The North American International Auto Show in Detroit kicks off the auto show season and a frenzy of activity in the automotive press. During the media preview days, Cobo Center is teeming with reporters, all on deadline and many of whom are looking for a way to break out of the “pack” mentality. They are on the hunt for executives and others who can feed them a little tidbit to give them a competitive edge on a story everyone is covering — or perhaps one nobody else has caught on to yet.
While this could be an excellent opportunity to garner some positive media attention, you must remain on guard at all times. Reporters may be on a fishing expedition or looking for a salacious off-the-cuff comment. You don’t want to be quoted saying something you didn’t really mean to say on the record.
Keep these five quick tips in mind if you are cornered by a reporter on the floor of the show:
1. Don’t dismiss the reporter, but don’t feel obligated to give an answer you aren’t comfortable with. Have some prepared responses that you can pull out if needed — but that don’t sound scripted — for those questions you don’t want to or can’t answer.
2. Watch out for seemingly innocuous questions about a competitor’s vehicle or press conference. You don’t want to end up in the headline. (“Company X Exec Pans Company Y’s New Subcompact“ or “Company X Head Says Company Y’s Electric Vehicle Unveiling Blew Him Away”)
3. If you have something to say, say it in short, quotable sound bites. Reporters at the show have a very short attention span and little time for idle chitchat. You will not have much time to expand on your theories. Get to the point fast. Very quickly get to “why consumers should care,” and speak in plain English. Avoid jargon.
4. Review in advance the kinds of unexpected questions that might come up. Reporters like to take advantage of the access during the show to ask about overarching industry issues, as well as any trend or investigative stories they may be working on unrelated to the show.
5. Know your key messages inside and out — and practice!
Detroit is considered the “Super Bowl” of auto shows, but these tips certainly hold true for any industry event where you will be faced with journalists who know their beats and want to make their marks. Even if you have previously gone through media training, a session to prepare for specific product launches or company initiatives could be helpful so that you are comfortable talking to reporters under high-pressure circumstances.
Max Muncey, account supervisor at The Quell Group, earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Western Michigan University and is a member of the Automotive Press Association, Automotive Public Relations Council and Washington Automotive Press Association. He currently resides in Berkley, Michigan.