• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, June 23, 2008

FLEX THINKING

FLEX MAN: Louis Jamail, vehicle dynamics engineer for the new 2009 Ford Flex, stands in front of a NASCAR Ford Fusion stock car and the Flex. One of Jamail's first jobs was working with Ford Racing on NASCAR chassis programs, an experience he credits for helping him during the engineering of the Flex.

Ford's PR man on the NASCAR scene, Dan Zacharias (PCGCampell) has given me hope that all is not yet lost on the contemporary PR scene.

Dan has just pulled off -- and may still be in the process of pulling off -- the best media "pitch" I've seen in recent years.

He's been working the racing angle for the launch of the new Ford Flex, which is a seven-passenger crossover. Doesn't sound like such a vehicle would have much in common with NASCAR . . . except that Louis Jamail, Flex vehicle dynamics engineer, used to help develop Cup chassis for Ricky Rudd. And, it turns out, Jamail is a good interview.

For years I've heard automakers and auto parts/products companies speak in glowing -- but too general -- terms about "technology transfer" and how racing helps improve stuff used by average consumers. Too often, the "connection" is unspecific. Sounds good . . . but where's the beef?

Dan picked up on this traditional PR theme and actually made something out of it. Starting with a to-the-point, well thought-out "pitch." I haven't seen one that good since Randy Johnson was in his prime. I'll skip the step-by-step process -- which I'm sure Dan would agree included a lot of common-sense thinking and understanding of media needs -- and just note the results. After all, that's what actually counts here: The list includes USA Today and NASCAR.com stories, with more to come.

I appreciated Lewis explaining how racing-inspired wind-tunnel techniques were used to improve the Flex's gas mileage, as well as cut-down on wind noise. I liked it when he said his NASCAR experience influenced his work to make the Flex drive better. "I wanted it to not drive as big as it looks," Jamail told me. And, on occasion, he still tests the NASCAR Fusion at Ford's proving grounds in Michigan and Arizona. "I get to do some of the fun stuff."

Good stuff.

The PR photo, above, was nicely composed, too.

Well done, Dan! Thank you!
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On the other hand -- and you probably guessed there would be one -- was this experience last week.

I asked the Petty Enterprises' designated publicist to arrange a 10-minute phoner for me with Bobby Labonte, which would be the lead in my Arizona Republic notebook. I was told the only way it could be done was if I submitted all the questions via E-mail, and would receive the answers the same way. (!) Now, since I'm one of those who believe it's important to always be learning new things, could someone please explain to me just how do you ask a follow-up question in such a format? How do you describe to the reader the driver's tone of voice? E-mail is fine for an answer to one question or narrow topic, but unacceptable for a full interview.

I was told it was a "bad week" for Bobby, in terms of his schedule. OK, but, as I explained, there were 8 1/2 days from the day of my request to deadline. Ten minutes too much to ask out of approximately 204 available hours?

I passed.

As I've said to NASCAR's Jim Hunter, with a half-dozen or so exceptions, too many team/sponsor "PR" people in NASCAR think their media "work" for the week is over after their driver talks for 10 minutes to the press gaggle at the back of the hauler each weekend.
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Forgive me for laughing at those acting like NASCAR's so-called "shut up and race" meeting with drivers and owners at Michigan was some sort of unprecedented event. Back in 1982 or 1983, I forget which, CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach delivered that same basic message at a special drivers meeting at Michigan. A series of controversial calls and timing/scoring errors had gotten drivers grumbling to reporters. I was CART's communications director at the time, and remember Rick Mears came out of the meeting and said, "That talk was long overdue."
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To repeat an item from last week: The 39th AARWBA All-America Team ceremony, presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, has been scheduled for Saturday, January 10. New location: The Hilton in Ontario, Calif.

I agree 100 percent with David Poole regarding victory celebrations. (And shame on those selfish fans at the Milwaukee Mile who booed Carl Edwards for not doing a backflip. Carl was right when he said it wasn't appropriate in light of Scott Kalitta's death and his own bump into Clint Bowyer):
http://turn-lane.blogspot.com/2008/06/celebration-is-one-thing-and.html



Here's an example of what troubles me about the "modern" media: Fox News Channel put Mario Andretti on its Monday morning news/chat show to talk about the terrible Scott Kalitta accident. No disrespect to Mario, understand, but I'm sure Kenny Bernstein or Don Prudhomme or Gary Scelzi or Ron Capps or even John Force would have made themselves available if asked in time. I bet the Fox booker flipped through his/her auto racing file, the first name was "Andretti," so that's who they called. Superficial, at best. It would have been to NHRA's benefit to have one of its competitors speak on this topic -- and viewers would have been better informed, too.


