• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A CHAMPION'S RESPONSIBILITY

The "responsibilities" of being a champion have been in discussion in the major racing series for a long time. We talked about it even when I was CART's first communications director starting in November 1980. During that time I was lucky to work with two first-class champions in Johnny Rutherford and Rick Mears.

A review of racing history shows some have taken the duty more seriously than others.

These days, it's a much more pressing issue. The national economy, multi-million dollar sponsorships and broadcast contracts, TV ratings, at-track attendance, souvenir sales and the bursting social media scene have demanded it. That's known as the Business of Racing.

Consider all the 2012 post-season talk about Brad Keselowski. Very savvy and active on the social media front, Brad K's youth and more-relaxed style had people calling him NASCAR's champion for a new generation. Remember, this is the guy who got Roger Penske to wear jeans (once, anyway) and produced some memorable post-Homestead interviews after enjoying his sponsor's product in celebration of the Sprint Cup. (Brad admitted to a "buzz.")

People wondered how Miller beer and Ford and NASCAR's Integrated Marketing Communications Department would use Keselowski in the media and ad campaigns. That was a different sort of "buzz."

But the responsibilities of champion extend beyond the driver who hoists the trophy. I would argue they extend to his team and maybe even his sponsor. At least, to a sponsor who "gets it."

Which brings me to the other week's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. As I have since 2007, I was covering for the Arizona Republic. I'll skip the specifics but at both PIR and the previous weekend's NHRA Arizona Nationals, I spent a lot of my own time on what I'll call "political PR." I did so because it was good business and the smart thing to do. Happily, a handful of people in both series understood and it was Mission Accomplished.

But, once again, I was dismayed at the non-performance of the majority of the NASCAR PR community. Including that of the Cup championship team.

It is clear too many of these people don't bother to do basic homework. You'd be amazed at how many didn't (or still don't) know that the Republic newspaper is connected to AzCentral.com to Channel 12, the NBC network TV affiliate in Phoenix. The Republic is the state's largest newspaper. AzCentral.com is the No. 1 site for news, sports and entertainment info. Channel 12 moved out of its own studios and into the Republic building downtown. Put it all together and this is the state's largest newsgathering organization.

Considering the size of the market, and it's demographic diversity, and the fact that NASCAR Chairman Brian France's first racing job was running a track in Tucson and he has been quoted by me in print that that means he has an extra special interest in the success of motorsports in Arizona, one might reasonably think the NASCAR PRites-at-large would make an extra special effort here on behalf of their sponsors and the industry as a whole. I see no evidence that happens. (Of course there are a few exceptions, and they stand out, believe me. Fair is fair and I'll acknowledge them by name here soon.)

The spotlight of that failing, at least for this past race, is on the championship team. Apparently beer, motor oil and cars aren't sold in AZ. Ditto trucks leased. I say that because there was not a PR word from the title team to Arizona's biggest newsgathering operation.

There is no legitimate explanation because there is no legitimate excuse. Penske's multi-billion dollar empire was built, in basic part, on the fundamental of making sales calls. But his in-house so-called "PR" operation seemingly doesn't know a fundamental part of the job is to make such sales calls -- talk with the media. But when the person in charge, upon his occasional media center visits, talks to some but completely ignores others (a fact duly documented by several Jim Chapman Award committee members), is willfully ignorant and/or not respectful of historic good coverage, and oblivious to how it makes common sense to outreach to past, current or potential media "customers," it all adds up.

(Another case of the supervisors not supervising and the overseers not overseeing.)

Jim Chapman, who knew and respected Penske (and vice versa), would be shocked and left aghast.

These guys didn't bring their A Game to a huge market, one NASCAR's boss is on record saying is of special interest to him. (Being responsive to that is what is known as Good Politics.) What they brought was their F Game.

Bad business? You bet.

Poorly representing, and not delivering maximum value to paying-the-bill sponsors? Yes.

Not fulfilling the responsibilities of champion? Absolutely.

[ more next Monday . . . ]