PRWeek webcast explores auto show successes

NEW YORK: If there was one message to glean from last Tuesday's PRWeek webcast: "How Chrysler steals the show," it is that theatrics are mere sound and fury - signifying nothing - if the message isn't clean.

NEW YORK: If there was one message to glean from last Tuesday's PRWeek webcast: "How Chrysler steals the show," it is that theatrics are mere sound and fury - signifying nothing - if the message isn't clean.

The event, sponsored by Market Wire, featured Jason Vines, VP communications at Auburn Hills, MI-based Chrysler Group, a division of DaimlerChrysler; Mike Rosenau, president of Chrysler's event agency Detroit-based ClearBlue; and Micheline Maynard, automotive writer for the New York Times.

Vines and Rosenau walked a virtual audience of nearly 150 through this year's new vehicle reveals at the 2006 North American International Auto Show to illustrate how the company manages to keep an audience of 5,500 registered media interested whilte attending nearly three days of back-to-back press conferences.

"We go for a show biz [perspective] because we are of the belief that this is an auto ‘show,'" said Vines. "But we don't do it for only show business' sake, it has to be on message."

Vines added that, besides breaking through the clutter of some 60 press conferences, the other challenge is not letting reveals for Chrysler's sibling brands steal each other's thunder.

This year, for instance, Chrysler dealt with the challenge of having to unveil a major new production vehicle on the third day of the show by setting the stage for its new Aspen with a faux blizzard and a performance by the hit New York new-vaudeville act "Slava's Snow Show."

The performance got a standing ovation.

"Many said it was the finest press conference they had seen in their lives," said Vines. Rosenau added that the event gave Chrysler an added viral bonus.

"The viral portion was a great bonus," he said. "One journalist's video of the Snow Show conference was viewed 100,000 times on YouTube."

For the Jeep Wrangler unveiling, they company had the car drive out through Cobo Hall's plate glass window, and up a "mountain". For the reveal of the Dodge Caliber, an all new compact wagon, the company brought actor David Spade onstage, a foil for marketing chief Joe Eberhardt. Actress Eva Longoria was on hand for the unveiling of the Chrysler Imperial concept.

Vines and Rosenau said the key to Chrysler's success is that ClearBlue is brought in very early during planning stages, and Chrysler executives are not risk averse.

"They bring us in during the message development process, at the earliest stage," said Rosenau. "We have a lot of time to interpret product strategy; there's concurrence at the highest levels of Jason's management team, and we lock it in early so no major course corrections are made at the last minute."

But Maynard said that while the "bread and circus" are fun, the critical element for reporters is access.

"The Detroit auto show has become the mother of auto shows," she said, "But the success of an automaker there is twofold: the creative approach plus unfettered access. While many companies are definitely willing to give us access, but it's very scripted. Chrysler is the most free flowing."

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