• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

MORE OF THE SAME

Sorry to say, Racing PR 2008 isn't starting off much better than 2007 ended, as discussed in my Dec. 11 posting in this spec of the cyberuniverse.

At the AARWBA All-America Team ceremony, in the group's January newsletter, and in last week's blog, I thanked -- by name -- PR people who helped us with that event. Unfortunately, and as usual, that worked counter to those who didn't. That list includes someone who touched base with me five hours later than planned -- had to go shopping, you know. I'm still awaiting the common-courtesy of a "thank you" from the person whose boss was honored by AARWBA, someone whose priority seemed to be a parking spot -- and not for the boss.

One of the great disappointments of AARWBA's three Team dinners in Indianapolis has been the lack of outreach from the local PR community. Now, if an event of this sort was coming to my town, I would pick up the phone and call the chairman and say: "It's GREAT you are coming here! What can I do to help?"

I find it noteworthy that Dean Case, who represents MAZDASPEED, got in early and was ready to assist. The locals? MIA.

There are several Indy-based racing companies who employ younger, more inexperienced people on their PR staffs. It would have been nice if at least one of those organizations had thought to assign at least one of those younger staffers to AARWBA. (We could have used the help!) I would say they would have had the opportunity to learn more in a day and an evening than they might in half-a-season of races.

Meanwhile, in the last few weeks, I've received three calls or E-mails from publicists "pitching" me on something for the Arizona Republic. Now, I appreciate that, especially at a time when pro-active PR is rare. In every case, however, they failed to do basic research. The SUPER BOWL is here in the Valley, with the best-attended PGA golf tournament of the year happening this very same week. Newspaper 101 tells you space is tighter than the waistline of John Daly's pants. When I explained that to one agency (typical) rep, the response was, "Ohhh . . . " The same person asked if I was still doing Friday columns for the Republic. I replied, as politely as possible under the circumstances: "Yes, I began again two weeks ago -- with one of your client drivers as the lead item!"

PR done without homework is as bad as no PR.
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It was obvious change was coming to ESPN's NASCAR team. To me, the only question was: How MUCH change?

To my many ESPN friends, I'm sorry to say: Not enough. At least three -- and perhaps as many as five -- other on-air changes needed to be made.

The key word in evaluating the announcer shuffle is: CREDIBILITY.

Dale Jarrett, into the booth while Rusty Wallace goes to the studio, has it. Allen Bestwick brings it -- and it was greatly needed -- to the host role for the race telecasts and NASCAR Countdown. This also plays much better to Bestwick's strength vs. last year's pit reporter job. As I've previously written, Shannon Spake emerged from the wreckage of SPEED's horrendous NASCAR Nation to be a solid contributor, so her promotion to full-time pit reporter (in for Bestwick) is merited.

The entire case-for-increased-credibility, however, went south with the hiring of Nicole Manske as host of NASCAR Now. USA Today described Manske as a "NASCAR TV vet."

What???

No question Erik Kuselias needed to be replaced as Now host -- Congress should pass a law barring him from ever saying the word "NASCAR" again. But Manske, who with her equally fluffy (former) co-host turned The SPEED Report into Entertainment Tonight for racing, brings as much credibility to this assignment as Keith Olbermann did to anchoring MSNBC's coverage of Ronald Reagan's funeral.

There will come a time, as sadly, it always does in motorsports, when Now will have to focus all its attention on the serious -- or tragic. The audience will be served best if Bestwick or Ryan Burr is sitting in the host's chair that evening.
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Last week, I provided a link to my exclusive with Dario Franchitti, in which he revealed he was going to retire from open-wheel racing even if no NASCAR opportunity came along. I believe that is what is known in the trade as NEWS.

Proving once again that ours is a celebrity-driven society, I offer this actual headline from last week:

"Annual NASCAR media tour's hot topic is Ashley Judd"
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In case you missed it, here's a link to my new Business of Racing video commentary on 1320tv.com. It's about NHRA's businessmen-racers: "Before they learned how to speed, they had to learn how to sell."

