger Penske's corporate partners don't pony-up sufficient cash. As I've stated here many times, there are only a handful of journalists who actually know anything about the Business of Racing, and editors should make their assignments accordingly.

The bigger issue is this: NASCAR.com is the primary news source for a very significant percentage of NASCAR fans. Therefore, those who write for -- and edit -- the site have a special responsibility to the sport to get it right.
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Rarely have I seen an organization have a worse PR week than Champ Car. The announcement of its new -- and worthy -- cause campaign, "Hands on the Wheel," was completely capsized by wave-after-wave of negative media stories. Coming off an improved (attendance-wise) weekend at Road America (doubleheader with ALMS), word filtered out that Robin Miller's "hard card" credential had been revoked. Yes, CC has that right. Whatever the reason for the decision, however, this question MUST be asked: What useful purpose was served? Like him or not, Robin has been directly (or indirectly, via his influence with other reporters) responsible for a significant percentage of total Indy/CC news coverage over the last three decades.

It began with long-time loyalist Gordon Kirby's dark column, a link to which we provided here last week. (Go read it if you haven't yet done so.) Mike Harris, in an AP feature on Sebastien Bourdais' impending departure for Formula One, wrote: "With Bourdais now leaving, the struggling series is in deeper trouble than ever. While series officials try to put on a happy face with talk of upcoming big announcements on the sponsorship front and new and exciting races overseas, there seems little to sell now to the American public."

Autoextremist.com went further: "What hath the owners of Champ Car wrought to road racing in North America? A rolling debacle, there's simply no other way to look at it. Let's review, shall we? A horrendously botched schedule that features huge gaps between races, compounded by overseas events that remove the series from the U.S. motosports scene entirely? Check. A lackluster field of drivers that, except for Graham Rahal and Paul Tracy (now that Bourdais is leaving), no one cares about? Check. No connection to their generic-looking cars with any major manufacturer? Check. This all adds up to a heaping bowl of Not Good . . . what is Champ Car's reason for being again, exactly? Is it to promote American drivers? Hmm, other than Graham Rahal, that's a stretch. Is it to fulfill the promise at the top of a true 'ladder' system in American road racing? Well, that rationale doesn't wash either. How can it be the top of the American open-wheel racing ladder system when it's a destination to nowhere? And before you say, 'Well, it's a destination to Formula 1, isn't it?' How is that helping sustain a series? How is that helping Champ Car as a viable entity unto itself? In the glory days of CART, it was a happening, thriving, big-time major league open-wheel series that even Formula 1 drivers looked at as a viable career alternative. Today's Champ Car is operating in some weird Twilight Zone as a holding pattern for drivers who think they're on the way up but who really aren't, drivers on the way down holding on to their last piece of the dream, or drivers who are 'parked' there hoping to get a shot at something else . . . the debilitated state of Champ Car just cannot be ignored . . . The clock is ticking on Champ Car, and I don't believe the owners -- even with all of their boatloads of cash -- have the first clue as to what to do with it. I have a suggestion for them: Fold it up now before it becomes a complete embarrassment altogether."

