EVENT PR: British International Motor Show -- a well-oiled PR machine

In three weeks' time the British International Motor Show kicks off at ExCel. Four PR teams have been working behind the scenes to promote it, but how have they avoided stepping on one another's toes? Patrick Dye investigates.

On 23 July, hordes of motor car enthusiasts will start pouring into London's Docklands for the UK's biggest consumer show: the 12-day British Internatio­nal Motor Show.

After the show lost its way slightly at the beginning of the decade, the Society of ­Motor Manufacturers and Traders decided in 2006 to move the biennial showcase event from the NEC in Birmingham to London's ExCel centre.

The result was a revival in the show's fortunes. Audience numbers jumped by 23 per cent, rewarding the society's faith in the newly appointed organiser International Motor Industry Events (IMIE).

IMIE's vision for the show was radically different from what had gone before and it included a PR overhaul.

Far from relying on just one agency for the 2008 show, it has secured the services of no fewer than four, all working in tandem to ­ensure maximum exposure for an event that is expected to attract in excess of 500,000 visitors.

Kirsty Perkinson‘The size of the show is one of the factors that determined our decision to use multiple agencies,' explains IMIE marketing director Kirsty Perkinson. ‘We have also had to stem the decline of visitors over a long ­period of time and increase numbers. That means changing public perception, which requires a lot of work.'

During its NEC days, the show acquired a dedicated following among motoring enthusiasts, but mainstream audiences waned. ‘The audience profile had become young, male petrolheads whose ability to purchase the cars didn't match the manufacturers' expectations,' says Perkinson. ‘We needed to retain this following but reach out to a broader, family audience with a focus on lifestyle elements.'

For this year's event, Seventy Seven PR handles lifestyle PR, while motoring specialist PFPR covers the motoring media. Both agencies have motor show ­experience and Seventy Seven was part of IMIE's roster for the 2006 show. Also on board is broadcast specialist Markettiers4dc, with Live Nation handling PR for the ­accompanying music festival.

‘Co-ordinating the work of these agencies is challenging but, as the show pulls in 550,000 visitors and there are only three of us in the marketing department, agencies are integral,' says Perkinson.

PR is a competitive industry and territorial behaviour might be expected among agencies working the same patch. Not if you get the mix right, claims Perkinson: ‘Agency selection is vital. We spend a lot of time ensuring that we shortlist the right agencies, choosing people who will get on with one another.'

Clearly demarcating each agency's role obviously goes some way towards minimising the risk of conflict. Beyond this, encouraging a focus on the job at hand ­ensures the success of this alliance, adds Perkinson.

‘We award agencies bonuses based on set targets, so you would think they might be territorial over coverage. But these agencies see the bigger picture and understand that opportunities double, not divide, when you work together,' she says. ‘For ­example, Seventy Seven will issue a release for the mainstream press and a few days later PFPR will tweak that story and issue it to the motoring press, and vice versa.'

Perkinson estimates total PR agency spend is £350,000 and she expects a solid return on investment. ‘In 2006 we achieved £10m worth of press coverage. This year we are aiming for £15m, which shows why PR is so very ­important to us,' she says.

Seventy Seven PR
Specialisation: Lifestyle PR

After working on the 2006 show, Seventy Seven PR was appointed last October to work on this year's event. Arriving on the scene early, Seventy Seven provided ­input on the ­appointment of further agencies - notably the broadcast PR - sitting in on the pitches for this part of the account.

Michelle Saxby‘I've never had anyone pitch to me before and it was a unique experience, particularly seeing how nervous even senior people can be,' says consultant Michelle Saxby. As part of its pitch for the business, Seventy Seven laid out a number of story ideas and a timetable for their release. These have been adapted by other agencies working on the account.

‘They have picked on elements of these stories and sold them into their branch of the media,' says Saxby. ‘Egos are left at the door in our meetings and creative input can come from anyone.'

One of Seventy Seven's story ideas - ­under the banner of ‘Guilty Secrets' - looks at the unusual things people get up to in their cars. Markettiers4dc took this idea and ­developed it on the broadcast front (see right). Another idea looked at the ‘hidden' economy created by kids washing cars over summer, something to which PFPR contributed through its connections in the trade titles.

Saxby claims the collaborative approach has been enlightening, particularly compared with other joint ventures with marcoms agencies: ‘I'm used to sitting in all-agency meetings where the ad agency always has an opinion on the PR strategy, but this is different. We all "get it", we know what works and we know the pitfalls.'

