• 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 . . . ]