• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

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 . . . ]