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Matt Marquez/MEDILL

One staffing agency VP said this year's Auto Show has more empty spaces – if you know where to look.

Auto Show staffing agencies also feeling pinch

by Matt Marquez
Feb 12, 2009

The good-looking women and men presenting car models at the Chicago Auto Show know how to keep up appearances, but even this year they are finding little reason to smile.

Marketing agencies such as Gail & Rice Productions Inc. help car manufacturers fill their auto show displays with attractive people who can field questions on everything from truck storage capacities to torque rates. But continued declining vehicle sales mean manufacturers are looking for ways to save money wherever they can, including shaving expenses from their show displays.

Gail & Rice owner Tim Rice’s company is providing similar staff numbers for this year’s auto show – about 250 to 300 models – compared with previous years, but he said cost-saving measures have been needed to work with manufacturers looking for ways to slash spending.

Last year, automakers that requested 20 people for displays are now only willing to hire about 18, Rice said. By using more local employees, Rice said has been able to accommodate clients, which have included General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC. Rice pointed out that using local workers allows his company to save on airfare and per-diem charges and then use those savings to provide full 20-person staff requests.

The average visitor might not notice any differences in this year’s show, but there are a few, said Hedy Popson, automotive vice president of Productions Plus Inc., a talent agency that provides staff for the Chicago Auto Show.

“I’ve seen empty floor spaces where you wouldn’t have seen any when the [Chicago Auto Show] was so over the top, three or four years ago,” Popson said.

Popson’s agency staffs displays for Toyota Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and others, but she said staffing has only been cut for Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. displays by 50 percent. She attributed the staffing cut to Nissan originally planning to pull out of the auto show altogether.

Still, Popson said auto shows are suffering throughout the country as the auto industry’s struggles drag on.

“I’ve watched smaller shows use reduced lighting and operate out of smaller properties,” Popson said. “But I’ve got family and friends in the city who will be going to the Chicago Auto Show, and I think attendance will be high.”

The Auto Show opens to the public Friday and runs until Feb. 22. Entry is $10 for adults and $5 for children and senior citizens.