How to Plan and Execute a SEMA Show News Conference
By Chad Simon
Every year, 3,000 journalists representing various news outlets and automotive segments descend upon Las Vegas for the SEMA Show, hoping to get a first glimpse at the latest custom vehicles, innovative products and groundbreaking trends offered up by the automotive specialty-equipment industry.
If you’re an exhibitor with a significant revelation and you want to let the cat out of the bag, holding a press conference is the best way to get in front of the media. Hours of planning, preparation and strategy are required to successfully pull it off, but the results can be well worth it. It’s best to ensure that you have the necessary staffing and resources at your disposal to optimize your chances of convincing the media to show up and connect with you, and getting the coverage you seek.
Mike and Jim Ring unveiled the rebuilt ’71 Pantera De Tomaso “ADRNLN” during a press conference in the Royal Purple booth at the 2013 SEMA Show.
Press Conference Benefits
MagnaFlow is among the exhibitors who conduct at least one press conference at the SEMA Show every year to announce a new product line or application. To be successful, it’s critical for the company to have one direct message and be available afterward to answer media questions. The manufacturer of performance exhaust systems announced last year that it was venturing into the header and motorcycle markets.
“The major benefit of hosting a press conference is being able to get in front of all the media at once, and the SEMA Show is the ideal place to offer a clear, concise message in one group setting,” said Kathryn Reinhardt, MagnaFlow’s marketing communications manager.
Royal Purple utilizes a SEMA Show press conference to maximize exposure for both the company’s build partner and the car being unveiled.
The primary objective when holding a news conference should be to bring relevant, unusual and important news to people and not just talk about the latest iteration of a product, according to Tom Marx, president and CEO of The Marx Group, a marketing communications agency that specializes in the automotive and heavy-duty aftermarket. Relevant news includes a new product that is significantly different, a new app or new way of reaching an audience, a new project build, introducing a new spokesperson, a change in management, a joint venture or a new target market. The subject has to be interesting to the media and different from what they can find in a news release.
“If you can get 10 to 15 media people at a news conference, and they’re the right people, that’s a good turnout,” Marx said. “A lot of people think that you need to fill a room with 40 to 50 people, but unless you’re a large company, that’s just unusual to do. If you’ve got 10 to 15 people who are going to write about you and use that kind of brainpower to extend your brand, that’s a good number.”
It makes sense to have a press conference if you have a busy executive or celebrity who cannot accommodate such a large number of individual journalist interviews, according to Della Domingo, SEMA’s public relations director.
“One thing we tell exhibitors is that a press conference is not necessarily for everyone,” she said. “It takes a lot of time, energy and resources to hold a successful press conference. And you have to have a solid story to get the media to come. But if an exhibitor is willing to put in that time and effort, it’s possible to have great results.”
On the flip side, a press conference is not a guarantee of media coverage. Some exhibitors don’t get the results they were hoping for because their announcements aren’t sufficiently newsworthy to attract the media, or they don’t have the staffing or time.
Three generations of Ness family motorcycle builders, including (left to right) Arlen, Cory and Zach, were on hand to announce their collaboration with Magnaflow at the 2013 SEMA Show.
Strategy and Promotion
The first strategy should be to plan four to five months in advance, according to Marx. Decide on the location, whether in the SEMA pressroom or your booth, but look at the tactics involved. You should have at least a 20x20-ft. booth if you plan to host a news conference there. The advantage to holding a news conference in the SEMA pressroom is that it is already equipped with a podium, a sound system, a projector and seating for journalists.
“We’ll often cordon off part of the booth so that people come into the center of it,” Marx said. “Collect business cards so that you know who the attendees are and can ensure that these are the people you want in there. Try to keep others outside the booth area in order to contain it. Also, get a microphone and the right kind of sound system, because there’s a lot of extraneous sound at the Show.”
Once you have booked your press conference, notify the media as soon as possible to hold the date, Marx advised. As the event gets closer, call the media or send an e-blast and a physical letter to remind them about it. Promote it via social media. Ensure that people who have committed are still coming; if not, find out how to get information to them after the event.
Because of the media’s diversity in representing various automotive aftermarket segments, exhibitors must identify and target the media most applicable to their announcement. If an exhibitor is on the official press conference schedule, SEMA promotes the event in its publications, directly to the media through e-mails before the Show and provides handouts on-site at the media center showing what days and times the press conferences are taking place.
“We’ve seen a direct correlation in the amount of outreach an exhibitor will do to promote their press conferences to journalists and the success they have,” Domingo said. “Keep in mind that journalists are being pulled in many different directions, so give them a reason to attend your press conference on that date and time. The journalists have to be convinced that it’s a press conference they don’t want to miss.”
