• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

FEELING HONORED

Some moments in life are humbling. No, I'm not talking about personal attacks from "fearless" anonymous chatroomers who pretend to know the facts -- but don't.

I offer this information For the Record:

Last week I won two medals in the 20th annual International Automotive Media Awards. This was for work published in 2010. This blog won the gold medal for commentary. Cited specifically was my Sept. 6 posting, "How to Fix the IRL on Versus." Not that anyone at IndyCar or the network or its production house will admit it, but an honest read of that blog compared with changes on the Versus' shows this year will reveal some influence.

I also earned a silver medal in the interview category for my November "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com. It was 10 Q&As with NHRA TV analyst Mike Dunn.

These two medals bring my career total of awards/honors for public relations, journalism, team accomplishments and lifelong contributions to auto racing to 51.

Thank you to everyone who has helped make such an unimaginable number a reality.

Here are links to the IAMA list and the two IAMA medalist articles:
http://iamc-isvp.org/pdfs/2010_iamc_awards_winners.pdf

http://spindoctor500blog.blogspot.com/2010/09/how-to-fix-irl-on-versus.html

http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/15982-drags-dollars-a-sense-mike-dunn-is-the-best

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, June 19, 2011

THE RIGHT WAY

UPDATE: I'll be on The Checkered Flag with host Rick Benjamin right after this Sunday's Formula One Grand Prix on SiriusXM Channel 208. Radio race coverage (as opposed to TV) is live with Rick's post-race show right after the finish.


Regular readers know how often I talk about the importance and benefits of one-on-one relationship building accomplished through old-fashioned human contact, not E-mail. Here's a real-life case study proving my point. It's from Roush Fenway Racing's marketing/sales department but should be taken to heart by team/sponsor/track/sanction publicists everywhere. This articles proves that, in the age of Facebook, Twitter and E-mail, there is NO substitute for the human touch -- talking face-to-face (or, at least, on the phone), eye-contact, a handshake, hearing a person's voice:
http://adage.com/article/small-agency-diary/i-discovered-nascar-marketing-channel/228119/

Now, let's travel to the extreme opposite end of the professional spectrum. Last Thursday, I received the following E-mail, from which I quote directly (I added the bold emphasis to the first line):

To whom it May Concern,

My name is Jared Moore. I work with Big Fuel Communications in NYC, the agency of record for GM and Chevrolet. As I’m sure you know, the Corvette Racing Team proved successful with the GTE PRO victory in the 2011 24-hour Le Mans. Chevrolet just released three fine tuned and race ready videos . . . It would be amazing to set up a feature or perhaps editorial content with your site as well . . . I look forward to hearing from you!

Let's understand this: This guy (and his agency) -- no doubt charging GM and Chevy a substancial fee -- is too lazy to even find out the name of the person being asked for coverage, but he wants a reply. Such unprofessionalism makes me think LESS of GM and Chevy, that they would find this sort of "PR" acceptable and worth money that, remember, has been made possible by a U.S. taxpayer bailout. The PR bar of professionalism has again been lowered and dumbed-down.

Last week on PR Daily, in a story titled "5 Reasons a Reporter Will Delete Your Press Release," one reason was, and I quote:"Fail to personalize it. If you don’t want a reporter to read your press release, by all means just send the text of the release as the body of the email. At the very least, PR pros should acknowledge that they know the reporter’s name and his or her work, and that they sent the press release because they had read the journalist’s stuff and know what he or she covers."


