Volume X, Issue 11, Page 75

Know your audience

Paul Newman taught me a very valuable lesson:

Know your audience.

On Sunday morning, Oct. 12, two companies in the entertainment business -- NHRA and ESPN -- didn’t.

After what by some measures was the worst week in Wall Street history, drag racing fans who were worried about their jobs, home values and retirement accounts, sought some comforting distraction. They clicked-on ESPN2. So did I. Dave Rieff and Mike Dunn were on the NHRA RaceDay set, talking Countdown, and revving-up that afternoon’s Virginia Nationals.

Then, the inexplicable happened.

The network rolled a pre-recorded feature on Kenny Koretsky. The first thing we saw was Kenny’s Rolls-Royce. Then came a tour of his luxury condo-on-wheels, a motorhome with marble floors, plasma TVs, full shower, washer and dryer. I hope you didn’t miss the demonstration on how the video phone allows Koretsky to screen visitors.

What were they thinking?

The timing could not have been worse. Or more inappropriate. Even offensive, at least to some stressed-out fans.

I like Kenny. I think his outgoing personality and colorful Nitro Fish company are good for Pro Stock and the Powerade Series. He, like many racers, deserves a little more media attention.

I’ve often said NHRA-on-ESPN2 might be the best produced of all the TV motorsports.

But this in-your-face affront to American workers who happen to enjoy the straight-line sport was outrageous.  Who pushed the “go” button on this segment? Donald Trump, from his penthouse suite? 

NHRA’s demo isn’t Formula One’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous set. Or even the American Le Mans Series.

NHRA and ESPN didn’t know their audience.

For that, there’s no excuse.

None!

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I respectfully offer a suggestion for NHRA’s new community relations manager, Halie Schmidt.

Organize a small group of racers – Brandon Bernstein, Antron Brown, J.R. Todd, Ashley Force, Angelle Sampey, Melanie Troxel and Tommy Johnson Jr. immediately come to mind – into what I’ll call a “Quick Reaction Team” to deal with the on-going problem of illegal street racing.

I first had this idea back in 2001, when The Fast and The Furious put Hollywood’s big-screen spotlight on street racing. NHRA didn’t react aggressively but should have, especially since Wally Parks’ original vision for the organization included the need to get teenagers and their cars into safer surroundings.

The announcement of Schmidt’s hiring specifically noted responsibility “to develop and execute comprehensive national public awareness/service campaigns to educate teens on the perils of illegal street racing.”

Excellent.

There’s also the media component, however, and history says local outlets – especially TV – sensationalize injuries or deaths from such incidents. NHRA needs a capability to respond -- fast.

Drivers on this team must be attractive to young hot-rodders and have credibility with journalists. They should be trained on the basic talking points and then put on “stand-by.” Just as importantly, NHRA needs to aggressively “market” to the media the fact that at least one of these drivers will always be available on short notice. Editors, producers and reporters need to be convinced this will be a reliable resource, know how to access it 24/7, 365, and that support materials such as graphics and B-roll will be provided.

This would be a smart investment.    

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NASCAR has its traditional pre-season media tour in the Charlotte area and NHRA wisely is planning to use the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association’s All-America Team ceremony to stir-up interest before the 2009 Winternationals.

On Saturday, January 10, NHRA will shuttle AARWBA members to John Force Racing for a tour and in-depth interview time with John, Ashley, Robert and company. Afterwards, there will be a course in Drag Racing 101 and media competition (in Pontiacs) over at Pomona, before that evening’s awards ceremony at the Ontario Hilton. NHRA announcing legend Dave McClelland will be the MC.

The All-America Team dinner, honoring drivers in various categories as chosen by AARWBA members, is open to the public. Tickets are available at www.aarwba.org.  

 

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