In Essays, Innovation

I was just denied press credentials for the oddly-named North American International Auto Show, or NAIAS. It was known more conveniently as the Detroit Auto Show for almost a hundred years before 1989.

I’m kinda bent out of shape, even though I’m not necessarily a “member of the press” — I contribute to media outlets, blog, and create the podcast you’re listening to right now — but I’m more bothered by the illogic of the show’s policy.

For starters, there’s no press anymore, for all practical purposes, just media and content, most of which is digital,. Even though a few artifacts of content still get “pressed” — I happen to prefer my newspapers printed on paper, actually — using the term is antiquated, at best.

Now, erstwhile members of said press who’re interested in covering the show must first download, fill out, and fax back a .pdf — now irritatingly archaic — provide proof of employment with a business card, and deliver proof of intention in a letter written by an assignment editor. All of which will then be reviewed by the NAIAS Media Credential Review Board.

Yeah, I’m not kidding…I mean, they’re not. I have no business card that says “writer,” and I have no editor to write me an approval letter, so there ya go. No press credentials.

Such a 1950’s-era policy might make sense if the show had been inundated by reporters in years past, but I was there last year — I somehow passed muster then — and none of the press conferences — there’s that word again — felt particularly overcrowded. Walking the showroom floor felt pretty lonely, actually.

That’s because it’s suffering from some macro-trends, most notably the shift of attention from the auto brands to the Consumer Electronics Show that happens in Las Vegas the week before NAIAS. Since so much of the car stories being told these days are about electronics, or simply about cars that drive themselves, the relative merits of tail fins and grills have declined in importance.

Uber and other ride services have further dimmed the shine of car ownership. So has the fact that so many millennials don’t even have drivers licenses anymore.

In other words, the days of leggy models draped over next year’s model making news are over.

Further, it must be kinda weird to host an auto show in a town in which the original Big Three founders of the gig have announced plans to stop making automobiles…well, sedans at least, and of the combustion engine persuasion first. It’s not really an “auto show” anymore, but rather a “vehicle” show, only that would make its awful acronym even worse. NAIVS.

And again, the macro trends beg the question: What are they actually showing?

You’d think the organizers would have brainstormed ways to make it easier for media…er, I mean press…to attend, not more difficult.

I could have imagined actual outreach that suggested topics and opportunities for coverage, whether from a newspaper, TV station, magazine, website, video blogger, inveterate Tweeter, or some quasi-writer guy like me. There are dozens, if not hundreds of stories that could be told about stuff at the show, so why not do the heavy lifting to identify those angles, and then proactively push them out so people — anybody — could embrace and pursue them?

Or why not figure out ways to activate attendees, and encourage them to post images and share content on specific topics or areas, so everybody would be dubbed “press” for the duration of the show?

The old adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” probably applies here; the show should crave awareness, not try to control or limit it.

I don’t know what kind of coverage they’ll get instead, since I won’t be there. My guess is that a lot of other “press” won’t be, either.

[This essay originally appeared as a podcast at The Brand Populist]
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