FAST LINES: This is the way sharp PRers used to do it -- Less than 10 minutes after Darrell Waltrip was announced as a member of the 2012 NASCAR Hall of Fame last Tuesday, Michael Waltrip Racing PR director Drew Brown issued a statement from Michael . . . Good job by AP writer Chris Jenkins at Milwaukee to ask Danica the Business of Racing question that needed to be asked. She's staying with IMG after superagent Mark Steinberg left the management firm. Steinberg is best known as a golf agent but has worked with Patrick. Tiger Woods is remaining with Steinberg, Annika Sorenstam is undecided, and Danica is sticking with IMG as her NASCAR vs. IndyCar future is being negotiated. Important information . . . I don't like it that some Hall voters announce their votes in advance. That's disrespectful to the much-hyped group meeting where voters discuss the nominees. NASCAR should issue new guidelines to voters "suggesting" they avoid this practice . . . Inside the numbers -- While Cale Yarborough (85 percent), Waltrip (82) and Dale Inman (78) were clear winners, Richie Evans (50) and Glen Wood (44) were less so. That's certainly a lower standard than required by sport's most important Hall of Fame, baseball's (where the minimum is 75 percent), which is not to say Evans and Wood aren't deserving. NASCAR's 55 total voters (which includes a combined fan Internet vote) is roughly 500 fewer than that of the Baseball Writers Association of America . . . Too many announcers incorrectly used the word "inducted" when reporting on the Hall vote when "elected" was correct. Most were the same who seem to think "postpone" and "cancel" mean the same thing . . . As I forecast on Rick Benjamin's The Checkered Flag show on SiriusXM the previous Sunday, the NASCAR Hall vote significantly overshadowed the Tony Stewart-Lewis Hamilton ride swap, which happened the same day . . . A Grand-Am race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway? I first wrote about that possibility in this very space on Feb. 6, 2007.


As the only media person who actually talked to the three main players in the Phoenix-IndyCar fiasco -- PIR President Bryan Sperber, ISC COO John Saunders, IC CEO Randy Bernard -- I've been on journalistically-sound ground all along in reporting to you that there would not be a 2012 IC event at PIR. I've explained the reasons before and anyone who knows anything about the business realities of the situation, including but not limited to: A steep decline in home values in the Phoenix area; future construction plans at the track; the fact that Bernard says he wants an early season race when PIR already has to sell tickets for two NASCAR weekends (mid-November and late February/early March) in the short time frame of about three months; and the years of outright neglect of the Arizona market by the IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway PR departments that has left the series and its drivers virtually invisible and thus largely unknown and unsellable; understands such a race would have a very high probability of being a significant financial loser for PIR and ISC. Scottsdale has been my home since 1994 and I can accurately report that the current local economy cannot support three PIR events in the space of three or four months. If IndyCar doubts that, it should do what it should have done in Milwaukee -- commission a survey to determine the level of public interest. That would be a sound business decision. Now -- while still wondering why the Indianapolis media just accepted what Bernard said and didn't call Sperber or Saunders months ago -- two journalistically-sound questions remain: 1) Will the radio show where Bernard launched his personal attack on Sperber -- and on which at least one of the hosts immediately took Bernard's side instead of what journalism demanded, which was to say, "We need to hear from Sperber on this" before rendering his judgment, invite Sperber onto the show to give his side of the story? 2) Since the bottom-line of this dispute appears to be if Bernard attempted to contact Sperber, can or will anyone produce actual evidence, such as phone records, call logs, or copies of the letter(s) or E-mail(s)?

[ more next Monday . . . ]



Sunday, June 12, 2011

PROBLEMS of PUBLICITY

There's a chapter in Mario Andretti's 1970 book, What's It Like Out There?, titled: "Problems of Publicity."

Mario discovered that decades ago and JR Hildebrand and Dario Franchitti found out for themselves last week at publicity-obsessed Texas Motor Speedway.

Hildebrand injured his left knee in a pre-practice obstacle-course type of event. According to the reports I read, it was lightly covered -- not worth the risk -- and no doubt only the fact that the near-Indy 500 winner got hurt generated attention. Noteable to me was the decision by Hildebrand's Panther team to provide minimal detail -- a stark contrast to the way Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing acted when Hamlin injured his knee in a basketball game before the 2010 Cup season.

Franchitti, meanwhile, won the first of the twin IndyCar events at Texas. (I was CART's communications director the last time there were twins, in 1981, at Atlanta.) But Franchitti lost -- and maybe lost the series title -- because of the desperation decision for a random draw for starting order for the second show. Sometimes, this question must be asked: What's more important? A publicity stunt or the integrity of the sporting competition? I guess we know how Randy (We'll race at Phoenix even though I've never spoken to the track president) Bernard and Eddie Gossage would answer. Will Power, Franchitti's main championship rival, drew third and won. Franchitti drew 28th and did his best to finish seventh. Not exactly a "fair" fight based on performance results.

Elsewhere, on the stunt front, the Le Mans organizers extended an invitation for a DeltaWing car to run in next year's 24 hours. (See below.) Of course, that was before two near-fatal accidents and other incidents that exposed the dangers of multi-class races with cars of vastly different speed capabilities, with at least some amateur (paying) out-of-their-league drivers that the pros must deal with.

