Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Repost: When Media And Marketing Collide

Update: The Fan and Media Engagement Center is now open. Here is my column on that topic originally published in July.

Change has been a buzzword in NASCAR for quite some time now. On the heels of the tragic passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr., a movement was set in motion to change the equipment in the sport. Now, over a decade later, it is the sanctioning body itself that continues to change.

Just as the COT became a familiar term for fans during the equipment transition, the term "brand marketing" has become a central theme as the sport reacts to the new media landscape. Long gone are the days of a powerful and robust NASCAR media presence at the track and across the nation.

The digital revolution has closed newspapers and magazines. It has ended the careers of many print journalists. Veteran fans can click-off the names of NASCAR reporters, writers and columnists who are now gone from the sport. The list of NASCAR-related print publications now out of business or limping along in an online form is familiar.

Over on the TV side, the last few months have seen the president of the NASCAR Media Group resign. The head of NASCAR's in-house TV production wing also left in the same shuffle. The Executive Producer of that same group, responsible for many of the sport's best TV and film projects, was fired late last year.

Just like the print media, NASCAR's TV presence has been a victim of change. Away from the track the demand for NASCAR TV programming has virtually ceased. In February, Showtime cancelled the high-dollar Inside NASCAR program. Over the last few years, SPEED stopped buying original NASCAR series and shifted to non-racing reality-style shows. Efforts to expand NASCAR program sales to other cable networks proved fruitless.

NASCAR was faced with a dilemma. While there was plenty of action on the track, the media pipeline to communicate that excitement was broken. Without enough reporters and writers to act as messengers, the media presence of the sport was shrinking. Without the TV shows dedicated to the sport, NASCAR's ability to cultivate new fans and to sell sponsors on the basis of national exposure was fading.

NASCAR chairman Brian France, after commissioning a professional review of these issues, decided to make a major internal shift. Instead of a stand-alone independent media presence reporting directly to him, NASCAR's entire public and media relations function would be moved to the marketing department.

Click here to read the official announcement. Ultimately, France hired the very executive who had done the review to become the new Chief Communications Officer. Brand marketing executive Brett Jewkes joined NASCAR to work for Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Steve Phelps. In the blink of an eye, the pendulum had swung from the classic media and PR approach to a marketing-driven agenda.

In one way, the changes are easy to understand. The marketing department is used to creating content about the sport and directly distributing it. The pipeline established over the years to deliver information about teams, tracks and other topics to the media is still firmly in place.

The new configuration is called the Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) department. Even Larry McReynolds would have been proud of the statement describing the IMC function. "The IMC will provide overall thought leadership in the communications space," said the news release.

The driving force behind this change takes us back to the digital world. Social media has changed the traditional role of the press by allowing direct interaction between sports organizations like NASCAR and the fan base. Facebook, Twitter and emerging specialty sites are now providing a bridge that lets NASCAR itself replace the role formerly held by the media.

NASCAR speaks directly to 3 million fans when it posts to the sport's official Facebook site. The sport's Twitter account has crossed the 500 thousand follower mark and is growing by the week. NASCAR has recently taken control of its own website and will providing all the content starting in 2013.

For the remaining media members, NASCAR provides a double top-secret website at NASCARmedia.com. Not only does this site provide raw content like press releases, photos and stats but it also provides complete stories on NASCAR topics that can simply be downloaded and used by news and sports content providers. It's a one-stop digital media shop.

While the Infield Media Center at the Sprint Cup Series tracks used to be the hub of activity for the sport, it now houses a group of reporters often all tweeting the exact same content for hours at a time. Follow ten reporters during a race on Twitter and you will get ten copies of basically the same running race commentary. The challenge for fans today is how to sort-out the best way to "consume" the race outside of the TV and radio coverage. NASCAR believes it has an answer.

Weeks ago, NASCAR embarked on a project with Twitter to jump in and control the flow of information being seen on the NASCAR twitter account. Now during races the content stream is "curated" by a Twitter representative as it happens. The resulting stream of PR-friendly information is dry as toast but fully under control. That is a familiar theme.

The most recent development speaks volumes about the future of the sport. In the NASCAR Hall of Fame studios in Charlotte, right next to the new NASCAR.com offiices, will be the Fan and Media Engagement Center (FMEC). A drawing of the new project is shown above. It might as well be called the Misson Control of Marketing. Click here to read the media release on the topic.

