Media previews are starting for the North American International Auto Show here in Detroit, and I’m about to cover my 47 billionth auto show. This time, however, I may lose track of who I am, why I am, or what I’m doing. You see, this is the first time I’ll be schlepping my laptop, wearing ugly, but comfortable shoes and trying desperately, as a short-American, to breach the wall of unreasonably taller reporters at scrums aimed at dragging a usable quote from an auto executive who would honestly rather score a free cuppa cappuccino from a competitor’s stand–all as an enterprising freelance person, in two very separate roles.
My purple badge says I’m attached to SMDI, which is the Steel Market Development Institute–a client of Franco PR agency where I’m a freelance “integrated media consultant.” The SMDI has a rather large display on the Cobo Center concourse. If you’re there and stop by, it’s my alta cocker voice booming from the speakers voicing over some excellent videos produced by Franco explaining why advanced high-strength steel is the best material for both current and future vehicles, most notably, autonomous cars and trucks. Oh, I also lent my voice to the very, very cool virtual reality experience that takes you through steel’s case. At the North American International Auto Show, I’ll be assisting in creating new videos the client may find useful in the future. I love working with Franco’s team since they’re young, energetic, talented and no one, yet, has said to me, “so what’s the old man consultant think? Still awake? Huh?”
If I flip over my badge, ta da! It turns green! Now I’m a journalist! The…MEDIA! I’ll be contributing stories to the Forbes.com “transportation” page. I’ll revert to how I made a living during the bulk of my career, pad and pen in hand, curiosity dialed up way past 11 covering one of the most fascinating, fast-moving, competitive beats in the world. But I’ll have to be careful. If an automakers says something about steel..uh oh…I can’t write about that. The purple side of my badge will be at odds with the green side. “Oh boy,” he purple side will say. “We’ve got a great story to tell. Too bad you can’t write about it. That must kill you!” The green side will take a breath, nod, in its own cute little way and agree, saying “Not ethical I couldn’t possibly write about an industry that’s also paying you to promote it.” Purple is sympathetic. “Yeah..you’re just a retired guy who can’t stand acting like a retired guy. So be strong..like, er..steel!” Green is not bent by its dilemma. “Ethics is ethics. Thanks for your support,” he tells purple. “Now flip yourself over!”
It’s gonna be a long week. But hopefully, by the end of it, I’ve done my one job to help promote steel from behind my purple badge, but also proved my journalistic mettle from behind my green badge…upholding the ethical canon that you can wear different colors to play different roles but when it comes to being ethical and honest you can’t change your stripes.