Given that a car is generally the most expensive consumer item most people ever buy, it is hardly surprising that PR in the motor industry has a reputation for pushing the boat out.
And the scale of the launch of Jaguar's new XJ series bears witness to the fact that extravagance is not dead in the car industry. The Coventry-based manufacturer flew in about 1,000 journalists from around the world to Spain for a six-hour 'ride and drive' as part of the final stage of its global media launch, which began in September 2002.
It was hardly empty largesse. The new XJ is Jaguar's main weapon in the increasingly heated battle for market share against German heavyweights BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi, as well as the Japanese Lexus.
While Jaguars are traditionally associated with 'wood and leather' rather than cutting-edge technology, the company hopes the advanced aluminium design of its new flagship model will appeal to loyalists and conquest customers alike, create a 'halo' effect around the rest of the range and reposition the company as a high-tech manufacturer.
The car marketplace is notorious for giving no second chances to vehicles that fail to convey the right messages at launch. Mindful of what it sees as Audi's failure to reap the benefits of its own earlier aluminium design, Jaguar has put together what is, even by its own standards, an exceptionally lengthy and complex launch strategy.
Goodwood Launch, September 2002
The seven-month campaign began at the stately home Goodwood House in Sussex - a venue Jaguar felt reflected its 'classic' heritage.
In Jaguar director of comms and public affairs Stuart Dyble's view this was a chance to gauge how opinion in the motoring press reacted to the styling and concept of the new XJ.
Rather than merely stressing the technical achievements of the aluminium work, the key message in Jaguar's campaign was to emphasise the customer benefits this would bring. A lighter, stiffer material than steel, the aluminium shell enabled the new XJ to weigh in at 200kg lighter than its predecessor. Jaguar wanted to stress that the weight savings would offer increased fuel efficiency, reduced emissions and a lower insurance bracket, all without reducing performance, while the stiffer body would enhance handling. An extra three inches of head room and a bigger boot were intended to address two of the major problems associated with previous XJs.
At Goodwood, the new XJ was unveiled before an audience of 250 members of the automotive press. Afterwards journalists were ushered to a balcony, where they saw the six previous versions of the XJ come up a hill, to be followed by the new car roaring up the hill at speed.
The Daily Telegraph motoring section - with its crucial appeal to Jaguar's boardroom clientele - said afterwards: 'Jaguar has stolen a march on its rivals... it is bigger, lighter and stiffer, and still beautiful.'
Normally Jaguar would hold such an event solely in the UK, but Dyble says the new XJ was considered sufficiently important to hold a parallel launch in the US - a particularly vital market which accounts for just over half of the company's global sales - in 'Motor City' Detroit.
Paris Motor Show, 26 September 2002
As the car had already been introduced to the press at Goodwood, an eye-catching debut was needed for the Paris Motor Show.
Dyble decided he wanted to replicate something he had seen at a motor sports event when a sports car was displayed with its metal skin unpainted and polished to a sheen.
The move helped fulfill Dyble's aim of creating a stir and contrasting Jaguar's conservative reputation with its new high-tech approach.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles was the preferred venue for the American motor show debut as the car had already been shown in Detroit and because L.A. accounts for the bulk of US sales.
Birmingham Motor Show, 22 October 2002
Yet another angle was required to prompt more press interest at the Birmingham Motor Show - the key show for the home market, responsible for around 30 per cent of sales. It was also a chance to send a message regarding Jaguar's ambitions to the West Midlands workforce.
To this end, Jaguar's comms team kept back for this event the V6 version of the new XJ - with its echoes of that old classic of the series, the XJ6.
This model had disappeared as cars got heavier and engines bigger. Now the lightweight aluminum body permitted smaller V6 engines to return after a five-year absence. The press team portrayed this event as the return of the XJ6 in Jaguar's heartland.
Technical Seminars, Castle Bromwich, November/December 2002
Technical seminars are a typical part of a car launch, aimed at dedicated consumer motoring magazines, which will run stories at each phase, rather than the wider media.