"A platform that facilitates near real-time response to traditional, digital and social media," said NASCAR about the FMEC in the release. "This is a clear example of our commitment to using cutting-edge technology to better inform our sport," said CMO Phelps. "Ultimately, this tool will help our industry connect with media and fans more effectively and efficiently."

What the FMEC also does while it engages fans and media is measure things. "Measurement also will be a key function of the FMEC," said the release. "Those capabilities will expand across qualitative and quantitative measurements and include tonality, volume, proximity and other coverage attributes in regular reports the FMEC will generate."

Now several IMC staffers can see, hear and respond to any snippet of information about the sport being sent by TV, radio or the Internet. On the new digital playing field, NASCAR is establishing a presence it had roundly rejected up to this point. Next season your Facebook post, tweet or chatroom comment could be weighed and measured in Charlotte without you knowing it ever happened.

The fear is that what goes missing from this configuration is critical throught. That is, the fundamental ability to disagree. While media relations types love a good debate, that is the last thing a marketing person cares to participate in. Opinion in the media is sacred, but in the marketing world it simply dilutes the message.

It will be October before the FMEC begins weekend duty and 2013 before NASCAR unveils its new website. While it's clear how we arrived at this place in time, that does not make it any easier to digest. Ultimately, the challenge for the IMC is to provide content that allows fans to believe they were informed about NASCAR without being sold a product or message at the same time.

That challenge could perhaps be described as simply passing along news about the sport vs. providing "thought leadership in the communications space." Makes you wonder just what Dale Sr. would have thought about all these bells and whistles.

We invite your opinion on this topic. Comments may be moderated prior to posting.


Hotaru1787 said...

"NASCAR speaks directly to 3 million fans when it posts to the sport's official Facebook site"

Yeah, but it's poorly moderated and most of the people are either spammers or the annoying whiners who complain 'bout some minor stuff.

I should know, I'm on that page almost everyday.

Buschseries61 said...

"thought leadership in the communications space."

My God what a grouping of words! NASCAR will do what it wants to do, if it includes mixing marketing and media. I honestly don't know what more sponsors want out of NASCAR and the teams. There was WAY more promotional stuff behind the grandstands at Dover than I saw in Pocono back in 2007. Sponsors get their logos on the car, driver, team, great tv exposure (and lots of commercials), and ride the social media train. This season I've seen more talking and PR from the drivers than actual driving. There's more exposure than ever, there's just nothing to talk about. (which is probably why they are tricycle racing and playing with toilet paper on Trackside)

NASCAR doesn't need to control the media to get back to where it used to be. It just needs to be fun again and let the racing provide something positive to talk about in uncertain times. With the Kurt Busch saga and jet dryer collision as the two biggest stories of the season, 2012 has some work to do.

Anonymous said...

"For the remaining media members, NASCAR provides a double top-secret website at NASCARmedia.com. Not only does this site provide raw content like press releases, photos and stats but it also provides complete stories on NASCAR topics that can simply be downloaded and used by news and sports content providers. It's a one-stop digital media shop."

Is the reason that NASCARmedia.com has all kinds of stuff only available to those with the proper credentials because NASCAR doesn't have the rights to make the contents of the site available to the public because Turner owns that right?

The main thing I noticed you mention is that NASCARmedia.com has "raw content... like stats." Currently nascar.com has horrible statistics and only tracks the most basic things and most current season stats disappear at the end of the season to make way for the new season. It is disappointing considering I decided to see what kind of NFL stats I could look up on nfl.com and found that I can see EVERYBODY who made interception in 1940!!

When NASCAR gains full control over their own website, will they then be allowed to make more useful stats available on the website?

Now as far as their Twitter account goes, I am apt to be indifferent towards it. I don't use Twitter much, but when I do I search for specific topics and people to follow and I don't want anything filtered out really. I especially don't like reading "opinions" that are not anything of the sort but are just stated to support everything happening in and with NASCAR.

Long Time Fan said...

For me, the downfall in regards to this article was when the powers that be started jacking around with Speed Channels "Inside (Winston, Nextel, Sprint) Cup" show. That was the one show I watched and taped without question as it gave a good personal look at many of the drivers and had a great recap of the previous race. As soon as they ousted Allen Bestwick, the show went downhill really fast. It seemed to me they were trying to fix a problem that didn't exist. And then when they created a similar show on Showtime (which is the worst premium channel out there in terms of movies shown IMHO), I wasn't going to pay for that. Seems like they forgot the long time fans who made the sport a success to cater to the "new breed of fan", who just happened to have no staying power, as they didn't understand what the sport is all about and its history.