I hope Tuesday's Tony Stewart-Lewis Hamilton seat-switching exercise goes without drama.


It's a law of nature: A vacumn will always be filled. That's essentially was happened last week when the Le Mans organizers announced an invitation had been extended for a version of the DeltaWing car to compete unclassified in next year's 24-hour classic. Given all the attention and favorable media commentary on the DeltaWing, it was only a matter of time the creation rejected by IndyCar and Brian Barnhart would be embraced elsewhere. The project is sure to get plenty of nice coverage from a smitted media and the fact that American racing hero Dan Gurney's All American Racers is providing the manufacturing capability is a further guarantee. Right now, all of this basically exists on paper, but the desperate-for-attention American Le Mans Series no doubt will enjoy a little rub-off benefit. But, it's legitimate to ask: Might the ACO (the Le Mans organizers) reconsider and radically change eligibility based on speed differences after last week's huge accidents?


Just when I think the modern media can't get any more ridiculous, something happens that proves me wrong. Last Friday, it was the release of over 20,000 E-mails from Sarah Palin's time as governor of Alaska. Media organizations that don't spend meaningful time or budget to cover stories of international and nationwide importance -- heard much about the crisis in Japan lately? -- dispatched crews to Juneau in a celebrity-crazed and agenda-driven search for "news." CNN sent its "special investigations" crew. (!) How stupid did it get? There was the scene of a TV sound man pointing his pole microphone at a push cart carrying six 50-pound boxes of printouts, trying to get sound from the wheels! It's difficult to believe it will ever get any more embarrassing than that, but sadly, I'm sure it will.


Here's a link to my June "Drags, Dollars & Sense" column on CompetitionPlus.com. What would some of NHRA's top players do if they controlled drag racing for one day?:
http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/editorials/17885-drags-dollars-a-sense-king-for-a-day


It should always be in the driver's hands:
http://valvoline.com/racing/behind-closed-garage-doors/2896

[ more next Monday . . . ]

Sunday, June 05, 2011

I OBSERVE

UPDATE: I'll be on The Checkered Flag with host Rick Benjamin right after this Sunday's Canadian Grand Prix on SiriusXM Channel 208. Race coverage from Montreal begins at 1 p.m. EDT with Rick's post-race show right after the finish.

Some recent observations:

* Indy 500 drivers might as well have taken the green flag with their middle fingers extended to race control. For all the talk of returning to the traditional tightly bunched 11-rows-of-3 start, and for all the hype from Randy Bernard, no matter what was said in meetings, the drivers did what they thought was in their best interests from the standpoint of safety and were again spread out from Speedway to Terre Haute. Who's the Boss?

* Was Indy "The Most Important Race in History"? Absolutely not. Was it memorable? Absolutely.

* For those who got all excited about a report last week of a possible Roger Penske-Rick Hendrick Indy 500 partnership -- as if this was something new -- go look at my January 30 blog. I asked Hendrick about that very thing, potentially with Jimmie Johnson in a Penske car. His quote as published by me then: "Roger and I have talked about it. He's a good friend. I'm not going to say it's out of the question, but it's not something I want to do right now." Some of us actually remember that Penske wore a Hendrick Motorsports cap in victory lane after Ryan Newman's 2008 Daytona 500 win.

* As I hinted at in one of my Indy blogs last week, Versus' weekly IndyCar show is history. It came and went as fast as Bruno Junqueira's time as an A.J. Foyt driver. Even in the age of DVRs, it couldn't generate an audience. Yes, it had a truly terrible time slot, but make no mistake that this is an embarrassment and a psychological blow to the Kool-Aid drinkers. The only thing surprising to me is that so many people seem surprised.

* When I told Bernard that an IndyCar event in Phoenix "would not be financially successful," his facial expression was that of surprise. When he asked why, one of the things I told him was that 23 of his usual 26 drivers COMBINED wouldn't sell one ticket in my home market. His expression then changed to something just short of shocked. Let me repeat for the benefit of the chatroomers and cheerleaders: There will NOT be an IC race at PIR next year.

