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DETROIT - Visit the 2013 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), and you’ll notice that most of the car manufacturers flank their vehicles with leggy models wearing flashy high-heeled shoes and short, form-fitting outfits.
Ford, on the other hand, takes a dramatically different approach.
The Ford stand is staffed by product specialists – engaging young men and women, dressed in more conservative attire, whose goal at the show is to inform and educate consumers about the vehicles on display.
“A certain look is important because auto shows are considered a field of entertainment. But we don’t want just a pretty face,” said Gary Olsson, Regional Auto Show Operations manager, Ford and Lincoln. “We want someone who is both smart and attractive.”
Ford Division recruits people to work as product specialists through the United Talent Agency (UTA).
“We have a really diverse group of talent,” said Cynthia Guenther Arcaro, owner, UTA. “The majority of the people we select for Ford are college educated, and many have already worked in the automotive industry as narrators.”
All candidates must pass a rigorous certification examination before being allowed to represent Ford at the approximately 85 auto shows held throughout the U.S. and Canada between September and May.
“We have the most rigorous training program in the industry,” said Olsson. “We bring all the potential product specialists to Dearborn for an entire week. They go through 40 hours of concentrated training that consists of classroom learning, walk-around training on the vehicles and a day at the test track driving all of our cars and trucks. Then they are tested, and if they score high enough on the exam we certify them as product specialists.”
Ford has 74 product specialists working its auto show stand in Detroit this year.
“Research shows that in many instances consumers go to auto shows first before going to the dealership to buy a vehicle. So we’re on the front lines,” said Olsson. “We have a lot of information to convey and we view this as our chance.”
Olsson says a product specialist may only get three to four minutes with a consumer, so he or she must make valuable use of the time.
“It’s a very small window of opportunity and we have to have the right people to be able to quickly convey the right message to the consumer,” he said. “It’s very important.”
This year is Lisa Fioritto’s third season working as a product specialist for Ford. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English, Language and Literature and also works as a commercial actress and model.
“Our main goal is to make people excited about our product,” she said. “Whether or not they leave and buy a Ford, we want them to have a happy feeling when they walk out of our display because that’s what they’re going to remember.”
Hopefully, says Olsson, that “happy feeling” that Fioritto refers to will drive the consumer to visit his or her local Ford dealership.
“A big part of the product specialist’s job at the auto show is to collect leads,” he explained. “These are leads that are sent to our dealers so they can follow-up with the consumers and hopefully bring them in to sell a vehicle.”
“We are passionate about our people, and how they work at the auto shows,” said Olsson. “We truly believe it’s a competitive advantage for our company compared to other brands.”