Plano residents may not have heard of Productions Plus, but if they’ve been to the State Fair of Texas, they’ve likely seen the talent agency’s spokespeople working the auto show.
This year, an estimated 150 brand ambassadors will interact with fairgoers as they represent automotive brands such as Toyota, Lexus, Nissan and Volkswagen, among others.
The staffing agency, which specializes in supplying product specialists for auto shows, opened its new location last month in Plano, hot on the heels of Japanese auto giant Toyota making the Dallas suburb its new North American headquarters.
The new location adds to its existing presences in New York, Detroit and Orange County, Calif. The decision to come to Plano followed Toyota’s announcement to relocate here. They’re located three miles apart on Headquarters Drive.
“All of our business partners have a presence typically within 15, 20 miles of where our office is,” said Don Johnson, auto show engagement manager for Toyota. “The vast majority of our business partners have opened offices or added staff to existing offices to the Dallas-Plano area.”
Productions Plus has 11 full-time employees in Plano: company president Hedy Popson, one talent recruiter and nine account managers. It will hold a grand opening Sept. 21, the week before the month-long state fair, for which the company has supplied talent for more than 30 years. The fair and its accompanying auto show kick off on Sept. 29 and are scheduled to run through Oct. 22.
The company works with 17 automotive brands and has more than 700 product specialists contracted for the auto show season, which runs from July through April. Of the 150 people representing manufacturers at the state fair this fall, about 50 percent will be local to Dallas, Popson said.
The company has upped its recruiting events and will engage in Dallas’ performing arts culture to look for new talent. Popson’s team attends theater events, marketing events and holds open calls.
At auto shows in Detroit and New York, the agency typically employs about 300 people.
“It used to be all models and actors, but I would say today that scope has changed,” Popson said.
Carly White, a D-FW based product specialist who’s worked for Productions Plus representing Scion and Toyota, said she first heard about the job through a friend who was with the company. Since joining the team five years ago, she’s traveled the country, working auto shows and events in Baltimore, Virginia Beach, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Francisco, among other cities.
She knows the industry news, the latest technology, updates relative to the brands and how the cars drive. “People will be shocked at the auto show that I know what horsepower and torque are,” White said.
Although the customers may not say it aloud, the stereotype of beautiful women in long, tight-fitting dresses modeling cars, or rather, being used as props to sell them, dates back decades.
White and her colleagues, on the other hand, are both the faces and the brains of the auto show. They can give detailed narrations about the cars, as well as answer questions that customers may have. Some ambassadors have been with the same brand for more than 20 years.
Some product specialists are specifically trained to handle social media, while others may be media trained for live television interviews, Johnson said.
Productions Plus also hires workers for product demonstrations — an espresso machine, for example — at retail stores such as Williams-Sonoma or Bed Bath & Beyond. Popson estimated 60 percent of those hired are aspiring actors or models, while the other 40 percent are people who like to travel, or have an interest in marketing and sales.
Employment starts with an audition, when recruiters match applicants with clients. Successful candidates then travel for a week of immersive product training. But product information can change, so specialists also keep up with on-going tests and industry news. They have to know the product inside and out on the showroom floor.
The specialists can make between $225 to $1,000 a day, depending on their role and experience, Popson said. They don’t receive a commission, which makes for a “nonthreatening environment” for the consumer, she said. Instead, success is indicated by how the specialists move products up a consumer’s consideration list.
If they’ve piqued a potential buyer’s interest in the brand, they’ve done their job