Tuesday, April 10, 2007

details, Details, DETAILS !

Recently, I received an invitation to a corporate function. It included day, date, time and place. Well, sort of.

The listed "place" is a hotel. In a city where, as best I can tell, this chain has at least three other properties. I looked again at the invite . . . no address listed; no directions from any central landmark.

I first learned the lesson never to "assume" way back in 1982, at CART's original temporary-course event, in Cleveland. I was CART's communications director at the time and had been very heavily involved in planning the logistics of this historically important race. The promoters decided to host a reception for drivers, owners, sponsors and officials, to welcome them to Cleveland and thank the participants for their cooperation in making this debut event a great success. They passed out invitations that listed the reception as taking place at "Terminal Tower."

Since I was one of those hands-on types, involved in moving concrete barriers at the Burke Lakefront Airport course that evening, I wasn't able to attend. The next day, the race's PR VP told me how disappointed he was with the poor turnout, which set me off chasing after series VIPs to find out why. Many told me they didn't know where to go! In fact, I found out some people had gone to the tower restaurant in Burke's terminal, figuring that must be the place. I relayed this information to the promoter, and showed him that no address or directions were on the invitation. "It's a local landmark," he replied, astounded. "Everyone in Cleveland knows the Terminal Tower!"

Forgetting, of course, that 99 percent of his invited guests were out-of-towners.

This reminds me -- and I hope you -- how damaging it can be not to pay attention to the details. Or to assume "everyone" knows something!

* Along these lines, another favorite example of mine is the news release issued some years ago by a prominent sponsor promoting one of NASCAR's top drivers. The text was full of the typical tripe about how the racer was "excited" about and "looking forward" to the next race. Just one problem: The driver was never mentioned by name, anywhere, in the release! I remember the good laugh media center occupiers had over that one!

* Something else I recall about that inaugural Cleveland race. Word reached me, I think it was from Roger Penske, that a few members of the Hulman-George family and Indianapolis Motor Speedway executives were coming over to see what temp course road racing was all about. Since Burke was closed to air traffic, they were landing at another local airport. As a courtesy, I left word at the IMS office that I'd drive over to that airport early the next a.m. I left a package of credentials and parking passes -- and a note of welcome from CART -- with the FBO manager, who knew their plane was due in and promised to give them the envelope. Of course, no one ever said, "Thank you."
Yes, we're a celebrity-driven society. Celebrity can take you only so far, however, as demonstrated by this recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution story. This is an instructive lesson that there's nothing like winning.

"Georgia Pacific . . . began a five-year sponsorship with Petty Enterprises. But after five winless seasons, Georgia Pacific opted for a less prominent associate sponsorship last season with Jeff Gordon.

"Kyle and Richard (Petty) are real class acts," Georgia Pacific senior manager of sports marketing Jack Priblo said. "They did what they could in public and in private to help move the needle.

"The only drawback was that, despite the affection and respect that is out there for the Pettys, they really have not had a contending team for a number of years.
We had the benefits of a legend in Richard Petty, but we wanted to see our logo up at the front of the pack now and then and in victory lane."
I bet blood-pressure pills were being popped like peanut M&Ms last Friday. In the Vonage soap opera, a U.S. District Court judge barred the Internet-phone service provider from adding new customers. This in the wake of Vonage losing a patent infringement case. Late in the day, Vonage obtained a stay on that order from a federal appeals judge. Now, if the "no new customers" ruling had remained in effect, would that not have meant no advertising? If so, would not the Vonage ID have had to come off the Andretti Green cars and uniforms? This story potentially has important implications for motorsports businesspeople, so I recommend you keep connected, and stay informed how the Vonage saga concludes.

Any fresh corporate involvement in Champ Car, a series with Paris Hilton-thin sponsorship support, qualifies as welcome news. But I can't help but note the incongruity at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. Graham Rahal has new backing from MEDI ZONE, a leader of medically supervised weight loss, weight maintenance, wellness and performance programs, products, and services. It's affiliated with Dr. Barry Sears, author of the Zone Diet series. Teammate and three-time champion Sebastien Bourdais, of course, carries the colors of McDonald's. I'm sure Carl Haas longs for the healthier days of Super Sized funding from Kmart, Budweiser and Texaco. (!)

Meanwhile, the fact that ESPN is taking Champ Car's money to show most of the series doesn't mean its announcers or editors have to learn about open-wheel racing. Sunday morning, I heard John Stashauer say this on ESPN Radio: "No NASCAR today, but the IRL is racing for the first time in Las Vegas, with Will Power on the pole."

Finally, the Associated Press brought news of the connection between a famous racing family and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Kalittas -- Connie, Scott and Doug of NHRA fame -- have long owned and operated an impressive air charter service. AP reports that Kalitta Charters has the Pentagon contract to bring home America's war dead in their charter jets. According to the story, the six-month Kalitta contract (which began last January) is worth up to $11 million.
Just a reminder: Please check out my Business of Racing column, "The Bottom Line," in the inaugural (April) issue of Race News magazine. It explains why Ashley Force should not be considered NHRA's Danica Patrick. That's also the theme of my first Biz of Racing video commentary on 1320tv.com, which can be found in the "Featured Videos" section. Links to both the 1320tv.com and Race News magazine sites can be found to the right. I'll be in Las Vegas this weekend for the SummitRacing.com Nationals.

[ more next Tuesday . . . ]