Hammer Time: The Thrill Of The Shill

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang

There are three roads for auto writers.

The first is the ‘golden’ road. You simply buy or test drive a car with no string attached. Consumer Reports and guerrilla reviewers who ‘test drive’ at the dealership are the recipients of this honor.

The second is the ‘reality’ road. You use the press fleets and go to sponsored events. It cost less. But you realize the shiny happy PR people are going to try to twist your arm.

Most successful journalists start at the guerrilla side of number one and end up at number two.

But there are a ‘chosen few’ who embrace a third road… the mouthpiece road. Who knows? If you can shill and ‘build’ your relationships, you may just end up with a Maserati.

The Robb Report has always interested me when I was in college. Why? Because I could not find one negative word about any product published within it.

Take this excerpt from a recent Maserati review from the Robb Report.

The new Maserati GranTurismo Convertible ( www.maserati.us)—the first four-seat convertible in the company’s nearly 100-year history—is a brilliant adaptation of the GranTurismo coupe, sacrificing nothing in translation but the hard top. In fact, its canvas top, which may be the most elegantly integrated of any convertible, preserves the glorious Pininfarina profile of the GT while offering all the excitement and style that matters to top-down drivers. This is an imposing—and long—car, with a wheelbase that offers ample room for rear-seat passengers and a comfortable ride worthy of any true GT. But when driving is the order of the day, the convertible delivers like its stablemate. Though not as sports-oriented as the S Automatic, the convertible shares that car’s 4.7-liter V-8 engine and benefits from a specially tuned exhaust that, when engaged in Sport mode, produces a note more seductive than any the Sirens might have sung. As with other Maseratis, this car can be specified according to the owner’s personal taste, making this already rare sight even rarer.

—Robert Ross

Who is Robert Ross? Well he’s this guy.

Who also happened to write this copy for Maserati of North America. Editor’s note: Please take particular attention to the infantile swipes at Porsche at the very beginning.

“Having owned a number of Porsche 911 coupes, Robert was looking for a change. “The 996 was a great utensil. I call it a toaster car, you use it every day until it breaks, and then you throw it away,” he told us. “I considered getting a 997 Porsche – but I wanted something a little more… interesting, soulful, comfortable, stylish, and, in Los Angeles, you see about 20 Porsches a day.”

Ouch! Really? Is this backhand snobbish criticism warranted? It apparently is if you want to play balls with Maserati. Adverbs, adjectives, and bad metaphors be damned, writing ad copy can yield to one healthy payday if you’re an auto journalist.

But what about the big score? The one that gets you the boys and their toys. Well… To get to play that Italian piccolo you need to take it one step further.

You have to create your own ‘ consulting firm’. One that just so happens to receive healthy monetary inducements from your manufacturer of choice.

The senior creative team of Robert Ross and Roland Madrid bring 35 years combined experience to corporate identity, brand management, advertising, marketing, publishing, and Web creative. Current clients in the aircraft, automotive, and luxury goods sectors include Hawker Beechcraft, Maserati, and Far Niente.

A symbiotic relationship? A love affair between writer and manufacturer? In the business and political world we have a simple name for these people: lobbyists. In the automotive world, besides writing the obligatory deceptive review, they serve one other fiendish and manipulative purpose.

To help the paid ‘lobbyist’ loosen the purse strings of the ‘sponsor’ whenever it comes to the final edit for articles printed in ‘the publication’.

How do they do that? Well, that’s quite easy. Just take the recommendations of your employees who actually review the products and… if they don’t work… just toss them in the proverbial riff-raff bag.

As one reviewer from the Robb Report put it.

“Maseratis were usually part of our “Car of the Year” competition too… And they would often finish in last or 2nd-to-last place in ballot voting, but somehow Maserati always finished much higher in the feature story.”

How much higher? Fifth? Second? Perhaps high enough for Robert Ross to make enough money from his well lubricated ‘consulting business’ to buy his very own Maserati?

It turns out Robert Ross achieved the double orgasm of jerking Maserati and his well rewarded ride in the same ad copy.

