By on February 10, 2013

 

At TTAC, we showed you the secrets of how to make a supercar. But what about the real top secrets of a car company, like its earnings? This is insider information, trading on which could make you rich, or poor. It also can land you in jail for a long time. TTAC takes you to the inside of how a car company prepares for an earnings press conference.

Dan Sloan is tired. The head of Nissan’s Global Media Center in Yokohama got up at 6am this morning after days of not much sleep. Today is the day when Nissan’s third quarter earnings are to be announced to the press, and the world at large. It will be a long day of preparations for the big announcement in the late afternoon, and TTAC will be the fly on the wall. Or, as Sloan predicted, the fly in the ointment.

Dan Sloan, a former Reuters Singapore Bureau Chief, has poached an impressive news team from outlets such as Bloomberg, BBC, and Time Magazine. They produce a daily stream of video, blog posts, Facebook and Twitter feeds, in an effort to further Nissan’s brand equity, and to put us poor bloggers out of business.

Dan’s approximately 15 man and woman team is only one wheel in the transmission that gears up today to announce a not so good quarter at Nissan. The latter fact will remain a secret until 4:30 pm today exactly, when the Tokyo Stock Exchange puts the information on the wire. Speeches have been written, PowerPoint charts have been prepared, wires, hairs and legs have been pulled, invitations have been sent, many hours of sleep have been lost. Sloan’s team even received new laptops. They look like they were bought from the lowest bidder.

On a table in the middle of the Global News Center, tools of the trade pile up. Still photographer Andrew Malana lays out his array of shooting equipment while Dan Sloan and his Deputy Ian Rowley put the last touches on today’s scripts and storylines.

Coco Masters, a former Time Magazine reporter, edits an interview with Nissan Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa. The interview is top-secret. Tagawa talks about numbers that will be released hours later, after the close of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The Nissan stock has been on a tear for days. Would the market know what Coco edits, the stock could crater. Secrecy must be utmost.

Teamwork: Ian Rowley and Anthony Trotter prepare a video segment that wraps around Coco’s interview. Former Reuters producer Trotter is Nissan’s multi-role fighter, he is producer, cameraman, and a hell of a non-linear editor. He is small in stature, but as tough as they come.

Trotter loves to shoot people (on video), but he hates to be shot. He shows us the edit room of their TV studio.

A trophy from the Moscow Auto Show. Dan’s team travels a lot. To cut down on travel, the Global News Room already sprouts offshoots at Nissan U.S.A., Europe and Hong Kong. A mini news empire emerges.

Roland Bürk is Executive Producer and on-air talent. Formerly the BBC’s Tokyo Correspondent, Bürk anchors “The Dashboard”, a weekly news magazine about the car business. Today’s Dashboard is all edited and ready, except for the earnings release. Even with the release, it’s mostly bull. Red Bull.

Brit Bürk hails from a German family that brought the time clock on the world’s workers. Most early clocks punched by hourly workers were from the Württembergische Uhrenfabrik Bürk & Söhne. Roland says his father was a black sheep who emigrated to England and did not see a Pfennig of the company.

Speaking of time:

3:17pm in Tokyo, 1:17 am in Nashville. An hour and fifteen minutes before the press conference starts, and we are still diddling with videos and Tweets a few floors up. Producer Noriko Kiyama is a bit worried.

Kiyama is not the only one who is troubled.

“Where are your guys? Time to set up!”

“Alright, alright, I’m sending them down.”

Andrew and Anthony are setting up. Anthony assembles the most important implement: The stepladder.

The team that is responsible for the sound equipment is a bit shy. One even wears a mask.

Sound is fed to speakers, to the video cameras of the media, to translators, and then to earpieces.

What would be a press conference, what would any conference be without PowerPoint?

The gentleman is in charge of lights. Can’t keep the media in the dark.

Test. Dim the lights. It works. Meanwhile, the representatives of the media still cool their heels in the lobby.

They did not have to wait much longer. 4pm, 30 minutes to start. Here comes the fourth estate!

From Bloomberg, Jie Ma, a fugitive from China’s Xinhua. His boss Yuki Hagiwara. Both cover the auto beat at Bloomberg.