As I wrote here weeks ago, this is a series that has gone from Mansell to Minardi. Enough said. Except, well, it is quite stunning to think that from the checkered flag at Elkhart Lake on Sunday, August 12, until practice starts in Phoenix on Friday, Nov. 30, a Champ Car wheel won't turn in America. (!!!) Meanwhile, the new public service effort will encourage safe driving, with particular focus on the problem caused by people who send E-mails or text messages while driving. See http://www.handsonthewheel.org/ for more.
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FAST LINES: When Mattel went into full crisis PR mode last week, recalling over nine million Chinese-made toys sold in the U.S. because of safety concerns, it reminded me -- again -- how unsophisticated auto racing still is on some levels. It has become an automatic in Corporate America to immediately hire outside communications experts to help deal with image emergencies. NASCAR aside, I don't know of anyone in motorsports sharp enough to understand that necessity. Just think of the messes Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs Racing, Paul Tracy, Robby Gordon, Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch, Tomas Scheckter, Aric Almirola and now Colin Braun, and others, have gotten themselves into that cried-out for professional PR damage control . . . Credit to ESPN for doing all-it-could with Sunday's NASCAR and NHRA rainouts which pushed into Monday. Plugging in NHRA's Monday action while waiting for track drying at Michigan was the right move and deserves recognition. But, a BIG thumbs-down for subjecting us to the sight of Jamie Little autographing some bald guy's head . . . Champ Car is the first to reserve a table and program ad for the 38th AARWBA All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 12, at the Indianapolis Hyatt. (I'm again the dinner chairman.) This event, by the way, is open to the general public. More information at http://aarwba.org/ . . . Quick: Who drives the No. 25 in the Busch Series? Jerry Punch, Rusty Wallace, Andy Petree and Shannon Spake all told us David Reutimann was hit by the "25" during Saturday's ESPN2 presentation from Michigan and somehow assumed we all knew who the human being was behind the wheel. I didn't. Research revealed it was David Gilliland. Announcers must understand viewers need NAMES as well as numbers . . . Watch this: Kyle Busch has signed with Joe Gibbs' team, an organization which has proven its inability to properly deal with the temperament of another bad boy, Tony Stewart, and completely mishandled the Aric Almirola-Denny Hamlin fiasco at Milwaukee . . . It was a huge PR blunder for DEI not to allow Dale Earnhardt Jr. to use the No. 8 at Hendrick Motorsports. The 8 is important because of Dale Jr., not DEI. It was his grandfather's number and the number Dale Earnhardt wanted his son to run. DEI has done a public image disservice to the poor driver left to wheel the 8 next season. The pseudo Business of Racing "experts" who pontificated on TV last weekend about "licensing" and "branding" failed to account for this simple fact: Dale Jr.-8 is in a different universe that Mark Martin-6 or any other example. The 8 without Junior is worth pennies on the dollar and not worth the cost to Teresa Earnhardt in terms of PR and goodwill . . . Get a copy of the August 9 Rolling Stone and read "The Ethanol Scam" . . . Say whatever you want about NASCAR's Chase, but be honest: It has WORKED. The PGA Tour is one of several sports organizations to follow NASCAR's lead and adopt a playoff-style format, but it blew-up before it starts this weekend, when Tiger Woods announced he won't play in the first of the four FedEx Cup tournaments . . . NASCAR in Primetime debuted to tepid ratings last week and I'm still trying to understand how producers could launch such a show without building the first episode around Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon with a touch of Kasey Kahne. No disrespect, but Johnny Sauter isn't an audience builder. I don't know what else to call this but TV Promotion 101. Here's what New York Times TV columnist Richard Sandomir wrote: "The first episode of the five-part series . . . offers nothing new about NASCAR, which raises questions about ABC News’ motivation in producing a documentary about a sport that its Disney cousins, ESPN and ABC Sports, began carrying last month under a contract worth $560 million a year. This is more than a stock-car racing segment on 20/20; it’s five hours in the heart of prime-time. Still, it’s the summer, stupid, evidently the right time for ABC News to deliver 800-horsepower Chevrolet Monte Carlos and men in fire suits adorned with corporate logos to an audience that loves extreme makeovers and might be teased enough by the admiring tone . . . to watch the 3M Performance 400 Sunday on ESPN."
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Last August I wrote of the PR lessons I've learned from the political pros. One of the best-ever was Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan's spin doctor. Deaver, 69, vice chairman of Edelman, died Saturday. As I said in that earlier blog, I keep a copy of Deaver's 2001 book, A Different Drummer: My Thirty Years with Ronald Reagan, on my desk and don't mind admitting I've used a few ideas "lifted" from those pages. The so-called "PR" people in racing who allow their driver to be interviewed in front of portable toilets or ID for competing sponsors should study Deaver's example. AP's story on Deaver's death included this: "Deaver was celebrated and scorned as an expert at media manipulation for focusing on how the president looked as much as what the president said. Reagan's chief choreographer for public events, Deaver protected the commander in chief's image and enhanced it with a flair for choosing just the right settings, poses and camera angles."

"I've always said the only thing I did is light him well," Deaver told the Los Angeles Times in 2001. "My job was filling up the space around the head. I didn't make Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan made me."


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NO PR HOME RUN

TWO LEGENDS: Babe Ruth (left) and Jim Chapman, circa mid-1940s. Note that Jim, as always, was dressed like the total professional he was throughout his life. That's another lesson current generation PR people need to learn from Mr. Chapman's great example.

A writer friend called me last Wednesday. It was the morning after Barry Bonds hit number 756 and thus passed Henry Aaron's career home run total. The scribe was looking for some PR perspective on Bonds' tarnished image (I used to be a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America).

