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Company: Daimler Trucks North America LLC, a division of Daimler AG
Event: Liquid Natural Gas Press Event
Objective: Generate media coverage of the company’s LNG technology.
Strategy: Educate members of the media via a press event that keeps the focus on the company’s key messages.
Tactics: Feature experts to present on the environmental, commercial, and health benefits of the LNG technology; offer test drives.
Results: Attracted 150 attendees, educated guest about the benefits of LNG technology, and generated 16 million media impressions.
Creative/Production Agency: Henry V Events, www.henryvevents.com
Budget: $130,000

ention “alternative-fuel vehicles,” and most people think ethanol-powered compact cars, not 18 wheelers or freight carriers. But behemoth trucks are exactly what Daimler Trucks North America LLC wants everyone to envision when they hear that eco-friendly phrase. While Daimler already enjoyed a good reputation as an over-the-road, heavy-duty truck manufacturer, the company had recently resolved to become more environmentally conscious and began production of earth-friendly and efficient alternative-fuel truck technology in June 2008. But that move hadn’t received much recognition.

So when it came time to deliver a 132-strong fleet of trucks powered by Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) to California Cartage Co., a shipping and distribution company located in Long Beach, CA, in December 2008, Daimler saw it as an opportunity to toot its own horn. Thus, the company began engineering a marketing and public-relations strategy to demonstrate the LNG technology and trucks to civic and government officials, while simultaneously generating coverage of its environmentally friendly technology in various trucking-industry publications. Plus, Daimler hoped to spread the news of government grants available to businesses investing in alternative-fuel vehicles, which sweeten the deal for the eco-friendly alternatives the company offers.

The government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides grants to companies that bypass gas guzzlers in favor of alternative-fuel vehicles like those manufactured by Daimler. Cal Cartage, for instance, received ARRA funding to offset the costs of purchasing the fleet of Daimler LNG trucks. The Port of Long Beach also ordered 100 of the alternative-fuel trucks, which entitled the port to grants through the ARRA Clean City Coalition program.

That news alone was likely to generate some local media coverage, but Daimler knew it needed much more than a run-of-the-mill press release if it hoped to create the kind of national exposure that could bust preconceived notions that alternative-fuel vehicles are less powerful, less affordable, and just generally less practical than traditional fossil-fueled vehicles.

So rather than issuing a press release about the Cal Cartage sales or just ignoring the public-relations potential altogether, Daimler capitalized on what it saw as an opportunity to get the word out about its trucks and their LNG cleaner-air technology. With hopes of changing the public’s outdated perception of alternative-fuel vehicles, Daimler adopted a media-event strategy that targeted 150 business owners, trucking-industry trade press, and government officials. But instead of the glitz and glamour of auto-industry press events, Daimler decided to keep it simple, focusing on the authoritative communication of its key messages — and nothing else.


When it comes to sending a message of conservation, delivering it in a big, splashy package tends to defeat the purpose. So Daimler turned to Portland, OR-based Henry V Events to develop a streamlined, info-packed press event to spread the word — without an ounce of discernable excess.

In the spirit of conservation, Daimler chose a less-than-conventional location. Instead of bringing a single truck into an exhibit hall or traditional event venue — and forking over the funds to rent said space — Daimler planned to set up the event in a 5-acre lot near the Port of Long Beach. Matt Harper, managing director at Henry V Events, says every effort was made to keep the event as Green as possible. For example, Daimler used recyclable tableware, powered the event with bio-diesel generators, and brought in a solar-powered executive restroom. And the venue would be simple and streamlined, consisting of three plain, white tents: one for the catering crew and supplies, one for storage, and a third where the educational presentations would take place.

Parked outside of the tents, in the nearly empty asphalt lot, Daimler planned to line up 50 LNG-powered trucks side by side. That brigade of big rigs wasn’t just about creating a dramatic impression; it was also a subtle suggestion that these were more than the one-of-a-kind prototypes typically seen at car shows and truck dealerships. Daimler wanted attendees to know these were real vehicles that are both on the market and on the roads.

