By Carla Johnson published July 20, 2018

How NASCAR Drives Better Storytelling With a Unified Team

nascar-drives-better-storytelling

Editor’s note: Evan Parker is a finalist for 2018 Content Marketer of the Year. We’ll share insight from all the finalists in this blog before the winner is announced in September at Content Marketing World.

Enterprise content marketing is an exercise in collaboration. Planning, creating, distributing, and promoting content typically involves people on more than one team. It also leads to overlapping or conflicting priorities that can slow everything down.

That’s the challenge Evan Parker faced when he set out last year to lead NASCAR’s new content team.

The mission was daunting: to engage NASCAR’s fan base beyond the racetrack and win new fans among a generation that seems to watch any screen but television. But the results his team ultimately achieved – hundreds of millions of online views, a Facebook docu-series, a broader audience – earned him a nomination for Content Marketer of the Year.

Here’s what we can learn from how he and his team did it.

Unite the content team, solve the traffic jams

In 2016, NASCAR tapped Evan to head up a content group that included representatives from social media, digital, public relations, brand marketing, entertainment, and other departments. It was a first step to aligning the teams, but problems remained. The group functioned more as a committee than a unified team: Each department still had its own goals.

“Entertainment marketing created their content, brand created their content, social created their content. Everyone created content,” Evan says, “but it could be at the expense of another group, or we could be leaving opportunities on the table by not thinking how someone else could take advantage of it.”

In mid-2017, NASCAR leaders united the teams and put Evan, who reports to NASCAR CMO Jill Gregory, in the driver’s seat.

The 40-person team handles:

  • Social media
  • Digital media (including all content for NASCAR.com)
  • Videos for the brand website and social channels
  • Creative design for all of NASCAR, including licensing, event signage, executive presentations, and more
  • Partner engagement, which involves helping partners tell stories on their channels, as well as creating content for advertisers and partners on NASCAR-owned channels

The NASCAR entertainment marketing group in Los Angeles, where Evan started with the company in 2011, also has a dotted line to the content team. These connections help make sure content is integrated across the board. And eight people on the NASCAR Productions team help shoot and edit video content for Evan’s group.

“Our structure is unique in sports, and it gives us the ability to be successful. If we came up with an idea and took it to an agency,” Evan explains, “we’d lose control, lose flexibility, and it would be cost prohibitive.”

.@NASCAR’s #contentmarketing structure is unique in the sports industry, says @EvanEParker. Read more >> Click To Tweet

The new structure helps the team focus less on narrow job descriptions and more on creating the stories that help build the fan base.

Tell better stories, win hearts and minds

The NASCAR content marketing team focuses on stoking the passion of core fans. At the same time, it also works to build relationships with new (often younger) audiences who might otherwise only notice NASCAR during major events like the Daytona 500 or Talladega races.

The @NASCAR #contentmarketing team focuses on stoking the passion of core fans, says @CarlaJohnson. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

To get both groups engaged year-round, Evan’s team needed to involve the drivers and help them tell great stories. With the new content team, NASCAR has more resources to get engaging stories into the limelight through social media and PR, and to create long-term content strategies, than the individual drivers, team owners, and tracks would on their own.

For example, when two-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. told the story on his Dale Jr. Download podcast about how he stole $80 in quarters from his dad’s change jar, NASCAR helped amplify it. It republished the audio as a video using shots from its archives of the younger Dale.

.@NASCAR curated a video from a story on @DaleJr podcast & distributed on its channels. @CarlaJohnson Click To Tweet

In fact, showing a more personal, emotional side of racing is key to the NASCAR team’s strategy. For example, the team produced a video about Wessa Miller, who met seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. through the Make-A-Wish Foundation in 1998.

Showing a personal, emotional side of racing is key to the @NASCAR team’s strategy. @CarlaJohnson #CMWorld Click To Tweet

The meeting between Dale Sr. and Wessa, who is paralyzed from the waist down due to spina bifida, happened before that year’s Daytona 500, a race trophy that had always eluded the driver. Wessa gave Dale a good-luck penny. He glued the coin to the dashboard and went on to win the race. The two stayed friends until Earnhardt was killed in a crash during the 2001 Daytona 500.

