The Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in San Diego has been well-known to horse enthusiasts, as well as the Hollywood elite, since it opened nearly 70 years ago.
Yet while other gambling destinations, such as Las Vegas, have succeeded in attracting a more diverse audience, the pleasures of horse racing, and Del Mar in particular, remained largely unknown to most of the public.
With the knowledge that the movie Seabiscuit was due to come out, holding the promise of dramatically raising the sport's profile, Del Mar racetrack turned to San Diego PR firm Bailey Gardiner last year to do media outreach linked to the track's marketing theme of "Del Mar - Cool as Ever."
"We brought them in to get us off the sports [pages] and into the lifestyle and society pages," explains Del Mar's marketing director, Craig Dado. "We have an internal PR staff that handles beat writers and sporting press, but we really needed to push our brand and our image."
While Bailey Gardiner came on board early last year, one of the challenges it faced was that Del Mar's race schedule only runs from mid-July through early September. "The season is only seven weeks long, and it's a complete waste of time to get here at a time when there's no racing," says Bailey Gardiner CEO Jonathan Bailey.
So the firm decided on a dual strategy - working with regional publications to get short-term coverage, but thinking long-term in having lifestyle and travel reporters visit the track last year with the idea of putting together stories for this year.
Bailey and Dado also leveraged the publicity surrounding Seabiscuit by securing leading jockey and movie co-star Gary Stevens to do interviews at the track.
Bailey and his team began by completely redesigning the media kit, giving it more of an entertainment/lifestyle flavor, rather than a sports feel. "The main thing we needed the press to overcome was the image that the track is filled with cigar-chomping old men in fedoras," he explains. "Whereas if you go to Del Mar and its Turf Club, you realize it's a great place for younger men and women."
The agency then followed that up by expanding the media target list to include TV entertainment divisions, promoting Del Mar as an ideal backdrop for reality and other types of shows. To further enhance TV coverage, Dada and Bailey also made available archived film of the track. "We had historical footage of Bing Crosby, Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, and other Hollywood stars that producers could integrate into their coverage," says Bailey.
Del Mar's 2003 Opening Day was covered by ABC News, while The Travel Network and the MTV series Newlyweds did pieces during other times of the season. National print coverage included USA Today, while regionally, Del Mar was covered by the Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Life, and others.
The most important results, however, were seen in the attendance, which was up 9% over the previous year, a substantial improvement for a racetrack, says Dado.
The agency's PR work last year not only resulted in immediate coverage, but laid the foundation for more pieces this year, including stories by The Arizona Republic, Sunset and Millionaire magazines, and VH-1, which shot its Top 20 countdown at the track. "Once you start to get recognized by the big players, such as ABC News and MTV, other news outlets begin to notice," marvels Dado. "Our phone has been ringing off the hook since last year."
The thoroughbred club rewarded Bailey Gardiner by more than doubling the size of the contract for this year. "We're touring a lot of media this year with the idea that they'll cover it in May, June, and July of next year, just like we're reaping the benefits this year from our efforts last year," Bailey says.
PR team: Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and Bailey Gardiner (both in San Diego)
Campaign: Horse Racing Season 2003
Time frame: January to October 2003