Here are links to last Friday's Arizona Republic notebook (featuring Gary Scelzi plus the Ford Flex) and a feature on Carl Edwards:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/06/19/20080619racingnb.html
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/06/19/20080619edwards.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Monday, June 16, 2008

SHARP TURNS

* Let me state what should be obvious: Media guides need to suit the needs of the media. (!) Those who issue guides only in CD format are ignoring that BASIC. Despite a CD's obvious benefits, when a journalist is on deadline, it's still FAR easier and faster to flip open a printed guide and look up a fact. I witnessed this first-hand at the Indy 500: Three writers, all working on Team Penske-related stories, needed a fact. None wanted to take time to load, run, open, etc. the Philip Morris USA paid-for CD. GM Communications came up with a nice compromise in its Chevrolet Corvette pace car press kit: The CD came packaged with a 4 3/4" x 4 3/4" inch booklet which outlined basic information and even had snapshots of the photography available on the CD. Well done.

* As I've recounted many times, attention to detail is essential in journalism -- and PR. With that in mind, last week I received this notice of a media conference call:

"Jeff Gordon - Teleconference TODAY at 9 pm"

9 p.m.
(?) Sorry, I missed that call.

* PR, circa 2008: The track manager who takes local media coverage for granted, and that's been his career-long MO . . . The PR director who deals with the legitimate concerns of one of the most important media people in his market by ignoring the situation . . . The young, promising publicist who took a new job (in a company where the boss has demonstrated poor communications skills) and apparently quickly forgot that PR is a relationship business . . . The series' "director of media relations" who, in my observation, goes about tasks but hasn't worked to establish meaningful professional relationships with journalists.

* Sporting News will launch a daily digital national newspaper -- Sporting News Today -- July 23. It will be delivered free to registered users via E-mail 365 mornings a year. Register at:
http://sportingnewstoday.com/

The venerable magazine will become a biweekly publication on Sept. 1. The news announcement said Tony Stewart is one of several athletes hired as a contributor.

* ESPN Home Entertainment has released ESPN Inside Access: Jeff Gordon. The 230-minute DVD ($19.95) follows a similar offering about Derek Jeter last April. It includes footage of Gordon racing quarter-midgets as a child through his four Cup championships and Gordon appearances on various ESPN programs. What I like is it also has Jeff's Make-A-Wish Foundation activities.

* NHRA now has a national agency, Edelman, "to provide support and counsel with the implementation of its national public relations campaign." Edelman "will be charged with increasing the sanctioning body’s national profile through the strategic placement of the NHRA brand at high-profile events and with influential media on a consistent, ongoing basis . . . Edelman will be targeting predominantly non-endemic media in the lifestyle, health & fitness, fashion and general news categories in addition to building NHRA’s presence across multiple New Media platforms." So says the release. Edelman was wise enough to have the late Michael Deaver, Ronald Reagan's image-maker, as its vice chairman. I just wish before such important decisions are made, people within the industry, who might have some useful information to share, would be consulted.

* Is there a downside to BlackBerry Nation? Sometimes, the answer is yes. The danger is in feeling pressure to answer immediately, without adequate thought:
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0608/10995.html

* Pay attention to InBev's $46 billion takeover bid for Anheuser-Busch. It has the potential to dramatically alter the face of the American sports marketing landscape.

* Sam Moses is one of the best writers in America and I especially miss his work in Sports Illustrated. I happily learned in the June issue of Glenn F. Campbell's newsletter, http://www.autowriters.com/, of Sam's new website. I was interested in this quote, from Sam, about his vast experience doing car reviews: "What pisses manufacturers off is a flip and negative tone, not a critical comment of their car that can be backed up by an example." http://www.sammoses.com/

* Thanks to Mike Davis and Annette Randall (JR Motorsports), Judy Stropus (Don Schumacher Racing) and Dan Zacharias (Ford Racing) for their recent assistance.

