What Smithfield should have said

In a Tuesday afternoon statement, Richard Petty Motorsports said longtime sponsor Smithfield Foods left the team hanging for 2018 by backing out of a handshake deal to stay.

The statement painted Smithfield in a bad light and sparked fan outrage, which obviously upset executives at the company. So within a few hours, Smithfield retaliated with a strongly worded response that was, quite frankly, unbecoming of a major, multinational corporation.

I totally get that Smithfield felt attacked and wanted to respond. The company has made a major investment in NASCAR and it felt like it was treated unfairly. Understandable.

But I don’t agree with how Smithfield reacted publicly to the situation. Going to war with one of NASCAR’s most beloved figures is a bad idea — even if executives felt it was justified — and it just makes Smithfield look amateurish.

I have ZERO experience in public relations except what I see from a media standpoint, so take this for what it’s worth. But here’s a statement Smithfield should have released instead of the one it did. (NOTE: THESE ARE MY PROPOSED WORDS, NOT THOSE OF SMITHFIELD.)

It has been an honor and privilege to be associated with Richard Petty, the King of NASCAR, who is a true American legend. As we said earlier today, Smithfield Foods made an extremely difficult decision to go in a different direction with its sponsorship for next season, and we recognize not everyone will agree with our choice.

However, we would like to clarify that Smithfield never had a handshake deal to return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2018. We regret this obvious misunderstanding, but Richard Petty was mistaken when he said we backed out on our word. While it is true we wanted a reason to remain at RPM and held out hope for any sign of the team’s performance turning around, we ultimately did not see that at this time.

We share the goal of every NASCAR sponsor: To reach victory lane in the most prestigious series in American motorsports and contend for the championship. We truly wished that would happen at RPM, but we did not see a path to winning. That is why we decided to join Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

That said, we again want to thank Richard Petty and RPM for being such a great partner over the years. We are rooting for the team to succeed well into the future and hope another sponsor decides to support this iconic car and team owner in the great sport of NASCAR.

In the meantime, we will continue to invest in NASCAR. We love all race fans and are so appreciative of the support they have shown us while we have poured tens of millions of dollars into this great sport. We hope to see you all at the track soon and are looking forward to the future at Stewart-Haas Racing.

45 Replies to “What Smithfield should have said”

  1. Hopefully JeffGluck.com will follow your lead if they ever decide to replace you. 😉

    Seriously, you’re right.

  2. Bravo, Jeff. They can do whatever they want as a company, that’s their decision. It’s a shame they didn’t feel like they had a solid ROI with RPM. But good lord — trashing The King in a press release? Come on. This is one time I hope the NASCAR fanbase will vote with their wallets and make a different choice at the grocery store next time.

    1. Absolutely Jeff!! As a company Smithfield has a right to sponsor (or not spinsor) whom ever they like…but bashing RPM upon leaving is a black eye to their company.

  3. Wasn’t too smart a move by Smithfield. Could backfire with how brand loyal Nascar fans are they are even more driver loyal. Company’s statements could rile up fans of Richard Petty. Could taint their reputation and fan loyalty to their products.

  4. Marketing/PR/Communications guy here and yes, your statement is FAR better than what Smithfield issued.

  5. Spot on, Jeff!! Well said! Felt very similarly to you when reading Smithfield’s statement. Felt myself asking who in the world would allow that statement to be released? For all of their experience with NASCAR, their PR team didn’t realize the fury this statement would create. Sad. Truly sad. As much as I have admired Smithfield for their commitment to the sport, this move has made me question if I want to keep buying their products. And I bet I’m not the only NASCAR fan who feels this way.

  6. Being a NASCAR sponsor-loyal consumer, I stopped buying Smithfield products when they were bought out by China. This just drives the nails further into that coffin.

  7. You sir, are a diplomat and a professional.

    You might want to also include your disclaimer at the conclusion of this suggested press release.

    Don’t be surprised if your suggested response starts circulating as real. Or, being contacted to write more of these. There is a lot of bull in the PR world, but common sense – and just the right amount of deference – often wins the day. You’re a natural.

  8. While heavy handed, where’s the outrage over Richard apparently lying. He was a phenomenal driver but a terrible owner the past 30 years who likely lasted this long only because of Smithfield. He’s 80 years old. Maybe it’s best if he becomes a. Ambassador for the sport and give up being an owner. Between this and other curious statements he’s made such as ripping Danica and saying Jimmie needre an asterisk, it’s ridiculous. Every writer is afraid to call him out in fear of upsetting their childhood hero.

    1. Dude! He is the King and has been around NASCAR more than any of us. Maybe you should go work for Smithfield.

    2. very true! Petty is jealous over everybody, When Earnhardt died he said,,,and I Quote “76 races ain’t that many races to win” In Pettys time they ran 62 races a year and more. Most drivers didn’t or couldn’t run all those races…..so Petty went there and won with not much competition. Level up the field and ….well you see what happened!!!

      1. You can look on the internet and find a list of all the races Petty ran and where he finished. Eliminate all the small, now closed tracks, where he won and count only the larger tracks with all the competition and he still won over 120 races.