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

And here are links to my Arizona Republic notebook last Friday and my Sunday story on John Force's return at last weekend's National Time Trials. I spent an amazing -- and sometimes emotional -- 90 minutes one-on-one with Force in his motorhome. Then he personally showed me his new and safer chassis. IMPOSSIBLE to get it all into this story but I'll have more on the 14-time Funny Car champion in future weeks:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/01240125racingnb.html

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0126nhra.html
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As one who enjoyed the work -- and social company -- of Lou Palmer (and his late wife, Cal), I was saddened to receive Larry Henry's E-mail last week that Palmer died at age 75 in Indianapolis. An Indianapolis Motor Speedway news release accurately described Palmer's "rich, stirring voice" which was heard on the 500 Radio Network for more than 30 years. He was chief announcer in 1988 and '89. Later, Lou served on the CART Radio Network.

Thank you, Lou.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

WHY WE DO IT

CLASS PHOTO: Top row, left-to-right -- Tony Schumacher, Dario Franchitti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Jaime Melo, Alex Lloyd, Jon Fogarty. Bottom row -- Scott Pruett, Tony Pedregon, Carl Haas, Dane Cameron, Mika Salo, Frank Kimmel. (Photo by Dan R. Boyd.)


Take a look at the above picture.

A good look.

Every now-and-then, someone asks me what's the point in joining the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association. OK. Fair enough. We live in a society of skeptics.

What other similar organization, I would respond, can bring together such a prestigious group in one place on the same evening? Those above are members of the 2007 AARWBA All-America Team. They were honored with the traditional Horsepower Trophy Jan. 12 at the 38th Team dinner at the Indianapolis Hyatt presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway chose AARWBA's new Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum as the place to present Franchitti with his Indy 500 winner's ring and unveil his likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy. MAZDASPEED, Champ Car Atlantics, A1GP, IndyCar Series and ESPN also utilized the Forum to make announcements.

A strong, effective media organization is GOOD for the motorsports industry. It's that simple.
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SEEN AND HEARD AT AARWBA: Tony Schumacher taking my Sharpie to get Emerson Fittipaldi's autograph . . . Fittipaldi, Schumacher, Tony Pedregon and Frank Kimmel acknowledging Champ Car owner Carl Haas during their podium remarks . . . Haas and Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy winner Dario Franchitti earning standing ovations . . . Haas becoming emotional in accepting the Pioneer In Racing award . . . Fittipaldi revealing A1GP World Cup of Motorsport will create an off-shoot A2 series to crown national champions -- including in America . . . A1GP Chief Commercial Officer Scott Hollingsworth telling A1 Team USA driver Jonathan Summerton one of his jobs is to make next year's All-America Team! . . . Tom Anderson agreeing to a two-year extension of Lowe's Fernandez Racing's support of the Straight Shooter Award, in memory of Art Flores and Ron Hussey, for photographers . . . Scott Pruett revealing he plans to visit an NHRA event this year as Schumacher's guest . . . AARWBA members will choose Champ Car Atlantic's 35th anniversary All-Star team . . . IHRA reps attending the All-America Team ceremony for the first time. Please note, World of Outlaws.
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As is my custom, as event chairman, I want to offer thanks to the PR people and others who helped AARWBA by arranging for their drivers to attend, or in other ways:

* Kelby Krauss
* Ron Green
* John Griffin
* Chris Dirato
* Jerry Archambeault
* Anthony Vestal
* Sophia Kokonas
* Jim Sullivan
* David Higdon
* Don Helms
* Sharon Zeeck
* Bob Dickinson
* Tyra Sitton
* Stacie Shain
* Mike Geylin
* Andy Schupack
* Adam Saal
* Reece White
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Watch Dave Densmore accept the Jim Chapman Award at AARWBA and Susan Wade's conversation with Dave on 1320tv.com. (While you are there, check out Emerson Fittipaldi and Scott Pruett talking drag racing . . . yes, drag racing!):
http://www.1320tv.com/featured.asp?vid=1-1-08/dave_densmore_speech&title=Dave%20Densmore%20honored%20with%20Chapman%20Award

http://www.1320tv.com/dialed_in/article10.asp?vid=dialed_in/dialed_in_densmore&title=Dave%20Densmore%20honored%20for%20public-relations%20excellence

Here's my new Business of Racing video commentary on 1320tv.com:
http://www.1320tv.com/straight_talk/article3.asp?vid=straight_talk/aarwba_dinner_bor&title=The%20Business%20Of%20Racing&des=New%20commentary%20by%20Michael%20Knight

And my story in last Friday's Arizona Republic, where Dario Franchitti reveals the REAL reason why he switched to NASCAR:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/0117racingnb.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

THE WINNERS

My congratulations to Dave Densmore and Bob Carlson, announced as recipients of the 2007 Jim Chapman Award at last Saturday night's 38th AARWBA All-America Team ceremony presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport at the Indianapolis Hyatt.

