SBJ/December 10 - 16, 2007/This Weeks News

Johnson has 2 finalists in agency search

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Jimmie Johnson and Gillette have severed ties on the “Young Guns” program as the back-to-back NASCAR Nextel Cup champion goes in search of an agency to help him market his on-track success.

Jimmie Johnson was an original Gillette “Young Guns”
member but has cut his ties with the program.
Johnson, driver of the Lowe’s No. 48 at Hendrick Motorsports and an original member of Gillette’s “Young Guns,” hopes to capitalize on his consecutive titles with the type of off-track deals that will broaden his appeal and take his endorsement reach beyond the racetrack. He has met with as many as eight agencies, from motorsports marketing to full-service talent representation, and two finalists have emerged: Creative Artists Agency and Wasserman Media Group.

It’s uncertain when Johnson might make a final decision on an agency, but he is believed to be poised to choose one in the coming week. Johnson’s business manager wouldn’t comment on specific agencies, saying only that the process has been unfolding over the last six months but that Johnson’s profile with a second straight title has created even more buzz on the agency side.

“We could maybe guess what Jimmie’s brand is, but we want to know what the fans think,” said John Lewensten, vice president of operations for Jimmie Johnson Racing Inc. “We’re looking for an agency to do the research, to give us the hard data on that and take it to sponsors that match up well with what Jimmie’s brand is and create those long-term relationships.

“We’re also looking to be more proactive in seeking those sponsorship partners instead of waiting for them to come to us.”

Judging by merchandise sales, Johnson’s popularity among the fans hasn’t quite caught up to his success on the track, although it’s gaining. His licensed goods are generally listed as the fourth-best-seller behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. NASCAR.com reported that Johnson ranked fourth most of the season but jumped to third in the last month since claiming his second straight championship.

Since winning the Cup title last month, at least one ad, featuring Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus in a Kobalt Tools commercial, has been running on ESPN during other sports programming, including college basketball. Lewensten said the goal was to partner with more sponsors who are willing to use Johnson beyond the realm of racing.

Johnson currently has personal services agreements with Levi’s (which like Gillette, ends this year), Tylenol, Gatorade, Gargoyle Sunglasses, XM and Elizabeth Arden. His team sponsors through Hendrick are Lowe’s, Kobalt Tools, Quaker State, Time Warner Cable, Siemens, Top Choice Lumber, UGS and Chevrolet.

“We want [Jimmie’s commercials] to be on during racing, but we also want to grow Jimmie’s brand and introduce NASCAR to other potential fans through a guy like Jimmie, who has the ability to transcend the sport,” Lewensten said.

Breaking away from Gillette and its stable of six Nextel Cup drivers became part of that strategy at the end of the season. A Gillette representative called the breakup a mutual decision.

“We’re looking for the ability to have Jimmie in more national commercials, and one of the challenges with Gillette was the focus on multiple drivers as well as our intent to grow outside the sport,” Lewensten said. “We’re looking to get national exposure across multiple platforms, and Gillette couldn’t guarantee that would be an option for Jimmie.”

Lewensten added that Johnson, who will be a seven-year veteran next season, just didn’t fit the “Young Guns” persona any longer.

Gillette, which began shooting for its 2008 campaign last week in Charlotte, is adding at least one driver to the “Young Guns” program, but the new driver prospects could not be identified yet, said Mike Norton, Gillette’s chief of brand communications. There might be a “Guess the driver” promotion to help kick off next season.

Johnson was among the original “Young Guns” when the program launched in 2004.

“We hope there might be some other opportunities with Gillette or another [Procter & Gamble] brand,” Norton said. “But within the framework of ‘Young Guns,’ both sides looked at it and decided it wasn’t going to work. We don’t expect the drivers to sign for life.”

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