Follow me on

Twitter Feed Facebook Feed RSS Feed Linked In Youtube

NASCAR CEO Brian France shaking up his stock car racing marketing and PR operations

  NASCAR: great racing, yes....great stories, yes...but how to get the message out to the rest of the world? So Brian France is changing up his PR and marketing staff (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   More shakeups in Daytona:
   And it's unclear just what this newest move really means.
   But NASCAR's Brian France Monday morning issued this statement, on major changes coming in the sport's marketing and PR:
   "Following a comprehensive review of its communications function and public relations activity across the industry, NASCAR announced today that it will move immediately to create an Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) department that will better position the sanctioning body to lead best practices and provide overall thought leadership in the communications space for the entire industry.
    "Our sport has unique challenges and very diverse constituencies and it has become clear that NASCAR must be a catalyst in this space to help all stakeholders find greater value.
    "This is a major investment for the company at a critical time and represents an elevation of this highly-important function for NASCAR and the industry. We are confident this evolved approach will yield immediate and long-term value for NASCAR, its media and business partners and the industry as a whole."
   These changes come amid a struggling U.S. economy, big cutbacks in staffing at the top of the France family's International Speedway Corp., because of declining revenues.
   Also, the changing shape of American media may be playing a big role too -- over the past two years every major U.S. newspaper that has traditionally covered this sport extensively has not only cut back dramatically on its coverage but has also cut that 'beat' journalism job. Once powerful media outlets in Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Kansas City, and even in the heart of stock car country, the Southeast, have all but dropped coverage, relying basically on just the Associated Press.
   Too, there has been a rapid expansion of internet-based NASCAR media outlets, which however have virtually no economic resources to cover the sport except on a local basis.
   In this void NASCAR's two major TV powers, Fox-Speed and ABC-ESPN, have become the dominant media players, with a veritable army of people covering the sport, albeit from a decidedly different vantage point than traditional print media.
   The season even NASCAR drivers have noticed that media centers around the tour have become all but echo chambers, filled with a few dot-coms and local reporters, otherwise virtually empty.
    Presumably NASCAR's new plan will be designed to somehow address this entire situation, though  just how is not clear.
   The new game plan also comes as NASCAR is fighting something of a lethargy in national attention, with declining TV ratings the past two years (which may or may not be coincidental with the decline of newspaper coverage) and less-than-sellout crowds.
    Obviously there is more to the media aspect than just reaching fans -- for which NASCAR has gained a national reputation, unmatched by other major sports -- but in also attracting sponsors, who are also following the changes in this sport.
   France says "the new communications structure will allow NASCAR to be even more effective on the competition aspects of the sport, an area where NASCAR was regularly cited in the review as being among the best when compared to other major league sports by media in all genres.
   "It also positions the sanctioning body to take a much more strategic and offensive approach to selling the sport in a constantly-evolving traditional, digital and social media landscape.
   "Three areas that will see greater communications resourcing and organizational focus moving forward include: brand and consumer marketing; digital and social media strategy and activation; and strategic collaboration with industry stakeholders."
   France says he will hire a new person to head this effort,  under the title "Chief Communications Officer (CCO)."
   That person, France says, will become part of his inner political circle, working directly with Steve Phelps, the sport's 'chief marketing officer.'
   To find that person France has hired Korn/Ferry International, for what he describes as a 'global search." Others will also be hired to work in that department.
   In what appears to be a critical part of this entire move -- Jim Hunter, the veteran NASCAR executive, and former journalist, highly respected for his depth of understanding not only of the sport and its idiosyncrasies but also the media and media players.
   Hunter is currently recovering from a serious bout of cancer.
   In a curious note, Ramsey Poston, the current head of NASCAR's media operations, running that department since 2003, "has elected not to pursue a role within the new structure," France said. "But Poston will continue to lead the department on a day-to-day basis through the balance of 2010. He will then move into a consulting role for the sanctioning body."
   France said NASCAR has also signed a "strategic counsel" to help in this process, with Brett Jewkes handling that.
   France says he wants the new operation up and running for the start of the 2011 season, which begins in January, but also says there will be changes, undescribed, this season too.