For the first time in the award's history (it dates back to 1991), two honorees were chosen in the same year. The Chapman, for excellence in motorsports public relations, is decided by AARWBA media members who knew and cared about the legendary PR executive. I have the honor of chairing this committee and, as usual, went to the podium to remember Jim, who was my best friend and had a profound influence on my life and career.

Paul Page (right), now anchoring ESPN2's NHRA coverage, came up to announce and present to Dave. As I've written before, Densmore (center) endured the unendurable in 2007, after decades as John Force's main publicist and media guru. I also know Dave to be a wonderful resource to journalists as a drag racing historian.

Then, the AP's Mike Harris stepped to the stage to announce Bob. The longtime Porsche PR ace was unable to attend as he continues to recover from cancer surgery. The week before, I had the pleasure of telephoning Bob with the happy news. Bob and I worked together on the Porsche Indy Car project in 1988, and mutually went through the experience of our friend Al Holbert's fatal airplane crash that September. Bob sent along this message that Mike read to dinner guests:

"I’m terribly disappointed at not being able to personally accept this wonderful award from you this evening. I’m in the final stages of recuperation from successful cancer surgery and expect to be up and about within the next month. At the same time, I’m very pleased to have my old friend Mike Harris accept this award on my behalf.

"I can’t begin to tell you how much this prestigious award means to me. I knew Jim Chapman during the years Porsche raced on the CART circuit. My initial impression was how much he enjoyed supervising the all-female PPG pace car program. He always had a smile on his face and was an extremely popular man at the track.

"But Jim was much more than a host. Jim Chapman was the consummate public relations professional. He was always truthful and credible. Jim added a great deal to the CART series. It was clear he loved what he did and was always willing to do what it would take to enhance the
series for everyone’s benefit. He was willing to put as much INTO racing as he received FROM it. I believe this was one of his criteria for being a public relations professional. And that is why I am so honored and grateful to receive this award named after Jim Chapman.

"I would like to thank the voting committee for their support. I would also like to thank Michael Knight for organizing and maintaining this award that honors Jim Chapman’s memory and highly professional work ethic. And finally, I would like to thank Porsche and Porsche Cars
North America for allowing me to represent them and provide counsel to them for the past 23 years. For me, this is truly a dream job.

"I look forward to seeing you at the races this year."

Jim would fully agree with Dave and Bob as winners of the 2007 Chapman Award. The honor for Dave and Bob is not the plaque. The TRUE honor is having their names forever associated with that of the great James P. Chapman.
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Congratulations, too, to Dario Franchitti, winner of AARWBA's Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy. The Titus goes to the driver who receives the most votes for the All-America Team and is named in memory of the late AARWBA member journalist-driver.


Dario made a great effort to be with us. His schedule has been in tremendous flux as he prepares for NASCAR. It would have been very easy for him to simply tell me "no" -- and there were times that happened as Dario actually expected to be out-of-the-country last weekend. As a professional, though, Dario kept AARWBA in mind as circumstances changed. In addition to the Titus and his Horsepower Trophy as a Team member in the open-wheel category, Dario received his Indy 500 winner's ring from Speedway President Joie Chitwood during our new pre-dinner Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum. Plus, his image on the Borg-Warner Trophy was unveiled. As the dinner chairman, I can say it was fantastic for AARWBA to play host to this traditional IMS ceremony.

AARWBA also greatly benefitted from the persistent effort of Dario's new team publicist, Kelby Krauss. To "Doctor No" and the other NASCAR team/sponsor publicists who routinely reject media requests faster than their drivers make a lap, please take note of how Kelby hung-in-there with AARWBA and helped make it happen. Thank you, Kelby!

(Photos courtesy of my friend Dan R. Boyd.)


[ more on the AARWBA ceremony next Tuesday . . . ]

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

IMPORTANT NIGHT in INDY

I'll be in Indianapolis this weekend to chair the 38th AARWBA All-America Team ceremony. This is special to me for a number of reasons; mainly, I just think it's important for the motorsports industry to have a strong, effective media organization. Plus, we'll present the Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations, a man and an honor close to my heart.

