“He was the king of sponsorship”: McLaren’s Zak Brown pays tribute to John Hogan

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John Hogan, the former Marlboro sponsorship chief who died yesterday after contracting Covid-19, has been hailed as the “king of sponsorship” by the CEO of McLaren Racing, the team he helped turn into a dominant force in Formula 1.

Hogan made Marlboro logos a common sight in Formula 1 for decades until tobacco advertising restrictions bit hard in the mid-noughties. Scores of F1 drivers, including world champions, got their breaks in the sport thanks to Hogan’s backing.

However it was his decision to support a change of management at McLaren at the beginning of the eighties which had the most profound impact on the sport. The team had fallen into decline after taking James Hunt to the 1976 drivers championship.

Hogan facilitated the arrival of Ron Dennis, who used the cigarette company’s funding to develop a radical first for Formula 1 – an all-carbon fibre chassis originally termed ‘MP4’ for ‘Marlboro Project Four’. Dennis took over from the team’s previous administration, headed by Teddy Mayer and Tyler Alexander.

With the support of Hogan – following his consultation with Hunt – McLaren also lured Niki Lauda out of retirement, and together they delivered the first of a string of titles in 1984. Later Hogan was instrumental in uniting Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in a fearsome McLaren combination which dominated F1 at the end of the eighties.

Current McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown told RaceFans Hogan is “probably as responsible as anyone at McLaren [for it] being where it is today for brokering, or being in the middle of, the deal between Teddy and Tyler and Ron.”

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Brown believes ‘Hogie’ was reluctant to claim his share of the credit for the watershed moment in F1 history. “Hogie’s the type of person that would never say ‘I did it’,” said Brown. “But from everything I’ve read and heard, I believe he did it. And the best part is hoping he would never walk around saying ‘I did it’.”

Hogan and Marlboro helped put McLaren back on top
McLaren ran in Marlboro colours until 1996, by which time the tobacco brand had also transferred its allegiances to Ferrari, ensuring its logos remained prominent on Michael Schumacher’s red cars as he delivered title after title over the coming decade.

Hogan stepped down from his role at Marlboro owner Philip Morris in 2002 and was briefly sporting director at Jaguar’s Formula 1 team. Brown said he was eager to meet the “legendary” executive early in his career, and owed much of his success in Formula 1 to the introductions Hogan helped him make.

“I had a lady that applied for a job with me who worked with him at Jaguar and use him as a reference,” Brown recalled. “I took the opportunity to call him less for the reference but, being the networker that I am, [because] here’s an opportunity to talk with the legendary John Hogan. That’s how I first came about meeting him.

“Obviously I was well aware of who he was, he was the king of sponsorship. From there we developed a relationship. Ultimately I have to kind of single him out as the individual most responsible for giving me the platform to build JMI [Just Marketing International] into what it became because I opened JMI, the Formula 1 offices, on the back of Hogie’s introduction.

“I met Bernie [Ecclestone] and built my relationship via John. John introduced me to everybody and while I knew a lot of the people, I didn’t think I had that much street cred, if you like, until John took me. He introduced me to Luca di Montezemolo, you name it, it came from John Hogan. And I think when we started doing deals in F1, a lot of the success we had was because of the relationship, credibility [and] knowledge that he had.”

Main image: Zak Brown via Twitter

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12 comments on ““He was the king of sponsorship”: McLaren’s Zak Brown pays tribute to John Hogan”

  1. Before I read books like Kevin Eason’s “Driven” and others like it, this news would have passed unnoticed, so maybe a lot of people don’t recognize who John Hogan was. He was a very important figure in F1 for 30 or 40 years, even if I am not particularly fond of cigarette branding, he deserves a lot of recognition for the role in expanding F1 into what it is now.

    Rest in peace, Hogie!

  2. He represents a product, a legal product used by adults. This product when used as the manufacturer suggests, kills scores of people every year and the fact it is a slow addictive killer that hooks many children everyday. So to glorify it is wrong but it’s part of our history now. Eventually these colors went away from our sport as society pressure brought results but what they represent is poison and millions suffer from it. That’s the truth about Smoking and to deny it will show me a fool.

  3. Coventry Climax
    4th January 2021, 19:12

    The annual play at my kids school was cancelled. They couldn’t get the sponsors to back it up, so, no costumes and no backdrop.
    Back in my days, it would be the mums that sowed the costumes and the dads would do the backdrop.
    Don’t know if sponsorship is really improvement.

    I don’t actually have kids, but you’ll get the idea.

