That’s hardly the first question you hear at a VIP AutoShow breakfast. But it didn’t come from a crusty auto journo – it was from a lovely young entrepreneur and member of the Women in Biz network.
We were attending a breakfast at the Canadian International Auto Show (CIAS), courtesy of Chevrolet, who had arranged for a panel of experts to speak about blogging and branding. There were mommy bloggers, social media mavens, travel writers, entrepreneurs – nary an auto writer in sight. Except for me.
Could this be part of the auto industry’s never-ending quest to reach the female market? One of the experts, Adria MacKenzie, had been whisked up from GM in Detroit to speak about how Chevrolet works with bloggers and partner organizations. Her specialty was non-automotive media and social channels. That would translate to women and, I suspect, the elusive Millennial car consumer – who spends more time on Twitter than watching Top Gear.
The previous day had been Media Day, or more precisely, Automotive Media Day. I had spent 12 hours traipsing through all 600,000 square feet of the car show, and had the calluses to prove it. There were peppy dancers, flashing lights, electro-tunes, fancy videos, and tedious speeches, while glittering coverlets were swept off sparkling new cars. My eyes hurt, my feet hurt.
Electric carts groaning with coffee, bottled water, snacks, pastry and other treats followed the hordes of auto media as we schlepped from one exhibit to the next. Those who tarried were gently guided by car show personnel onto the next spectacle.
There were plenty of vehicles vying for attention, although the most popular were the exotics, concept cars and classics. Even the plainest of sedans had been buffed and polished to a blinding shine, so crackerjack clean you could eat breakfast off the hood. Wary detailers hovered around in blue overalls, spray pump and rag at the ready in case some reckless journo blemish their handiwork with a greasy fingerprint. Security was stiff as well. When I tried to open the door of the sexy red Dodge Viper, my hand was literally slapped away. It was locked anyway, so what’s the big?
The army of auto media were bedecked with high tech audio visual gear – there may have been more cameras than actual people. Entire newsrooms were schlepped from one car to the next. Everybody was interviewing everybody, and photogs elbowed their way through the sea of media, shooing away the lesser journos to get the best shot.
It was quite the circus, so it was appropriate that performers from Cirque de Soleil, clad in fluttery purple bodysuits, took centre stage at the Infiniti display. Like mauve wood nymphs, they whirled and fouettéd around a shiny new Infiniti Q50, ending in a reverential pose with Wendy Durward, director of Infiniti Canada. Nobody was quite sure what the message was supposed to be.
I’d like to think it was meant to be an homage to the quiet but unmistakable inroads women are making in the car industry. At another unveiling, Dianne Craig, president of Ford Canada, made a power-suited appearance. There are others – Latondra Newton, Toyota’s vice president of North American corporate strategy; Laura Soave, Head of Fiat Brand North America; and Mary Barra, GM senior vice president, global product development.
Which brings us back to the Chevrolet breakfast for non-automotive media, the day after Automotive Media Day. We were breathlessly told how much Chevrolet wanted to help us build our brand, that they were ready to sponsor our blogs and so on. It was a most informative morning, with all kinds of good advice about how to build relationships. We were given gift cards for iTunes and gas and all kinds of useful items, and fed generously.
But when it was time to leave, we couldn’t go. Security had decided the mommy bloggers, social media mavens and travel writers could not roam through the 600,000 square feet of cars unescorted. We were told to wait until noon – and it was only 10:30. That meant an hour and a half cooling our heels, amusing ourselves in the General Motors area.
It speaks volumes about how the industry really does feel about non-automotive types. I strolled out, flashing my CIAS media badge from the day before, and had no problemos. But I felt bad for my breakfast companions – here they had been flattered and feted, only to be abandoned at the gate.
Someone – not naming names – is going to have to try harder.