Vale: Michael W. Jen­nings

Australian Muscle Car - - News -

Michael W. Jen­nings, pro­mo­tions man­ager and so much more of Cas­trol in in the for­ma­tive pro­fes­sional era of the 1970s, who passed away in July aged 90, was a hero of Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport, largely unsung.

At a time when fuel and lubri­cant com­pa­nies like Shell, BP and To­tal were more an in­te­gral part of the sport than even the car mak­ers Jen­nings used a grasp of pro­mo­tion well ahead of its time to thrust Cas­trol, a lubri­cants spe­cial­ist with­out the big bud­get of a fuel com­pany, into promi­nence.

He turned rac­ing drivers, the likes of the young Brock and Bond, Chivas and the Geoghe­gan brothers into brand am­bas­sadors, long be­fore the con­cept had been dis­cov­ered by oth­ers (today ev­ery­one from soap pow­der sup­pli­ers to lux­ury goods man­u­fac­tur­ers at­tach celebri­ties to their brands).

He dis­cov­ered events which would oth­er­wise strug­gle to suc­ceed and made them no­tice­ably prom­i­nent with Cas­trol as their nam­ing rights part­ner.

And through the ne­ces­sity of his limited bud­get he suc­cess­fully chal­lenged the char­ter of the ABC and had the na­tional broad­caster air hours of mo­tor­sport, par­tially on the pub­lic purse.

Jen­nings was by no means the ‘fa­ther’ of GTX – the Win­ning Oil, but his be­low the line ef­forts were so suc­cess­ful that Cas­trol found it­self in dan­ger of be­com­ing the GTX oil com­pany, ne­ces­si­tat­ing the sem­i­nal ‘Oils Ain’t Oils’ cam­paign to en­hance aware­ness of its other prod­ucts.

Jen­nings was one of four mo­tor­sport ‘oili­garchs’ of the 1970s. The oth­ers, John Pryce from BP, Arch White from Shell, Toby Bent from his own Cas­trol, all he­roes, tended to play the sport. Jen­nings played the man.

The com­mer­cial prize for all of them was the ini­tial ll busi­ness of the mul­ti­tude of lo­cal ve­hi­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers and the ow on de­mand from their fran­chised work­shops.

The su­per­mar­ket led DIY mar­ket was a mere gleam in the eye of fu­ture mar­keters but Jen­nings could see that just as Holden and Ford own­ers had be­come trib­al­ists so, amaz­ingly, there were loy­al­ists to oil brands.

He set out to put per­son­al­ity into what is es­sen­tially a grudge pur­chase, bring­ing a pur­pose to Cas­trol’s pre­mium po­si­tion­ing of its pin­na­cle GTX.

Race drivers and edgling race teams found them­selves the sub­ject of break­through PR and ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns in which their own aware­ness was en­hanced along with the prod­uct. He helped make them stars.

When bril­liant young pro­moter Vince Te­soriero pro­posed a pro­duc­tion mo­tor­cy­cle race to cap­i­talise on the bike boom of the early ’70s Jen­nings brought Cas­trol on board.

But when Net­work Seven, af­ter air­ing the in­au­gu­ral Cas­trol Six Hour, set its price too high and Chan­nel Nine when even higher, Jen­nings turned to the ABC and opened a Pan­dora’s Box of op­por­tu­nity by in­sist­ing that mo­tor­sport met the ABC’s char­ter of ‘broad­cast­ing in the pub­lic in­ter­est’.

When ABC pro­duc­ers coun­tered that they had in­suf­fi­cient funds he helped cre­ate chan­nels – tested to be le­gal – that al­lowed him to fun­nel com­mer­cial money into the ABC.

He was so suc­cess­ful that the ABC not only broad­cast the Cas­trol Six Hour but also Cas­trol Mr Mo­tocross, the Cas­trol In­ter­na­tional Rally in Can­berra, and lat­terly the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship, al­though not with Cas­trol’s name as a pre x.

In Jen­nings’ time Cas­trol be­came en­trenched in the sport.

He came on board at Cas­trol in 1968 at the start of the Holden Dealer Team and when Holden’s anti-mo­tor­sport stance made it dif­fi­cult to have funds pass be­tween di­vi­sions, Cas­trol stepped in, even pay­ing the drivers. The pay­back was an in­crease in oil sales at Holden deal­er­ships.

When Bob Mor­ris found him­self with­out Bathurst spon­sor­ship it was Jen­nings who de­vised an ar­range­ment which let Chan­nel Seven spon­sor Mor­ris in kind with ad­ver­tis­ing con­tra and for Cas­trol to buy those spots from Mor­ris at a gi­ant dis­count on Seven’s nor­mal rates – a win for all.

Jen­nings was a proud Tas­ma­nian, a proud work­ing jour­nal­ist and a proud hus­band of his beloved Biddy and fa­ther of Christo­pher, Nicholas, Lisa and Timi.

He was a hard taskmas­ter, with a heart of gold.

When he crossed the oor from jour­nal­ism to PR and then went client-side with Cas­trol he hired my edgling com­mu­ni­ca­tions rm in­stead of his pre­vi­ous em­ployer to as­sist him. He was my rst client. When I showed him around my empty of­fice, soon to be fur­nished, he re­marked, “Don’t buy an ex­pen­sive desk; we wouldn’t look kindly on you spend­ing our money like that.” I bought a $35 sec­ond­hand metal num­ber. He was well pleased.

Michael Jen­nings re­tired early from Cas­trol in 1982, aged only 55. He’d given his all to his com­pany, per­haps more than any of us re­alised at the time, and he’d had enough.

Less than two years later Peter Brock made the seis­mic shift from Marl­bor­ough to Mo­bil as his prin­ci­pal spon­sor; the un­in­tended ca­su­alty be­ing Cas­trol. It was as well Jen­nings was not there for that. It would have been more than he could bear.

Mike Jen­nings with Aus­tralian Rally Cham­pion Greg Carr

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