The particular aim at this stage was to reinforce the message that Jaguar was now a high-tech manufacturer by inviting journalists to its new showcase factory in Castle Bromwich.
Price announcements, January 2003
Like most car makers, Jaguar would normally announce prices after journalists had a chance to drive the car.
However, the announcement was brought forward, Dyble says, to allow existing XJ customers who have had two or three previous models - estimated to make up 80 per cent of buyers - to make early requests for specifications and help production schedules. At the same time, it was a good opportunity to reinforce the message that the price - starting at £39,000 - remained in line with previous XJs and entered below that of rival models.
Lifestyle programmes, February 2003
Unlike PR for some luxury manufacturers, Jaguar's PR is not aimed at the bottom line alone, but also at building and preserving the brand and its 'aspirational' qualities.
'The motoring media gives credibility to the car, but for a premier brand image and third-party endorsement are everything,' says Dyble.
Lifestyle media coverage is particularly appropriate in achieving this and at the same time enhancing desirability among what Jaguar calls its 'fond rejectors' - people who like the idea of owning a Jaguar but have currently chosen competitor vehicles.
While recognising that XJs are still largely seen as 'a man's car', Jaguar also wants to appeal to women. The potential gains here are reflected by the fact that in the US an estimated 40 per cent of Jaguar drivers are women.
Jaguar head of international PR Cecile Simon-Chapotier, who led the lifestyle push, was aware of the difficulties of persuading fashion magazines to write about a car.
To capitalise on Jaguar's positioning as a 'classic' luxury brand she organised sponsorship of the Celebration of the Little Black Dress event at London Fashion Week (alongside De Beers ) in February.
Branded coverage following the event included two thirds of a page in Hello!, a double page spread in OK! and coverage in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail.
Global Media Ride and Drive, February/March 2003
The final and most important phase of the launch was held in Seville, Spain - chosen mainly because of the excellent surfaces of the picturesque roads that offered an excellent showcase for the driving dynamics of the car.
Around 1,000 media from 45 key target markets were invited to the Hacienda Benazuza for a 24-hour programme, which was tailored for different nationalities and sections of the media. At the lifestyle programmes, for example, the emphasis was more on the 'wood and leather' of the XJ interior than the technical detail demanded by the German media.
The entire hotel was hired for six weeks and became home to a fleet of 50 Jaguars, including a press fleet of 40 new XJs. The key part of the programme was a six-hour ride and drive.
Jaguar refused to reveal the cost of its launch. However, Dyble said if Jaguar had hired an agency to organise the event the cost would have run into a seven-figure sum.
So far, Jaguar's evaluation has shown the car featured on more than 50 front covers in all key markets, 23 hours of television ranging from TV news items to 45 minutes special programme in top ten markets and 32 special stories/supplements in strategic motoring magazines.
Key motoring journalists such as Quentin Willson in the Sunday Mirror greeted the car as 'awesomely good... the best luxury car in the world'.
Corporate Programme, Seville, 25 March
In its long history the XJ has picked up various associations: cops and robbers from the 1960s when it was a favoured getaway car, and most typically 'the car of the boardroom'.
During the special 24-hour programme held for business journalists in Seville, Jaguar flew in senior execs and its corporate PR team to tailor the event to the needs of business media, who came mainly from the UK.
The aim was to convey several corporate messages while appealing to boardroom buyers.
On the one hand the company wanted to stress the rapid growth that has seen it turn from niche manufacturer to a major player in the luxury car market.
It also wanted to emphasise its role as a manufacturer based in Britain, using a British workforce and design team (although it is owned by US company Ford) that is taking on finest luxury saloons in the world.
As Dyble admits, a worldwide economic slump is not a good time to launch a new luxury car, but he says the design process takes so long that it is impossible to avoid timing problems.
One crucial element of coverage in the business press is that it helps Jaguar reach its boardroom buyers.
But overall, judging by recent coverage the firm appears to be sinking its claws into the luxury car market with renewed vigour.