Whether you’re in the business of manufacturing auto parts, retailing parts online, or retailing parts in your local market, a car show can be an effective and affordable way to market your company. Car shows tend to draw hard-core automotive enthusiasts who are influencers on forums and social media, they can often garner media coverage of some kind, and they’re usually pretty fun.
Of course, they’re lots of work too…it’s not exactly “easy” to put on an event, especially one that requires registration and planning.
Here are the pros and cons from a marketing perspective, along with some advice on putting together a good show.
First, Why Bother?
Event marketing is a tried and true tactic, but it’s often considered something that’s really only effective for businesses with a local customer base. This is wrong. Events are a great way for any company or brand to generate publicity, and publicity leads to things like social media shares and links to your website.
If you merely put on an “average” car show, you’ll gain fans on Facebook, coverage on an automotive website or two, and perhaps even coverage from local media. All of this activity will boost your brand, your search engine rankings, and show your customers another side of your company.
The keys to success (explained in greater detail below) are:
- Identify a specific audience
- Get organized
- Invest in coverage
If you do these five things, you’ll find that a car show is a killer auto parts marketing tactic.
Identify an Audience
It’s foolhardy to hold a car show without thinking about the type(s) of cars you want to attend. If you’re an off-road parts manufacturer, you probably want to invite Jeep and FJ owners. If you’re a restoration parts retailer, you want to invite classic car fans. Etc.
NOTE: Feel free to get very specific about your audience, such as inviting Toyota Tacoma owners only (for example). Just keep in mind that it’s hard to have a big car show if you’re too specific. Unless you’re in a bigger city, it may be difficult to find a lot of participants.
Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of targeting “anyone with a cool car,” as inviting everyone is nearly the same as inviting no one. Besides, it’s not very authentic to open things up that much. Most car shows are focused on a specific type of vehicle or a specific type of exhibitor.
Once you’ve identified the types of vehicles you want at your show, it’s time to draw a box around that audience. Facebook is a great tool for this process:
- Find a Facebook page devoted to the types of vehicles you want at your show
- Like that page
- Search in the Facebook search bar for “Pages liked by people who like [insert page name here]”
It’s incredible data, and amazingly it’s available for free.
PRO TIP: You can ask Facebook to show you pages liked by people who like X and who like Y…the possibilities are endless.
Once you’ve researched your audience, you’ll likely have some ideas about other companies/clubs/charities you can invite to participate in your car show.
SEMA has some great tips on prizes and fees, as well as general organization. This is a must-read guide. See Key Tips for Organizing a Great Car Show.
There’s not a lot to say here – read the SEMA guide and follow their recommendations. This is the best “how to” guide you’ll find.
Co-Market Your Car Show
When it comes to putting up a local event, co-marketing will set you free. Do NOT try to do it all yourself – find another company (or three) in your area that has a similar audience and invite them to get involved. You can share the task of promoting the event, managing vehicle registrations, share in marketing costs, etc.
Your co-marketing partners don’t have to be “partners” at all – you can invite them to become sponsors, but instead of charging them a sponsorship fee, you can ask them to donate a facility, or staff, or advertising, or whatever.
Speaking of donations, it’s a great idea to involve a local charity. In exchange for using the charity’s name on all your marketing materials, you can offer to donate all vehicle registration fees to them, or encourage visitors to make a donation for attending the show, etc.
Finally, talk to your local new car dealers and restaurants about co-sponsoring a car show. These businesses have a parking lot, restrooms, lots of staff, insurance, and they often have a local advertising budget too.
Publicize Your Car Show
There are about a million things you can do to promote a car show, but some of our favorite ideas are:
- Create an official car show registration page on your company website. If you can’t do that (or don’t want to) , you can use http://www.eventbrite.com/ to create your official car show registration page instead.
- You can also use EventBrite.com to sell registrations online, but it might be easiest to ask everyone to pay when they arrive.
- Post announcements to vehicle owner forums. They often have regional threads where you can post car show announcements.
- Register your car show with local event sites like Eventful, your local TV station and newspaper websites (most of which allow you to post an event announcement for free), car show listings websites (there are too many to list), and search for websites about things to do in your area. Google “things to do in Denver” – or whatever city your show will be held in – and see if you can get whatever websites that are listed to publish your event.
- Contact all the car clubs in your area that might have members who would want to exhibit and offer them a special parking area and/or registration discount.
- Find Facebook clubs or pages for your local area that might be popular with your audience and message the page owner.
- Email local automotive media…every newspaper has an automotive news or local events reporter, as do most TV stations. Give them a two or three sentence description of the show, offer them a free media pass, and offer to answer questions.
- Email your local TV morning news shows and offer to appear on their show to talk about your event. They’re often desperate for guests (believe it or not).
- Create an event on Facebook and invite all your fans to attend. Ask your co-marketers to do the same.
Whatever you do, make sure that all your publicity activity includes a link to your event registration page (which is hopefully on your company website) and a link to your Facebook event page. This will generate a variety of quality links to your site and build your brand on social media, both of which can boost search engine rankings.
Invest in Coverage
In our experience, this is where most car show promoters fall short. You can put on the best car show your town has ever seen, but the business impact of a successful show is maximized when you can receive legitimate media coverage.
The trouble is, the economics of modern media make legitimate coverage difficult to obtain. TV cameras, photographers, and reporters don’t work for free, and most local media doesn’t prioritize car show coverage. The solution? Hire your own coverage team!
For less than $500, you can hire a professional photographer to cover your show (just post an ad on Craigslist and pick your favorite responder). For $200-$500 dollars more, you can get a videographer to shoot video of your event for an hour or two. If you let your local media know you’re going to hire pros to cover the show, and offer to send them footage or photos free of charge, they just might use it in an article or newscast.
What’s more, you can hire a freelance journalist to attend your event, write up news stories, and then send them to local media, bloggers, etc. in addition to your photos and video. Car show coverage is popular with a variety of automotive blogs too – from Jalopnik to SuperChevy.com – car show photos are popular post topics.
This Sounds Like A Lot of Work…
You got us – putting on a car show isn’t easy. It takes time, money, and planning to be successful.
On the other hand, it’s not exactly impossible. Local charities, alumni associations, and car clubs put on car shows all the time. These organizations don’t usually have marketing budgets or employees, and yet they somehow manage to pull it off.
When you consider the opportunities for legitimate media coverage, the marketing benefits that come with this media coverage, the branding benefits, and the opportunity to help a local charity, a car show is a pretty decent marketing tactic.