Sunday, March 18, 2012


It's called customer service. And there's not enough of it throughout American business these days, including the lack-of-service from auto racing PR people to their customers, the media.

I've experienced this -- AGAIN -- in recent weeks. I wouldn't need the fingers on one hand to count the team/sponsor/sanction PRers who called in advance of the NHRA Nationals at Firebird International Raceway and the NASCAR weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. That exact number would be THREE. In total.

And how many actually came by the Arizona Republic work areas at those two events to say hello and offer help? That exact number would be NINE. In total.

Now, I've spent a little time myself in the racing PR game. Could someone please explain to me how someone can be paid to be a "publicist" and yet never speak to media covering an event?

This problem isn't new, but it is getting worse. As I've said before, I blame the team owners and sponsor managers who apparently pay so little attention they don't realize how badly they are being represented. And, believe it or not, my experience is some of the biggest teams/sponsors are the worst offenders.

It used to be a company would hire it's own PR rep, or contract with an agency, to service the media in support of a sponsorship. While there was always the problem of some agency person "pitching" a racing story one minute, and soap the next, the system usually worked because the sponsor had direct control over its representation and that provided accountability.

A lot of the time, anyway. But not always. Before last October's Arizona Nationals, I received an E-mail (in response to one I had sent a week earlier) from Ford's agency rep, asking if I'd be on-site at the event that began the next day. !!! Nothing like doing your homework well in advance to know what media will be there to work with! At least that was better than Ford's on-site "representation" at PIR the other week -- three days came and went without one word from the automaker's transcriber (who provided material in a user-unfriendly format) -- who sat just a few feet away from the Republic's area.

Actually TALK to journalists? Hell, why would he think THAT was important to do?

Some years ago, team owners decided to create in-house PR staffs -- a new profit center for them. Shame on the sponsors who blindly went along with this. These team people take their orders from the owner, who more often than not, doesn't want the driver bothered with such nonsense as interviews that might help produce publicity for the bill-paying sponsor. (Gotta carry the driver's helmet, you know.) This is how the system started to fall apart. That, and the reckless practice of allowing driver business managers to make PR decisions which they are unqualified to make. From a media standpoint, I'll say this loud and clear: That is a something that is to be resisted at every turn.

The humanity is disappearing from this sport, and in general, our society. Way too many people think 140 characters on Twitter represents professional relationship building. As I said to a senior NASCAR official in a private, one-on-one, face-to-face conversation at PIR: There will NEVER be a substitute for the sound of the human voice, a handshake, a look in the eye.

THAT is professional relationship building.

If you need more proof, read this:

As the late Maine U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith once said: "There is nothing more effective than a handshake and a little conversation."

When -- if EVER -- will racing's PR people learn this basic truth? I am, and will continue, working on this issue at high levels of the sport's decision-making chain.

FAST LINES: The Formula One season opened with some of the ugliest cars in the series' history and Ferrari in disarray -- both BAD news for the Business of Racing . . . The film Senna is now available on DVD. Learn more at . . . Troubled Circuit of the Americas didn't renew its funding for Rick Benjamin's The Checkered Flag post-Formula One show on SiriusXM. That, of course, makes no sense since this is the payoff year after last season's investment in trying to build American interest in F1 -- but that's the way it's been with the CotA project since Day One . . . Speed's horribly over-produced opening for the Australian Grand Prix, featuring six former world champions, was just the latest example of this trend to grotesquely overdo things in TV. KISS . . . The news that Paul Brooks is ending his long tenure with NASCAR as senior vice president and president of NASCAR Media Group is a very important story and comes at a time when the media landscape is changing almost daily and talks are underway for a new TV deal for 2015. Despite the Daytona 500's impressive Monday Night NASCAR prime-time TV total audience, ratings through three races are down from last year's uptick season, a worry . . . Will the automakers who turned down the chance to power the DeltaWing turn out to be biz savvy or PR blind? Nissan took the plunge and the radical car made some demonstration laps at Sebring last weekend . . . Hendrick Motorsports' penalty appeal was denied, which is what most often will happen when two of the three panelists are former sanctioning body executives . . . Good for IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway they have a deal with DreamWorks Animation for a July 2013 animated feature film, Turbo. But it's ridiculous for the media cheerleaders to be pumping this up like it's going to do for that series what Days of Thunder did for NASCAR. Those of us with good memories recall some of these same people predicting that's what Driven would do for Champ Car.

[ more next Monday . . . ]