My "contribution" (such as it was) to this fellow's research essentially was this: In America, the court of public opinion -- as opposed to a court of law -- renders judgment 24/7/365. Sometimes, as in our legal system, a verdict can be overturned. The modern-day 24-hour news cycle, fueled by a combustible mixture of fact-opinion-rumor on the Internet, cable TV and talk radio, makes it much more difficult to change the public mindset than it was a decade ago. In the Case of Barry Bonds, the preponderance of evidence (set forth in the book Game of Shadows) has led -- fairly or unfairly -- to a majority verdict of guilty.

Those who know me, or read this cyberoffering, will not be surprised that all of the Bonds' reportage/punditry made me think of my great friend Jim Chapman. Among his many life accomplishments, Jim was Babe Ruth's PR man for a time. As a close friend, Jim was at the Babe's bedside when he died in 1948. As a PR pro, it was Chapman who announced Ruth's death to the press corps waiting in the hospital.

Jim truly loved both journalism and PR. He and I shared countless conversations on both businesses, up to an hour-long visit I made to Chapman's Birmingham, Mich., apartment about 10 weeks before his death in 1996. I remember asking Jim: What's the best way to get a client out of a PR mess? His lengthy answer included examples of how acts of goodwill could be employed to reshape public opinion, but Jim's bottom-line advice went like this: Try to develop an honest relationship with your client so that you can help him/her AVOID such issues BEFORE they happen.

That wisdom brings us to what has occurred in NASCAR in recent weeks. Grand gestures, such as Robby Gordon entering a Cup car for Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen, are nice -- but don't erase the negatives of repeated -- emphasis repeated -- bad behavior. Those multiple incidents create an embedded image in the minds of sponsors, media and fans. And when the legitimacy of the sport is called into question, such Gordon's refusal to obey the black flag at Montreal and Tony Stewart's comments earlier this season about use of the yellow flag, NASCAR should enact long-term penalties -- because everyone in the garage area is damaged. People's livelihoods, literally, are put at risk. Other than raw talent, something else Gordon and Stewart share is the absence of strong, effective, experienced, pro-active PR counsel. (Disclosure: I did Robby's PR at the 2004 Indy 500.)

Let me swing back to the beginning to make one baseball-related point: I've heard several writers say that, despite what people think he did, Bonds will be elected to the Hall of Fame. If so, then I say, put Pete Rose in, too. (I covered part of Rose's historic 44-game hitting streak in 1978.) To the best of my knowledge, since Rose always bet on his team to win, there is no evidence this actually influenced the outcome of a game.
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Jemele Hill, an ESPN.com Page 2 columnist, took off on Danica Patrick last week. Hill's central points were made here a year ago: Only victory will legitimize the hype, and whiny comments/boorish behavior only serve to reinforce certain societal stereotypes.

