Turning heads, filling minds at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show – Chicago Tribune

Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014

While it would be impossible to miss the cars on display at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, it would be equally difficult to miss the women presenting the vehicles.

Just as there’s more to a car than its lines, there is much more to the job of product specialist than outward appearance.

That’s due in large part to one woman, Margery Krevsky, who in the early 1980s revolutionized how the auto industry employed models as something more than just a visual accessory to the cars on display.

    “No matter how great the car is, it still can’t talk,” Krevsky says from the 2014 Chicago Auto Show floor.

    Neither could the models, or girls, until she launched her company “Productions Plus: The Talent Shop” in 1981.

    “My idea didn’t change the world, the timing was just right,” Krevsky says with a smile. With the women’s movement affecting all sectors of society and most auto show models holding college degrees, Krevsky approached auto show reps with the idea to dress models in a manner that is still glamorous but to create an experience where they engage people with the cars.

    The idea did not sell.

    “The automakers still liked the bustier, the double eyelashes, the Farah Fawcett hair,” says Krevsky, who drives not just an award-winning talent agency but also a Lexus RX350. By 1984, with support from Pontiac and with Nissan looking to establish itself on American soil, Krevsky’s idea took hold. “The Japanese found this a very tasty idea.”

    Now Productions Plus, based out of Michigan, has 15 clients at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, including Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, GM, Volkswagen and its subsidiaries. It employs 600 product specialists who are deployed at auto events across the country.

    Turning models into gearheads, as Krevsky says, was vital not because of the women’s movement but because auto shows needed a level of engagement that could speak across the demographic spectrum. The importance of connecting with women has never been lost on automakers, as evidenced by Women’s Day at the Chicago Auto Show. On Tuesday, February 11, women get half-priced admission of $6.

    “Women influence 83 percent of automotive purchase decisions,” says Hedy Popson, vice president and chief marketing officer of Productions Plus. “That’s where the wardrobe becomes very tricky. I’m not going to go up to someone in go-go boots.”

    But some do. And Popson likely wore something equally approachable during her time as a product specialist.

    “Everybody attracts different people,” Popson says. They assemble a talent pool that reflects this. The product specialist team is made up of about 60 percent women to 40 percent men, but 87 percent are college graduates. Like herself.

    Starting as a Product Specialist while a Michigan State student in the late 80s, Popson witnessed firsthand the industry change from a glamour-driven circuit dominated by models to the corporate culture of the 90s, where you had to get under the car and know what was in the hood.

    While that’s a sea change from 30 years ago, the heritage of the auto show glamour remains and the wardrobe is a defining feature of the automaker’s display.

    Manufacturers typically have 2 to 3 wardrobe choices, including a pantsuit and dress for women, and a tie with a pocket square for men, says Popson.

    “Toyota has something for everyone so that is how we have to dress the product specialist,” Popson says. At the media preview days, Toyota specialists were dressed in Toyota-red elegant cocktail dresses. At Scion, the mood was decidedly different, younger, hipper, flashier.

    There are also geographic considerations. Press days are more traditional because of the international clientele; public days in the Europe are more traditional, more showgirl-esque, than in the U.S., according to Popson.

    Then there are the more pertinent practical considerations, as well. Miniskirts won’t work if the specialist is climbing in and out of minivans. “We have to stay with an element of good taste,” Popson says.

    The wardrobe and the specialist are a living extension of the car display, and are dressed to reflect the brand’s image and are informed to represent its products. So while the glamour and the 4-inch heels of the auto show remain, there is a new era of connectivity, engagement and, for lack of a better word, infotainment.




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