In the olden days, reporters from trusted wire services were given “the numbers” a few minutes earlier so that they could be “on the wire” exactly at the start of the press conference. These days, it is done fully automatic. Nobody knows how it works. The numbers simply appear. Robots, probably.

From Reuters, Yoko Kubota.

Yoko already wrote most of her story. In half an hour, she will type on her laptop:

“SLUG: NISSAN Q3

LEAD: Nissan Motor Co bucked the optimistic trend among Japanese carmakers reporting quarterly earnings, leaving its annual profit forecast unchanged as sluggish sales weighed on its bottom line while others got a boost from a weakening yen.”

Ma & Hagiwara will write:

Nissan Motor Co., Japan’s second- biggest carmaker, reported third-quarter profit that fell short of analysts’ estimates, after sales tumbled in China and new models trailed competitors in the U.S.”

But they don’t know it yet.

The room has filled and all hands of the media are on deck.

With the hands come the handlers. Here Nissan spokesman Koji Okuda.

Nissan spokesman Chris Keffee, freshly coiffed. Wears “boxers, not briefs” and blogs.

Gave up Twitter after 10 months of non-use.

Chris said this picture is strictly embargoed until his retirement. Really?

This is a very important tool in the newsgathering business: The foldable stool. It puts you above the rest.

Except when you are Anthony Trotter. Small in stature, but as tough as they come, he uses a foldable ladder. And nearly hits the ceiling.

This is Shotaro Ogawa. We met him two years ago. He will stream the event live, come high earnings or hell. Today, he is incognito.

A very important man: Whitebalance-san. He makes sure the news aren’t too rosy.

Only minutes to go. Anthony checks the transmitters on his camera.

Nissan’s top brass arrives, led by Joseph “Joe” G. Peter. He is CFO of Nissan, and he could be happier. But hush, the numbers are still secret.

In the blue folder are the Fiscal Year 2012 3Q Financial Results, and Joe does not like them. Only he knows what they are, allegedly.

This lady also has the Fiscal Year 2012 3Q Financial Results in her hands. But no, we can’t have them. The handouts will be handed out when the clock strikes 4:35 pm. It is 4:34pm, no exceptions.

Nissan Corporate Vice President Joji Tagawa, the man who had given the top-secret interview hours earlier, to be transmitted minutes later, will present the numbers today. Apparently, there were last minute changes to the PowerPoints, explained by Okuda. Wakatta!

And here we go! 4:35pm on the dot. Finally, the results we’ve been waiting for all day. The handouts are being handed out. Andrew is already sitting down.

Lights, tweets, camera, action. Tagawa-san is on stage, presenting the not so good news.

“In the third quarter (October-December 2012), the consolidated net income after taxes totaled 54.1 billion yen (US$670 million, euro 510 million), a year-on-year decline of 34.6%. Third quarter net revenue was 2.2084 trillion yen (US$27.23 billion, euro 21.01 billion), down 5.3% year-on-year. Nissan reported an operating profit of 62.1 billion yen (US$770 million, euro 590 million), down 47.4% compared to the same period in FY2011, and an operating profit margin of 2.8%. Ordinary profit was 89.0 billion yen (US$1.10 billion, euro 850 million).”

He blames it on “significant and in some cases historic economic and political challenges” in China, Europe, and a messed up launch in the U.S.

Missed expectations, sure, but still a gain, right?

After the presentation, Q &A. The reporter from The Nikkei. We aren’t at Toyota, so no unconsolidated earnings questions.

After the Q&A, the scrum. I have no idea why there is a Q&A in the first place, then there is no more time for questions, then the reporters pounce on the guy, stick their Olympus LS-7 DVM in his face, and ask more questions for another 15 minutes. But that’s the way it is. This is where the exclusive interviews happen.

Spokesman Chris Keeffe turns into listeningman Chris Keeffe. He needs to make sure that the boss doesn’t talk off the reservation. If the boss does that, Chris will get many phone calls later from reporters who were not there: “Did Tagawa really say that?”

No juicy tidbits. Jie Ma of Bloomberg is already bored, while Keeffe and Bloomberg’s Hagiwara compare notes.

While the sun sets over Mount Fuji (yes, they have that kind of a glorious view from the Nissan HQ in Yokohama, this is not a wallpaper) …

… there is no rest for our weary warriors in the Nissan Global Newsroom. Their work just started in earnest. A blog wants to be published.

