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FROM a one-man automotive consulting business launched in Detroit in 1981, AMCI — Automotive Marketing Consultants Inc. — has grown into a $60 million-a-year event production powerhouse in the marketing of automotive brands. Based in Los Angeles, AMCI also runs offices in San Diego, Detroit, New York, Rome and Shanghai. The company's most recent Gala Award recognized its “Put in Play” roadshow for client Toyota last year. The 12-city, 11-state campaign helped more than 10,000 young consumers discover the Toyota brand through a series of high-spirited events. Here, AMCI executive producer Tom Burke gives a road map for producing great automotive campaigns.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: Please describe the “3-D experience” that AMCI provides to consumers on behalf of its clients.

TOM BURKE: With a TV or print ad, consumers are at best an observer. At our events, consumers truly interact with our clients' products. They feel and smell the leather of the car seats. They feel the acceleration. They hear the incredible sound system. No other medium can offer this kind of experience. We also add all sorts of lifestyle elements that support the brand and help tune consumers into the bigger picture. Guests leave having had a rich experience that stays with them and that they tell their friends and family about.

Q: Are your clients demanding new ways to engage their potential customer, or is getting into the car and driving it still the acid test?

A: Getting consumers behind the wheel is the very definition of experiential marketing, but there is much more to the story. We all know that advertising dollars are being redirected to experiential marketing events because today's consumers react favorably to hands-on exploration and experience with the product. This face-to-face interaction gives us a moment in time to let them experience the brand without the pressure of someone trying to make a sale.

Beyond that, the most important aspect is to make sure you are expending this effort on the right demographic and in the right setting. The setting might be a stand-alone event where we create the environment, such as an enormous tent complex in a huge parking lot, and invite consumers from a select database. Or we go to the neighborhoods and business districts where the chosen demographic hangs out and bring the brand experience to them.

“Taste of Lexus” is a great example of a stand-alone event. To illustrate how we take the brand and the event to where the right people already are, we took the Toyota Tundra pickup truck to county and state fairs in the heartland of America, where almost everyone drives a truck that's made in Detroit. These people were very curious about the Tundra, but not enough to go to a dealer. So taking the Tundra to where they were made perfect sense, and 44 percent asked for dealer follow-up, which was an opt-in record for Toyota.

Q: How does AMCI stay up-to-date on consumer preferences?

A: There's a diverse range of people who work at AMCI. Many of us have been interested in cars since we were kids; some have even raced professionally or as amateurs. Others have come to AMCI after working for years in other industries such as advertising, film and video production, and, of course, event production. We have many outside interests, we and we're always looking at the world and thinking, “How can we use this in an event?”

Q: What skills does an AMCI producer bring to a typical automotive event production?

A: Our events are a combination of a rock-and-roll show, circus, business theater, corporate party, car show and an autocross driving event all rolled into one. We're very fortunate to have attracted some of the very best event producers in the business to produce our clients' programs. These key people have to be knowledgeable about all 575 budget line items we offer to our clients. Of course, the account team is busy thinking up new tricks and challenges every day, so the production team will always be adding new lines to the budget!

Q: What event are you most proud of?

A: The “Taste of Lexus” program has been and will continue to be the finest automotive marketing event our industry has seen. Lexus lives by its covenants, and the event reflects the same care and quality that is put into building their cars. Great effort is made to integrate their philosophy into the production of this experiential event.

AMCI 4755 Alla Road, Marina del Rey, CA 90292; 310/765-4100;

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