Specialisation Motoring PR

IMIE was already familiar with PFPR from its work with exhibitors at the 2006 show and brought the agency on board towards the end of 2007. As PFPR faces the manufacturers and exhibitors, it is the main source for industry stories in the run-up to the show.

‘We make the other agencies aware of the latest news from the exhibitors and the ­motoring media and also field queries on motoring issues because we're the specialists,' says senior account manager David Fitzpatrick.

The motoring press is far from homogenous and PFPR has drawn on ideas from other agencies in supplying points of ­interest to every corner of the media that will hook them into the show. ‘A different approach is essential with each of the key titles.

For example, with the sport and classic cars title Octane we turned to the music festival line-up and arranged an interview with Jools Holland, who has a number of classic sports cars and will be performing at the festival,' says Fitzpatrick.

To develop Seventy Seven's carwash idea, PFPR looked to its trade title connections. ‘The trade magazines carry a lot of coverage of cleaning products and valeting. Through them we found an individual who had built up his own valeting business and with whom we could work to ­dev­elop case studies,' says Fitzpatrick.

The co-operative approach is clearly one that sits easily with Fitzpatrick: ‘Experience shows that we all benefit when we work together. From the start the brief from IMIE was clear and detailed, and in meetings no one agency thinks of putting itself ahead of the others.'

Specialisation Broadcast PR

Markettiers4dc was approached to pitch in February by both IMIE and Seventy ­Seven PR, an agency it has worked with ­before. The agency has the dual role of helping broadcasters get the coverage they need - notably on press day, 22 July - and selling in the wider motor show story to the broadcast media.

‘On press day we'll supply loosely edited clips - B-rolls - for broadcasters to slip into lunchtime and evening slots, as well as satellite broadcasting facilities for regional broadcasters such as Anglia that find it hard to justify this expense but want to cover the regional angle - such as the launch of the new Lotus,' says consultant David Oakley.

The agency took Seventy Seven's ‘Guilty Secrets' theme and developed it into a story targeted at radio. ‘We worked together to ­develop the idea with Seventy Seven, then sold it into print. We also hosted a radio day using Vicky Butler Hendersen to do interviews from radio stations interested in the story,' says Oakley.

To increase the show's family appeal, the agency is wooing ITV's This Morning show. Motoring coverage is not high on This Morning's list of editorial priorities so the right approach has been important. ‘The programme runs a daily competition and we are talking about the possibility of giving away a car a day in that slot for the first week of the show,' says Oakley.

The logistics of bringing such a project together are complex and the company has had to draw on the resources of its partner agencies to make it a realistic possibility. ‘I have motor manufacturing contacts, but PFPR has many more and IMIE has good relationships with the manufacturer's marketing departments. The three of us are now working together to create the prize for the competition,' says Oakley.

Live Nation
Specialisation Music PR

Live Nation is primarily a music tour and festival promoter. The company was charged with putting together the nightly music festival that accompanies the show and it seemed a natural progression for its PR arm to handle this aspect of the campaign. This represents something of a ­departure for a PR operation more used to handling ­‘internal clients'.

The festival boasts an impressive line-up, including Blondie, Alice Cooper, Meatloaf and Status Quo. ‘The acts are drawn from those who are touring or on the market at present and fit the demographic - it's basically the sort of music to which [Jeremy] Clarkson would listen,' says Live Nat­ion press and PR manager Steve Guest. Live ­Nation has provided artist interviews for print and broadcast as well as introducing IMIE to promotional partner Virgin Radio.

A music festival adds a valuable new string to the PR bow, providing another angle to push with the media. ‘We are kept in the loop about all PR activity and, by providing access to the artists, we offer something a little sexier than just talking about cars. Having a music festival running alongside the show also means there is the possibility of achieving double coverage for the event,' says Guest.

In addition to providing access to celebrities, Live Nation has helped out with wider initiatives. ‘Seventy Seven came up with the idea of the "My car is the star" wall, an area of the show that will carry photographs of owners and their cars. For this we sourced pictures of the festival artists with their first cars,' says Guest.

Though it is a departure from his normal modus operandi, Guest is an enthusiastic advocate of this style of working: ‘It is dif­ferent from what we usually do, but I would be open to suggestions of similar work. It has been a very positive experience.'

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