• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

LESSONS of '09

There was another Saab story out of General Motors last week. Ford suddenly replaced its motorsports director. NASCAR, IRL and ALMS teams either closed doors or showed the door to dozens of employees. The historic Milwaukee Mile went dark. The changes continued at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (more to come).

And, yet, Speed's resources went to covering an ARCA test.

Think about it: Robin Miller -- Robin Miller! -- at an ARCA test.

No rip on my friend Robin, but, how SAD.

I guess it was a fitting end to another depressing year in media and public relations.

The standards of professionalism and news judgment continued downhill. Look at the list of MAJOR, IMPORTANT IN THE SHORT-AND-LONG-TERM stories listed in the first graph. How much have you read or heard about them in the last week? Especially in-depth journalism that might add to your understanding of these happenings? Then, think of how much Danica has been forced down your throat.

How much was the bar lowered in the last 12 months? Need I say more than "Digger?" Or -- worst of the year -- that video of spectators being injured when Carl Edwards sailed into the fence at Talladega was "Eye Candy" and used to hype TV coverage of upcoming races? Since when did it become acceptable to use spectator injuries as entertainment?

Sometimes, I can't help but wonder: WHERE is the OUTRAGE? !

However, is it any wonder surveys continue to show public trust in, and respect for, the media keeps dropping like Tiger's approval number? Is it a surprise that the Jim Chapman Award, for excellence in motorsports PR, won't be presented for 2009?

I began the year saying, from the podium at the AARWBA All-America Team ceremony, that the most insidious trend in modern sports is business managers making media-relations decisions. In the majority of cases, these are salesmen, not people educated in the various facets of media and the varying needs of each. The year ends with my point being validated for all eternity -- in the example of IMG agents advising Woods on how to deal with his PR Titantic. They know how to negotiate an endorsement deal -- but what do they know about TMZ and the like in this celebrity-driven, People magazine, photo-op, sound-bite society? Clearly, not too damn much!

(Now we read that the sports marketing giant is spending its time trying to sell joint Junior-Danica deals. How about actually coming through with a new NHRA official beer sponsorship or something else of real value for the straight-line set?)

Meanwhile, per last week's posting, comments from within the industry certainly have been interesting. The most generous of spirit, from a writer known for his politeness, was to describe the event staged in Phoenix by so-called "PR" people as "mishandled." Now that Danica has all her primary sponsorship eggs in one basket (always dangerous), let's note published reports last week had her funder putting out $3 million for its holiday party, staged in a baseball stadium. Hey, if you have it, great. But just what message, and how sensitive is it, to the average customer? Of course, this from a company whose sales philosophy is to appeal to base instincts on the one hand, then act like it's the Gilded Age on the other. (And is about to open a data center in Singapore.)

The explosive growth of so-called "social media" was another huge trend of '09. I guess I understand the attraction to fans. Personally, I don't have time to waste on Twitter reading about what some driver just bought at a convenience store. But let's be clear: Social media it not "media" in a professional or classic sense. I don't like it that NASCAR begins its weekly media teleconference by reading a question to a driver submitted from Twitter. (News releases in Twitter format was another of '09's terrible, dumbing-down ideas.) I don't like it that fans were admitted to last week's media conference at JR Motorsports and allowed to ask questions. Whatever happened to No Cheering in the Press Box standards? And, as anyone who knows me knows, this is no knock on the fans, because I always say the fans are the ones who keep all the rest of us in business.

(The reasoning behind what happened at JRM has been explained to me. I'll just say this: It better not be the start of a trend. All the way back in the dark ages of 1983, I created CART's Winner's Circle Fan Club, to give our valued fans access to drivers and behind-the-scenes stuff. Public activities should be separate and apart from media events. Does that mean a little more work? Yes. A little more time? Yes. Some organizational skills? Yes. Is it the correct thing to do? Yes!)