  4. Dean Franklin
    5th January 2021, 3:00

    How many deaths was his marketing responsible for I wonder.

  5. The first few comments don’t really focus on what Hogan did in his life and his career, which was bring huge amounts of success to all the organisations he worked for and with. Without him, as the article mentions, the McLaren steamroller of the 80s wouldn’t have come to pass and scores of drivers wouldn’t have had F1 careers. He was a successful man and his contribution to F1 should be celebrated at this time.

    I get it, smoking is bad. It causes cancer that can kill you. But, it remains legal and it also remains the choice of each individual to buy the product and light up or not. Just because a McLaren looked like a pack of Marlboros, a Williams looked like a pack of Rothmans or a Benetton looked like a pack of Camels does not mean each tobacco related death was down to F1 sponsorship, John Hogan or other executives like him. I’ve watched this sport since I was 8 years old, I can name more than 15 cigarette brands because I have spent a huge chunk of my life watching motorsport, but I do not, and never have, smoke. That is a personal choice. I also don’t begrudge anyone who does, they know the risk, in the same way anyone who drinks alcohol or energy drinks knows the risks they come along with (I do the former for the record).

    So I implore everyone who is thinking of tainting this article and the news of Hogan’s passing with “smoking is bad” comments to hold their tongues.

    1. @geemac
      +1 COTD
      On another note, I came across an old link which I believe was mentioned here at RaceFans around 2015 if I’m not wrong (still didn’t find the Round-up section though) about how PM quit McLaren to partner Ferrari and the related confidential email exchanges in which Hogan was involved that were leaked by Industry Documents Library. The following link reports what was unveiled in the original post which is no longer available :

      1. @tifoso1989 I forgot about that, it’s a great read. Thanks.

    2. Coventry Climax
      5th January 2021, 18:31

      And look what currently happens with the renaming of america army bases, sportsteams and such, as well as with certain statues all over the world. In the case of the statues, though some of these people brought great wealth to certain countries (e.g. in the golden age), we now say sorry for what we’ve done.
      Of course I recognise what Mr. Hogan meant for those he arranged sponsorship for, but sponsorship is nothing but a marketing-tool, it wouldn’t ever be done if it didn’t generate gains. There’s zero altruism there. And the gains mean selling more of your product. All (and that means no exceptions!) cigarette brands are fully aware, and have been for a long, long time already, that their products cause severe health problems. Yet they keep on inventing and using add-ons to increase addiction and methods and ‘filters’ to mislead the tar and nicotine tests and restrictions, much like what was done by VW with what eventually became the diesel-scandal.
      Might have been a very nice guy, but at the core he worked for a rotten business. It still being legal has nothing to do with it, that’s due to governments making millions on taxes and/or being smooched for lot’s of money. That’s called lobbying, but basically is the exact same thing as sponsorship: spending time, effort and money to sell more of your product, to increase your profit.

  6. He capitalized on the cigarette money train as the addictive product made so many millions that clever advertising and marketing was to shape Formula One into another form of advertising that continued to pile up this cash. Most humans at one time recognized the red and white of the tobacco giant. They understand what the product represents and that it then targeted the vulnerable. A product that’s addictive and does kill. Sorry that’s harsh but it’s just the way it is.
    Hogans accomplishments became possible by taking this advertising to places Grand Prix Racing hadn’t gone to sort of. He did his job well as we all recognize the image all over earth.
    Unfortunately the world we live in now affords great opportunity for change. Somethings from our pasts that were once accepted as normal but today those pasts can actually change the entire color of a car and it’s team and most important “its message”.
    The message became the biggest message of the F1 year.
    So wrecking the story about the efforts of smart guy behind Marlboro isn’t my intention. It’s the attitude that it was once OK and in my opinion today it shouldn’t have been and never should be.
    Sorry Mom.

  7. Mark in Florida
    5th January 2021, 17:15

    I always liked the sponsorships back in the day. There was plenty of money to fund teams and none of this caused me to start smoking or drinking. That’s called choice, my choice, not do gooders that decide what is and what is not good for me. All of this retroactive oohing and ahing over what happened in the past to try and cast shade on a man’s great accomplishments is ridiculous. We can’t judge others pasts by our present standards it’s not the same. Since we’re now on the” let’s ban it train” we can get rid of bacon, butter, steak and French fries because it’s not good for you either. Would Senna and Prost or Schumacher or drivers that drove in the Camel GTP series in America been as financially well off or the teams as successful if not for the huge amounts of money that was given to the teams?

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