NASCAR revs up integrated communications

A new Fan and Media Engagement Center helps the automobile racing association engage fans, track sentiment, and reach out to a diverse fan base. And how about those green initiatives?

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All-Star Race at NASCAR. A sports channel televising the event accidentally posts the wrong results heading into the final segment, leaving top driver Jimmie Johnson out of the top 10.

So when he wins the whole enchilada, some fans go nuts on Twitter and conspiracy theories abound.

Time for NASCAR to panic? Not so fast. David Higdon, managing director of integrated marketing communications, checked out the analytics. The brouhaha was only a small part of the greater conversation about the event.

Using that information, Higdon argued against overreaction: “Joe blogger, who’s read by six people … is not going to shape our strategy. That’s where analysis comes into play.”

NASCAR may represent speed on the raceway, but it used to drive a sputtering jalopy when it came to social media and the press. Now, however, it is transforming communications and marketing.

By creating a Fan and Media Engagement Center, NASCAR can better integrate marketing communications for events occurring across the country, deepening its strategies and broadening its fan base.

7 deadly sins

NASCAR—also known as the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing—holds events all over the country from Los Angeles to Daytona, Fla., but in the past it had no strategic approach to overall communications, Higdon says.

Drivers traveled from market to market for races. Events drew 100,000 people, but “we figured that only engagement that we needed was through the media,” Higdon says.

In a reassessment and overhaul, NASCAR learned of seven areas that weren’t working—”deadly sins,” as Higdon calls them. These were:

  • Lack of integration
  • No strategic approach to communications
  • No fan engagement strategy
  • Defensive, reactive posture
  • Unclear voice and spokesman role
  • Self-defeating approach to measurement
  • Limited digital and social media acumen

How to fix that? Well, Higdon says, “NASCAR made a strategic decision to do the exact opposite.”

Green auto racing?

There’s a popular image of racing as environmentally unfriendly, involving cars, smoke, and sometimes fire, Higdon says. (Well, maybe it’s more than just an image.)

Yet NASCAR has been trying to be a better environmental steward in ways that weren’t widely known: “We’ve become the biggest recycler in all of sports,” he says.

NASCAR boasts that it has the world’s largest solar-powered sports facility—a racetrack with a solar energy farm. Its tree-planting program, it says, captures 100 percent of the emissions produced by on-track racing. The association has cut emissions by 20 percent.

NASCAR began talking about its green efforts mainly to stakeholders and in targeted individual markets. Now it is boasting through its NASCAR Green website, and is securing media coverage. NASCAR landed an article that led with a mention of the CEO’s Ford C-Max Energi car after electric-vehicle charging stations were added at the office tower where the racing association is based.

“Over the last year or two, we’ve had more green-focused sponsors come into our sport than any other category,” Higdon says.

Engagement center

NASCAR launched its Fan and Media Engagement Center and built a team to run it. The idea was to create unified messaging for far-flung races. While some organizations have been cutting back on communications, NASCAR has added money to the budget and now has five people who are devoted to monitoring social media every day.

The center, with an HP-designed analytics platform, enabled NASCAR to track social and mainstream media conversations. An organization that once relied on the mainstream outlets to get the word out revved up its use of social and digital media, allowing for better issue management and rapid response, Higdon says.

The need for a stronger social media presence was obvious. At its peak around the Daytona 500, there were an estimated 60,000 tweets a minute.

As a part of the effort, NASCAR also sought to broaden its outreach. Its fan base was far more diverse than the stereotype of “this Southern, redneck, male sport,” Higdon says. The sport draws big audiences in places like suburban Chicago and Sonoma in California’s wine country.

One of Higdon’s first questions when he was hired was, “OK, so who do we have that is interacting with our Hispanic audience in communications group?” It turned out there wasn’t a single Spanish-speaker.

Not good enough. At the Chicago Speedway in Joliet, Ill., if they don’t have a Hispanic strategy, “they’re going to fail as a track promoter,” Higdon says. The staff now includes Spanish-speakers.

NASCAR’s audience is skewing older, and so it is attempting to reach a younger audience of 18- to 34-year-olds, in part by reaching out to bloggers.

“These are not fans,” he says. “These are people who are peripherally interested in NASCAR, but they kind of want to see what it’s all about.”


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