Green means go: On the fast track with Roush Fenway Racing’s Kevin Woods

May 1, 2012

Kevin Woods is currently the senior director of corporate communications for Concord, N.C.-based Roush Fenway Racing, which is one of NASCAR’s largest premier racing teams. He graduated from Auburn University in 1995 with a B.A. in English, concentrating on professional and technical writing, and then went on to obtain his master’s degree in communications/public relations at the school in 1997.

During this time,  Woods also served as a graduate assistant in the university’s athletic department and communications department. In the past, he has also worked in communications roles at the Auburn Chamber of Commerce, the University of Central Florida, Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

The Roush Fenway Racing team is able to communicate internally about the team’s pride and sense of community after 25 years with many all-star drivers, a storied name in racing and as NASCAR’s largest team in the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series. “We have taken steps to make sure that each employee in the organization is abreast of current happenings and accomplishments,” Woods says.

The team members will participate in several major upcoming events in May, including the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway; and NASCAR Sprint Showdown, NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

What are your day-to-day roles and responsibilities?

Part of what I enjoy about this career is [usually] no two days are alike. I’m responsible for the overall communications (media relations and public relations) of the organization.  The job includes a lot of writing and a fair amount of messaging, management and communication strategy, but I also get to dabble in social media, graphic design and video editing. 

How did you get your start in public relations?

I was doing sports writing for the school newspaper while in college at Auburn University.  That exposed me to the athletic department’s PR and media relations department and I was intrigued. It involved different elements of what I enjoyed: writing, layout and design, research, stats, video and management. I volunteered as a student assistant, earned a scholarship, became a graduate assistant while earning my master’s degree — and never looked back.

Did you always want to work in the sports sector?

I enjoy working in the sports sector. It’s what got me into the business in the first place, and I love the feel of the “big” events and being a small part of that. I’ve entertained doing things outside of sports, but I have been fortunate to be able to work behind the scenes and with some of the biggest names in this sport. I can see benefits for working within sports and outside of it.

Were you a racing fan growing up?

I did not grow up as a huge race fan. I don’t think it’s a precursor to success in sports PR to be a huge fan.  In some cases, it might hurt. We try to take PR professionals and people who are good at what they do and plug them into the sport, rather than making strong professionals out of fans.  Working behind the scenes can sometimes be a tough deal for avid fans.

How much time do you spend on the road with the team and working events?

Until a couple of years ago, I worked around 38 race events and 15 or so sponsor and media events each year.  We have a long season and it equates to a great deal of time on the road.  Travel is essential and is a large part of the job.  This season, I will attend around 25-30 events, but people on the outside of the sport still consider that a great deal of travel. I’m fortunate that I enjoy traveling and going to the different venues and events, so it has been ideal for me. 

How has the team used social media to connect with fans and create a strong community?

Our big initiative this season has been with Google+.  We have found it to be an inventive way to engage with fans, and we’ve seen a big rise in our numbers on that medium.  We have had a lot of fun with the “hangout” function, where we have been able to have our drivers interact directly with fans and take questions.

Beyond that, we are active on  Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as are our drivers. It has been a game changer in terms of how we interact with the fan base as well as satisfy the needs of our partner base, which is crucial within our sport.

How has the media landscape changed in terms of coverage during the past few years, and how do you decide who is credible and what types of access they get?

The media landscape has undergone tremendous changes in the past few years.  We have seen a decrease in the number of reporters from newspapers and traditional media, and a large increase in the style publications.

In many instances, it has been the same reporters moving from one medium to the other, and we try and accommodate as many varying outlets as we can. It’s crucial with the decrease in the media force [to] internally distribute as much relevant information as possible and provide good content for both our media and fan base. 

What trends do you see on the horizon for sports PR and for communications in general?

As technology continues to grow, you will see an increased focus on direct contact with fans and consumers.  The field continues to shift from more public and media relations to communications with the core audience — that can be exciting, but it comes with challenges.

Things happen much faster today. You don’t have the luxury of sitting around, mulling over how to react for two days. Minutes can be an eternity and it’s important to be prepared for all types of situations, and to be proactive and not reactive when challenging situations present themselves.

The good part is that we have the tools to communicate faster and more effectively than ever before — it is just a matter of harnessing and using that power to its full potential. 

Getting to Know Kevin Woods

Any three dinner guests, past or present? 
I’d like to have dinner on the Titanic with Mark  Twain, Jimmy Stewart and Sammy Hagar.

Favorite athlete of all time?
Phoenix Suns point-guard Steve Nash because he has made the most of every bit of his ability and talent

Favorite movie?
I’m partial to “Casablanca.”

Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


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