His meal: A great New York steak and a good cabernet.

His TV show: I don’t own a TV.

His movie: Fellini’s Satyricon.

His book: Against the Grain, by Joris-Karl Huysmans

His hobbies: Collector cars and Old Master prints.

New Place he would most like to visit: The Maserati factory. (You don’t say!)

Place to which he most likes to return: The California desert: Death Valley.

His heroes: Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, and JS Bach.

His preferred alternative profession: Keyboard player.

And come to think of it, he does look like a bit like a relic from the days of ELO.

If he lost his Maserati and had to replace it with something else: The only viable replacement would be a Ferrari Maranello or 599 GTB.

What? No Porsche?

His Maserati:

Drum roll please…

A 2006 GranSport personalized through the Officine Alfieri Maserati Program

Huh? Really? Who woulda thunk?

Now wait. I am not so much bothered about Mr. Ross getting a used Maserati. It beats the hell out of a Tercel.

But what I don’t understand is where the line is. You write. You consult. You published. You ‘serve’ your client through a subsidiary. Where does it end?

Quite happily it turns out. Rob Ross got himself a ‘personalized’ 2006 Grand Sport. Who personalized it? God forbid we think too hard about the answer to that question.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to professional lobbying the rewards are always mutual. Come to think of it, you can marry money in this business after all.

NOTE: We realize this article is begging for a comment from someone at Maserati about why they would use an agency with such an obvious conflict of interest. Consider our comments section to be an invitation for Maserati to respond to this situation.

Steven Lang
Steven Lang

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  • DeadWeight DeadWeight on Sep 14, 2011

    The biggest tools who I have ever worked with (in an unspecified, much-maligned white collar profession) have undoubtedly been the recently 'officed' ones with copies of the Robb Report on their desks, who really have read through portions of it in their downtime with aspirational, open eyes. However, this only appears to be a phase that strikes newly minted members of my profession, who actually hail from less advantageous economic backgrounds than others, and the 'toolery' inevitably wears off by age 35ish to 38ish, at the very latest. By the time most members of my profession reach partner, they don't even think about the triviality that is contained within or represented by The Robb Report; They are already too busy trying to balance family obligations, work & client obligations, save their money for future important things like college tuition for their children or retirement for themselves, and community service (and since I'm being completely honest, at least in part to drum up business or maintain business ties). The Robb Report is a giant FAO Schwarz Catalog for pre-maturity professionals. The wealthiest, most professionally successful and personal life-work life balanced members at my rather large workplace drive vehicles that are far more likely to be recommended for reliability and safety by Consumer Reports, and a few of them don't even own a vehicle, taking public transportation to work, and asking co-workers for rides home when working occasional late nights (and some of these people could afford to buy any vehicle praised within the Robb Report many times over, with cash, without any serious damage to their bank balance). The Robb Report is akin to

  • Msquare Msquare on Sep 14, 2011

    You know where you see the Robb Report and duPont Registry? Major League Baseball clubhouses (what baseball folks call locker rooms). And on coffee tables near the couches in the middle of the room, not necessarily in player stalls. My favorite instance is the pile of high-end watch catalogs in the Yankee clubhouse. You're less likely to see them in the locker rooms of other pro sports teams only because they tend to have their practice facilities off-site and don't spend that much time in the game venues. But the demographic is perfect - young, new money. But I don't see too many Maseratis in player parking lots.

  • Marty The problem isn't range; it's lack of electricity in multi-unit building parking. All you need is level 1 - a standard 120v wall socket - and if you're plugged in 10 hours overnight you get 280 miles per week or more. That's enough for most folks but you can use public charging to supplement when needed. Installing conduit circuits and outlets is simple and cheap; no charge stations needed.
  • 2manyvettes Tadge was at the Corvette Corral at the Rolex 24 hour sports car race at the end of January 2023. During the Q&A after his remarks someone stood up and told him "I will never buy an electric Corvette." His response? "I will never sell you an electric Corvette." Take that Fwiw.
  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.