As I said and wrote last January, in this economic environment (and I don't expect much improvement in 2010), we all must work harder, smarter, better. Too many in the media and PR didn't do so.

It showed.

I sincerely hope for improvement, in the profession and in the economy, in the New Year.


Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 23 -- Best-of: Season-In-Review, Part 1. Panelists: Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby, Jeff Burk.

December 30 -- Best-of: Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more in early January, including a change in one media location for me . . . ]

Thursday, December 17, 2009

YEAR-IN-REVIEW, PART 2

Part 2 of The Race Reporters Year-In-Review aired Wednesday night on Power Up Channel. Jon Asher, John Oreovicz and Bob Margolis talked about the Big Issues of 2009. We also announced winners of various show awards, including Driver of the Year and Person of the Year. The overall panel consensus was Jimmie Johnson for DoY and Mark Martin for PoY. Jon, John and Bob also offered individual commentaries. As with Part 1, This was great fun!

Listen to the entire show using this link:
http://www.voiceamerica.com/voiceamerica/vepisode.aspx?aid=42810

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 23 -- Best-of: Season-In-Review, Part 1. Panelists: Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby, Jeff Burk.


December 30 -- Best-of: Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more Monday . . . ]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

BELIEVE IT OR NOT: A TRUE 'PR' TALE

Unknowing. Unresourceful. Uninterested. Unprofessional. Arrogant. Clueless. Lazy. Scared.

The list of possible descriptions is like selecting from a "one from Column A, two from Column B" menu.

I'm talking about the way GoDaddy.com orchestrated the Danica-to-NASCAR announcement last week in Phoenix. Wait -- let me rephrase that -- because using the word "orchestrated" in this instance is an insult to the world's great maestros.

Here's what happened. Or, I should say, didn't happen.

The so-called "PR" people at GD, which is based not far from my home in Scottsdale, Ariz., did not contact me -- before or after this news conference -- by phone, E-mail or carrier pigeon. Ditto Mark Armijo. Let the record show that, just last month, Mark and I combined for more NASCAR-at-Phoenix International Raceway coverage that just about everyone else in this state combined. Business Week quoted from my Arizona Republic story on the automakers continued involvement in NASCAR. At a minimum, I suspect Mark would have written a story about the Big Day for the high-quality RacinToday.com site. I likely would have used a sound bite on my The Race Reporters show.

Far more importantly, this was about respect. Mark led-the-way for racing coverage in this state during almost a quarter-century on the beat at the Republic. And before the GD PR braintrust -- the name attached to the Danica deal was Nick Fuller -- questions my credentials, please review the bio information at the right.

This was at least the fourth negative experience I've had with this company. Despite stories earlier PIR week, including a Sunday Page 2 feature on Mark Martin (to be sponsored by GD next season -- what an image mismatch!), self-described GD "PR Specialist" Katy Kelewae didn't wake-up to my work until being made aware of my mid-week article on Rick Hendrick. That led to an E inviting me -- this was their first and only outreach -- to GD's offices later that day to interview Brad Keselowski. The E was sent at exactly 12:08:49 on Thursday, Nov. 12, and included this: "I have a time open between 2:45-3:10." In other words, less than three hours advance notice -- as if I had nothing else to do that day; could just drop everything -- or had not long previously interviewed for the next day's story!

In a tribute to carnival barkers everywhere, GD's written blurb to those they troubled themselves enough to communicate with, was 100 percent nauseating hype: "It's the question that has people buzzing . . . a story fueled with drama that transcends the sporting world . . . reports have been consumed by speculation . . . until Tuesday in downtown Phoenix, Ariz., when Go Daddy Girl and IndyCar Star Danica Patrick finally reveals her NASCAR decision."

Please, someone wheel an oxygen tank over here!

Just because there's a market for this over-inflated nonsense elsewhere, it does not mean it is right. Here's a word worth pondering at this moment: Credibility. Maybe they can use all their big-time fancy technology to Google this name: James P. Chapman. And bother to learn the professional lessons of common courtesy, the local angle, and building one-on-one relationships, as pioneered by Mr. Chapman.