* Mark your calendar: The 39th AARWBA All-America Team ceremony, presented by A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, will be Saturday, January 10. New location: The Hilton in Ontario, Calif.
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REALITY CHECK: Enough-is-enough with the wretchedly mismanaged U.S. airline companies. U.S. Air now plans to charge $2 for non-alcoholic drinks -- even bottled water. Unacceptable given that passengers can't -- for valid security reasons -- take liquids past checkpoints. But even the airlines says it's important for passengers to keep hydrated during long flights. Many people need to drink in order to swallow necessary prescription medications. Some medicines are best taken with juice rather than water. This is a PUBLIC HEALTH issue and should be strongly resisted by the flying public. I'm usually opposed to government regulation of business -- but not in this case. Yes, the airlines say passengers can carry-on beverages purchased in stores located past security. The prices at those concessions already are outrageous and, trust me, this will just give them a new reason to jack-up 'em up even more.
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Here's a link to my new "All Business" column in the June Drag Racing Online magazine:
http://dragracingonline.com/columns/knight/x_6-1.html

And, last Friday's Arizona Republic notebook, featuring Brad Keselowski:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/06/12/20080612racingnb.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Monday, June 09, 2008

THANKS, RICK (and GORDON)

In his introduction to Rick Mears: Thanks -- The Story of Rick Mears and the Mears Gang, my friend Gordon Kirby writes: "This book was a sheer pleasure to write."

It is a great pleasure for me to recommend the book to you. In the highest terms.

When Roger Penske and Gould officially introduced Rick as (believe-it-or-not, a part-time driver) in Chicago in late 1977, I was there, covering for the Philadelphia Daily News. I reported Rick's first Indianapolis 500 victory, in 1979.

Most important, to me, I had the enormous good fortune to have Rick be PPG Cup champion for two of the three years I worked as CART's first full-time communications director. As champion, of course, I asked much of Rick. He did it all -- with style and good humor. I remember, at Watkins Glen in October 1981, when we were struggling for attention to try to sell a few tickets on a miserable and cold weekend, I asked Rick (on short notice) to do an interview with a local TV type. Charitably, she didn't know a wheel from a wallet, even though I had given her a media guide. He smiled through the conversation, even though this microphone-holder obviously had no clue who he was or that he was an Indy winner or champion.

And, yes, when it was over, Rick said to her: "Thank you."

I consider Rick to be the greatest champion of the CART era of American open-wheel racing.

Gordon Kirby is the perfect writer to tell the Mears' story. He was there, in-person, for almost every moment of a classic career. Roger Penske, appropriately, offers the foreword for 264 pages, presented with a magnificent display of photography.

It's this simple: It's impossible for me to understand how anyone with an interest in motor racing greatness would not read this book.

CMG Publishing, $39.95. http://www.crashmediagroup.com/
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* Do you know what a "MoJo" is? Are you one, but not realize it? If you are a PR rep, do you know how to effectively work with this new type of journalist? Thanks to Larry Henry for sharing this:
http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003805733

* The Indianapolis Business Journal reports NBC or Turner might be interested in the IndyCar TV rights when the current deal with ESPN expires after 2009. Just how financially "interested" they are, I question, but if a network change is what it takes to get Bumbler Pedigo off-the-air, so be it.

* They say everything is bigger in Texas. As we saw again last weekend, that includes egos.

* When a TV production -- such as TNT's Sprint Cup coverage at Pocono -- includes visual elements that don't really exist, like signs and scoreboards and screens, it undercuts overall credibility.

* The sad passing of Jim McKay reminds us of a better, more professional, elegant, gentlemanly and civilized era of sportscasters. I wish some of those offering their tributes to Jim last weekend would think about that -- and act on McKay's legacy.
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Here's a link to last Friday's Arizona Republic notebook:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/06/05/20080605racingnb0606.html


[ more next Tuesday . . . ]

Monday, June 02, 2008

IRL POLICY NOT 'FINE' BY ME

Let me see if I've got this straight:

The Indy Racing League thinks it's news when the Indy 500 features a record winner's purse and total payout. And it is!

But when the IRL fines a competitor, we are told those amounts are not made public.

Hey, guys, news is news. (!)

