CAMPAIGNS: Media Relations - Ford drives sales by tracking fans

Client: Ford Motor Co.

PR Team: Campbell & Co. (Dearborn, MI)

Campaign: Ford Racing Fan Appreciation Day

Time Frame: February-June 2001

Budget: $6,000



Before any major auto race, Ford, a leading sponsor of NASCAR, holds a

Fan Appreciation Day near the event venue, usually on the Thursday night

before the race. Typically, the event is covered solely by local media;

but when planning began for the 2001 event in Detroit, Campbell & Co.,

which handles public relations for Ford Fan Appreciation Days, saw an

opportunity to gain broader visibility for Ford, beyond Detroit's racing

fans.



Strategy



Ford has long known that its association with auto racing contributes to

overall brand image, and also drives traffic to Ford showrooms. Sam

Scott, Ford racing division manager, says research has found that more

than 50% of Ford customers have an interest in auto racing.

"Dimensionally, it draws attention to our products. (Racing) basically

tells them what we want to tell them" about Ford quality and

engineering, he says. Ford fan days also give racing enthusiasts the

opportunity to meet famous drivers.



"It gives fans access to their heroes," says Greg Shea, a VP with

Campbell who oversees the Ford racing account.



Scott claims that as many as 10,000-15,000 people usually attend fan

days, and that because event attendees must visit Ford showrooms to

obtain tickets, the events also help drive traffic to Ford dealers.



So with a strong showing and local interest in Ford assured, Shea's team

decided that the Detroit fan day in June would be a perfect opportunity

to try gaining national media attention. And they knew that while a

strong local showing would carry them down the stretch, allies in the

press could fuel their drive for the checkered flag. "We really wanted

to enhance the credibility of the Ford racing team," Shea says.



Tactics



In addition to local media contacts, the Campbell team contacted ESPN

and New York Times auto columnist Robert Lipsyte. Lipsyte was working on

a series of articles about NASCAR racing, so Shea pitched him the idea

of coming to the Detroit fan day to see how an automaker uses racing in

its overall marketing mix. After making initial contact in February,

Shea kept in touch with Lipsyte until he agreed in May to cover the June

event.



ESPN, left idling in the pit since a new TV deal saw major NASCAR races

go to NBC and Fox, needed to fill airtime with racing-related events to

hold onto its audience, Shea reasoned. "ESPN had broadcast many races in

the past. Now, they were going to need more programming," he says.



Shea offered to split satellite truck costs with ESPN if it would

broadcast from Ford's fan day. Shea's team also arranged interviews for

ESPN that included talkbacks from the event with ESPN studio talent.



Local TV outlets were also pitched for live shots, as well as taped

coverage.



Results



The Detroit fan day received extensive media coverage. ESPN did live

shots and interviews with drivers, and ESPN2's RPM2Night aired live from

the event. Five Detroit radio stations also did broadcasts from the

event.



Lipsyte wrote a New York Times column on Ford's racing heritage, and how

it's used to market cars to consumers.



Post-event research found that 12% of people attending Ford fan days buy

a Ford within a year of the event they attend.



Future



Campbell & Co. went on to work on other Ford fan days in Chicago and

Indianapolis. PR for the Chicago event included a parade touting Ford

racing. Ford's Scott is now investigating other PR opportunities for

future years that could attract crowds in the 30,000-40,000 range. He's

considering adding music or entertainment events to reach that larger

market.



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