SBJ/20090202/Faces & Places

Inside Out

John Baratta and Phil Pacsi are avid baseball fans, but they spend Bridgestone’s marketing money in hockey, racing and football. They were key players in the deal that led to the Bridgestone Super Bowl Halftime Show, but when they talk about sports and family, it centers on baseball. Baratta, an avid Dodgers fan, tried to make spring training in Vero Beach every year and plans the same for Phoenix. “I’m passionate about it.” And Pacsi, who grew up a Pirates fan in western Pennsylvania, admits that his mother-in-law, Velma Lux, first turned his son Adam into a Braves fan and then him. Pacsi is the executive director of North American consumer tire brand marketing, and Baratta, his boss, is president of consumer replacement tire sales for North America. Baratta said, “We look at baseball as American and our American brand is Bridgestone. But our marketing goals are international.” They see hockey as an international sport, so among Bridgestone’s NHL portfolio is the 20-part documentary series “Captains Driven by Bridgestone.” And when the company returned to motorsports, Baratta said, “I felt a swell of pride.” They found their way into football through the NFL’s Bridgestone International Series, regular-season games played in London. In addition to the halftime show, Bridgestone was scheduled to run two Super Bowl spots using Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head and Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Baratta said the spots “used humor, iconic characters and some pretty amazing special effects to entertain.” … John Shannon grew up in a western Canada sports family, “All sports, all the time. It was the only thing we talked about at the dinner table,” he said. “I can’t skate, but I became a hockey fan who dreamed of doing play-by-play for the Canucks. But when you have a voice like Kermit the Frog, you better find something else.” For eight years, he produced “Hockey Night in Canada” for the CBC. His next stop was the Maple Leafs, where he created two hockey-related channels. “Then in 2000, Gary Bettman phoned” with a job proposal. Shannon is now in charge of programming and production for the NHL Network, where he created “Captains Driven by Bridgestone,” the 20-part series about team leadership.

Bridgestone’s Phil Pacsi
(left) with NHL legend
Mark Messier at an NHL
All-Star Game event

When you’re growing, you want all the help you can get. When you’re on top, you want to thank the guys who got you there. Zak Brown tapped into the vast knowledge of friends when building Just Marketing International. Now that it’s a leading motorsports agency, Brown has named an advisory board of top executives, many of whom worked with him on the track or in business: Michael Grainger, William Hannigan, John Hodgson, Michael Lister, Robert Malcolm, Bryan Moss, Henri Richard and Chuck Roy. “When you’re racing, you try to go faster. When you’re in business, you try to get smarter,“ Brown said. “They’ve always been there for me and shared with me a toolbox full of knowledge.” … Tony Stewart was the expected celebrity guest as Office Depot cut the ribbon on its new Boca Raton, Fla., global headquarters. Stewart, who traded Home Depot for Office Depot and the No. 20 car for the No. 14, spoke to the entire executive committee, including CEO Steve Odland, and 2,000 associates at a private meet and greet. But no one expected him to whip out his checkbook at the end of a Q&A session and donate $100,000 to the company’s foundation. Seated associates “literally gasped and gave him a standing ovation,” said PR director Mindy Kramer, and Office Depot Foundation President Mary Wong “ran up to the stage in tears from the back of the room and hugged Tony.”

“Today Show” correspondent and “Sunday Today” co-host Jenna Wolfe will be among 300 hearty souls competing Tuesday in the New York Road Runners’ Empire State Building Run-Up. Local WNBC reporter Cat Greenleaf will follow her as she races up the 86 floors from the lobby to the observation deck.

An early time slot opened up as David Higdon did his rounds of New York clients and associates and that saved him from a dunking in the Hudson aboard US Airways Flight 1549. Higdon, the former editor-in-chief of the Portland Trail Blazers’ magazine, was in New York to meet with friends from the Warsaw Center on their annual trip to the city. At a luncheon, the sports marketing consultant talked about servicing his clients on the trip, including UNICEF. The next day he had planned an afternoon business meeting before catching his return flight home to Jacksonville, but the meeting was rescheduled. That got Higdon to LaGuardia earlier than expected and he realized he could fly standby on an earlier flight. By the time he got to US Airways’ hub in Charlotte, he saw the live coverage on an airport TV of his original flight in the Hudson. He said his knees buckled. He immediately called his wife, Sharon, former VP of marketing for the Trail Blazers. “The good parts,” said Higdon, on the couple’s Jan. 26 anniversary, “were that my luggage also made it on the earlier flight and that Sharon was totally unaware of the events in the Hudson and was spared the fear.” … Higdon’s seat was supposed to be in Row 4. NASCAR’s senior manager of licensed attractions, Amber Wells, actually made Flight 1549 in Row 20. Her story of fear and “divine intervention” has been well-publicized.

John Genzale can be reached at

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