  9. What a way to put the spotlight on your company! I’m thinking Smithfield might live to regret that poorly worded statement. Has this PR person and others in the company ever dealt with NASCAR and the fan base of Richard Petty? I guess not, but they will now!!!

  10. Personally I never ate that much Smithfield Products, when I want a slice of ham I want some meat in it,, but I can promise Smithfield one thing, I will never purchase another product of theirs,,

  11. I liked their honest response. Too often we read sugar coated statements that mean nothing. They were open, honest and stated the facts, even if a little harsh.

    By their statement, I will continue to be a customer of theirs.

  12. You sir, are a diplomat and a professional.

    You might want to include your disclaimer again at the end of the proposed response. And don’t be shocked if your version starts to circulate as real. Or if you’re contacted by companies to write more intelligent releases.

    We all know how much bull is part of most PR, but common sense – and just the right amount of deference – often wins the day. You’re a natural, Jeff.

  13. I like it, Jeff. Diplomacy and kindness wins everytime.

    That said, Smithfield either didn’t back out on a “hand shake agreement”, or………

    ………they did.

    That is, at the end of the day, the entire point for Richard Petty. The rest of it hurts, sure, but a man from his era just doesn’t do “that”.

    In my opinion, Smithfield was better off not saying anything instead of getting in to a “he said-she said” argument over a question of honor. Diplomatic statement or no.

    1. Been a fan of the Kings from 1967 never never know him to lie !! Smithfield lied about handshake .. because of the teem getting bubba as driverj

  14. RPM needs to perform, something they have not done for 20+ years. I have watched NASCAR since the early 90’s and have never considered them a top tier team, just a field filler. I get Smithfield’s frustration.

  15. If you gave someone millions of dollars to produce, and they didn’t, you would fire them. Maybe you would do it with grace. Their response dictates the direction the PR takes.
    I think the bigger picture here is a major sponsor serving notice that performance is the expectation going forward, and mediocrity will no longer be rewarded. Teams that want big ticket sponsors will have to step it up.
    This should drive up the entertainment level for all of us, and reduce the number of follow-the-leader snooze fests.

  16. I do have a PR background and your statement of what could have been said is a good one. Unfortunately, when emotions are involved rational thinking is trampled. NASCAR didn’t need this.

  17. Smithfield’s response reminds me of the unwritten rule for writing an email while you are angry.

    1. Draft it.
    2. Pause.
    3. Delete it.

    Oh yeah, never let the CEO directly release a statement. Leave that to the professionals.

  18. I guess I am outnumbered. I agree that your reply takes the higher road. I just disagree that a single curt reply by a second party to a curt statement about them by a first party is a “declaration of war.”

    They both have blew off their steam, now they both need to be quiet. Next side to attack is the one who wants a full-on battle.

  19. I stopped buying Smithfield products when they became a Chinese company. This response to the King makes me happy I made that decision.

  20. Nice job Jeff! Now you need to help them get out of the crap they just stepped in gracefully. They have been a good sponsor for NASCAR but should not have trashed the “King”

  21. You were way off in this one by pointing fingers. Why did you single out the victim Smithfield when they were attacked by Richard Petty? Smithfield stood up for all its employees and its reputation. Kudos to them and I will buy Smithfield just as I shop at Dollar General since the Martinsville incident.

    A joint press conference would have prevented all this.

  22. A Chinese meat company, backing a Cuban driver, wants to improve performance. You will not be able to see a difference from Danica. There are plenty of more talented drivers than Almirola (i.e. Kahne, Kurt Busch, and especially Matt Kenseth). You really want to “improve performance”?

  23. It’s weird to get so worked up about this. Nothing Smithfield said was wrong, they were backed into a corner and being compared to Subway.

    Also, can we stop pretending they are disparaging the King…as if he has any control or involvement with the team? He is a marketing face for the organization. I can’t decide what is the most overplayed NASCAR lie to fans….Richard Petty at RPM or pretending Furniture Row isn’t just a Gibbs team.

  24. This behavior by Smithfield made me decide to boycott their products. Plain and simple, when two men shake hands, it should mean something. I’ve done this in 31 years in my business without fail. Not even once. Sorry, Smithfield, no more sales to me.

  25. I’m more media relations than PR, but I think your statement was pretty much the standard for how a company should handle potentially awkward scenarios like this. Throwing fuel onto the fire does nothing but make the fire burn hotter and brighter.

  26. I don’t have a problem with Smithfield’s statement, you need to attack something like that lest it become hardened as accepted fact, instead of just an allegation. But I also understand many people do have a problem with it, which is fine. I doubt any of the “outrage” will have a lasting impact on Smithfield’s bottom line, however, so I see little risk in Smithfield going nuclear like it did

    However, what I want to address is Gluck’s tweet
    “It’s obviously emotional for Petty. This is his life and livelihood. I cut him a little more slack than a huge global corporation.”