IF the League has somehow conjured up a truly LEGITIMATE reason for this policy, come out and spell that out for us. Now!

Otherwise, it's a matter of credibility. A fine of $100 tells us one thing about how "serious" the League takes the offense. $10,000 tells us a completely different story. NASCAR certainly wasn't shy about announcing a pair of $100,000 penalties last week. Now, THAT'S serious!

Which leads me to this: Danica Patrick should have been fined -- I'll put it at $2,500 -- for walking down a "hot" pit lane during the Indianapolis 500. That was a safety violation. I guess Danica "forgot" about the pit incident she was involved in the day before pole qualifying. (!)
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I was in the media center for the Indy 500. During the race's first 100 laps, journalists watching monitors showing the ABC network telecast laughed at the booth announcers at least three times, one reason being they missed passes for the lead.

PR hint: It would serve Marty Reid and company well to get out of their interminable (and ego-driven) production meetings and engage in some actual relationship-building with print reporters. I'm not talking about formal press conferences or conference calls. I'm talking about one-on-one interaction. It would do the ABC/ESPN boys some good. Hell, they might actually learn something. (!)

Dick Berggren finds time to do it at NASCAR races.
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* Dave Argabright proved -- again -- in last week's National Speed Sport News why he's one of America's best racing writers. Dave has an elegant way of making the reader understand what should be common sense. I don't have a link, but do what you must to read it. Hint: Dave correctly points out that in a physical confrontation with a male driver, Danica is in a win-win situation, while the poor fellow is in lose-lose mode. Great writing -- and thinking. I would subscribe to NSSN just for Dave's column.

* Robin Miller, in his SpeedTV.com mailbag, picked up on a couple of points I made last week about Patrick's temper tantrum at Indy. Quoting partially from two of his answers: " . . . let’s be honest, Danica is very savvy when it comes to the media and she knows a good photo op." And: "As far as Danica’s attitude, it’s starting to wear thin on a lot of people."

* The "expectations game" is part of determining "winners" and "losers" during presidential primaries. For example, Hillary Clinton was expected to take the Indiana primary by 5-6 points. When she won narrowly, the pundits proclaimed her a "loser." Given all the hype and "momentum" going into the first unified Indy 500 since 1995, a ratings gain of seven percent (household impressions up nine percent over last year) on ABC means the race came in under expectations. And, as I've said many times, the hard work started with unification, shown by this post-race headline in USA Today: "How to make the Indy 500 great again".

* Sometimes, it's fun to remember old times. Thanks to Bob Markus for his May 27 blog:
http://bobmarkus.blogspot.com/.

* Last week I noted the PR no-shows at Indy. Credit-where-credit-is-due: Thanks to the following for their help to me -- Kelby Krauss (who brought poleman Scott Dixon to the AARWBA breakfast -- that's AP's Mike Harris interviewing Scott at the podium), T.E. McHale, Dan Layton, Mark Robinson, John Griffin, Ron Green, Bill York, Anne Fornoro and Jan Thomas.

* Sign-of-Unprofessional-Times: The PR director of a track about to host the IRL, while visiting a hospitality area in Indy, had his shirt hanging out and he was wearing shorts. Nothing like looking the part of a professional! Which brings me straight to Scott Speed. I've written many times about how unprofessional it is for a driver to walk around with his (and, yes, her) uniform pulled down. Speed took it to a whole new level when he won last Friday's Truck race at Dover. Scott started peeling off his uniform while doing the winner's TV interview! Then, he posed for the usual victory lane photos that way! What a disgrace. If the sponsor and team aren't on-the-ball enough to have someone deal with this, then NASCAR should correct the situation when it's in a winner's circle setting. That's not the image NASCAR wants for one of its winners. And it's shortchanging the series sponsor. At Indy, I suggested to the parent of a winning IRL driver that he'd look more like a pro -- and be more attractive to potential sponsors -- if he'd stop doing this. I'll be watching to see if there's any change.

* Thanks to my friend, long-time Detroit radioman Larry Henry, for sending along this link to a very interesting article on how the media has changed.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24757552/

And check out Larry's innovative production services at: http://twofloorsdownproductions.com/


IndyCar racing on a Thursday night? Sound strange? Check out my notebook in last Friday's Arizona Republic:
http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/05/29/20080529racingnb.html

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]