A few thousand pictures, shot today by Andrew, want to be sifted through, in the quest for the perfect shot.

The speech and the Q&A (but not the scrum) are already up on ustream. But there is still work to be done. Anthony edits a 1:43 short and sweet newsclip with a voice-over by Ian.

Hilfe! What’s that on the screen?

Nissan found a guy who tries to be an expert on foreign currencies, AND world politics, at the same time, and all in 5 seconds. (Starts at 1:11). But vy ze German akzent?

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

32 Comments on “Inside The Industry: The Making Of A Press Conference – With 45 Exclusive Pictures ...”


  • avatar
    360joules

    “A very important man: Whitebalance-san. He makes sure the news aren’t too rosy.”

    Good one.

    • 0 avatar
      PenguinBoy

      +1

      This was an interesting piece, Thanks Bertel.

      • 0 avatar
        Pig_Iron

        +2

        When I took videography at the end of the analogue age, they told us digital cameras would make white balance a thing of the past – it would be all automatic. Clearly they were too optimistic. It was a fun course though, lots of weird cats in that class. Everything from churchwardens who wanted to capture the services to amateur pornographers who wanted to capture… I was the only techie, and I just wanted to capture the actuation of mechanisms for customer presentations.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Excellent story Bertel (I was starting to get worried you’d gone off the cliff writing about ostrich-man)

  • avatar
    mike978

    Great story, this is where TTAC excels. I thought Nissan’s video was fair too.

    “He blames it on “significant and in some cases historic economic and political challenges” in China, Europe, and a messed up launch in the U.S.” – what launch were they unhappy with?

    • 0 avatar
      brettc

      I’d also like to know more about the messed up U.S. launch. Never heard about this previously.

      And this article is great. Something that I never even thought about, but now that it’s here, it’s a fascinating insight into the behind the scenes operations of a car company.

      • 0 avatar
        sunridge place

        I’m guessing Altima and I’m guessing the disappointment was either a production delay or more likely that Nissan had to go to aggressive incentives early on to keep from getting crushed by Camry (all new for 2012MY) and Accord (all new for 2013MY) which cost them $$ and profit margin.

        The mid-size car market in the US is an absolute buzzsaw with all the refreshed vehicles. Toyota incentivizing the Camry in model year 2 of a refresh was the equivalent of an aggressor putting his foot on your windpipe while you try to breathe.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    Great background article on the automotive industry.

    I wish the US political party news/spin industry as as transparent as this vehicle company.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Very interesting all the work that goes into a presser.

    On the other hand, not much in the Nissan stable I’d be interested in….

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Suit yourself!

      I’m pretty sure your needs and tastes are different from mine. :-)

      I loved the LEAF irrationally after driving it. You can’t beat the NVH or low-end torque of an EV, especially when its packaged up in such a happy little commuter car.

      Alas, I also came away with a fuller appreciation of the Leaf’s range limitations, and also the limitations of my pretty good salary… Nissan recommends only charging the Leaf’s battery to 80% everyday, so that takes it from a 72 mile car to a 50-some mile car. Also, the $2k to get an L2 charger installed is the opposite of cash on the hood. But I still find myself wondering how awesome my commute would be in that car…

      I’d always though of Nissan as the almost-as-good-as-Toyota-car-company. But they’ve had then courage to push a couple of really interesting technologies, and I respect that.

      P.S. OTOH, the Quest was eliminated from our minivan search without a test drive because my wife couldn’t find good crash ratings for it, despite liking CVTs and FLVs. We bought an 8 year old Sienna instead.

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    Great article. Amazing how much is done to serve to what I can only assume is a small group. Do you think more people look at their PR blog than read something like this site? I know a lot of it can be re-packaged and used elsewhere but it still seems like a small audience unless they have a lot of money.influence.

    • 0 avatar
      Lightspeed

      Great see a piece like this about my job! Now everyone knows the glamour that is a typical day in communications! I do it for politicians, which means the added excitement of having no idea what they are going to say!

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      This audience has influence. They’re then press, so each one has an audience of thousands or millions.

      When you’re an executive at a big company, one of your missions is to keep the place running. To defend the institution. If you happen to have a populist bent, $30k for a video crew isn’t much if it helps keep everyone you see every day employed. If you have more of a 1% mentality, defending the stock price in public with a smooth press conference also defends the institution.