I want to welcome A1GP World Cup of Motorsport as the new dinner presenting sponsor. On behalf of AARWBA, I negotiated a three-year agreement with A1GP. If you are wondering why a series that doesn't have a U.S. race would do this, well, that's the point. A1GP wants to raise awareness of what it's doing among American racing journalists. Chief Commercial Officer Scott Hollingsworth will lead the A1GP delegation. Emerson Fittipaldi, A1GP ambassador and Team Brazil seat holder, will be our featured speaker.

Drivers elected to the Team, as voted on by AARWBA members, and confirmed to attend include: Dario Franchitti, Scott Pruett, Tony Schumacher, Tony Pedregon, Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty, Alex Lloyd, Frank Kimmel, Mika Salo and Jamie Melo. The top vote-getter gets the Jerry Titus Memorial Trophy. Carl Haas is coming to accept AARWBA's Pioneer In Racing Award.

ESPN, MAZDASPEED, Budweiser and Edelman Motorsports are co-hosting the reception. The evening will start with something new, the Shav Glick Newsmakers Forum, a series of brief news announcements. Franchitti will receive his Indy 500 winner's ring then and his image on the Borg-Warner Trophy will be unveiled.

If you need last-minute ticket information, go to the http://aarwba.org/ site.
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The response to my last posting of '07 was unprecedented in the short history of this blog. Will it ultimately help improve the state of racing PR? Time will tell. It did lead to communications with THREE sanctioning organizations. Several journalists wrote to tell me of their own stories and the senior executive of a prestigious motorsports publication let me know that well-known outlet is not immune to neglect by people who carry "PR" titles.

I hope the dialog will continue . . . I can assure you it will in this space. I urge others to speak out as well to the team owners and sponsors who give paychecks to people who don't visit media centers, return phone calls or answer E-mails from reporters. It's time to act, not just complain, or accept the situation as-is. Fixing the problem is in the best interest of the motorsports industry.
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Here are two things I was reminded of (again) during the holidays, due in part to my last blog:

* Any organization interested in a proper and professional relationship with real reporters makes a big mistake combining media/PR work with a marketing function. Penske Racing South and Grand-Am were the latest to do this, in December, announcing senior-level appointments where "communications" falls under the responsibility of a marketer. Anyone who doesn't understand why this is wrong doesn't understand the relationship dynamic of working with journalists. Contact me and I'll explain it to you.

* Most journos I speak with hate it when they are sent releases as a PDF or Word document that must be downloaded. (I'm told many who do this want to show-off a logo or a graphic.) As stated in my last posting, news releases are for the MEDIA, not corporate executives or team owners. Keep it simple and easy to use. In the case of E-mailed releases, that means plain text. If an image is key to telling the story, attach a link.
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Sign of the Times: The Orlando Sentinel announced last week in a staff memo, ". . . we've decided to eliminate our national NASCAR coverage and focus more on local sports coverage. Following a joint decision by the Sentinel, Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Sentinel, we won't be covering as many NASCAR races and will spend more of our budget on local news. With this decision, award-winning reporter Ed Hinton has decided to leave the company. He is the best NASCAR writer in the nation, winning more awards than anyone, and will be missed dearly."

Sounds like "spin" to me. The Tribune Co., under new ownership, is cutting costs. Now, will all those NASCAR team/sponsor PR people who don't bother to visit the media center take this as justification for their attitude that newspapers no longer matter? Or as a wake-up call to get pro-active and work to build relationships and generate stories?
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A VERY difficult 2007 closed with the news that my friend Mike Hollander was diagnosed with a form of colon cancer. For those who don't know, Mike is a true pioneer of online motorsports journalism. In 1979, Hollander worked with the then-fledgling CompuServe Information Service to provide racing news on a real-time basis worldwide. I remember times when I joined with Mike Harris to argue with track PR directors who didn't want to issue Hollander media credentials -- because they didn't understand this new information source.

That service evolved in 1983 into the AutoRacing SIG and later into The Motor Sports Forum. In 1995, Mike brought the service to the web, where it continues today as http://www.motorsportsforum.com/ .

Mike is AARWBA's national VP and received the Dusty Brandel President's Award at last year's All-America Team ceremony. He edits the dinner program book and produces all the audio-visual elements. You can reach him at racing@motorsportsforum.com .


If you didn't read Bob Margolis' reflection on his year battling cancer, here's the Yahoo Sports link:
http://sports.yahoo.com/nascar/news;_ylt=AqeO92elavD.Ca2ZxEyqlzTov7YF?slug=bm-bobsstory122507&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]