It would be a mistake to show up in Vegas without having a media kit to hand out to journalists. It should include elements such as professional product photos, pricing and market research, the product’s features and benefits and when it will be released to the market. Many exhibitors, including MagnaFlow, utilize an interactive display in their booths so that viewers can visually see the product installed on a vehicle, its application and, in MagnaFlow’s case, hear the sound of the exhaust.
It’s also a good idea to rehearse the conference beforehand to identify the speakers, the order in which they speak and what they plan to talk about to eliminate repetition.
“My job is to ensure that everything runs smoothly, we’re on time, people are talking when they’re supposed to and that they can be heard,” said Marlena Solomon, Royal Purple’s marketing specialist. “We always have our automotive sales team on hand and, if we unveil a car, the builders to answer questions regarding specific products and give interviews. The SEMA Show is a busy event, so we want to organize our press conferences to where it makes sense for people to attend and get on to whatever they need to do. Execute a good news conference, stick to the plan and get everyone out.”
“Perhaps start off with a three- to four-minute, high-paced video that gets across the message you’re trying to send,” Marx said. “If you need to use a PowerPoint, provide handouts with one page of highlighted points. The rest you can put on a thumb drive that the media can reference later. They are overwhelmed with news conferences, so you don’t want them to go back to home base and start to write and wonder what happened at your conference.”
Provide refreshments, including coffee, water and soft drinks, depending on the time of day, Marx advised. When the event is finished, follow up with the media to ask whether they have any more questions, whether they want a one-on-one interview or if there is anything else you can send to them.
MagnaFlow likes to attract a lot of attention to its booth, which is why the company routinely brings celebrities to the Show, such as Mario Andretti, Chip Foose, Vaughn Gittin Jr. and Robby Gordon. Last year, the company and Arlen Ness announced a new partnership to manufacture and sell a complete line of co-branded exhaust products designed for American V-Twin motorcycles.
“Celebrities are an effective way to get your message out, because they are our trusted brand ambassadors,” Reinhardt said. “They go to the market and tell consumers that this is a product they would use. Consumers look up to them, want to be like them and build cars just like theirs. The effect of having them sign posters in the booth and hand out marketing materials can last years after the Show, and that’s huge for us.”
In the Royal Purple booth last year, build partner Ringbrothers unveiled a rebuilt yellow ’71 Pantera De Tomaso called “ADRNLN.” Royal Purple hosted a media reception afterward, which provided an opportunity to thank the media for coming and gave journalists a chance to talk one on one with the car builders.
“Part of the reason we do unveilings is that they create incredible traffic to our booth,” said Solomon. “When you have a car like this in your booth, the traffic is insane all the time throughout the course of the Show. Utilizing celebrity builders helps to put a face to your product or vehicle. We let their work speak for itself; everyone wants to see what they are going to do next to make a vehicle stand out.”
“Hosting a celebrity in your booth can be beneficial if the person is well known and respected,” Marx said. “At the end of the day, good news is news. Figure out first what you’re trying to create. If you’ve got a celebrity who’s really good, then go for it.”
A successful news conference is defined by whether the product sells, because that’s why companies exhibit at the Show.
“For us, it means that we reached the media, the media reached the consumers and the consumers bought the product,” Reinhardt said.
According to Solomon, you know you’ve done your job when the crowd is engaged and talks about the product or vehicle that was unveiled. Despite a glitch last year, she believes the company still pulled it off.
“The only thing I would improve upon from last year is to ensure that we have an audio system this year,” Solomon said. “We had several people speaking and many in attendance, so unless you were standing right there, you couldn’t hear everything. Otherwise, the Pantera in our booth was an incredible success. There were numerous photographers who stopped by to take a look at the car. There was a lot of buzz that went on around it, which drove traffic to our booth.”
First-time exhibitors don’t typically hold press conferences because it’s such a huge commitment and not something many exhibitors will take on in their first year, according to Domingo. However, several years ago, one first-timer accepted the challenge and decided that the press conference would be a success as long as he got the company’s name out there. No media showed up, but he was satisfied when he saw the company’s name published in the SEMA Show Daily’s press conference schedule.
“Most exhibitors probably wouldn’t be satisfied with that,” Domingo admitted. “For me, success would be getting at least a half-dozen journalists there—a combination of new ones and ones you have established relationships with—and getting 50% of them to write about you. It’s a chance to strengthen relationships with media you already work with and introduce the ones you don’t know to your company and what you’ve got going on.”
Use the time after the event is over to reflect upon whether you were able to convey the intended message, how it was accepted and how you might improve for the next time.
“Engagement is the definition of having executed a successful press conference,” Marx said. “If the media is there and engaged, they’re asking questions and they’re showing interest, then you’ve done your job. If they’re just sitting there like bumps on a log, then it’s because you didn’t get across your point or weren’t exciting enough.