I know it will never be like the old days when real STOCK cars ruled the track, but all this SAME, SAME, SAME is really boring to me, compared to some of the cool races and inovative car designs we saw in the 70's and earlier.

AncientRacer said...

Fascinating column.

We know NASCAR wants control. Nothing new there. I do wonder how long it will be before someone hacks the password for Nascarmedia.com. I am, though not surprised, somewhat disappointed some "reporters" simply take the copy provided and run with it.

What seems new, at least to me, is that the Palace is making some effort to avoid being left behind again as the communications world evolves. This I choose to see as good.

Finally, on the tyranny of buzzwords and buzzspeak. Maybe it is just me, and I admit to being an unreconstructed curmudgeon, but when life calls upon me, as it does, to hie off to NYC or LA for meetings and, because not only do they write this way they talk this way too, some bright young thing hops up and says something like,

"Those capabilities will expand across qualitative and quantitative measurements and include tonality, volume, proximity and other coverage attributes in regular reports the FMEC will generate."

... I let them finish ... I pause ... Then I ask, "Can you do that in English?" :)

OSBORNK said...

I think NASCAR's attempt to take control of their media presence will backfire. I think a lot of people are like me. I think that anything filtered through NASCAR is suspect and not to be trusted. It is much the same way with most drivers. Their media presence is filtered through NASCAR/sponsors/the owners media experts, etc. By the time the public gets the "finished product", it is bland, PC and simply propaganda.

When a driver goes off message and says what he really thinks, he is at risk of losing his job, his sponsor and subject to large fines and sanctions from "Big Brother"NASCAR.

We remember some of the heros of the sport because of their unique personalities and unusual way they lived their lives and interacted with the public. Earnhardt Sr, DW, Junior Johnson and many others would have been banned from the sport if they were drivers today and acted like they did when they were the most popular. When we look back at today's drivers in 15 or 20 years, few will be remembered fondly if they are remembered at all. Generic drivers are quickly forgotten.

Colorado said...

Dale Sr. would have whipped Brian's A** years ago...But he would also understand the need for change, just as he marketed his likeness, signature, and merchandising. Brian France has lost total control of all that is NASCAR. NASCAR used to be about the fans, driver persoanlities, and expanding the sport to the mainstream, all the while keeping it's core roots. All that died on February 18th, 2001.

glenc1 said...

There's a lot here to think about...I'm pretty much with AR here...agree it's good that they're making an effort to keep up. But NASCAR *still* thinking they can control all things in 2012 is just a bit ridiculous. I know that other sports censure (most of it being coaches vs. refs). But it sounds more like NASCAR would still like to hang on to having little or no valid criticism of what happens in their sport, instead of realizing that people arguing about a topic is good for the sport. PR announcements are fine, but we know reading that at face value is not the same as analyzing the content. And it would seem from the comments here that there is a real backlash against the constant marketing tools used during the broadcasts themselves. There's only so much attempted manipulation people can take--NASCAR fans have been known for being loyal to sponsors, but when they feel as if they're being used, there's a line that's been crossed...

Unfortunately, with the 'broadcast partners' sucking up, and the downward spiral for the unfortunate print media; there are just so few voices with the courage and knowledge to...well, tell the truth. The other problem is, how can you expect to showcase the interesting stories about your sport when there is so little effort from the 'broadcast partners' to add support programming? That's a place where marketing and media might be able to help each other (an example might be doing programming within the HOF, or the way in which certain advertisers would support a program which relates to its products as some of those gearhead shows on SPEED do.) But regardless of that, I still have a problem with the lack of true honest analysis that exists for the sport.

Tburg1013 said...

Anything under NASCAR control should be suspect. Example: the guys in the booth(s) have been instructed to say, "The fans wanted to see more pack racing and less of the two-car draft." No one I have talked to, no blog I have read nor chat rooms been a part of have indicated that ANY fans have been asked!

David said...