    I don’t dispute Petty has put his life into the sport. But you portray Petty as some salt-of-the-earth, racing-on-a-shoestring-budget, just for the fun of it (with no realistic chance of winning) owner, like Junie Donlavey or Buddy Arrington

    Face it, for 20+ years, Petty Enterprises was essentially “Racing, Inc.” — the equivalent of the big, multi-national corporation, initially with the best factory backing, then with the best corporate backing (STP). Sure there were others similarly funded (H-M, Wood Bros, Junior Johnson), but Petty was THE money team for the 60s and 70s. Sure since the mid 80s it’s been a different story, but don’t act as if petty is just some little guy under attack by an outsized corporation (and as Anthony notes, that team has deep pocketed investors and it’s not like RP “owns” the team like he once did). It’s not like nascar unfairly going after Carl Long

  27. Why do you (Jeff or other commenters) automatically believe RPM? You don’t know what they had, and frankly, RPM sucks and has for YEARS, and Smithfield had dumped millions on them anyway. With lots of promises I’m sure, from RPM that was never delivered.

    Does anyone actually believe RPM would even abide by such a deal? You are telling me, a NASCAR powerhouse for sponsors – Richard Petty, the man who BROUGHT drivers into year long sponsorship in the first place doesn’t know how to do business? Come on. Who is stupid enough to believe that barely 3 months out from a new season, with zero checks written, RPM just “trusted” that?

    Kyle Petty is a god awful racer and they clung to life support off sponsors trying to cash in on his father’s name for the team. What has RPM done other than to push drivers like him?

    Considering the ammo they had, and considering RPM fired first, this may well have been their muted response. RPM was the unclassy one here.

    Was there a “handshake deal”?

    It’s true, they have never had a plan to be competitive, other than “slap Richard’s face on stuff and we’ll pretend we actually care about the car”. Well, now, sponsorships cost way more than profit because of a half-dead fanbase. It doesn’t occur to anyone, at all, that is the reason WHY Smithfield hadn’t signed yet, because they were trying very hard to work something out and RPM flexed it ego and refused? Because given past history, that’s certainly a possibility.

    If they did (and we actually believe that there was an alleged “handshake deal”), then they deserve to be dumped for terrible business practices.

    RPM is an also-ran. I refuse to pretend that Richard Petty is the “King” of NASCAR, he won when NO ONE ELSE RAN. His wins came in fields of 8 cars. EIGHT. He won championships when he was the only person who could afford (thanks to a written contract of sponsorship) to go to all the races to get the most points. His finishes in NASCAR points races include being 17 laps up over local guys who brought their road cars, while he had the flush cash to cheat.

    He is due a certain level of respect for lasting. But his team has always been god awful. He’s a fair right jerk to most people too, with his ego. What makes him exempt from criticism in how his team operates, performs or profits in today’s market?

    Frankly, I hope Aric can show his talents in a car that barely makes the field half the time. He’s got way more talent than RPM deserves and a lot of class.

    I adore Bubba and his time is coming. But RPM’s really unclassy – and frankly lying – statement set this off, called out with accusations of racism, boycotts and blah blah blah.

    It amazes me how much vitriol people went after Smithfield with (including a very, very few death threats). And now we’re going to castigate them for not only sticking up for themselves, but setting the record straight on a falsehood perpetuated?

  28. Actually, I can see both sides of the issue, but don’t think it would have hurt Smithfield to me a bit more diplomatic with their reply. Judging from the performance of Bubba while subbing for Almirola, there was potential for a more competitive future at RPM. Plus, the advantage of having the first full time black driver would certainly gain positive attention for a sponsor. It seems a bit late in the year for a sponsor to announce the decision leaving little time for finding a replacement.

  29. Jeff, you should go into PR even as a side job. You clearly have a grasp on what Smithfield should have said, instead of their knee jerk reaction to fans. After all, we follow NASCAR for the DRIVERS, not the sponsors, right?

  30. Diplomacy never hurts that’s for sure and Smithfield, as a corporate entity, should know that or maybe they don’t employ actual PR people who vet their statements. Never a big fan of their products anyway but certainly a big fan of Richard Petty, who is an icon in NASCAR. I have choices at the grocery store and when I choose, it will NOT be Smithfield going forward.

  31. I wanted to let you know Jeff that I did really like your “faux statement”. It would have been a great “soft answer” from a company that was truly attacked by RPM.

    With that in mind however, RPM and Richard himself set the “tone” and Smithfield simply responded “in kind”. Its no wonder that Smithfield responded as they did, and as an owner of my own corporation I find it hard to believe that I would have responded any differently than they did had my company been treated as they were by an under~performing and dare I predict, losing investment…

    To have supported a team with as much $$ as they did, a team that DID NOT deliver the goods when it came to performance, in a sport with an incredibly shrinking footprint of significance shows that Smithfield had, and still has, a loyalty to NASCAR and its few remaining fans that is to be commended.

    It will certainly be a fresh change for them to see their colors on a competitive car. And when a corporation is shelling out as much money as they are, its exactly what should be expected.

    RPM should have known as much. But they have ridden the “light of the “king” ” for so long that performance has never been their ‘strong point’ since that last, 200th win oh so long ago…

    This is far from the last story about “sponsorships” we will be seeing as NASCAR continues its “death march” into insignificance….

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