The question is often asked: “Why doesn’t rallying have a higher public profile?  

The problem is deeply rooted in the history of our sport. Rallying developed from car trials and was always a competitor-based sport conducted out in the forests or backwaters of the night.

By Dallas Dogger - 2009 Australia Rally Championship Media Manager

As the sport developed we moved from where we rallied standard cars to one of a sport  with “rally” cars; we added bigger motors, modified suspensions and so forth. With those changes came the emergence of more and more ‘factory’ interest in rallying. 

Unlike motor racing, rallying was seen as a true test of reliability, and companies like Mitsubishi flogged that message pretty hard during the late 70’s with a host of wins to their name in the Southern Cross Rally.

Unbeknown to the average punter, these cars were not standard by any means. It was all about the car’s legendary reliability.
Ford’s attempt at the Southern Cross Rally was a case in point.

Ford released an “Escort Escapee” painted the same as Roger Clark’s RS1800. Not really the same cars, but the public snapped them up.  It was all still about the cars.  Nissan marketed their cars with Datsun “Ralliability”.

Fast forward to the first Subaru Legacy. These were great robust cars and, in rally terms, were successful in the hands of Colin McRae and the 555 team. Subaru did the best job in the modern era of connecting their road cars to rallying.

Locally, many drivers were successful with them. The late Possum Bourne was the master of personal promotion. He would tirelessly work for dealers, host promotions and do whatever event promoters asked of him. He was always the best ambassador for our sport. 

When he passed away tragically, an element of promotion of our sport died with him. 

I have been involved with the promotional side of rallying for over 25 years and it’s been an uphill battle the whole time. There have been few teams or event organisers who have fully understood the value of promoting their teams or their events.

The media aspect of the event is often washed under the carpet, never funded properly and always called into question when the result was not as good as it could have been. Even our best rallies never budgeted the right amount for media coverage or promotion of the event.

Some did try though.
When I was Media Director of the Esanda International Rally, Subaru would provide press releases each day, and promotional material. Same with Toyota, right up to the end of their involvement in the ARC.

There was no shortage of material to work with, we always had photos to use and words we could use in stories.

Mitsubishi were flat out providing a black and white photo of their lead driver. And they wanted it back! They never took the publicity of their team seriously. 

Toyota always provided details on the crews that could be used for a wide variety of stories. They went out of their way to make sure we had what we needed to promote them. Accordingly, they got a lot of promotion.

Media Managers work tirelessly to promote sponsors and teams. They do it with little input by the events and competitors.  As a person who wrote over 200 rally stories last year, I struggled for content for many of them.  We don’t have the time or resources to chase crews for information.  

So this is not a gripe, but it is reality. Our sport is essentially a club based sport, focused on competitors and the vast majority are rallying for fun. But many have sponsors and many can’t rally without them.

So when you get that sponsorship money, what should you do you do with it?

Firstly, understand that self-promotion is the key to getting coverage. The media is not interested in the car per se, they want to know more about the team and the personalities behind them. 

Spend half of your sponsorship promoting your sponsor. If you do that alone you will double your sponsorship next year.

Here’s a checklist of things you should do to promote your team – and remember, it’s your job to do that - not others!

1.      Make sure your car looks good. Get it professionally photographed by a rally photographer.  Ensure you have a team photo with the car, and driver and navigator photos. Send them out with every story.

2.      Write up a team profile and send it with your entry. Include a photo or link to your website (if you have one).

3.      Send your information to the organisers (for them to send to people like me), details on your team and your plan for the rally. Don’t make it long; we won’t use it. Add a photo if you can. It does not need to be written professionally: it will be used for details.

4.      Introduce yourself to the media person at the rally. Take the initiative: they will be busy, but still like to meet who they write about.  Often the media use material they have. They don’t have time to scout about for it.
 Don’t be defensive if your story is not used. It may or may not be newsworthy and the use is determined by the editor or media themselves.

5. Post event summary  - always send one out, even if you DNF. Talk about the challenge of the event, how hard you worked to get to where you went and talk about the personal challenge. 

The profile of our sport will be raised when we lift the profile of those that compete in it.

We have spent 30 or more years focusing on the cars instead of the personalities. We have little controversy in our sport that is reported on. 

We have had incidents where there are claims of cheating, and all sorts of other human-interest stories, which are newsworthy, and as a sport we should embrace this part of our sport that we have yet to develop.

That’s news , not “we have fitted new struts and we can win…”.

Last year at Rally SA we worked hard to get as much coverage as we could. Brendan Reeves saved the day by crashing. Thanks Brendo! We had only just crowned the new ARC Champions. My phone did not stop.

Despite the circumstances we focused on the event and the crew’s safety, the fact we had FIVs there fast, the fact that the roll cage saved the crew and so on. We were all concerned for Brendan and Rhianon, and so was the media. Remember they like human interest stories.  

The questions that were put to me from at least 10 media outlets was “How are the crew, are they okay?”
No one asked about the car. Nor should they have.  

Rallying must promote who does the rallying if we are ever to lift our profile. Paul Mullan from Black Magic does this in the “face off” features he shoots in the ARC TV coverage.

We have some great characters in our sport and we should do more to expose them to the wider community and, in doing so, our sport’s profile will be greater. As a good example, look at some of the world’s best drivers.

Ari Vatanen could be relied upon every time to say something great. Same for Petter Solberg. Locally, Simon Evans is the master; he will always say something that can be quoted. 

Mark Skaife presented a factual expose on speed limits on Channel 7’s Sunday program. It came with credibility because of his racing ex ploits, not because he drives a Holden. Learn to develop a media persona. It will target you as a person of interest to the media.

State of Origin has been won. No mention of the football. It’s all about the players and the battle, and so it should be with rallying.

So there you have it in a nutshell: promote yourself, your team and your car in that order, and don’t expect everyone else to do it! We look forward to some more stories about people in our sport.

- By Dallas Dogger

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