“Alternative-fueled commercial trucks make up only a miniscule fraction of the total number of vehicles in use today. And technologies like LNG tend to be perceived as futuristic things that will be available down the road. So it was important to let attendees know that LNG is a truly viable alternative and not just a pipe dream,” Harper says. “We wanted the trucks there in metal and rubber, an entire fleet right in front of attendees’ faces.”

Furthermore, the Port of Long Beach location offered the perfect setting to publicize the environmental aspects of Daimler’s LNG-powered trucks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Long Beach is part of the South Coast Air Basin, the second most populous urban area in the United States, and its air-quality levels are among the worst in the nation.

Collectively, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach make up the single largest fixed source of pollution in the basin, pouring out about 100 tons of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen-oxide emissions (NOx) every day, says Francisco Arcaute, spokesperson for the EPA’s Los Angeles field office. And according to the American Lung Association, diesel exhaust spews some 40 toxic chemicals into our air, creating a gassy amalgam that is carcinogenic and can also exacerbate asthma and various other health problems.

But LNG is a comparably eco-friendly alternative fuel that, when made using a process that converts landfill gas into useable LNG, is considered a renewable alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Plus, compared to diesel, LNG improves engine efficiency, it burns cleaner, and vehicles powered by it are often less expensive to operate.

Daimler wanted to communicate those earth-friendly benefits to members of the media in hopes that they would, in turn, communicate them to the rest of the trucking industry via newscasts and articles in trucking-industry trade publications. But the company faced two other considerable challenges: a budget of only $130,000, and a mere three weeks to plan and execute the event to coincide with the vehicles’ scheduled delivery date to Cal Cartage.

Faced with a shortfall of time and money, Daimler and Henry V began preparations for what they hoped would be a focused, intimate event that educated media representatives about the trucks and the LNG technology, all the while offering up a national-news-worthy story pitch that even the most jaded of journalists couldn’t refuse.


Daimler flew in roughly 20 journalists from across the country to join the local Southern California media at the Dec. 8, 2008, event. The truck manufacturer hosted a dinner the previous night for attendees, letting them network and mingle prior to the actual event.

Early the next morning, attendees climbed aboard buses and headed off to the press conference scheduled for 8 a.m. Some were surprised to find that their destination wasn’t a showroom or a convention center. The bare-bones venue was only the first indication that this was not a car show filled with booth babes and bright lights. It was an educational event focused on demonstrating the power, efficiency, and environmental benefits of Daimler’s LNG-powered trucks.

Following a brief stop at the catering tent for coffee and continental-breakfast fare, the attendees filed into the main tent — sparsely but appropriately decorated, with simple folding chairs and a basic stage setup featuring only a podium, a banner, monitors, and a couple of plants — to hear what the speakers had to say. But these speakers weren’t entirely unfamiliar to attendees.

In addition to asking government officials, representatives from Cal Cartage, and representatives from the Port of Long Beach to present speeches at the event, Daimler and Henry V also asked this important group of influencers to invite the targeted attendees via pre-event e-mails and one-to-one phone calls. The clever and cost-effective invitation strategy was in line with Daimler’s overarching event objectives. A big-budget invitation from a major auto maker says “sales pitch” or “product launch,” while a personal invitation from a governmental official, for example, infuses the event with more weight and purpose than your average, everyday auto-industry wine and dine.

Chris Patterson, president and CEO of Daimler, got the educational wheels turning with a presentation about the company’s commitment to clean air and the environment. His address was followed by speeches from the influencers invited to present. Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, for example, spoke about the need to clean up air quality around the port, while Robert Curry Sr., the owner of Cal Cartage, discussed the rationale behind his company’s decision to convert to LNG trucks. Finally, Dr. Chung Liu addressed the very serious impacts and health risks associated with the kinds of air pollution caused by fossil-fueled vehicles.