      I’ve same “defend the institution” mentality play out in academia and state government. The difference is that corporate institutions (like the dot-com where I work these days) have more flexibility in how they spend their money, and in how the rabid right-wing reacts when they figure out what’s happening (in the USA).

      All of the hassle of the press conference is a small price to pay in order to make sure everyone stays employed and to make sure the company/institution appears to be solid & competent in front of millions of people….

  • avatar
    Polar Bear

    The ladies are flirting with you and the men are wearing paper face masks. This must be Japan.

    Fascinating to see what goes on in that tiny, windowless bunker.

    Thanks for the report. Moar like this one please.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “Most early clocks punched by hourly workers were from the Württembergische Uhrenfabrik Bürk & Söhne. ”

    No they weren’t, Bundy were market leader, Bürk & Söhne were licensees of the the ‘Bundy System’.

    Bundy went on to become IBM.

  • avatar
    JimothyLite

    Bertel, wonderful piece! Funny. Interesting. Great pictures too. One note: in your “Hilfe!” picture, it looks like a galaxy is headed your way. I’m glad you were able to avoid a collision.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Those seem like terrible numbers.

    If Nissan sells more Leafs, they’ll be poorer but happier.

    If Nissan sells fewer Leafs, they’ll be richer but sadder.

    Good thing they make more than just EVs.

  • avatar
    Ishwa

    Cool behind-the-scenes article! It is so rare to get to read something like this

  • avatar
    fincar1

    A very enjoyable piece – Thanks!

  • avatar
    j3studio

    Really liked this post.

  • avatar
    Frillo

    Seconded and thirded: Great story. Very smart of Nissan to open their kimono for a great inside piece. BS obviously is no stranger to the topic, he knows his shtick. He’s funny, and nobody gets hurt. We are lucky that there are car companies that let TTAC put its hands on their jewels. Too bad they are all in Japan, but I guess that’s where Herr Schmitt is.

    There is only one negative item: The asinine comment by Robert Moron. TTAC must be keeping this idjit around just for grins and giggles. Just about every comment of his pukes on TTAC or TTAC’s readers, there is no topic where Bob Moron does not know better than anyone else – very grating. He probably has no wife, friends or girlfriends – no wonder he posts on TTAC all day. Too bad I already shot my wad for the top trolls … I should have nominated Spongebath Bob. Can I change my nomination?

    Anyway, Detroit should open thier bra for TTAC – if TTAC can write a great story about a boring earnings anouncement, imagine what they could do with a really interesting topic. Looking forward to many more inside the industry stories … and fewer know-it-all idjits

  • avatar
    DeadInSideInc

    Bravo Herr Schmitt for delivering another reportage differentiates ttac from the rest. This is why we come here.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Quarterly announcements take a lot out of a company, I’ve often wondered how anything gets done considering all of the effort put into gather the numbers, crunching the numbers, filing the results, doing the announcements, running the conference calls etc, etc…

  • avatar
    Thomas Kreutzer

    Those guys are real pros, there is obviously a lot of expertise in that shop.

    It says a lot about their comfort level with you that they gave you a real look inside their operations. This and the piece on the real-time interpreter you ran a year or so ago are real, quality reporting.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Sorry I missed the party on this one!

    The article is excellent, however. I agree with DeadInSideInc that this is THE place to come for industry inside stuff. Hope to hear much, much more, whether from Herr Schmitt, Messers Lang, Baruth and everyone else.

    Thank you.

  • avatar

    One thing was sadly buried in a totally unnecessary spat between Gordon & Frillo: Yes, TTAC would love to do more Inside the Industry pieces with other OEMs. Simply loving to do it does not help, it also needs the OEMs to open their doors, and not just for a superficial factory tour. Yes, these stories demand a high level of trust, on both sides.

    Frillo was rude, but right. If the usually enigmatic Japanese can open the doors to their secret shrines to TTAC, then it should be easy for other companies.

    In the meantime, I will do the stories where I have the opportunity. The next Inside the Industry story will go in the inner sanctum of engine manufacture and show how the engine of the Nissan GT-R is built, by hand, and with a lot of feeling. Also, there will be a story on how a group of Daimler egineers are making out at BYD in Shenzhen, China.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States