Car companies pull back at New York Auto Show

NEW YORK: This year's toned down New York International Auto Show reflected carmakers' scaled back communications budgets and back-to-basics marketing approach.

NEW YORK: This year's toned down New York International Auto Show, long known for its big-budgeted spectacles, reflected carmakers' scaled back communications budgets and back-to-basics marketing approach.

Mike Michels, VP of communications for Toyota Motor Sales, said the communications budget for the event was reduced by about 30%.

“Maybe, it's a good thing all of our budgets [are] a little tighter, as it's actually more business-like,” said Michels, who noted the lack of theatrical one-upmanship between competing companies, which happened in years past, where stunts like celebrity appearances and high-speed car chases dominated the show.

Toyota also reused materials from dealer meetings, in addition to using graphics from internal events, he said. In addition, the company's news conference itself lasted 11 minutes within a 30-minute time slot in order to show deference to journalists to get their stories done.

Nissan canceled press conferences and “scaled back” on the profile of its stands and floor presence at the show, according to Alan Buddendeck, corporate VP of global communications and the CSR division at Nissan Motor Co.

The event did keep in place its annual wine-bar event, which provides media covering the auto industry, consumer lifestyle, and business, the opportunity to interact with executives and other company staff, such as product designers.

Nissan skipped the Detroit Auto Show in January, and also decreased its presence at the Chicago event in February.

In addition, Mercedes-Benz USA reduced its PR budget for the show slightly, according to Geoff Day, director of communications at the luxury automaker.

But Day believes that there's a net benefit to the streamlined marketing efforts.

“I think this year we're going to have better ROI [from the New York show] because we've [cut] back on some of the infrastructure costs, [while] dialing up on the content of the story,” he explained.

Returning to “PR 101,” Day believes the New York show will garner as much coverage as any other event this year.

“If you have a look around [at the other automakers showing], it's looking at the most effective and efficient way to tell the story,” he noted.

In lieu of a big auto show blowout, the companies reinvested in other communications tactics.

GM, with half the budget of its previous year at the auto show, projected that it quadrupled targeted coverage, with tactics such as the unveiling of its Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle (PUMA) prior to the NY Auto Show, according to Scott Fosgard, director of global auto shows at GM corporate communications. It introduced PUMA at an event that cost about “1/6 of the cost of a press conference at the Javits Center,” he added.

Day said that Mercedes-Benz is investing in more digital programs to harness “the power of those social networks where luxury customers go,” while Nissan's Buddendeck noted it took its new Cube vehicle, due out this spring, on a road tour.

“Auto shows are important, but they're not the only ways of reaching the consumer [or media],” Buddendeck added. “Now, we're looking at when we take money off the table for auto shows. [The question becomes] what kinds of other events might you do to keep the conversation [going] the other days of the year.”

Looking forward, Toyota plans to favor local events over trade shows as ways to introduce some niche products, according to Michels.

The New York International Auto Show's media relations bureau did not return calls for comment.

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