Well this is just sad. I feel like I am in a bad dream. NAscar is slowly turning into what Indycar was. Just pathetic

17972 B. C. said...

There is some questioning of the "Double-top secren NASCAR media site" idea. A quick google search also has the NHL, NFL,NBA, NHRA with a media only, password blocked site, so a place for media to gather league compiled info is not only a NASCAR idea.

KoHoSo said...

Makes you wonder just what Dale Sr. would have thought about all these bells and whistles.

I think ol' Iron Head would have made fun of the language but understood the overall intent. Dale was not stupid and knew full well that the sport had to look to the future.

That being said, we all know the true danger here considering how NASCAR has acted in the past. They want full control of the message with no dissent and certainly not any sass-back by "needy" fans.

If NASCAR tires to go that route and does nothing but act like a politician that "stays on message" all the time, they will continue to fail no matter how much "synergy," "tonality," and other "coverage attributes" they feed out to the public. NASCAR fans want straight talk regardless of the platform and, after so many years of unwanted changes, they want a ways to send feedback that will be honestly considered. If they don't get those things whether it be through TV or Twitter, they will continue to fade away.


mrclause said...

Brian France wants absolute control at any cost even to the show itself. His leading NASCAR from an office instead of out in the dirt like his father and grandfather is about like me dealing with lowering the national debt. I wouldn't have a clue and neither does he.

Controlling the media should be easy for NASCAR because there are maybe a half dozen actual reporters vs a hundred bloggers that just rehash the same releases. The hundred can be led by press releases, the half dozen can be controlled by the threat of pulling their credentials as has been done in the past.

The problem lies with the show itself, how it has morphed from what made NASCAR as popular as it became. The major flaw in fixing that is in France's arrogance. A France quote that says a bunch," I'm not concerned with the complaints of the drivers or fans". Isn't that what made NASCAR, the drivers and fans? NASCAR has a leader in title only and backed by entitlement and a heaping helping of ignorance.

Lisa Hogan said...

Every workplace uses jargon. When this jargon is not translated into customer-friendly language, it just becomes “silly speak”.

JD, this has brought back a vague memory of Brian France trying to give a presentation and was so deep into jargon that Bill France, Jr. got up and said something like, “Let me see if I can help Brian out a little bit” and gave the presentation again in plain English. I don't even remember the subject of the presentation.

“thought leadership in the communications space” = “silly speak”

Jamie in Georgia said...

If the suits at Nascar actually had a passion for Nascar it might change the entire landscape of the sport. Many fans have a long and deep history with the sport, which is something I think the suits cannot relate to. Dale wouldn't be impressed with this latest bunch.

GinaV24 said...

anytime I see or hear the phrase "thought leadership", it makes me think of the book, 1984, and people wanting to dictate things to me. Of course, that has been NASCAR's philosophy for years has been to control everything. Unfortunately in the last 10 years they haven't done a very good job of it. So many changes have not been of benefit to the sport or to the fans. NASCAR has always been about marketing but it also used to be fun to watch. This "new" NASCAR management has screwed things up to the point that many fans have left or become the "casual" fan that Brian France wanted so much.

There was a market and demand for the NASCAR programming, it seems to me that it was NASCAR/Speed who chose not to pursue it.

As you say, JD, with the internet, twitter, etc. many of us get our information that way instead of having to wait for it in print. I'll bet it makes NASCAR's management and the TV/media types made as hell that we fans now have a way to talk together and are vocal, thanks to sites like yours, about what we do and don't like about the sport.

They can try and change the delivery of the message. What they should be doing, in my opinion, is improving the product and the delivery, then the message would take care of itself.

Anonymous said...

@ ir42nate2bhere -

Shhhh! Don't let the facts get in the way of the weekly "BZF is an idiot and the sports going to hell in a handbasket" thread! You'll ruin everyone's fun! LOL!

Anonymous said...

Ir42nate2bhere--I would say the difference is, all of the other sports have a healthy quotient of objective analysis...and commissioners who don't pull the credentials of people who don't regurgitate what the powers that be want them to say...

Colorado said...

One difference between other sports and NASCAR regarding the media, is that the NASCAR media(the long time ones) have been friends with the drivers, owners, officialls, most of their lives. Steve Byrnes has had dinner with Dale Sr. at his house, Steve Waid has been over to Big Bill's house, etc. So, not only the fear of having your credentials removed, is having that friendship shuttered forever. So, most will toe the line with what is spoon fed them. George Orwell, anyone?

