Client: P&O Events (now called Clarion Events)
PR Team: Bell Pottinger Good Relations
Campaign: London Motor Show 1999
Timescale: 1997 - 31 Oct 1999
Budget: Out of pounds 1 million-plus marketing budget
Although the biennial London Motor Show boasts of being the best show of
its kind in the country, it has the challenge of differentiating itself
from being one of a long list of international car shows.
This year it also had to deal with opening amid the raging controversy
over car prices, with the Consumers’ Association exhibiting at the show,
and competition from the Rugby World Cup which appeals to a very similar
young, upmarket male target audience. Shows as a category are facing
stiff new competition from other media, as car buffs can get their
thrills and information from magazines, television programmes and, of
course, the internet.
To establish awareness of the event, and the car manufacturers who were
exhibiting, as well as getting the message across that the London Motor
Show is the biggest and most interesting one-stop car show room in the
UK this year.
Strategy and Plan
Planning of themes and consideration of the competitive environment
started in 1997. Part of Bell Pottinger’s brief was to devise promotions
to add entertainment value to the show. This year the Oxford Union was
invited to stage its first debate outside Oxford on the motion ’this
house would force motorists to use their cars less’.
The PR team started selling the story into the press, particularly
arranging magazine coverage and special supplements, in February. Deals
were set up with the likes of BBC series Top Gear. A graduated programme
of personal networking, news releases and press packs then slid into
gear, shifting up through regional press groups in July to national and
international motoring correspondents in September.
Once the show started with press day on 19 October and opened to the
public on the 20th, the press office of five or more went into
overdrive, answering questions and taking tactical responsibility for
getting the most out of magic moments such as the arrival of Royalty or
Measurement and Evaluation
Press coverage for the show is always weighed rather than counted, but
it will be audited after the event. This year 4,500 accredited
journalists showed up for press day. Audiences as PR Week went to press
were on target for the 400,000 that the organisers hoped and budgeted
for. The Oxford Union debate received regional and some national
coverage, and the car industry came out on top as the motion was
The London Motor Show had a difficult ride in the media this year, and
although you would have had to have your head in the sand not to know it
was going on, it wasn’t always for the right reason of promoting new
cars and manufacturers. The Consumers’ Association publicity may have
raised the profile of the show, but if the coverage damages the
exhibitors, the car manufacturers, then it’s not the kind of publicity
the PR team or the clients want.
Most of the papers carried pictures of supermodels, such as Kate Moss
and Claudia Schiffer, promoting cars at the show, although this also
resulted in a bit of a backlash. However, these are consumer issues
which reinforce the show’s claim to be a consumer show, in contrast to
the National Motor Show which is a trade event.