By John Stewart
Held at the Embassy Suites in El Segundo, California, the 14th annual 2011 MPMC Media Trade Conference brought together media from all over the world with racing and high-performance parts manufacturers for three days of face-to-face, 30-minute meetings.
An unusually popular event, the Motorsports Parts Manufacturers Council (MPMC) Media Trade Conference (MTC), brings together writers and editors from all over the world with racing and high-performance parts manufacturers.
Those not familiar with the MTC event can think of it as “speed dating” between manufacturers and media. It’s designed to facilitate rapid exchange of information between the parties at hand.
One hundred manufacturers—all MPMC members—and hundreds of media attendees gather in the same hotel, and every 30 minutes, a bell rings to end the current meeting and start a new one. That leaves room for 14 meetings a day. The event runs for three days, meaning that as many as 42 meetings can take place for each manufacturer or media attendee, plus lunchtime networking.
Nowhere else can a manufacturer have the opportunity to meet with automotive journalists from the world over in as many as 42 face-to-face, 30-minute meetings. Likewise, nowhere else can editors and writers gather so much technical and new product material in one place.
By interviewing media attendees, we uncovered an unexpected piece of information about the MPMC MTC: Everyone loves it.
Ken Freund, a freelancer who writes for a variety of outlets, attends the MTC to get the latest info on parts that might be right for his audience and arrange test opportunities.
Drew Hardin, editor of Muscle Car Review, finds value in the MPMC conference because he can get access to company principals who can green-light big editorial projects.
Manufacturers seem to love it because it’s an inexpensive, practical and highly productive way of bringing media attention to their newest products. Manufacturer attendance is limited to 100 businesses, and every year, there is a waiting list to get in.
For the manufacturers, it’s educational. The meetings tend to improve a manufacturer’s understanding of what media outlets are available, and which ones might be best suited for targeted marketing. Manufacturers find out which magazines may have shifted their editorial focus and which new media outlets have grown the most, and can also collect business cards to update their media mailing lists.
That exchange of information works for the media as well. “It really makes a difference to be able to discuss back and forth,” said Travis Noack, “what we’re trying to accomplish with the magazine—the directions we’re taking with content—compared to what their mission is as a company and the products that are in line with that.” Noack is editorial director for the Beckett Media titles Street Trucks, MuscleCar Power, Drag Racer and DRIVE! magazines.
Through their conversations, editors can quickly identify those products that their readership will be most excited about, which will help them sell more magazines and increase their audience. In essence, attending the MTC gives them a leg up on their competition.
Enhanced Editorial Access
That’s one reason why, as popular as the event may be with participating manufacturers, it seems to be even more popular with the media attendees.
All the writers and editors we talked to pointed to the fact that MTC meetings create one-on-one conversations between manufacturers and media that could not take place any other way.
“I’ve been a SEMA member since the mid-’70s,” said Dave Wallace, editor of the Source Interlink Media title Hot Rod Deluxe, “and for me, as a freelancer and a journalist, I think this is the best single member benefit I have ever gotten.”
The MTC is unique for the media because it provides quality time with key decision-makers.
“In the old days at SEMA—my first show was probably 1972 or 1973, I guess it was Anaheim then—in those days, when someone walked past my booth, I knew who they were,” Wallace said. “The SEMA Show is still a great thing, but we lost that one-on-one connection. There are so many demands on the exhibitors’ time; you can’t expect much more than a handshake, even if they’d like to talk product with you. They’re trying to do business.”
In short, the MTC—following closely on the heels of SEMA Show—has become a must-attend event for the media because it offers completely different benefits from the big show in Las Vegas.
“The networking opportunities are terrific,” Wallace noted. “You have the principals of the company right there. You can sit down with the people who actually design these products and have a technical discussion for 30 minutes—and an exclusive conversation.”
Noack echoed Wallace’s thoughts. “You don’t get the displays that we have at the SEMA Show, but what I like is the one-on-one personal time that is scheduled with each exhibitor,” Noack said. “We go because it’s a great opportunity to see 30–40 companies all in one place. We actually have scheduled time to sit down and find out what new products they are producing, what they’re excited about and why.”
To make the best schedule possible, media are asked to indicate which manufacturers they would prefer to see when they sign up. Meetings are assigned in advance. It’s a three-day event, but if attending all three days is not possible, SEMA staff try to make the best schedule for writers who can only commit one or two days. There is no registration fee for media, and lunch is free for all.
