What PR Students Can Learn from the Detroit Auto Show

(This blog was originally posted on 2/1/2016)

Every January, thousands of consumers, businesspeople, and journalists flock to Detroit to catch a glimpse of the latest trends and innovations hitting the global auto industry at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS). This enormous event (right in our backyard!) serves as a perfect learning opportunity for future PR professionals.

Here are my top three PR takeaways from the 2016 Detroit Auto Show:

1. Strategic event planning is crucial. Unlike years prior, some luxury brands such as BentleyJaguarRolls RoyceMaserati and Tesla have opted out of the Detroit show this January. Instead, many of these high-end brands have decided to attend “The Gallery” special showing at the MGM Grand, which has been deemed “the ultra-luxury automobile event” by the Detroit Metro Times. The main reason for the switch boils down to reaching their target audience, thus making the event more profitable for those specific brands. It all depends on that brand’s strategy; should Maserati, for example, spend millions of dollars at the Cobo show where there’s a low consumer base, or spend their advertising dollars at the ultra-luxurious event where a consumer base actually exists? Additionally, Bentley has told the Detroit News that their main focus is reaching current and prospective Bentley customers through their other special events, such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance program. As a PR student, we’ve probably heard the phrase “know your audience” all the time, and there’s a clear reason why.

2. Media Relations is abundantly important. The NAIAS attracts media attention on a massive scale, far more than any other auto show in North America. Some have even deemed the event as exclusively a “Press Show.” As Max Muncey, the show’s PR manager, tells the Detroit News, automakers want to attract press attention if they “launch flagship models, world debuts, or make massive brand news.” Some examples from this auto show include Lincoln (unveiling the newly redesigned 2017 Continental [pictured in title]), Buick (attracting crowds around their new futuristic concept, the Avista), and Chevy (introducing the 2016 Cruze and Impala). In short, if a brand does not have anything newsworthy to report, they are wasting the company’s resources. Brands strategize their communication efforts specifically for the auto show, knowing the amount of press attention they will receive.

3. Branding is EverythingIf you’ve had the pleasure to visit the Detroit Auto Show, you’ve probably noticed the level of detail that brands put into their image. Dress, graphics, music, and event planning all contribute to the overall feel of the brand. For instance, Alfa Romeo, the Italian performance brand, had its saleswomen dressed in tight black dresses, giving a sexy and edgy feel [pictured below]. Chevy, on the other hand, had its salespeople dress in business attire, with blazers and pants, giving off a dependable and professional feel. Ram used outdoor imagery such as trees and mountains around its trucks, while Lincoln used a white monochromatic palette in its displays, adding a touch of elegance. The overall image and feel of a brand depends on the combination of all of these little details. As future PR professionals, we must learn what image a client desires and plan everything accordingly.

The 2016 Detroit Auto Show has been another memorable one, with the auto industry constantly innovating at blistering rates to meet consumer demand. From this huge event, young professionals can learn quite a bit about important PR tactics such as the importance of event planning, media relations, and branding. My final advice would be to get out there and observe the exciting things happening around you, because you never know what you can learn and apply to your PR career.

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