As the National Hot Rod Association looks to boost its profile among consumers, its PR and comms VP, Jerry Archambeault, works 24/7 to make sure league activities stay on course
Jerry Archambeault knows about the fast lane. As head of communications for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), he's spent his fair share of days at race tracks across the country, watching as the sport's sleek, parachute-backed cars make their quarter-mile runs, going zero to 100 mph in under a second. That adds up to 330 mph by the end of the race.
But despite the excitement of watching drivers reach speeds that put them under five Gs of stress, Archambeault's real thrill comes from running a 24/7 media and communications effort that is meant to boost the profile of the non-profit NHRA up to the visibility level of its arch rival, NASCAR. That's no easy task with the phenomenal growth of NASCAR in recent years, but the competition, says Archambeault, is what drew him to this job.
"The reason I came here is the challenge," he says in his soft, reserved voice. "It's one of those sports where people don't know much about it, and I can make a difference. We want to become a mainstream motor sport."
Archambeault joined the NHRA in 1999 and admits that he didn't know exactly what he was getting into.
"I didn't realize how big of a sport it was, how national it was," he recalls. "Thousands of people race every weekend all over this country. It's kind of like baseball. They have this whole network of minor-league teams."
When the NHRA's vastness began to sink in, Archambeault discovered that he had signed up for a 24/7 job, with a scope that goes far beyond traditional PR. During the racing season, the organization has 23 events over a 41-week period. While Archambeault doesn't attend every race, he makes it to plenty of them. It's that kind of dedication that others in the league say has made him a valuable team member and friend.
"He cares about what's going on in this world," says Larry Dixon, driver for the Miller Lite Top Fuel Dragster. "He really cares about his job and how [the sport] comes across. With somebody that serious about it, it's bound to make our sport more successful."
The NHRA acts as a sanctioning body for the league, which has multiple classes, including junior events for kids as young as 8. It also oversees sponsorships and media for the league as a whole, meaning Archambeault has a wide variety of constituents to deal with, from partner corporations to the drivers to the amateurs who make up the sport's backbone.
"It's like working in the NFL headquarters," he jokes. "You are the government, and it's a balancing act."
Simply getting all those different parties on board with a common message and outlook takes a lot of Archambeault's time. He says it's one of the reasons he attends so many events: to gain face time with the different parties.
"You spend a lot of time just getting to know these people and have them try to understand what's best for the sport as a whole," he says. "I go to a lot of the racers, sit down in [their] trailers, and just talk to them about what's going on."
"Trying to make sure you're steering the ship," as Archambeault describes it, is not always easy. However, those who work with him say his eye for detail and strategic outlook make him a good PR captain.
"He knows how the game is played, and he knows exactly what the media wants," says JMPR head Joe Molina, who does project work for the NHRA and has known Archambeault for 15 years. "He's very quick on the draw to analyze whether [an opportunity] would be a benefit to his organization. He thinks like a news guy, but he also thinks like a marketer."
Despite that long-term outlook, others who work with Archambeault say he's a quiet guy who is more likely to sit back and let others learn on their own than micromanage the details.
"You can ask him a million questions, but he won't necessarily offer up advice," says Gabrielle Stevenson, PR manager for NHRA racing team Doug Herbert Racing. Stevenson, who has worked with Archambeault for four years, says he "wants you to learn. It's good because he wants you to be a go-getter and figure it out yourself. If you ask him for help, of course, he's there."
Part of Archambeault's skill at management and PR can be traced back to his agency beginnings. After graduating from San Diego State University in 1987, he took a job with that city's second-largest PR agency at the time, Berkman & Daniels. It was there that the Chicago native got his first foray into sports PR, working on accounts including the San Diego Padres and the 1992 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
An avid sports fan - "I don't usually go for a team as much as a game," he says - Archambeault soon moved to sports and entertainment firm Lapin East/West, where he worked with clients including Toyota Motorsports and AMA Supercross. From there, he made the jump to the Irvine, CA, office of Hill & Knowlton, a firm he says he'd always been attracted to. The NHRA was a client of H&K, and after working on the account for a while, Archambeault was offered the in-house position.
In addition to PR duties, Archambeault also oversees the "street legal" program, the NHRA's effort to get drag racers off of city streets and on to tracks, where it's safer. In fact, the NHRA was formed specifically with this goal in mind, and does a great deal of education and outreach around its junior drag racing programs.
Archambeault also oversees the "broadcast stuff," the way he casually describes handling the relationship with ESPN, creating commercials for the league, and managing an in-house three-bay editing facility.
While all those tasks keep Archambeault busy, Stevenson says he's "one of those people who is dynamic. He can do every aspect of the job."
And judging from his enthusiasm, he enjoys the mix.
"The best part of this job is that it's different every day," he says. "The challenge is always being ahead of the curve and trying to be on the radar screen."
VP of PR and communications, National Hot Rod Association, Glendora, CA
MD, Hill & Knowlton, Irvine, CA
VP, Lapin East/West, Los Angeles
VP, Berkman & Daniels, San Diego