For Media, a Lot to Like
Meetings take place in the individual suites, which allows participating manufacturers to set up their products and offer catalogs, press releases, even snacks. Editors can easily gather up information and high-resolution images as they find out about the newest parts.
The MTC works because, especially for a freelancer, access is everything. Chief editors at major magazines may be able to reach key manufacturer principals on their own schedule, but freelancers have a much harder time getting inside a busy manufacturer’s organization.
“At the MTC, the freelancers have the same access, the same privilege, as the editors of major magazines,” Wallace pointed out. “Any other time, as a freelancer without an assignment, I don’t have a good reason to go bother a Ron Coleman or a Chris Alston, or any of the principals of these companies… In this situation, you have this incredible opportunity to ask questions and learn the technical stuff.
“At the end of the day, I am bursting with information,” Wallace continued. “It gives me story ideas so I can pick up the phone or e-mail different editors, and very often, they would come back with ‘why don’t you do the story?’ For a freelancer, who doesn’t even have to be a SEMA member, it’s an unbelievable opportunity.”
Being able to find time for freelance writers is an equal benefit to the manufacturers. Unlike a staff editor, a freelancer may be able to take a story idea and adapt it for publication in several outlets, using his or her contacts with multiple editors.
Ken Freund, another freelance writer who regularly contributes to three titles in the RV category and four titles in the motorcycle category, put it this way: “My hope is to get a scoop on some new products, to try to find out about stuff before anybody who I compete against—or at least, make sure I get it at the same time.”
Another veteran writer and editor, Drew Hardin, edits Muscle Car Review for Source Interlink Media, among other media outlets. He attended this year not so much for the new product information, but because it allowed him to set-up big project builds and get sign-off from the people who can make it happen.
“At Muscle Car Review, we’ve been talking about doing a comparison test between bias-ply and radial tires. And my meeting with the folks at Coker Tire made that happen,” Hardin explained. “We had not been able to solidify the plan or make progress, really, until I got into that room with those guys and had the conversations we needed to have. We talked about the parameters of the test, about how many pages we would need, the vehicle we were going to use—and everybody became comfortable enough with the concept to green-light it. And I don’t know if that would have happened with just phone calls and e-mails.”
Lunchtime provides another chance to network. For both parties, it’s an opportunity to create a relationship-driven business communications channel that can last for years. Pictured here (from left) are Street Rodder Senior Tech Editor Ron Ceridono; Flex-a-lite President Lisa Chissus; and Street Rodder Editorial Director Brian Brennan
Some editors attend to cross-network and discuss story ideas. The conference is particularly valuable for freelancers, who can get story ideas and place them with media outlets, sometimes all in one day. Here, Off-Road Adventures’ Denis Snow and TMR Enterprises’ Trent Riddle compare notes on the morning session at lunch.
So it seems that there is a lot to like for media in attendance. That said, MTC event planners are always looking for ways to refine and improve the format of the event. Matching up the perfect manufacturer with the ideal media is not an easy task, but most attendees told us, most of the time, it works pretty well.
“We probably get about 80%–90% of the people we want to see on our schedule,” Noack told us. “This year I didn’t; I think it was probably a function of trying to jam everything into two days. So I came back on Thursday and popped in on a few people. I found I was able to get together with people at the bar for a drink, at lunch or for dinner to tighten up some of those loose ends.”
It’s worth noting that those media who sign up before the December deadline have the advantage when it comes to getting meetings with the manufacturers they choose.
To facilitate last-minute changes, appointment grids are made available in a separate suite. The grids are kept up-to-the-minute by SEMA staff to allow media and manufacturers to compensate for late arrivals or unavoidable cancellations. Using these grids, SEMA staff tries to shift available media toward available manufacturers, and vice-versa, on the fly.
Planning for next year’s conference, which will be the 15th consecutive meeting, is already under way. Under consideration are such issues as how to involve new media bloggers or to what extent that would be appropriate. These ideas will be discussed on the council level during the months leading up to next year’s conferences. “We’re always looking for ways to improve the format,” said SEMA Council Director Jim Skelly, “but we really don’t want to change the core of the event.” Based on the feedback from media in attendance this year, we think everyone would agree.
Readers who would like more information about the MPMC Media Trade Conference may visit www.sema.org and pull down the “Events” tab.