      [Note: You can use Twitter as an easy headline service for mikemulhern.net stories, with our instant Tweets to your mobile as soon as our newest NASCAR story is filed. And mikemulhern.net is mobile-friendly for viewing. You can also use the orange RSS feed button as a quickie headline service on your laptop or home computer for mikemulhern.net stories, by creating a Live Bookmark RSS feed on your web browser's toolbar. Or you can create a Google Alert for mikemulhernnet.]


Can you break this

Can you break this announcement down to simple English Mike? What the heck is Brian France trying to say or do? Jim Hunter is the old school PR guru who has done a great job throughout the years. But Brian won't dare force him out. Poston is the polished Washington, DC trained PR guy who has never really fit in. He leaves but will still be a "consultant" ?
I read this thing three times and don't quite get it. Please dumb it down for us and expound on what you think NASCAR and France wants to really do here.

ah, yes, i'd love to break

ah, yes, i'd love to break this down to simple english....if i could (lol). think brian is basically saying 'what we got ain't working, so let's try something else.' and he's going to hire some agency to find some solutions. not sure that hiring an agency is going to solve a problem. what little i know about pr agencies is they're pretty top-heavy and generally ignorant about what they're selling.
it's more of what we've been seeing this season -- the sport is in a sluggish mode, and the frances want to pump things back up.
If Brian wants my advice, i would first put bruton smith on the table -- his pr operations seem to work, and he's got fire in the belly. then i would hire people like Chris Jenkins (AP now, USAToday);, Rich Habagger (former RJR sports exec, now handling nationwide marketing); Roger Bear (former RJR sports exec, independent nascar marketing businessman, once head of MRN and Talladega); Humpy Wheeler; Bill Armour (former RJR sports exec); Drew Brown (top team PR man; maybe Brent Dewar (former Chevy boss), who knows and loves nascar and obviously knows how to run something big and flashy; and the entire 'staff' of guys who do and have done Robby Gordon's PR stuff (they are the most savvy I've seen on new media, like Rob Harris).
i would also like to see much more grassroots marketing, like rjr did with the winston racing series stuff around the country. that's what sprint should be doing, in every market; it's got all the little shops, great marketing opportunities that nascar and sprint are both failing to use. (this is supposed to be the sprint cup series, isn't it, even if all the tv ads, for some reason, are ATT).

Not sure what to make of

Not sure what to make of this, but it sounds like NASCAR is trying to solve problems by addressing PR instead of actually addressing the problems. NASCAR would also be wise to work with bloggers who can provide verification of who they are by providing press passes so they can cover the races.

i'm not quite sure what to

i'm not quite sure what to make of it either, except i think nascar needs to find another jim hunter, or clone him -- somebody who understands the sport and who also understands the media.
the problem with dot-coms (and 'we' here at mikemulhern.net well understand it) is that if big newspapers say they can't afford to cover nascar-on-the-road, then how in the world can individuals like us expect to finance this economic monster?
and that leaves a major media void, which is filled by TV, which has, uh, well, er, a different journalistic agenda, should we say?

This is an very interesting

This is an very interesting development for NASCAR and one that I feel should be regarded as a huge opportunity.

I believe strategy for NASCAR to pursue would be one fan at a time.

If you examine the NASCAR brand you realize the relationships are not really formed with the sanctioning body but rather the drivers.

The first mechanism I would employ would be to enable teams to publish their content and tell THEIR story on NASCAR.com. (provide each team with a brand-able micro-site)

This would be a win-win for both parties. NASCAR.com would get content while the teams would be able to go back to existing and potential partners and show real metrics.

Every team employs a PR person, a photographer and pretty soon every team should have somebody capable of stringing together a 3 minute video every week. Let them tell their stories. Feature the best and bury the rest on the site.

In addition the content should have the ability to flow both ways. Slickly produced race highlights could flow back to the team micro-site.

While initially most teams would be skeptical about the move I believe once the ROI model is unveiled, teams would be all in.

