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Motorsports Manufacturers and Journalists Meet Face to Face

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By Mike Imlay

The 2023 SEMA Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC) wrapped up another successful Media Trade Conference (MTC) earlier this year at Anaheim's Embassy Suites hotel in Southern California. Running January 23-26, the event marked the first in-person MTC gathering since the pandemic. And thanks to positive surveys showing the success of its revamped format, plans are already underway for an even more robust event in 2024.

MTC Panel

After two years as an online event, the annual MPMC Media Trade Conference returned as a live event for 2023. A lunchtime panel on the current state of motorsports was just one of the updates to the conference's format.

"The council really felt they needed to make some adjustments to the conference experience for attendees because they wanted to knock their socks off, being the first return to an in-person conference experience in a couple years," said SEMA Council Director Marcy Yanus, the association's staff liaison for the MPMC. "They really went above and beyond."

The MPMC council represents companies that make functional performance parts used in sanctioned racing applications. The council addresses industry-specific issues, chief among them preserving and promoting motorsports and its parts industry. MPMC also works closely with SEMA's legislative and technical affairs staff to address matters that may affect the industry.

Launched 26 years ago, the MTC is a unique trade event allowing MPMC-member manufacturers to meet one-on-one with media attendees focused on the niche. The format is straightforward. Each manufacturer gets a hotel suite that also serves as a meeting space. Over the three-day conference period, each company then hosts back-to-back, 30-min. meetings with qualified media attendees. (Think of it as a sort of "speed-dating" experience for manufacturers and journalists in which story matches are made.) Manufacturers use the time to share new products, company news and activities, and other potential story ideas with the media.

"There is no better place than the MPMC Media Trade Conference to build and strengthen relationships with reporters and influencers who can help promote our brands," said MPMC Select Committee Chair Melissa Scoles of QA1. "By meeting with media in such an intimate setting, MPMC members are able to build strong, quality relationships with journalists that can benefit them for future coverage."

For most of its history, the in-person MTC went off without a hitch at various hotel locations in Southern California. Then the pandemic lockdowns hit, spurring the MPMC to create a virtual trade event online. The innovation proved highly popular, especially for long-
distance and international attendees. But after two years, many participants seemed to want more.

According to MPMC select committee member Brian Bohlander of Old World Industries, this posed a dilemma that boiled down to three possible solutions: stay virtual, create an in-person/virtual hybrid program, or return to a completely in-person program. Ultimately, the task force chose a live conference with the possibility of hybrid programs every few years to accommodate those unable to attend year in and year out.

"We felt it was time to get everybody back together in person and, frankly, the response from everybody that attended was really positive," he said. "They were glad to see their friends. They were glad to have some normalcy back."

But that return to normalcy didn't mean a mere return to business as usual. Instead, the planning committee sought ways to take the conference's networking to the next level.

"When we came up with the idea of getting people together, we wanted to make it multifaceted and really give the manufacturers some value for being there," Bohlander explained. "With that being said, we looked at our roster and realized that a lot of the media that's there also [represent] sanctioning bodies or are very heavily involved as influencers within certain segments of motorsports."

The task force came up with a Monday-evening welcome reception featuring a mini outdoor car show sponsored by Hemmings to get participants interacting before the conference. A motorsports discussion panel representing diverse racing segments was added to the annual Tuesday lunch presentation. Focusing on the current state of motorsports, panelists included Brett Becker (NASA), Karl Fredrickson (Speedway Illustrated), Jim Liaw (PRI), Jim Ryan (SCORE International) and Steve Wolcott (NMRA/NMCA). The traditional MTC Happy Hour followed that evening. Wednesday's lunch was also transformed into a networking mixer specially designed to deepen relationships between manufacturers as well as media. (Of course, Thursday's lunch was catered by an authentic Southern California In-N-Out Burger truck, another MTC tradition.)

MTC Banners

A traditional sight of the live MTC, exhibitor banners graced the courtyard balconies of the Embassy Suites in Anaheim, California--marking the successful return of the in-person gathering.

"I can speak for myself as a manufacturer," Bohlander said. "We know a lot of the media because we meet with the media day in, day out, and we build and cultivate those relationships. But I don't know nearly as many manufacturers as I'd like to know. And I think the same thing can be said from a media perspective. There's a lot of media that knows the manufacturers because of [MTC] meetings, but they don't necessarily know other media outlets that might actually be allies and able to collaborate with them to tell those positive stories."

"I think one of the most impressive things about this year's event was the diversity of manufacturers and media that attended," agreed Yanus. "We had great representation from both new media and new manufacturers, as well as returning media and manufacturers. Also, the willingness of MTC veterans to embrace those who were new and show them the ropes is something that I think is really special about the automotive aftermarket and about the people who participate at the conference."

For 2023, the MTC continued to expand its attendee roster to better mirror the changing times. Two decades ago, print publications defined the automotive press, but not so much now. Today's motorsports journalists include a broad mix of web and print writers, freelancers and content creators.

"The MTC has become a place for content creators to get a foothold in the motorsports parts manufacturing segment of the industry," observed Yanus. "The trade conferences have also been able to open new doors for our manufacturers to reach segments that they normally wouldn't talk to. That said, we're still very selective about who we invite to the conference. We really want high-quality experiences for our manufacturers. We want to make sure the media we're inviting are able to give the type of exposure and opportunity that those manufacturers are looking for."

