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 . . . ]