Couple all of this with a well thought out social media strategy and you would begin to see the needle move in terms of fan engagement and fan base development.

Right now I think social media exposes some of weakness in the NASCAR brand. You have a guy with 2,636,804 followers on twitter getting $30-$40 million a year for a cycling team. The top dog in NASCAR has 194,833 and that is only because he is a global brand with F1 participation.

You might not think this social currency is worth much right now but just wait...

The opportunity here for NASCAR is to realize who sells their tickets and the put some muscle behind them.

Aggregate your assets NASCAR!

Rob Harris (p.s. thanks for the shout-out above)

So they want a new PR team of

So they want a new PR team of experts to put the NASCAR spin on things and paint everything looking through rose colored glasses. The problem is on the competition side NASCAR - wake up.

By the way, Mike's idea of Humpy Wheeler sounds like a winner - somebody who has been in the sport and knows it well.

Also Mike - what is the deal on replacing John Darby as Sprint Cup Director? That was hot and heavy around February but has gotten real quiet. I thought Darby was to train his successor?

well, i'm not sure i would

well, i'm not sure i would quite put it as harshly as that...at least not right now. Besides TV people do an admirable job of painting the sport in rosey colors....the problem, imho, isn't competition on the track at the moment, after all it's pretty darned hot and heavy most places; competition could be tweaked, at california, and some other tracks, and we need to add points for leading laps, to add incentive, particularly at this point in the season, for drivers not to stroke. and maybe shorter races too (3 hours and 17 minutes at montreal?!)
NASCAR needs a wide-open, flat-out, kick-ass 'mouthpiece,' and humpy would certainly fit the bill. we dont need any more boring, plain vanilla figures in this sport; too many already. this is entertainment.
darby? yeah, what was that all about? think nascar was trying to promote a couple of people but they didnt want the job, because there would be too many people to report to. and i havent seen nationwide's joe balash stepping to the plate on any of the hot button issues. hey, who would want that job -- what is that job anyway?
the big problem for nascar, and brian, in this pr-marketing shakeup is 'who is the media audience?' without newspapers -- and you'd have to be in the media centers and garage areas to realized how coverage of the sport has dropped off so dramatically -- it's hard to figure out who the 'media market' these days really is. it would be nice if newspapers would get their act together again and start covering things people want to read......