* Good that Indy's final national TV rating was up from last year's all-time low. Now, let's be realistic: Given all the hype about the centennial running, shouldn't the ratings and attendance have been up? Even more? The question now is: Will these positives carry over into the rest of this season, or even Indy 2012? Just what ACTION PLAN does the track/series have in place to make it so? Let me also note my trained eye didn't observe an increase in on-site coverage. Where were the national columnists? I don't know, but not at the Speedway. While a couple of new mediaites were there, and an old-timer or two returned after long absences, this was offset by the loss of the Boston Globe and San Diego Union-Tribune.

* Another recent racing embarrassment from the PTI intellectually-lazy (anything other than basketball) pseudo-intellectual co-hosts: Misstating the length of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak and talking about JR Hildebrand being on "bald" tires. Then, there was the example of the post-Chicagoland SportsCenter co-hosts who mocked two drivers for running out of gas because the cars have "telemetry." How disappointing that ESPN management doesn't get it that this sort of thing undercuts these guys' credibility on EVERY subject.

* Allow me to repeat one of my favorite things: You can't be a good racing fan without knowing something about the Business of Racing. The same applies to the news media. At Indy, I couldn't help but shake my head, as media center conversations showed no such understanding. When I pointed out to one veteran reporter that thin sponsorship levels would make it very difficult for quite a few team owners to afford new cars next year, I was told that the Hulman-George family would buy them! I'm not sure how it could be much clearer that the H-G family's riches are not what they once were. Hint: That's a big reason Tony George was ousted. I also noted one national writer praised Versus' weekly IC show the very day it was canned. I know it takes time to do homework, but that homework needs to be done, if the job of journalism to to be done. If you don't know about the B of R, learn, or at least ask someone who does

* Since none of them have been around long enough to know any better, I'm not interested in having anyone from the IMS Corp. PR office tell me I'm wrong: The budget-cutting was apparent to me on a number of fronts. Including the appearance of the grounds. Let's just say it was obvious to me the maintenance program isn't what it was. Sad. Plus, no printed media guide. What a mistake.

* Further proof when I say the IMS Corp. employs and enables one of the five worst PR operations in all of professional sports: The numbers one and three on the Speedway staff, and number two on the ICS staff, didn't make the media center rounds to say hello or thanks or offer help. You either know this basic sort of thing or you don't. IMSC does not.

* This, by the way, carries over to series backer Izod, which apparently thinks it got a God-given right to good relationships with the media when it signed the sponsorship contract. Several obvious, very basic, media relations things are not done by Izod. I500 media day was poorly planned: It was only AFTER individual interviews with drivers were well underway that designated MC Jack Arute tried to get everyone to shut up for on-stage remarks from ICS CEO Randy Bernard, IMS President Jeff Belskus and an Izod exec plus show a video. Arute repeatedly insulted the media with remarks such as it was like "trying to herd cats" to get them to stop interviewing and that reporters didn't know how to follow orders. Let's state the obvious: Any formal program HAD to happen BEFORE the driver interviews got underway. What an amateur hour act this was! Did Bernard and Belskus notice?

* As I told CART President Andrew Craig, all the way back in 1994, individual team/sponsor PR people are "the front-line soldiers in the sport's never-ending battle to attain media coverage." It's about time for Bernard to remind his team owners of that fact and for the series to impose some NFL-like standards. I would not need too many fingers to count the number of "publicists" who knew enough or bothered themselves enough to make the daily rounds of the Indy media center. You might be surprised to learn two of the worst offenders were Team Penske and Andretti Autosport. One of Mr. Penske's frequent talking points is the importance of "one-on-one relationships" in business. The PR function of his empire is no different. If you don't go around and introduce yourself to new people or say hello to infrequent media visitors, just HOW do you establish said "one-on-one relationships"? It's the exact opposite of the Penske business mantra. I asked something of a P R PR boss almost six months ago, and have yet to get the courtesy of any follow-up. Penske often mentions he doesn't advertise much, but gains through media coverage of his race teams. I'd say it's obvious such coverage is important to more than his sponsors; it has great value for his auto dealerships, truck rental outlets, etc. Meanwhile, for the last three years, AA people have topped the list of those who would like to see those who operate at the opposite end of Jim Chapman's standards "honored."

* I'll say it again: Good one-on-one relationships are not built by pressing "send." There is no substitute for the human voice, a look in the eye, a handshake. When will they ever learn?

[ more next Monday . . . ]