The Publicists Against Publicity
by Dana Horne
I’ve given this article a lot of thought on whether I should share my experience with NASCAR Publicists. Last week I decided to share some of the experiences I’ve had with the people hired to handle publicity and PR for teams, drivers and sponsors. I hope doing so will provide some insight as to why appearance info isn’t readily available.
I’ve been providing NASCAR driver appearance information through the DriverAppearances.com website for a decade. The goal for Driver Appearances.com was (and still is) simple: Serve NASCAR fans by providing the most up to date appearance information for NASCAR drivers.
Unfortunately I naively believed that was also the goal of the publicists and various team, driver and sponsor representatives. I assumed these representatives would gladly want to provide driver appearance information.
I was so wrong.
I launched DriverAppearances.com in late 2000. In February 2001 SPEED Channel had contacted me. They wanted me to provide them with driver appearance information during Speed Week for their new venture into NASCAR coverage.
Shortly after that I started contacting the teams’ and drivers’ publicists. The response I got was less than warm. That didn’t discourage me. I wasn’t calling them to make friends. I was calling to let them know about my website and I ask if they would provide me with appearance information for their driver.
When I actually got to speak to them, they were not at all interested. Despite many repeat attempts to contact them, a majority of those calls went unreturned.
I don’t need two hands to count the number of helpful representatives I’ve dealt with over the past decade. The number of people who made/make themselves accessible to questions, willing to provide appearance details or take an interest in making sure the details were/are accurate, are almost non-existent.
I had one representative of a driver treat me with such disrespect you would have thought I asked him to pay me to list his driver’s appearances. I won’t name the driver, but let’s just say he’s not exactly super popular with fans. This person actually had the gall to ask me how much money I was making with my website. His ego clearly got the best of him when he said, “we’ll handle this on our own” and hung up on me.
I had a gentlemen, who booked a lot of drivers to sign autographs at his store, tell me how a publicist refused to promote the appearance on the team’s or driver’s website. The reason: Too many fans showing up would mean more work for her and that didn’t benefit her. It’s clear she had not realized fans benefit everyone working in the NASCAR industry.
Assistant Editor at a popular NASCAR weekly newspaper used DriverAppearances.com for appearance listings because he couldn’t get that info from the drivers’ PR. We were both puzzled over why so many representatives refused to provide this information for a widely read and respected publication.
There are other stories of blatant disregard for providing such information for fans. But not all were unwilling to be helpful.
Amy Walsh was Matt Kenseth’s PR gal 10 years ago. Amy could not have been more helpful. Just about every weekend Kenseth did an appearance at his merchandise hauler. Amy would shoot me out a quick email with the details. If I ever had any questions, she was quick with responses.
Kerry Gilbert was another fantastic PR person. Kerry was Hank Parker, Jr.’s representative. And like his driver, he was totally fan friendly and willing to provide appearance information. Judging from Kerry’s interaction with fans, it was obvious he understood the importance of them to this sport.
One of the best in the NASCAR PR arena to date was Jade Gurss. Jade was hired by Budweiser to handle Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s publicity. Despite having to work with the most popular driver during a difficult and historic time – the passing of Dale Sr., the media requests for Dale Jr were vast. Yet Jade was always approachable. He may not have personally responded, but he made certain someone got the answer to me. Like Kerry, Jade went out of his way to extend his time for the fans.
Jade is now Director of Corporate Communication for Andretti Autosport and author of, In the Red, a fantastic inside story of the 2001 NASCAR season with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Despite Jade's busy schedule and being out of the NASCAR industry, Jade recently shared his time answering some questions for me and provided this really great insight:
"I was lucky because my client was the sponsor – Anheuser-Busch, so everything I did was driven by the need to sell beer. I didn't work for the team or the driver, so I had a slightly different view of how to approach things.
I think many of the teams with in-house efforts rate their public and media relations department at the bottom of the priority chart, because most don't have a good understanding of effective publicity. Most think that because a PR/media department doesn't make the cars go faster and usually doesn't bring large checks in the door like the sales staff, it's not important. I think that's horribly short-sighted because good media and publicity goes a very long way to keeping existing sponsors. It also leads to building a stronger brand for the team and drivers."
Jade explanation was interesting. I’m sure it explains why some of the publicists aren’t helpful and unwilling to interact with the fans. I believe Jade would be the first to agree, it’s never excusable to disregard NASCAR fans if your desire is to work in the NASCAR industry.
The arrival of social media caused me to foolishly assumed twitter would make the publicist more accessible and willing to respond to simple questions regarding certain appearances. I was wrong, again.
Though many team, driver and sponsor representatives have gotten better with sharing appearance information via social media, not all have. I don’t need any limbs to count the number of reps who have responded to my questions via Twitter. Yet, Jade, who is no longer working in the NASCAR industry, found time to respond. For whatever reason, current reps simply refuse to be helpful. Even if that only requires less than 140 characters to do so.
I’ll probably never know the true reasons for the lack of interest from publicists. I’ve learned a long time ago I can still serve NASCAR fans without them. Perhaps one day they’ll appreciate the fact that the fans are the reason they have a job.
More importantly, I hope I’ve given you some understanding as to why listings may not be available until the last minute or aren’t listed at all.
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