Upon further review: It looks

Upon further review: It looks like you are correct, and I am naive:
It appears that NASCAR, in this venture, will be pushing very, very strongly toward getting out more 'positive spin' on issues, rather than just providing straightforward, dispassionate information.
Nothing wrong with 'product placement,' but it should be clear, and not disguised.
Indeed this is not just a shakeup/shuffle on the PR-marketing roster, but a change in direction.
And one question is just what should NASCAR's job really be in the PR-marketing department?
Is it supposed to provide answers to media questions...or is it to 'guide' or 'push' the media toward covering stories in some particular way?
Does NASCAR want increased media coverage of this sport, or rather more focused media coverage on the angles Daytona prefers to have covered?
One point here: keep an eye on how the media -- such as it has devolved to these days -- covers this story. If anyone does.
Traditional newspaper/print media has generally given up on much independent coverage of NASCAR (indeed given up on much independent coverage of anything that goes beyond the county line or costs more than phone call or two). To be blunt, there are only three print media left any more that Daytona even pays attention to: the Charlotte Observer, USAToday, and the Associated Press. Watch how those three cover this issue.
Television journalists....well, in my opinion they are under considerable pressure generally to put out positive spin on issues to begin with. With a few exceptions, most NASCAR TV broadcasters are typically going to follow the Daytona company line, in my view.
And TV broadcasters, of course, form a veritable army at each track every weekend.
Some of the points I am seeing developing here -- and I may be wrong, let's see --- may be disturbing, apparently following along the lines of those 'secret' $50,000 penalties on drivers NASCAR started handing out to drivers this summer for making comments the Daytona-based sanctioning body did not like. (Remember TV men took the line that there was nothing wrong with secret penalties like that, ignoring the fact that the new policy was not announced and that the new policy flies in the face of NASCAR's long-standing, publicly-held position that drivers are free to speak their minds. And what did the national print media do with that issue itself? Not much.)
After talking with some people familiar with the study-report that the Taylor (Alan Taylor) company put together for NASCAR earlier this year, it looks indeed like the changes will not only involve rose-colored glasses but boxes of them, and a sizeable increase in the staff of PR-marketing people charged with putting them on as many people as possible.
One problem, from this early look, is that the line between public relations and marketing may become too blurred (as if that were possible in this sport).
It all appears designed to turn the NASCAR PR operation from a department that provided information -- race results and other data, and storylines, and things to help the media do its job -- to an increasingly aggressive marketing operation designed to put 'positive' spin on things.
Think 'proactive,' in helping NASCAR and its teams put positive words out in the market place, in order to make the sport look more attractive to sponsors and potential sponsors.
Will NASCAR attempt to crack down on journalists who don't hew the company line? Will media credentials be pulled?
Indeed, how will NASCAR handle the 'new media,' the 'dot-coms' that are increasing....'dot-coms' that of course typically have little financial backing, unless they're part of the massive NASCAR TV operation?
NASCAR already has its own media operation, ostensibly covering the sport for newspapers unwilling to spend their own money on that. And having NASCAR write its own news is rather eye-brow raising -- though some of the nation's newspapers have so far ignored that blatant conflict of interest.
One key here appears to be money:
A number of sponsors have bailed out the past few years, amid sagging race crowds and sluggish TV ratings. And some of the sponsors who are staying -- like Budweiser and DuPont, for good examples -- are cutting back on the money they're willing to pour into the sport.
Is NASCAR's new PR-marketing (or marketing-PR) operations to be assigned the job of pushing out only positive news in order to keep sponsors happy?
And it appears that these new marketing-PR people will not just be in one office doing their thing but spread out through the entire NASCAR operation, apparently to keep an eye on potential PR issues. (Like the controversial car-of-tomorrow?)
The goals would appear to be to:
One, make sure that when a rule is made, or a penalty is delivered, or a policy is developed, that one of these new marketing-PR people is in the room to point out potential PR fallout;
Two, to keep tighter control on the various issues that typically erupt in the sport (bad crashes at Talladega, boring races at California's Auto Club Speedway, sometimes questionable caution flags).
Bottom line: this appears to be a move toward aggressively increasing NASCAR's marketing game (which Brian France himself mentioned in July at Daytona and Indianapolis). And that could come at the expense of traditional public relations work.
Does that mean this new operation will simply be a much larger and more aggressive marketing department? That's the way it's looking right now.
It may be key to see just who France hires to run this new operation. That person's credibility will be crucial.

And here's another angle on

And here's another angle on all this, from someone familiar with the whole situation:

"The idea of marketing and PR working closely, hand-in-hand, is being done more and more. With the way social media is penetrating everything right now, there's more call for "direct-to-consumer" PR and communications, especially through social media and websites. That effort bypasses "traditional" media and makes sure the message goes unfiltered to the consumer, the end audience.

"The question is, is there still a place for traditional media? I think so...and I think PR types and agencies that don't consider both social outreach and traditional outreach working together are missing the boat because traditional media will always have some level of influence with consumers.

"It appears (NASCAR is) looking to target specific areas ... and focus PR efforts into specific competencies ... versus having a lot of generalists. Depending on the overall strategy, that's not a bad plan ... and if those PR folks work closely with the marketing folks in those areas, there will be a consistent message coming out ... always a good thing.

"The key thing, though, is whether PR will have enough independence to do what it needs to do with traditional media, versus just being a voice for "integrated marketing efforts."

"The (idea of a) 'nascar.com' (media-central) hub is interesting ... Major League Baseball does something similar with all the teams ... but they are all franchises and have a vested interest in working together ... Would the (NASCAR) teams be willing to do that, and abandon their own specific web pages, where they can promote their own drivers/sponsors/merchandise? That's the BIG question."

I'm more confused after

I'm more confused after reading the story than before. Who is leaving, who is coming? Is Jim Hunter going?

