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Volume 20 No. 42
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NASCAR master plan pegs 6 areas

In early 2010, Brian France called together two of his top executives, Eric Nyquist and Steve Phelps, and asked them a simple question: How do we fix our communications strategy?

“It just doesn’t feel right,” France said. “We can do better than this.”

The resulting conversation led France to launch a complete review of not only NASCAR’s communications strategy and preparedness to take advantage of the evolving social media landscape, but the sanctioning body’s entire business.

Young fans are one point of interest, along with Gen Y, multicultural efforts and driver star power.
“If we’re going to look at that, we thought we should look at everything,” France said.

Just days before the 54th running of the Daytona 500, France said that the review NASCAR began two years ago, highlighted by five independent studies led by Taylor, was complete and the sanctioning body is now ready to act on what it’s learned.

“We want to have a tailwind going so when the economy does recover, we’ve covered all these bases,” France said.

NASCAR is in the early stages of developing an action plan that will create that tail wind. The sanctioning body has identified six key areas it wants to tackle in an effort to improve the future of the sport. The areas are youth (18 and younger), Generation Y (18- to 34-year-olds), multicultural, driver star power, product relevance, and digital and social media.

Work in some of those areas already has begun. In the digital and social media segment, for example, NASCAR has regained its digital rights from Turner and plans to take over management of in early 2013.

But the strategy to attack others is still in development.

Across the six areas, NASCAR narrowed a list of 250 elements where it believes it can improve what it’s doing to 68 issues that it plans to evaluate and attack. For example, in the Generation Y area it plans to evaluate and improve the tailgate experience; in the youth area, it plans to evaluate and improve NASCAR’s presence in school curriculum nationwide; and in the driver star power area, it plans to evaluate and develop a global content plan to raise driver awareness.

“All of these are areas that for most of them, the work we need to do across our industry will not provide any immediate or midterm payback,” said Nyquist, NASCAR’s vice president of strategic development, who led the organization’s planning. “Nor is it seeking that. This is about having coordinated effort across our industry to move the needle in key areas that we believe if we’re doing it well are going to lead to real enterprise growth.”

Rather than develop a strategy, set specific benchmarks across each and assign it to its existing departments, NASCAR’s top executives asked employees to volunteer to work in areas where they were interested. A total of 120 of the organization’s 1,000 employees were placed on working groups.

The resulting groups feature three to four people and a director assigned to lead them. They will meet weekly to develop ideas and plans for improving how, for example, NASCAR can be integrated into school curriculum or how it can better distribute content about drivers abroad. The employees will work on those groups in addition to their day-to-day responsibilities.

“We wanted to take this away from departmental ownership,” Nyquist said. “We looked for our best and our brightest. People that are hungry, irrespective of title. In some cases, we found people in competition who are really passionate about youth. This is giving an opportunity for employees to take off their day job hat and take an entirely new perspective.”

By doing that, NASCAR hopes it will get more diverse and better ideas, France said.

“This is the only way to get buy-in,” he added. “If you forced it down where you’re trying to do transformational things across all parts of your business, people can challenge you and say it’s really not that bad or I don’t agree with that assessment.”

The groups will report to directors in each of the six key areas that NASCAR identified (see chart). NASCAR is in the process of building committees that will support those directors and include team executives, track executives and, in some instances, sponsor executives.

“We will be getting input from anyone that’s part of the [NASCAR] system,” Phelps said. “We understand it’s ours to lead. They have their day jobs. This is part of our day job and what we need to do as the steward for the sport.”

Each group is drafting a preliminary strategic plan for their respective areas. The executives assigned to lead initiatives on youth, Generation Y, multicultural, driver star power, product relevance, and digital and social media will review those preliminary plans by early April and work with the groups to develop a one-year strategic plan by the end of the summer.

For example, Jill Gregory, who is overseeing the driver star power initiative, will evaluate a plan by the group working on global content distribution to raise driver visibility. She may recommend that the group improve its approach in some areas or work with another group in others. Action on the final plan would likely start in late 2012.

“On some levels, people will say, ‘Does it require this kind of time and length?’” Nyquist said. “We have a lot going well for our industry. This process is about growth opportunities and we want to be sure we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water. To do that takes time.”