A few friends have suggested to me we weren't included because GD was afraid of the tough questions we'd ask. Let me be clear: Tough as in "legitimate," not "rude." That could be, given the overwhelming majority of DP's press-to-date has been cotton-candy sweet. Sports Illustrated, for example, covered the key events of Danica's crucial move from European road racing back to the U.S. Atlantic series in one sentence. A Sporting News Q&A the other week asked every puffy question except if she looked forward to trying a Martinsville hot dog. (Stunning to me it even got published.) One wouldn't be surprised if most of the IRL media offered boxed chocolates with their questions. This, I would observe, in contrast to Ashley Force Hood -- She's answered tough questions from me on subjects ranging from the death of her teammate to her father's injuries to her struggles with the Tree.

I'll end by adding one more description to the opening list:

Inexcusible.


FAST LINES: As another example that the "car guys" are leaving GM -- a story highlighted here last week while others were obsessing over Tiger and Danica -- Brent Dewar, well-known in NASCAR circles, is leaving as Chevrolet brand manager. And, last week, another exec was let go after less than two weeks on the job. This is an on-going story that MUST be watched most carefully in 2010 . . . My friend Drew Brown, one of the few NASCAR team/sponsor PR people who "gets it," is now with Michael Waltrip Racing. I told Michael in Las Vegas that this is the best hire he's ever made . . . Stunning -- Editor & Publisher is folding after almost 110 years . . . Lost in all the breathless Danica hype -- The loss of major sponsor Motorola, but that's not a surprise to readers of the business pages.


TIGER: I've been asked to compare this situation to previous ones. The first that came to mind, at least in sports, was Pete Rose being banned from baseball because of gambling. If you want to vastly expand the universe of possibilities, you'd probably have to say Richard Nixon being forced to resign the presidency. But those were vastly different media times and those sagas played out over many months. Bottom line: Tiger's two-week downfall in a 24-hour media cycle is unprecedented. Finally, I hope this ends once-and-for-all the ridiculous notion that "Any publicity is good publicity." I've disputed that for years. Anyone who ever spouts this line again should be permanently discarded as a serious thinker.

It's important you read and know about this:
http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/nascar/cup/columns/story?columnist=newton_david&id=4730676&campaign=link&source=JAYSKI

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 16 -- Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ TRR notes Thursday . . . ]

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

YEAR-IN-REVIEW, PART 1

Part 1 of The Race Reporters Year-In-Review aired Wednesday night on Power Up Channel. Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby and Jeff Burk batted around the Big Issues of 2009. We also announced winners of various show awards, including Driver of the Year and Person of the Year. Holly, Gordon and Jeff also offered individual commentaries. This was tremendous fun!

Listen to the entire show using this link:
http://www.modavox.com/voiceamerica/vepisode.aspx?aid=42809

After he won the NHRA Full Throttle Top Fuel title, Tony Schumacher promised he'd deliver the championship trophy to Fort Hood. That's set to happen Friday, with owner Don Schumacher and the entire Army-sponsored team present. It will be part of an overall program designed to promote a day of healing at Fort Hood.


Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 16 -- Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more Monday . . . ]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

HENDRICK on GM's CEO SHIFT

THE NEWS CAN'T WAIT: Hard-working Bob Pockrass, of NASCAR Scene, files right from the hallway outside the room where Chase drivers did interviews at the Wynn.


The traffic on the Strip rivaled former Sprint Cup host city New York. The wait to check into Wynn seemed as long as 500 miles at Pocono. The weather was cool, and Danica (and, yes, Tiger) were the hot stories for many in what was a more robust media crowd (absent, for the second consecutive year, the Charlotte Observer) than I expected.

Except to me.

General Motors abruptly fired CEO Fritz Henderson last week. A spokesman said something about wanting to steer a new course. "The board decided—and Fritz agreed—that it was time to make some changes,'' a GM spokesman said.

