SBJ/April 18-24, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Jewkes launches NASCAR communications overhaul

More than a month after taking an offer to become NASCAR’s chief communications officer, Brett Jewkes last week began to reshape the organization’s communications efforts. He has developed both a 90- and 180-day plan that features goals ranging from hiring three more employees to meeting with each member of NASCAR’s executive team. The former Taylor executive spoke to staff writer Tripp Mickle recently about what he plans to do in his new job at NASCAR.

Jewkes
What are your short-term goals?
Jewkes: One of the things that [Taylor CEO] Tony Signore taught me well is that transformation is a process, not an event. The first part of this whole process has got to be filling some open spots with dynamic and key talent. The openings are: the managing director, the No. 2 in the department; the director of digital and social media; and a director of brand and consumer marketing communications. Second to that, I’m going to look at how we’re organized around the NASCAR media and the Los Angeles office. It’s been good, but it’s been decentralized. We want to integrate all of these departments so that we’re all singing from the same music, which will make us more efficient and more powerful in our communication.

You’ve talked about this being a mind-set change for the organization. What do you mean by that?
Jewkes: It would be very fair to say there are a lot of things that NASCAR’s done that are good things, but they’ve been done in silos where one part of the business wasn’t aware of what someone else was doing in another department. The roll-out was great, but it could have been better if there were combined resources and combined efficiencies.

Here’s a great example. Next week, there are some high-level strategic planning meetings. To underscore how things are changing, I’m moving up my start date because I’ve been included in those meetings. Right off the bat, you have a communications voice included in those planning meetings. That’s how Brian [France] and Steve [Phelps] have elevated communications.

Ultimately, once we get this team built out, that will happen everywhere. We’re going to hire a brand and consumer marketing director and that person will be embedded in Jim Obermeyer’s [brand and consumer] group. He or she will be in weekly staff meetings, planning and living and breathing with Jim’s team. That person will be integrating across his peer leaders in [communications] so that something Obermeyer’s group plans to do at the final race at Homestead can be shared and others can pitch in and help. That hasn’t been the case. In the past, something would be planned and people would call PR to get a release.

How will you address the issues of ratings and attendance?
Jewkes: TV viewership is absolutely always going to be a critical metric. So far this year, things are trending toward some good news. As I’ve said all along, it’s one metric. It’s always going to be important to partners, but it’s not the be all, end all. There’s a lot of younger viewers who are turning to other resources to follow events, and we need to get a better handle on that from a league perspective. Every other league is trying to do the same. This is one area that I have to spend more time on.

If we were to have this conversation three years from now, what would you like to be able to look back on with some sense of pride and accomplishment?
Jewkes: I’m glad you said three years instead of one year. This is going to take some time. I believe in the deepest part of my heart there will be impact almost immediately, but the very nature of this model is longer-term planning. You should be better at dealing with day-to-day issues, but the real value from this approach is that you’re ahead of the game on opportunities and can therefore generate more value for teams, tracks, marketing partners, etc. So, I’m already thinking about the 2012 season and key things coming down the pipe there.

It seems basic, but the key accomplishment would be that I hope that the industry will say that NASCAR is doing a much better job from a communications standpoint of driving the narrative on the sport and being very proactive in selling the sport, selling the drivers and personalities and pushing the value the sport can be for marketing and media partners. That will be a byproduct of having great talent in place on the team so internal communication is much stronger and productive. If that happens in three years, this will be a great success for NASCAR.

What is an average day at NASCAR going to look like? Will you be working with Brian France closely?
Jewkes: I don’t think there will be an average day. My outlook calendar is already peppered with all sorts of things, which is good.

Based on what I’ve seen so far and what I think is necessary to get the job done, I think there will be a lot of communication with Brian. He’s very involved in this. He’s very supportive and excited about what we can achieve. One of my first meetings will be with him and talk about his vision. Steve Phelps is the guy who crafted this whole thing and got NASCAR to this point. This new model is new to the entire management team, so I’ll be spending a lot of time with them to help them understand what we need to do to build this thing out.

One of the things I’ve preached to them is that we need to be more offensive, more agile and more proactive in driving the message. They agree and they’re ready to go on that.

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