How NASCAR CMO Jill Gregory is Capturing the Attention of New Audiences
NASCAR has a rich history of providing exhilarating entertainment that has yielded one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in sports. The team at NASCAR has continuously evolved the sport from a technical standpoint as well as in marketing strategies to keep the excitement and fervor strong among avid fans and capture new audiences. Jill Gregory, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at NASCAR leads the helm as their marketing has shifted from traditional tactics into social and digital media. Jill joined NASCAR in 2007 after holding executive roles at Bank of America and Sprint and was named NASCAR’s first female CMO in August 2016. She has seen many changes over her tenure, including the first re-branding in 40 years and this year, the introduction of stage racing which has added an additional level of competition. Less than one year into her role as CMO, Jill’s work is strengthening the NASCAR brand as fans engage with exciting content on the track, on their TVs, and across their digital and social platforms.
What were some of the most instrumental decisions you’ve made that have directed your career path?
More than once I decided to pick up and move to a new, unfamiliar city – Houston, New York, Charlotte – for a new role, which can be daunting. Each move was a great step along my path and part of the journey, but not always an easy decision to make. The willingness to try new things, whether a new job, new role, new city, has had a very positive impact on my career.
How did your experience on the brand side of sponsorship contribute to your roles at NASCAR, particularly now as CMO?
It’s been really valuable to have that brand experience and to know what elements are going to make a partnership work. I can see our programs now through the eyes of the sponsor, and that helps us ensure we’re considering the value proposition and benefits that our campaigns deliver across partnerships. It’s critical that we build programs that engage not just the fans, but partners as well.
Tell us about some of your biggest responsibilities as CMO.
I oversee the marketing department at NASCAR, which includes brand marketing, social media and analytics and insights among a few other marketing functions. Every day we’re tasked with finding ways to reach and engage avid fans, while at the same time cultivating new fans with an eye towards getting younger and more diverse.
One of the more significant undertakings in recent years has been the evolution of NASCAR’s marketing strategy. We’ve shifted away from a more traditional approach and now think digital and social first in nearly everything that we set out to achieve. We’re also in the process of refreshing the NASCAR brand, and last December unveiled our first new brand identity in 40 years.
I also lead NASCAR’s industry services department and a driver star power platform designed to build the brands and elevate the profiles of our drivers – the truest ambassadors of our sport.
What are some of the challenges with multiple levels of sponsorship within NASCAR – series, race, team driver, etc.?
The NASCAR industry represents an incredible opportunity for brands looking to leverage the power of the sport to grow their business. We see having multiple types or levels of sponsorship as a tremendous positive because it opens the door for so many companies to be involved – including within the same category.
Of course, we need to be mindful of potential conflicts, and we navigate those collaboratively and with great respect for the various NASCAR stakeholders and their partners.
In what ways has NASCAR worked to help sponsors maximize the value of their investments?
A great example is the NASCAR Fuel for Business Council, which brings together more than 50 official NASCAR partners four times a year to buy and sell from one another. We host “speed meetings” which allow companies to bypass time and layers to construct deals that help address specific business needs, and create in some cases marketing alliances. Members are constantly building relationships while at the same time strengthening the overall NASCAR community.
As partnerships have transformed into much more customized and engaging activations, how has NASCAR changed its digital strategy to align?
Many of our official partners are leveraging the massive power of our digital and social platforms to strengthen their relationships with one of the largest fan bases in sports. And digital activation isn’t just about banner ads anymore. After taking sales and operations in house earlier this year, NASCAR Digital Media is ideally positioned to work with other business units to create unique, custom opportunities that are strategically aligned with partner objectives. Some of those opportunities are leveraging the reach and engagement around our social activations, like sponsored NASCAR Live Stories on Snapchat.
How do you envision the partnership with Monster Energy differing from the partnership with Sprint as the top series’ sponsor?
There are differences, certainly. Monster Energy is helping us usher in a new era at NASCAR. This is a bold, edgy brand that represents the same passion and enthusiasm for racing that we do, and that shares in our vision for growing the sport and making it more engaging for fans. Sprint was an amazing partner and we enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership for 13 years. And we appreciate everything Sprint did to help us grow NASCAR.
In your opinion, what’s one of the biggest advances in NASCAR over the past five years?
Tough to pick just one. The sport has experienced so much positive change and innovation over the past five years. We’ve introduced a cutting-edge, new race car, reimagined our playoff system to put even more emphasis on winning races, built a revolutionary charter system strengthening collaboration across the industry, and this year unveiled stage racing which is already creating more exciting moments within races.
With a new entitlement partner on board in Monster Energy, an evolved marketing strategy driven by digital and social media, and continued investment in technology and R&D, we’re even more excited about NASCAR’s future and what lies ahead.
NASCAR is such a sensory sport for fans to take in – from the sound of the engines, to the smell of the oil, to the sight of the cars racing by – but as technology continues to develop, do you foresee virtual reality having a place in motorsports, and if so, in what capacity?
The live NASCAR experience will always be king, there’s no question about it. But as viewing options continue to expand and as we – together with our broadcast partners – explore new ways to bring fans along for the ride, virtual reality certainly presents some exciting opportunities. Whatever we can do to create a richer, more immersive experience for our fans, we’re going to pursue.
What is the most valuable business advice you’ve received?
Be courageous. Ask for the new assignment. Raise your hand for the big opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take a seat at the table, and once you’re there, contribute and add value.
What more do you hope to accomplish in your career?
Great question. My time at NASCAR has been very fulfilling because I’ve always felt like I’ve had the opportunity to affect change. It’s a dynamic business and we need to stay current. So, I think continued focus on growing the sport, serving the changing needs of current fans while also attracting new ones is the order of business in the short term.
Longer term I’d like to continue to foster the growth of our younger employees, and particularly women who are contributing to the sport. The future of NASCAR is in great hands – I see that walking the halls of our offices every day – so it’s important to me to provide even more opportunities for those talents to flourish.