Post-event surveys indicated the new format was indeed a hit with media attendees. "The one-to-one interaction with the companies this conference provided is what makes it my favorite show of the year," said Alex Hernandez, a content creator with Sac Speed Shop. "The inclusion of a car show meet-and-greet was a great idea that allowed us to mingle in a relaxed environment as well as show our work and demo how we have used company products on our builds. This industry is relationship-based more than ever right now, and I am happy to see what materialized from our conversations."

First-time attendee Todd Metz of Front Wheel Discussion was also impressed. "I had absolutely no idea what to expect and was so pleasantly surprised at how welcome and respected I felt during the entire event," he said. "I had the best time, and this will definitely be a yearly thing for me. I made a lot of connections that will no doubt be life-changing. I am just so genuinely appreciative of the opportunity to attend."

Lake Speed Jr., vice president of sales and marketing for Total Seal Piston Rings, was among the manufacturers exhibiting at the event. The company showcased its new surface analysis system, which Speed said provides an incredible combination of surface measurements and magnified imaging.

"The media were blown away by the visuals provided and the ease of use," he said. "Technology in our industry progresses quite rapidly, so the MPMC MTC provides the best platform for discussing editorial opportunities to explain new technologies and products. Our marketing calendar takes shape after the MTC because it plays a pivotal role in our marketing plans. Seeing the top industry journalists and influencers makes this the most productive three days of the year."

Alex Stivaletti, social media manager for Holley Performance Products, represented the manufacturer in one of four suites it set up for the Baer Brakes, Detroit Speed, Flowmaster and Hooker Blackheart brands. He views the event's 30 min. of uninterrupted sit-down time with different media reps as its key advantage.

"The overall goal for Holley was to present the latest products that we have and establish media connections to present them to the market. My personal goal was to establish plans with not only the media, but influencers, for the entire year. The earlier we can be aware of projects, the easier they are to execute on," he explained.

"I have only ever done the MPMC MTC virtually, so getting out to California and seeing everyone in person was a great change of pace," Stivaletti said, adding that he greatly preferred the in-person meetings over the past virtual format.

"The quality of each media connection was very professional. Everyone came in, presented their cards, and had an agenda to discuss. It was clear everyone had a plan, which was refreshing and smoothed the process of the event out," he remarked.

MTC

At the event's Tuesday-evening reception, SEMA Chairman of the Board James Lawrence congratulated the MPMC and automotive media for their efforts and achievements in support of motorsports.

Tim Torrecarion, also an MPMC select committee and MTC task force member, said the council was extremely pleased with the event's success and the positive feedback of participants. "Even those that were initially on the fence about participating were glad that they decided to attend in person," he explained. "What stood out to me the most was the appreciation by our attendees for all the hard work that SEMA and the council went through to making this event happen face-to-face."

"The conference really resonates with our attendees and members because it is the only event where manufacturers and media get an opportunity to meet without distractions or the worry of being interrupted by passing [trade show] traffic," added Torrecarion. "It's a very focused agenda over the course of several days with the main goal being editorial content and relationship building. In addition, the MPMC prides itself on providing the right blend of traditional and new media outlets for manufacturers to meet with."

Torrecarion said that the inclusion of "new media" attendees began several years ago when the growth of the digital space began making an obvious impact on how consumers gathered industry information. "Wanting to be at the forefront of this shift, the council made it a point to invite and include folks that were providing these types of services," he explained. In addition, the council has hosted several learning events to educate and help its manufacturer members add new media channels to their marketing mix.

Next year's MTC is slated for January 23-25, 2024. Along with further expansion of media attendees, MTC organizers are now eyeing a wider array of exhibiting companies. The conference will likely include manufacturers representing Performance Racing Industry (PRI) business members and Truck & Off-Road Association (TORA) councils.

"That will be an added benefit to both manufacturers and media because it recognizes the expansion of the racing world," observed Yanus. 

Meanwhile, she said, MTC organizers continue to be open to other ideas as well. "There's always an opportunity for MPMC members to participate in planning the event. We are always looking at how we can improve things. Members sending us feedback, responding to surveys, or volunteering to be on the subcommittee that actually creates the event are always welcome," Yanus concluded.

Richard Holdener Receives 2023 Robert E. Petersen Award

At the MTC's Tuesday-evening reception sponsored by Power Auto Media and PRI, the MPMC presented its 2023 Robert E. Petersen Media Award to journalist Richard Holdener in recognition his positive impact on both the motorsports industry and the SEMA council. The award is named for the late automotive media publisher who founded Hot Rod along with Motor Trend and countless other titles. The reception offered another great venue for MPMC members and journalists to network in a relaxed and social setting, catch up with friends over food and beverages, and talk motorsports with colleagues.

MTC

Richard Holdener, recipient of the 2023 Robert E. Petersen Media Award (center), is flanked by (left) former MPMC Chair Rob Fisher and current MPMC Chair Melissa Scoles.

Join the MPMC

To learn more about the MPMC, its programs and how to become a member, visit sema.org/get-involved/councils-networks/mpmc or email SEMA Council Director Marcy Yanus at marcyy@sema.org.

This article was part of the May 2023 issue of SEMA News. For more, visit sema.org/news-media/magazine.