Remember, as posted here, it was only a few weeks ago at Phoenix International Raceway that Sen. John McCain said this of GM's corporate financial survival: "I think it's going to be a near-thing."

Industry analysts interviewed on CNBC and various other outlets said the "word" is GM's activist board is going to search for an "outsider" -- meaning, a non-car guy -- as the new CEO.

That's the sort of thing that will cause NASCAR and its Chevrolet team owners concern. So, Thursday in Vegas, I asked Cup championship team owner Rick Hendrick:

"I was surprised. Fritz Henderson, I thought, was doing a very good job. Of course, I don't know the details, but all I can say is, I hope they get the right guy. They've got some awful good people at GM . . . but we've lost some good people, too. We'll see.

"It concerns me on the racing side, but it concerns me more on the business side. I've got 35 GM franchises. GM's got the best products they've ever had. That takes people and planning to put that together, the Volt, the Camaro. If you have someone who doesn't understand that product sells, that part concerns me. In my opinion, we don't need to lose momentum with the products we have today . . . My point is, I don't think Fritz Henderson ever had a chance. That's where I am. I'm hoping the board, when they look around and compare the products . . . I hope they get the right person.

"I see the way we market NASCAR into the sales side of the business. They've had to justify that. They can measure the success of racing. If it wasn't valuable Toyota and these other folks wouldn't be in that. I would think that what's in place will stay until someone gets in place, permanently, who can weigh all of the advantages of what the sport does."

Don't underestimate the importance of this latest GM management change. I can assure you, even in the midst of celebrations and parties in Vegas in tribute to Hendrick's and Jimmie Johnson's latest championship, NASCAR's inside players and power-brokers understood what's at stake.

P.S. -- Given my own four decades-plus experience in the industry, I can't help but be somewhat amused by Vegas-datelined stories positive about Dodge's future in NASCAR. For one thing, Chrysler's new business plan apparently has written-off Arizona. At least it seems that way to me based on the Z-E-R-O communications/outreach to AZ media by Dodge NASCAR PR as noticed by me in recent weeks.


NASCAR-IN-VEGAS FAST LINES: I've been around long enough to have attended the NASCAR awards at the Plaza hotel in Daytona Beach, which (believe it or not) took place the week of the Daytona 500. And, since I also went to some of the New York ceremonies, it was good perspective to be at the first-time celebration in Las Vegas. Here we go . . .

Security entering the Wynn ballroom was just right -- visible but not difficult -- and invitations were checked several times. As far as I know, the White House party crashers didn't get in . . . A huge plus was the size of the ballroom, which allowed comfortable spacing between tables and walking-around room for those wise enough to get up and relationship-build . . . For the second straight year, NASCAR correctly judged the economic times and didn't announce prize money totals. It used to be every driver was handed a check, with the total revealed, but the only reference to money Friday night was Sprint's $6.6 million award . . . The biggest pre-dinner question was inclusion of fans. It was a plus, definitely added a different atmospheric element, and I understand fan ops will be expanded next time. As long as it's well-managed, it's all good . . . Frank Caliendo as host and John Pinette's comedy were big winners . . . Announcing sometimes was a little too gushy, to be expected, but certainly not over-the-top . . . Terrific driver, but Kasey Kahne just isn't a Teleprompter guy. That was painful. If his handlers can't teach it to him, they'd do Kasey a real favor and create a new way for him to deliver his podium remarks . . . The ceremony, attended by 1,500-2,000, ran right to four hours . . . It used to be people knew an event like this was a tremendous opportunity to exchange business cards and build new professional relationships. NASCAR keeps saying it wants to expand its media coverage. Here's the problem, as observed by me at Thursday's Chase driver media avails -- As long as team/sponsor PR people stand around and don't introduce themselves to media people they don't know (that's called PR 101) or do pro-active outreach to welcome in the non-regulars, those Big Picture Goals aren't going to be achieved. That's not my opinion. That's a true fact.

Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 9 -- Season-In-Review, Part 1. Panelists: Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby, Jeff Burk.

December 16 -- Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more Thursday . . . ]

Friday, December 04, 2009

SEEN and HEARD in VEGAS

So far, at least, NASCAR in Neon looks nice. We'll find out tonight if moving the Sprint Cup awards ceremony to Las Vegas after almost three decades in New York City will be a Wynn.

Thursday featured media interviews plus the NMPA Myers Brothers awards presentation. Here are some interesting quotes:

* NASCAR Chairman Brian France: "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Does that apply in a room full of media?"

* France on the CoT: "We've made 20 adjustments to the car based on (driver, crew chief) comments . . . We'll continue to look at modifications."

* Joey Logano, Cup rookie of the year: "At the start of the season, I was a huge project . . . "

* Dale Inman, Richard Petty's longtime crew chief, who received Champion Spark Plug's Buddy Shuman Award: Inman said Petty "is a little sick" and didn't come to Vegas. "Where's Richard when I need him?"

* Dale Earnhardt Jr., who received the Most Popular Driver award for the seventh year in a row: "I just wanted to be a race car driver. To have all these fans is a bonus. I guess I'll just keep showing up."

(On the Danica front -- Rick Hendrick said to ask Junior. Junior said to ask his sister, Kelley. Tony Eury Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt now have ownership shares in JR Motorsports.)

* Mark Martin, Coors Pole winner: "All I had to do was hold my breath."

* Lance Armstrong, seven-time Tour de France winner, in a video tribute to Jimmie Johnson: "You just have three more to go."

* Johnson, after collecting more sponsor award checks: "Looks like we have some gambling money . . . "

* Tony Stewart, after accepting a sponsor award: "I have to thank Juan (Pablo Montoya) for my inspiration." Stewart said he and Homestead rival Montoya "were having fun back there (behind stage)."

* Chad Knaus brought his own video camera onto the stage and said NASCAR Images might be upset he had his own "bootleg footage."


TIGER: My PR/media management antenna is signaling an eventual 60 Minutes sit-down strategy. CBS has long televised The Masters, so it wouldn't surprise me if golf host Jim Nantz did the interview. Or, depending on polling/demo research of female consumers by his agents at IMG, Katie Couric.



Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 9 -- Season-In-Review, Part 1. Panelists: Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby, Jeff Burk.

December 16 -- Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more from Vegas Sunday . . . ]

Thursday, December 03, 2009

NASCAR 2009 SHOW

NASCAR 2009 was the subject of Wednesday night's The Race Reporters on Power Up Channel. Thanks to Dave Rodman, Kenny Bruce and Larry Henry for a thoughtful conversation.

Use this link to listen to the entire show:

http://www.modavox.com/voiceamerica/vepisode.aspx?aid=42808


Given today's headlines, here's an oldie-but-goodie -- a bit of enterprise reporting I did for the Arizona Republic in April 2008. Would Tiger Woods have been a successful race driver? His caddie, Steve Williams, told me "yes" in an exclusive one-on-one interview:

http://www.azcentral.com/sports/speed/articles/2008/04/10/20080410tigerdriver.html


What a Joke: The so-called sports marketing and crisis communications "experts" on talk radio and cable TV who said Woods endorses Buick. I guess they haven't had time to read a biz section or website in the last year! Proves -- again -- just how much a lot of these "experts" really know. (!)


Upcoming The Race Reporters guests:
(Show is live Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET, downloadable, and available on-demand at no cost. Click on TRR page logo in upper right-hand column.)

December 9 -- Season-In-Review, Part 1. Panelists: Holly Cain, Gordon Kirby, Jeff Burk.

December 16 -- Season-In-Review, Part 2. Panelists: Jon Asher, John Oreovicz, Bob Margolis.

[ more from the Sprint Cup awards in Las Vegas . . . ]