“What was especially thoughtful and interesting was bringing all the different stakeholders together,” says attendee Wendy Leavitt, director of editorial and market development for Fleet Owner magazine. “The inclusion of all the entities involved communicated a more complex and complete message than any single speech by a Daimler representative alone could have delivered. Still, as an attendee, you saw a sharp focus from everyone involved. Daimler’s message was loud and clear.”

But no matter how scintillating and informative the speeches and presentations were, for these attendees it was all about the trucks. So prior to the event, Daimler shot a two-minute video of two identically loaded trucks, one powered by diesel fuel and the other by LNG, racing down a stretch of road. In the video, which the company played following the speeches, the LNG truck beat the diesel truck. The not-so-subtle video sent the message that, in addition to all their environmental benefits, LNG trucks pack more punch than traditional diesel-powered models.


After the roughly 90-minute educational presentation inside the tent, attendees got some one-on-one time with the big shiny fleet of trucks lined up outside. With only three attendees per vehicle on display, the media representatives were able to inspect and explore them, kicking the tires, sitting in the cabs, and, of course, taking them for a test drive.

But a basic cruise around the block isn’t exactly tantamount to the kinds of trips this vehicle is made for. So Daimler and Henry V created a 10-mile ride-and-drive route around the port and surrounding area for the 40 or so attendees with commercial Class A licenses to follow, and loaded the trucks with cargo so the drivers could feel how they handled on roads and freeways.

“We wanted to put them in a situation that was conducive to what we were trying to convey,” says Maria McCullough, public relations senior manager for Daimler. “We wanted the attendees to feel the speed and hear the noise of an actual fully loaded LNG truck.” Daimler-provided drivers invited attendees who didn’t have a commercial driver’s license to sit in the passenger seat and ask questions about the truck, Daimler, and the ARRA grant program as they rode along the route.

Since the 10-mile route took attendees past the busy port, Daimler reps were able to draw comparisons between the clean, quiet, and smooth ride of the LNG trucks and the huge number of older, dirtier diesel trucks moving in and out of the port, Leavitt says.

The no-frills event, which consisted of speaker presentations and test drives, was perfect for Daimler Trucks North America LLC’s target: industry journalists.    

Paul Abelson, senior technical editor for Land Line and Road King magazines, traveled from Illinois to Long Beach to attend. And, at least in his opinion, the event offered more than just the standard auto-industry press conference he has come to expect. “The test drive alone made it worth traveling four-and-a-half hours to be there,” Abelson says. “There was no way I could have experienced the handling and power of the truck through a press kit or press release.”

Abelson also says the variety of authoritative speakers, who addressed the trucks and their LNG technology from several different perspectives — medical, environmental, political, and corporate — offered a richer, more big-picture story pitch that made Daimler’s message applicable to a broader swath of media outlets.

In a final nod to efficiency and conservation, the company delivered its message like it delivers its trucks — quickly and cleanly. Leavitt says she was at the Los Angeles International Airport shortly after 1 p.m., and she arrived back in Seattle in time to write and deliver her story about the event for publication the next day.


More than 20 national and local press outlets covered the event, earning Daimler ink and air time in a variety of media outlets, including CNN, CNN Radio, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, and industry publications such as Fleet & Fuel, Fleet Owner, Land Line/Road King, and Work Truck magazines. And since Daimler managed to present its story as not just automotive news, but environmental news as well, the press coverage spilled over into the environmental media, such as the Green Car Advisor blog, gaining unexpected additional exposure for Daimler and its LNG vehicles.

Corporate EVENT Awards judges were unanimously impressed with Daimler’s ability to take Cal Cartage’s new fleet and turn it into a full-fledged press event that generated an awe-inspiring 16 million media impressions. “Many companies would have issued a press release, or held a simple press conference and called it a day,” said one judge. “But Daimler identified this as an opportunity to get the word out about its vehicles and its LNG technology. And it did just that.”

Plus, with expenses totaling $130,000, Daimler spent a mere $8 per thousand media impressions, making its event almost as efficient as its LNG-powered trucks. E

Janet Van Vleet, writer; editor@corporateeventmag.com

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