The Indy 500 isn't just one of the biggest contests on the racing calendar, it's an unrivaled opportunity for sponsors to grab a little of the spotlight for themselves.But with so many companies competing for attention from the same outlets, the rivalry in front of the cameras can equal the competition on the track.
To help its client Pennzoil stand out, Coyne PR devised a stunt a short distance from the track, but close to the spirit of the race. The company would use its driver's pit crew to perform the most oil changes in a day - on the cars of local Indianapolis drivers.
"What Pennzoil wanted us to do was own the local media coverage, to just saturate Indianapolis the week of the Indy 500 so that everyone in town would know what was going on and associate the race with Pennzoil," says Rich Lukis, VP at Coyne.
The plan was to make the event an opportunity for locals to get their oil changed in a fun environment with the proceeds going to charity - an irresistible pull for local media.
In order to maximize the number of drivers participating and the number of media outlets covering the event, the decision was made to try to set the record during a Tuesday lunch hour. That way people could get away from work and radio stations could broadcast live from the site during noon news breaks.
To help get the word out, Coyne teamed with the market's top radio station, 97.1FM. "For two weeks leading up to the event, they just promoted it day in and day out," says Lukis. "The whole city heard it was going on."
Coyne also leveraged different elements of the event to get pre-coverage. "We pitched it from the charity angle and had a charity reporter write it up, and the local Metro [section] did another piece saying all of Indianapolis could come out to get their oil changed," says Lukis.
There were two charities involved in the event, Best Buddies, a nonprofit dedicated to helping people with intellectual disabilities, and the Matt White Cure ALS Foundation, a fundraising group dedicated to fighting a rare neurological disease. Each spread the word through e-mails and newsletters.
The day of the event, Indianapolis police had to be brought in for traffic control when the lines formed at a local Jiffy Lube. The Pennzoil pit crew and the driver, Tomas Scheckter, all wore their uniforms, making for great photo-ops as they set about the task at hand.
When all was said and done, the team had changed the oil in 58 cars in one hour (about 9,000 fl. oz. of Pennzoil motor oil) - nearly a car a minute.
Equally impressive was the coverage. The AP used three photos for its wire feed; the event made ESPN's Top Ten Plays of the Day (number six), complete with footage from the event; and camera crews from two local network affiliates competed for shots of the crew as they covered the event live.
"This was a little bit of a test to see if it was actually possible to go out, saturate, and own a market around a race," says Lukis. "It proved we can."
It's unclear whether the same event would make sense a second year in a row, but Lukis is optimistic this opened the door for similar events in the future.
As for whether the team broke the world record, it is still waiting for word from Guinness.
PR team: Pennzoil (Houston); Coyne PR (Morristown, NJ)
Campaign: Breaking the record for the most oil changes in a day
Time frame: May 2004