SBD/May 29, 2013/People and Pop Culture

Minding My Business With Roush Fenway Racing VP/Strategic Marketing Kevin Thomas

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Thomas enjoys discovering restaurants that are off the beaten path
Roush Fenway Racing VP/Strategic Marketing KEVIN THOMAS heads up a group created in March to design activation programs for the racing team's sponsors. The peripatetic Thomas grew up in Huntsville, Ala., attended New York Univ., and landed at Roush Fenway after two years working in PR for driver KURT BUSCH. Thomas recently chatted with THE DAILY about CARL EDWARDS' keen eye for marketing opportunities, why NASCAR may have a bad rap when it comes to sponsor support, and his notorious insistence on visiting the best hole-in-the-wall restaurant in every town.

Misperceptions about NASCAR sponsorship...
I think there was a perception in the general sports industry several years ago that NASCAR was suffering more than the other sports, but ironically the reason that perception was there was just because of what a significant role the sponsors in the sport play. Because if the isotonic beverage deal for the Charlotte Bobcats goes away, nobody’s going to be writing about it on the front page of the sports section. Whereas if Ricky Bobby’s sponsor goes away, everybody’s going to be talking about it, because that sponsor is so visible and front and center.

Most of my time at work is spent thinking about...
Definitely delivering value to our partners. The unique value proposition that we enjoy as a race team is the fans understanding of the role of the sponsors in the sport, and I’m fortunate that I’ve never had to focus on selling a ticket in my life. ... If it’s Best Buy, it may be a certain number of visitors to the website in a time period. Or it may be driving traffic to the stores for the period we’re in the race market. Or if it’s 3M, it may be a more sales-related goal about a certain product that they’re working on, or if it’s Fastenal, it may be significant interactions with key customers. We look to our partners for the answer to that question.

Athletes double as marketing experts...
With racing there’s a cost-of-entry barrier, and our drivers learn this at a very, very young age. They start racing go-karts, and mom has to get a second job to pay the bill for the tires on the go-kart. So they develop at a very, very young age an appreciation for what it costs to race. Therefore they develop a very good appreciation early on for the partners that are helping them to do that. Carl was doing a cover shoot for a magazine that should be out now, and they were going to do a fitness piece. Carl called and said, "Hey, New Balance is the official shoe of our pit crews, it’d be great if I was wearing their product for this commercial shoot even though they’re not a partner of mine, they’re a team partner." So absolutely, they’re incredibly involved.

Best advice I've ever received...
Reward excellent failure and punish mediocre success. I like it for a couple reasons. I think there’s so much wisdom there. You've got to focus on the process, you can’t focus on the result. We can’t determine outcomes, the only thing we’re in control of is in the energy we put into something, how we approach it strategically, making sure we do everything we can to do our best. From our perspective, if we understand what (the sponsor's) trying to accomplish in the sport, and we present well-executed, well thought out, well-planned opportunities, if it doesn't work, let's figure out what didn't work and improve it for the next time. If it just went kind of okay and we feel like we left a lot on the table and could have done a whole lot better, that's the kind of thing that makes me lose sleep at night.

My smartphone...
I’m an Android guy now. I miss the real keyboard of the BlackBerry. I do a whole lot of communication via email, and when you’re hammering away on a touchscreen, it just doesn’t work quite as well as the BlackBerry type of keyboard did. I’ve got the Samsung 3G. I can fit the phone in one pocket and the battery in the other, and halfway through a day at the racetrack when the battery’s dead, I look around at my friends who are using mobile devices without interchangeable batteries and two seconds later I swap the batteries out and I’m good to go for the rest of the day.

Apps I'm using the most...
I use Evernote a good bit. In the past, if I had an idea on the plane I would jot it down, try to remember it later, or e-mail it to myself. And Evernote is a good tool to aggregate all those ideas you have in different places and share pictures, things like that. Flipboard I like a lot. It’s a content aggregator as well, so they’re aggregating Twitter, news, Facebook information.

My favorite tunes and TV...
I’m a big music guy, I love good music and good films. My wife and I have probably watched the first four seasons of “THE WEST WING” five times. It’s a great way to relax and unwind. The one I’m looking forward to this week is "ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT" coming back. It was one of those that if you didn’t get into it at the time, it was hard to jump into midstream, but it’s a terrifically funny television show. I got the new DAWES, they opened for (BOB) DYLAN in town a few weeks ago. ALT-J, THE NATIONAL. Can’t talk about music without talking about THE BEATLES. THE BAND. So much good old stuff, but a lot of good new stuff too.

Guilty pleasure...
My guilty pleasure is local, bad-for-you restaurants in the markets that we go to. I’ve got a reputation. People hate getting in the rental car with me at the airport because they know we’re going to drive an hour-and-a-half to some hole in the wall where we’re going to stand in line for 45 minutes to get a table, and they have to pay cash, and it’s going to be an incredible experience. There’s a couple out of Connecticut who published a book called “ROADFOOD,” the first edition came out about 30 years ago, about every three years they update it. I bought a copy of it, the first copy I got was probably five or six years ago, and at the time there were about 700-something restaurants in it across the country. And since then if there’s a restaurant that’s convenient, I always try to make a swing by and check it out. I’m about halfway through the 700.

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