Hill's line that torqued me off, though, was this: "Give Patrick credit for accomplishing more than any other female driver." Apparently, Hill never heard of -- or bothered to find out about -- Shirley Muldowney, Angelle Sampey, Melanie Troxel, Shelly Anderson, Karen Stoffer or NHRA's other successful women. Shame on the writer. It does, however, once again reinforce the on-going problem drag racing has with too many in the media (including some motorsports journalists): Lack of respect.
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Assigning the label of "must read" has become so over-used as to diminish the compliment. But Gordon Kirby's latest column, The Way It Is/ The sad results of a rare nexus of hubris, provincial thinking and amateurism, truly is a classic example of words which MUST be read by anyone with the slightest interest in the state of Champ Car. Recapping his observations of last weekend's CC/ALMS doubleheader at Road America, Kirby reveals, among other things, "Racer magazine, for example, sells fewer than half the number of copies it sold 10 years ago . . ." I've known and worked with Gordon for more than 25 years and for most of that time he's been the most insightful, and passionate, journalist on the CART/CC scene. I had the pleasure of co-hosting -- all the way back in 1997 -- a dinner in recognition of the 300th such race he covered (VIP guests included Rick Mears, Teddy Mayer and Linda Vaughn), so there's no telling what his total is now. Read this! :
http://www.gordonkirby.com/categories/columns/theway/2007/the_way_it_is_no81.html
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FAST LINES: If you don't know the name Julie Sobieski, you should. According to Sports Business News, she has been promoted from senior director, programming & acquisitions to vice president, programming & acquisitions, in ESPN’s programming department. Sobieski is responsible for the strategic and day-to-day management of business relationships with motorsports properties airing on ESPN and ABC, including NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA, Champ Car and other sanctioning bodies. She conducts and oversees programming acquisition, strategic content planning and scheduling and management of client relationships. She started as an ESPN intern in 1998 . . . Considering the emphasis (and resources) ESPN has put into its revived NASCAR coverage, this was inexcusable: In giving the "keys" to victory before the Busch Series race at Watkins Glen, Andy Petree said, "I don't know how many times" drivers shift per lap. They PAY YOU to know, or FIND OUT that basic information, Andy! (Rusty Wallace said it was 10.) Pretty good line from Dr. Jerry Punch, explaining how teams use a baseball bat to bang-out crushed bodywork, saying crewmen swing not for the "fences but the fenders" . . . Another example why Scott Pruett is popular with sponsors and media: At the Glen, he described the performance of his Busch car thusly, "The Juicy Fruit Dodge is sweet." Now if Pruett could get his Wrigley sponsor people to have the courtesy to respond to messages about AARWBA . . . I would not be the least bit surprised if senior management at NAPA soon conducts a full-scale review of all its motorsports programs. As if the company's linkage to Michael Waltrip's floundering No. 55 hasn't been embarrassing enough, NAPA was the sponsor of the monster truck that veered into a crowd of about 100 last week in DeKalb, Ill. At least nine people were injured. According to AP, "The demonstration was part of a monster truck tour sponsored by NAPA Auto Parts . . . the city had given the local NAPA store permission to close the street for the event . . . Jerry Nix, a spokesman for NAPA's parent company, Genuine Parts Co., said he could not comment on the incident." Here's a no-brainer comment for you: "Our thoughts and prayers are with those injured and their families. NAPA will cooperate fully with local authorities in their investigation" . . . Terrible TV Trend: Saturday's IndyCar race at Kentucky officially was the "Meijer 300," except on ESPN2, which sold enough commercial spots to another company to label it the "Optima Batteries 300." The race promoter owns the rights to sell the official event name. All this does is further confuse a public that already doesn't understand the difference between IndyCars and Champ Cars -- both shown on the ABC/ESPN networks . . . Another irritating trend is use of TV commentary on track PA systems, such as during SPEED's presentation of the Knoxville Nationals. It turns announcers into cheerleaders; very off-putting for the at-home viewer. Speaking to those in the grandstands vs. those in living rooms are two VERY DIFFERENT functions . . . Will the World of Outlaws follow NASCAR's example and take action against Chris Stillwell, Randy Hannagan's crew chief, for on-air profanity? SPEED should insist on it. Ralph Sheehen didn't do anyone a favor by making an excuse for Stillwell . . . Sad this even needs to be said: So-called "news" releases that are full of hype and tripe get deleted faster than that PR guy's driver's pole-winning lap. Save all the flowery prose for sponsors; skip it for journalists. Contemporary rule-of-thumb: Virtually all such offerings come from those with no professional PR or news background and from people who haven't bothered to develop solid one-on-one relationships with reporters. Otherwise, they would know what journos need. Sanctioning groups may have no control over team/sponsor hires, but they sure as hell could organize mandatory seminars to give these front-line publicity soldiers a clue. One might think that would be in their self-interest.


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY

Politely, I have two words of professional advice for the Vice President of Corporate Communications at Home Depot and Coca-Cola and Old Spice:

Get involved!

I assume you've heard that your "spokesman," Tony Stewart, is mad at ESPN. If you're the least-bit plugged-in to what's happening, you know Tony dropped the "BS" word while being interviewed "live" on ESPN immediately after his Brickyard victory, and has been sticking-it-to the network at virtually every available opportunity.

The issue is NOT if Tony has just cause. He may have; I didn't hear the supposedly offending remark. I'm reliably informed it came on a non-motorsports opinion show. If it is the one I think, well, Tony can join the club. A couple of those guys are widely regarded in the circles I intersect as being two of the biggest egomantics/empty suits populating the lower 48. One of them teed-off on a client of mine some years ago -- simultaneous with me giving ESPN a "heads-up" on an important story that was about to break. I didn't react by tearing down my own relationship with the network; I worked to build it up.

