Auto Show Role Reversal, Reversal

badgeI’ve worked every Detroit Auto Show since 1990 for four different employers: CNN, AP, The Detroit News, Chrysler, and its variations. Next week I’ll be back for a fifth. The difference is, for the first time since the 2005 show, I’ll be covering as a journalist once again, for Automotive News, after 11 years indentured as a PR guy for DaimlerChryslerChryslerFiatChryslerAutomobiles, or DCCFCA.

While at the Auburn Hills chameleon I headed the digital communications team, which handled social media, video production, webcasts and broadcast media for DCCFCA’s PR department. Oh, I’m sorry…Corporate Communications. I almost never left our stand, except to grab a mint from the young people just inside the show entrance offering them to obviously foul-breathed writers and flaks. I also hosted a broadcast-only session with our CEO. That was in another room far from the show floor. Soft drinks were available, but no mints. It was a fun job, for the most part but I quickly learned that asking an actual question of your own executives will earn you the same look I imagine Tippi Hendren gave Hartz Mountain birdseed ads. I simply asked a question that was on my mind and that any reporter might ask and got an answer that would make some news. My boss pulled me aside and barked, “Don’t you ever attempt to make news again!” Jeez…old instincts are hard to sublimate.

Well…..for 11 years I had to swallow my curiosity, or at least, not act on it. Not anymore. I retired from DCCFCA at the end of July and took a part-time job at Automotive News on their video news team. They bought me a tiny video camera and associated gear and gave me a list of important executives and analysts to interview…with the hope of making some news. They also told me to take my little camera and blast away at anything that catches my eye and turn it into a story. I’ve been flexing the part of my brain I wasn’t allowed to use for more than a decade to the point of asking anyone I see some sort of challenging question…just to get in shape. Questions like, “How long have you been shorting customers on french fries and skimming the rest for your own pimply self?” Or “I’ve seen you waiting at this bus stop every day for 3 weeks. What’s going on between you and the driver…are you having an a-fare?”

I think I’m ready now. I’ve been doing my homework, boning up for my interviews and I’ve made the mental leap from lobbing softballs to DFFCA execs such as “just how freakin’ great are we?” to firing darts at captains of the auto industry that will make them beg for mercy, or at least decaf coffee.

I’ll be so proud to wear a “Media” credential again and scam all the free food and coffee I can from the press room I was not allowed to enter as a PR guy. I’ll once again worm my way into scrums and lurch through the crowds of writers clawing their way to the automakers’ tables offering swag which will find its place in my basement, or eBay.

Yes, I’m excited to be back in the game again, returning to a profession I dearly missed on the best beat in the world. Now, who’s giving out free cappuccino?







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