How Misinformation Can Be Detrimental
In 2014, the Pennsylvania HBPA, representing the horsemen (owners and trainers) at Penn National and Presque Isle Downs, faced an onslaught of negative publicity, potentially causing significant reputational damage.
When casino gaming was legalized in Pennsylvania, the framers of the legislation wisely included a provision stating a small portion of slot machine revenue would be re-directed to the horse racing industry. It was obvious that this new form of gambling would severely impact horse racing and lawmakers wanted to ensure that racing (and the many jobs it creates) would be protected.
The False Statements Continue
Soon, however, a rather significant misstatement of fact could be found in Op-Ed pieces in virtually every major newspaper in Pennsylvania. These articles called for an end to Pennsylvania racing. Rather than outlining the truth (racing received a small percentage of slot machine wagering), they said, falsely, that racing was receiving “bailouts,” or “taxpayer-funded handouts” which should be put to far better public use (schools, law enforcement, transportation, etc.).
Not surprisingly, the then-Governor tried to make political capital from all of this. Several times, he proposed taking the bulk of horse racing’s money (The Racehorse Development Trust Fund – it’s vitally important to point out that the money was and is in a Trust and is not the Governor’s to do with as he wishes) and using it for college scholarships. Hence, the public was presented with a false binary choice: support “the millionaires and billionaires of the Sport of Kings” or support education opportunities for underprivileged kids across Pennsylvania.
In speaking with the head of the HBPA, it was evident that they needed a comprehensive strategy. They hoped that a Letters to the Editor campaign would turn the tide. I pointed out the apparent shortcomings and asked when we might set an in-person meeting. His response was, “Can you be here tomorrow?” And I was.
Turning the Tide
I talked about some of the work I’d done in years past, apart from everything I produced for MLB and ESPN:
- “Thoroughbred World,” hosted by Tom Durkin and Caton Bredar, is thoroughbred racing’s only nationally televised magazine show ever.
- 12 years managing broadcast advertising and marketing for the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund (New York-Breds). In that time, the New York-Bred Program went from being, quite literally, an afterthought to being one of the best-known, most successful State-Bred Programs in North America.
The Importance of Positive Messaging
More importantly, I pointed out the advantages of a positive message. When facing harmful mistruths that were being widely disseminated, I noted that several major companies chose to stress the positive. I pointed out to the HBPA that racing was a significant job creator and a major economic engine in every corner of Pennsylvania, and THAT should be our primary messaging tactic.
Keystone Films quickly launched broadcast and digital campaigns in and around the Harrisburg market, underscoring racing’s importance to the region’s economy (and the state) while debunking the myth about taxpayer money going to racing (not a penny does). And we ensured that this messaging was seen in places where members of state government and their staffs could see it.
But what about promoting the “day-to-day” of horse racing? Unlike most horse racing marketing campaigns, which mainly focus on pretty young girls in sundresses and fraternity boys in silly hats and bowties, Keystone Films promotes:
- Job creation and statewide economic impact
- Racehorse Aftercare (the HBPA has a robust, highly successful aftercare program called New Start)
- Everything that is done daily to keep the horse and rider safe and healthy
At the same time, we placed massive importance on major events, like the Penn Mile at Penn National and the Presque Isle Masters at Presque Isle Downs. Each year, we create separate regional and national campaigns, as we want to reach horseplayers nationwide. We’re proud that our work has significantly influenced each track setting handle (wagering) records.
If you have questions or a project you’d like to discuss, reach out to us. We’d love to hear from you!