Fifty years ago, Toyota entered the North American forklift market. Toyota is the top selling forklift brand in the U.S., and the Toyota brand was named in the Forbes Top 10 Most Valuable Brands list. Toyota Forklifts leverages earned media coverage to maintain its position as an industry leader. In 2016, Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. (TMHU) hired our firm to support the brand with public relations.
In 2017, TMHU called on our firm to provide public relations and media relations support for ProMat, the material handling and logistics industry’s premier global event. ProMat is a bi-annual event where 45,000 manufacturing and supply chain professionals from across the world come to see the latest innovation in material handling and logistics.
The first step our team took as the public relations partner for TMHU was to conduct primary research in the form of an earned media audit. The audit included a review of earned media coverage at the 2015 ProMat event, including interview opportunities, attributed quotes, stories earned and more. The research was used to develop an earned media strategy for the event.
During the ProMat planning process with Toyota, the team set a goal to earn TMHU media coverage in trade media outlets from 10 of the journalists invited to interview TMHU experts during the trade show. Our team chose not to measure success in comparison to the 2015 ProMat event based on industry changes, recent acquisitions by TMHU and other factors.
To address trade media, our team developed media lists for horizontal and vertical markets targeted by Toyota. The horizontal lists targeted the material handling industry as a whole, including distribution centers, bulk handling, automated material handling, plant services and more. The vertical lists targeted food, beverage, rail yard, port cities and other industries that require material handling equipment. The list consisted of 70 trade media contacts in the horizontal and vertical target areas.
The media relations outreach plan was simple; reach out to media targets and invite each publication to schedule 30 minutes to interview a Toyota expert on the topic of their choosing. Our only requirement was that each journalist provide a preliminary list of questions/topics in advance of the interview.
The planning was disrupted by a major acquisition by TMHU just a couple of weeks before the trade show. Our team’s job was to secure interviews for the president of the new organization with the objective of communicating the strategy and goal of the newly owned company, Toyota Advanced Logistics Solutions (TALS). We made additions to the pitch list and included interviews with the new CEO as an offering to journalists.
A major challenge was that Toyota did not have an exhibit booth on the trade show floor, which prohibited our team from hosting media interviews in the event venue. Our team was charged with finding off-site meeting space that was in proximity of the trade show floor, so we did not miss opportunities based on logistics challenges. Our team secured space at a property across the street from the event venue. In order to show gratitude to journalists for making the trek off-site, we provided full meals throughout the two days of interviews.
Our team began reaching out to trade media in February 2017, with less than two months to secure interviews and prepare for the week long trade show. The results provided in this narrative include public relations outcomes for two days of interview availability at the 2017 ProMat event.
The team made multiple calls and emails to each of the more than 90 contacts in the limited timeline, which included publications that covered the newly acquired organization. Our team wrote talking points for each TMHU and TALS expert then provided on-site media training and preparation for every interview scheduled during the show.
Once we arrived at the trade show, the team set the room up in an interview format with seating on two sides of a conference table. We provided printed talking points to each interviewee along with a printed schedule of interviews in which they would participate. The schedule included arrival times that were 15 minutes before the journalists’ arrival times to give time for briefing and coaching. Upon arrival of each interviewee, we reviewed talking points, the journalist’s bio, the last three stories written about the company by the journalist and a reminder of the focus of the publication.
Following each interview, we provided feedback to each executive based on observations the PR team made during the interview. These coaching moments included basic communication tips, reminders about key points and more.
ComGroup’s PR team scheduled 16 interviews during the two-day media availability window allotted by the client. We earned one cover story, which published a month after the trade show in Modern Materials Handling. Every journalist confirmed and completed his/her interview at the show. We earned coverage from every interview, which was a record for Toyota and its media relations efforts at ProMat. The coverage included every horizontal and vertical trade media that we targeted. However, journalists were placed on an embargo to write about any industry company that chose not to exhibit at the trade show.
We anticipated the challenge of an off-site conference room and provided a map and written directions when confirming every meeting. A few journalists had challenges navigating their way to our space across the street, but we intentionally built buffer timing into the schedule. This allowed us to keep every appointment and, in some cases, give extra time for conversation between the journalists and Toyota executives.
The pre-meeting coaching paid off since most executives were participating in several meetings in addition to the media interviews. The refresher briefings resulted in focused messaging from each interviewee during their time with the journalists. In all, we utilized six executives to participate in the 16 interviews.