Twenty years after that first meeting, the NASCAR content team sent a reporter and a camera crew to Wessa’s hometown of Phyllis, Ky., to get the in-depth story of what happened in 1998, what’s happened to her since, and what her life is like now. The project brought together multiple groups within the content team, from video production to editorial to social media. The resulting long-form video has more than 14,000 views on YouTube and 20,000 views on NASCAR.com, and the story on NASCAR’s website has been shared on social channels more than 6,000 times, generating more than 60,000 page views.

Build a content studio, and the stories will come

Today, most of the stories Evan’s team produces play out in video and visual formats. Once, NASCAR’s social media posts involved a few lines of text. Now, the team members look at how it can tell a great story through a GIF, a short video, or longer-form video content. They can dive into the story as deeply as makes sense for both content and channel.

In March 2018, Evan flipped the switch on a long-awaited NASCAR content studio built for digital and social distribution. The dedicated space – outfitted for easy production of everything from GlFs to livestreaming to long-form video – makes storytelling a breeze.

Before the studio, content producers always had to find or borrow space, which meant missed opportunities when they couldn’t find space.

Although NASCAR had already built a production studio for TV broadcasting, it wasn’t optimized for the kind of on-the-fly video that lends itself to digital and social channels. Operating the TV equipment requires help from broadcast engineers.

With the new studio, the team members can run the cameras, do Facebook Live sessions, record podcasts, shoot photos, and create GIFs whenever drivers drop by. Instead of the content team chasing stories, drivers now say, “I have a story to tell. I want to come by, hang out, and collaborate with NASCAR around an idea.”

The studio also made it possible for the team to create (and sell to Facebook for Facebook Watch) an eight-part docu-series about the first African-American driver in the Daytona 500 since 1969. Behind the Wall: Bubba Wallace, which chronicles the driver’s road to his first Daytona 500 in 2018, has attracted more than 12 million views to date. The team is now working on concepts for a potential second season.

#Facebook bought the @BubbaWallace docu-series created by @NASCAR, says @CarlaJohnson. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

nascar-behind-the-wall-facebook

The revenue from the sale to Facebook covered NASCAR’s costs, as well as rights and marketing fees. Facebook’s marketing helped the project reach its goal of having as many people see the series as possible.

New structure, new content studio, new possibilities

Although Evan has some P&L responsibility and the ultimate goal is to drive revenue, the content team remains a cost center for now. But that doesn’t mean the work isn’t paying other dividends.

The content engine fired up by the unified team powered more than 3.8 billion impressions on social channels and nearly one billion video views on digital and social platforms in 2017. The department is on pace to eclipse those numbers in 2018.

“This is what you can create when people come together,” Evan says. “It allows us to really figure out what our strategy should be, how to staff, how to make sure we’re nimble and can adapt to a changing marketplace. We’re 12 months into this and we can see our ability to create and build for the future is expanding with the studio we’ve built.”

To find out live who is named the 2018 Content Marketer of the Year (and lots of things to help your content marketing program), register today for Content Marketing World Sept. 4-7 in Cleveland, Ohio. Use code BLOG100 to save $100.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Carla Johnson

Recognized as one of the top 50 influencers in content marketing, Carla's latest book, Experience: The 7th Era of Marketing, with CMI's Robert Rose, teaches marketers how to develop, manage, and lead the creation of valuable experiences in their organizations. Carla serves as the Vice President of Thought Leadership for the Business Marketing Association (a division of the ANA), and is an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute, the ANA, and Rutgers University. A frequent speaker, Carla also contributes to industrywide news outlets, forums and conferences on the future of the B2B marketing profession, leading through innovation and storytelling. Learn more at Type A Communications and follow her on Twitter at @CarlaJohnson.

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