There is NOTHING to be gained from this high school behavior. Hint: ESPN is going to be around a lot longer than Tony Stewart. (What a joke that a pundit wrote Stewart has the ability to stand-up to ESPN via his satellite radio show!) I would like to believe the well-educated corporate PR VPs would accept the above statement of the obvious. As it is well-established that Stewart's own so-called "public relations" representative has no control, and the managers responsible for overseeing the TS sponsorship for HD, C-C and OS give the impression of being more enablers than enforcers, the time has come for those with principal responsibility to safeguard their company's image and reputation to stand tall. They can start by making it clear to Tony that his foolish feud with ESPN must stop -- NOW!
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FAST LINES: Chris Economaki, now 86, broke two ribs in a recent fall and is recovering at home . . . My friend Bob Margolis of Yahoo Sports has undergone three cancer surgeries in the past month. Bob, now at home, praises the treatment he's received at Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania Hospital. You can send Bob a note at http://bob.margolis@yahoo.com/ . . . Carl A. Haas will receive AARWBA's Pioneer In Racing Award at the 38th All-America Team dinner, Saturday, January 12, at the Indianapolis Hyatt. The Pioneer is presented in recognition of long-time dedication and achievement that have made a difference in motorsports. Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, Andy Granatelli, Kenny Bernstein, the Agajanian family, Les Richter, Hershel McGriff and Robert Falcon are among the previous recipients. More information at http://aarwba.org/ . . . The Indianapolis Business Journal says the 5,000-plus seats being removed as part of changes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course (for MotoGP) means the track will forfeit about $500,000 in annual ticket revenue . . . Nice try by NAPA to take the edge off Michael Waltrip's train-wreck of a season with a new humorous TV spot . . . My friend Ben Blake is scheduled to co-host SPEED's Wind Tunnel this Sunday night . . . Since it was obvious Robby Gordon was going to spin Marcos Ambrose out of the lead on that last restart Saturday in Montreal -- c'mon on, we all knew he was going to do it -- if I had been in race control I would have ordered a red flag and then had Gordon and his car physically removed from the track for not following instructions to fall back in line. The delay would have been less than 10 minutes. Letting Robby stay out guaranteed that Ambrose was not going to get his first Busch Series victory.
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I take no delight in revealing the following, but the time has come.

First, a little background is appropriate. In remembering my great friend Jim Chapman at last January's AARWBA All-America Team dinner, prior to the presentation of the PR Award named in his memory, I recalled Jim as a true gentleman and ultimate professional. "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." (See January 16 blog.)

Last July 10, in marking the one-year anniversary of this blog, I set forth some core beliefs that included this: "There is never -- NEVER -- a valid excuse for a telephone call not to be returned or an E-mail not to be answered. Personally, I've had it, especially when I'm attempting to make contact on behalf of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. (AARWBA is the country's oldest and largest organization of motorsports media professionals.) It's getting very close to the time when names will be named. I'll say this to those who will be embarrassed: Too bad. It's your own fault."

In 2005, as chairman of AARWBA's 50th Anniversary Celebration, I E-mailed the head of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council to see if they might participate with us. No courtesy of any reply was received. Fast forward to last May 27, in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's media center. Journalist Anne Proffit was speaking with Joanna Schroeder, ID'd by her business card as "director of communications" for the Ethanol trade group (IndyCar's fuel supplier.) Anne knew of the previous no-response situation and kindly suggested to Schroeder that she meet me. Since it was Indy 500 race morning, I recognized that the time was not right for a lengthy discussion. I did give Schroeder a brief overview of AARWBA, the All-America Team dinner, handed her a membership form and copy of a dinner program book -- and even pointed out the story about Jim Chapman. Schroeder told me she would be off the following week, but said I should E-mail her more information, and call her the week after her vacation.

On June 1, I sent Schroeder four E-mails, including copies of previous AARWBA newsletters. I sent another E June 5. I called her office June 6 and left a voice message. I sent another EM and left another VM June 12. I E-mailed again on June 29 and July 23. For those keeping score, that's two voice messages and eight E-mails. So, even though I followed-up exactly the way she instructed, I have received no courtesy of any reply to any of these communications from Joanna Schroeder. Oh, and I know I'm not the only one.
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I'm an American concerned that too many Americans seem to have forgotten the profound lessons of Sept. 11, 2001. Next month, on the sixth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the NASCAR Foundation and about 20 Nextel Cup tracks will host local Red Cross blood and marrow drives. As I understand it, there will be drawings to win tickets, plus additional prizes and other activities. Learn more at http://redcross.org/. Phoenix International Raceway will be the site of one such event, from 2-8 p.m. I plan to participate. If you can, please consider doing the same.


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]