Tracy D said...

I just wanted to say that I appreciate your in depth analysis of what is going on. I can't say I understand all of it, but it's thought-provoking.
As to Nascar keeping an eye and handle on EVERYTHING happening online, let me tell you about Amazon. I'm an author with a backlist held by a print publisher recently bought by Amazon, and the PTB with Amazon have been all over the Net looking at what we authors are posting, including our blogs, and writing us about it!!! I feel as if Big Brother isn't just Nascar, but it's in every aspect of business.

Secret marketing genius said...

The Nascar folks fail to understand one thing : Fans watch
the races on tv. Simple concept
right ? I wonder if the suits
have ever ever asked fans what
they want and what they like ???
I doubt it .. thatis why we
continue to have Worswick at the
controls just about every Week
of the season. Insane an incredible
And ONLY Fox figured out that
maybe the fans want the announcers
to shut up once in a while. What
a radical thought eh.
I agree - marketing and PR for
Nascar is not easy. What is easy
is to just ask the announcers to
shut up once in a while.
But of course that wont happen
and the Anthem will still by sung
by whoever.

Anonymous said...

Lets talk for a micro-second about why I buy the seat on the fence when I go to a NASCAR race. You haven't truly experienced the power of stock car auto racing until you've been standing with that fence in front of you, watching a bunch of cars come barreling at you out of a turn at 180mph, heard the deafening roar and felt the tornatic wind & get a face full of stinging rubber as the cars go by in a heartbeat.

Nothing NASCAR does elsewhere in its brand will match that experience. To me, everything else is just a bonus. To me, the raw feed provided through RaceBuddy is the greatest "new media" thing NASCAR and I sure hope it continues.

PS to Tburg1013: I was very vocal about tandem vs. pack racing. I answered surveys, polls, reporter questions, sent direct word to NASCAR about my opinion. Blame me then. I wanted the pack back.
Donna in FL

Dannyboy said...

So much to agree with here. As a fan since the 60s and having grown up with the sport, I can attest that the weekly racing today has more side-by-side and tight action than ever before. But when the cars are all virtually the same, all you have is drivers & teams to differentiate. NASCAR needs to capitalize on that somehow, while still making sure that it doesn't get out of hand. A daunting task, I'm sure.

For many years, I've rarely watched full races, and almost never watched pre-or-post race shows. I just don't have the time. And I had grown away from the sport, just checking in occasionally to see what was up. It all changed for me back in the mid-90s with Inside Winston Cup: there I could get a concise review of the previous race, with insight from guys who had driven in it, or were recent participants. When the new regime changed it all on SPEED, and since ESPN scheduling and preempting has made NASCAR Now virtually impossible to follow on the West Coast, my interest has waned. Too bad, because with Allen Bestwick back in command of some good analysts, NN had evolved from a mess into something I looked forward to. That lasted about a year :-(

What seems obvious is that nobody in a position of power has a clue as to the real nitty-gritty of bringing this most exciting sport to the widest audience.

One thing I'm curious about JD: has NASCAR's new media initiative developed any way to filter the Tweets of fans who are AT the race? I find these immensely helpful at times, and would look very darkly at any attempt to control that.

Anonymous said...

So with SPEED obviously going to change to FOX SPORTS Network, is NASCAR's only alternative to commence with a NASCAR channel ?

Anonymous said...

"Makes you wonder just what Dale Sr. would have thought about all these bells and whistles"

Just making that statement is ludicrous.

Buschseries61 said...

At this point I could care less about their thought leadership. My interest in the sport and NASCAR's business interests have been different for a number of years. I give them credit for taking steps to listen to the fans the past 2 years or so after years of ignorance. Five years ago there was no way for a fan to interact with the decision makers of the sport. Now fans have two choices of social media to interact with the people in the sport. Adding races at Rockingham & Eldora in trucks, the new car, and the return of the provisional qualifying system were positive steps for them. The Nationwide series looks to have its first decent crop of regulars in over a decade thanks to adjusting the points rules. But the damage has been done in other aspects of the sport. The budgets of big teams is unsustainable, marketers are appeasing themselves more than the fans, corporations in conflict think of themselves instead of the fans as they battle for calender space, and the reality gap has not changed between FOX and a decent portion of the fanbase. Controlling the message in a glass room won't solve anything, open and honest communication will.