But the real problem here is that ever since RJR left the sport (and took its excellent marketing and PR efforts with it) NASCAR has adopted a "You're either with us or you are our enemy" stance with the media. What credible journalist/PR person would want to work with an organization that blackballs journalists and PR people who don't play along with it? What person would want to be with an organization so volatile and changeable? Chris Jenkins, Rich Habegger and Roger Bear are all excellent people who would be stifled by an organization like NASCAR, and I suspect they know it.

Certainly, the economy is to blame for a great deal of NASCAR's lethargy and the loss of solid journalistic coverage. But NASCAR's defiant attitude and unwillingness to bend a little is as much a part of the equation as anything else. Maybe they should just ask RJR to get back in the business behind a different product.

Yep, I agree. I'm not that

Yep, I agree. I'm not that clear either on what's going on. I just filed an addendum to this story (below), raising some questions i have.
Yes, nascar has this defiant stance with any media that doesnt hew the line, which is a serious issue, though i'm not sure anyone in daytona realizes it. NASCAR has changed a bit the last few years, hiring some good people, like steve o'donnell. but when it comes to PR, NASCAR has -- aside from Jim Hunter -- performed rather dismally at the top. the worker bees all do really good stuff, but the direction has been haphazard, imh.
nascar couldn't wait to get rid of rjr, felt it knew everything it needed and could do the job itself. i still find it surprising that rjr, with all its subs, and nascar, with its needs, couldn't find a way to work things out. sprint's problem -- aside from the business side of that cutthroat world -- is that it hasn't leveraged its numerous stores around the country as outlet points for nascar promotion. that i can't understand at all. it's cheap; it's all but free.
yep, i'm afraid all nascar is going to do is create some big internal marketing department, that does a little PR on the side, and only if it has to.
and nascar has to work on some of its own internal problems -- you mention the 'stiffling environoment,' and i agree. i simply can't see nascar as a fun place for anyone to work. and that shows on most of their faces....

George Pyne, Brett Yormark,

George Pyne, Brett Yormark, Roger VanDersnick, Robin Braig, Curtis Gray (and others) seems like alot of turnover in the NASCAR / ISC family. When hiring a top level executive from the outside, he / she must be empowered to lead and make decisions. With NASCAR, this new position will be another high paid pawn with someone looking over their shoulder constantly and second guessing them.

I bet they are really worried about the next TV contract. It won't be a big bidding war.

The bottom line question - Is

The bottom line question -

Is Brian France promoting the sport, or is he promiting the brand? Reading this thread and the responses, it seems for Brian France this is more about promoting NASCAR The Brand than about promoting the sport, and therein lies perhaps the key problem of the sport under Brian France - what is turning people off is that the sport is not competitive enough and the focus by NASCAR has been on promoting the brand.
"Great Racing, Great Stories" comes across as insulting the audience's intelligence as does virtually all of Brian France's promotional efforts - the reality is there has been some great racing but not enough of it (and it is overwhelmed by the upsurge in crashes and upsurge in psychotic rhetoric from the likes of Carl Edwards as well as slightly more restrained behavior by other drivers), and the "great" stories simply aren't that good when the sport has so little competitive depth.
With just three teams monopolizing the top level touring series and virtually no competitive teams in the two lower level touring series, there isn't anything compelling to follow about them; Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and company are not compelling, Rick Hendrick is not compelling (and don't get me started on his dubious legality), Jack Roush is not compelling, Chip Ganassi isn't compelling, and after those guys and Joe Gibbs (no offense to Coach, but it's boring reading about the team winning all the time) the sport doesn't have anything - if Richard Petty's team was winning that would help but as a Roush satrap that team will never get the benefit of the technology totem pole; and forget about Michael Waltrip, an in-your-face clown not worthy of anyone's time anymore.
Brian France has to figure out that it's the sport that matters, not the brand. He also needs to understand that DE-centralization brings greater benefit than centralization, be it of media sources covering the sport or decentralization of the competitive balance.

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.

© 2010-2011 www.mikemulhern.net All rights reserved.
Web site by www.webdesigncarolinas.com