Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Autosport International impresses…

Last Friday I made my annual pilgrimage to the NEC in Birmingham to the 2013 Autosport International show. It’s an event that is an essential date in the diary if you’re in the industry and, to many, it symbolises the start of the racing season.

I went on the second of two trade days, so I can’t pass comment on either public day, but having seen the reports the show overall was clearly well attended. In this blog I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail as I know a lot of you reading this will have been to the show this year, but what I am going to do is give some of my opinions into the positives and negatives of the show, influenced by my experience as a professional in the PR/marketing area of motorsport.
I spent some time over the weekend thinking about the one thing I’ll remember from this year’s show. It came to me quite quickly – I was really impressed with the quality of the cars on display. I’m not talking about the more promoted displays either, like the F1 grid or the Richard Burns collection of cars. I’m referring to the cars that were dotted around the show on all manner of stands. For example, my friends over at TrackDriver magazine brought a McLaren F1 GTR owned by Nick Mason, Classic Team Lotus had a stunning ex-Nigel Mansell F1 car, Radical showed off its new RXC and over on the Aurora Bearing Company stand the DeltaWing was on display – a car that is simply amazing in its radical nature. The cars undoubtedly draw people in to the stands, so as a promotional tool they are fantastic.
Whilst there were an awful lot of positives, I have to add some negatives in too. The first isn’t to do with the show itself, more the NEC. I have a real problem with the £10 parking charge – I’m going by train next year now I’ve had a tip off. It’s a pretty outrageous price, particularly when you consider the entry price isn’t exactly a bargain. I don’t know how some families on the public days can justify the expenditure – particularly if they are travelling far.  Secondly, some stands were totally overloaded with information which meant you couldn’t get a clear picture of what the company actually offered. Clearly, some companies overthink their stands, which is where they should look at hiring professional branding or marketing advisors to assist in producing displays that are much more audience focused.

The Dunlop/BTCC display at the 2013 Autosport International
Some of the stands this year however were fantastic; better than at previous shows from recollection. The best stand I’ve ever seen was a few years ago when Prodrive had a magnificent ‘clinical white’ stand, which was extremely eye catching (I dare say expensive too!). In 2013, I was really impressed in particular with the Dunlop/British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) display; it wasn’t overly complicated and was visually appealing with a small mock-up of the iconic ‘Dunlop Bridge’. There weren’t too many staff on the stand either, which leads me on to a topic that I continue to have issues with. I really feel that some companies could make better use of the staff that attend the show. Without naming any firms specifically, it was quite clear that some had far too many staff and, in some cases, the staff weren’t interacting effectively with visitors. I saw far too many visitors wondering around several stands without being approached by anyone. To me, this is a waste of perfectly good resource and those companies should be doing more to engage with the audience.
So what did the Autosport International teach me about the year ahead? Well, there are certainly a lot of exciting new projects underway and it was clear, particularly in the Autosport Engineering area of the show, that innovations continue industry-wide. It appears that motorsport is continuing to fight off the economic climate - after speaking to a journalist friend of mine, it is clear that the BTCC in particular is looking very healthy going into 2013. Having said that, there have been some casualties, such as the loss of the HRT F1 team and the potential loss of Ford/Arena in the World Touring Car Championship.
It will be interesting what 2013 brings. I’m already looking forward to the 2014 show – I hope it’s equally as good.