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OK, Let's Get Weird For A Moment
How – and why – we convinced 50 top journalists to walk through a carwash last week
You are a journalist.
You have a monster print workload that, back in the heady heyday of four-pint lunches and all-expenses press trips to outer space, would’ve been shared by an entire team of half-pissed double-the-salary writers.
You have more daily online deadlines than hours in the day.
You’ve got a Pret two doors down from the office that facilitates your dirty habit for egg-and-cress-sandwich desk lunches.
And your 9-to-5(-but-probably-8) is soundtracked by a continuous drone of PR email ‘pings!’, all begging you to come to or write about a totally irrelevant event/story that sounds drier – and less enjoyable - than an eyebath of over-seasoned self-raising flour. Media dinner, anyone?
Still, hell of a job if you can get it.
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This isn’t some lofty fictional scenario we’ve made up, by the way. We know what it’s really like out there, not only because we speak to journalists every day, but because we are journalists, too. A big chunk of us have written for or edited some of the biggest action sports, outdoor, and lifestyle titles out there. Some of us still do. So we know it takes something pretty huge to get a journalist away from their desk in 2023.
“Running an event from midday to 4pm in the middle of the week goes against the PR rulebook,” says Charley Greening, ACM Senior Account Director. “But that’s a book we like to ignore.”
Last Thursday we got 50 - 50! - of the world’s most sought-after journalists to take an afternoon off and get hands-on with GORE-TEX Brand’s latest innovations… by walking through a carwash. You may have *cough* read all about it in PR Week’s latest campaigns round-up *cough*.
Here’s how the GORE-TEX Wash & Go Experience came to be, as told through the eyes of everyone involved, from our week-on-the-job new account executive right through to our [censored] years-deep co-founder:
Mark Rosenberg, ACM Head Of Creative & Wrangler Of Weirdness
“I used to think Shoreditch’s famous American Carwash must be a front for some sort of illicit business – how does a place like that not get bought up by property developers and turned into copy-and-paste flats that only tech bros could afford? It was close to where I lived until recently, and I’d walk by it every day. So when the brief for GORE-TEX came in, there wasn’t some sort of orchestral epiphany moment as the carwash idea landed. The connection between GORE-TEX’s famous rain rooms and the site just sort of… arrived. Sorry to disappoint.
“It wasn’t the first idea, though. Initially, firehoses were floated about, but that wouldn’t work on a number of levels – a little bit too ‘crowd control’, know what I mean? So I put the carwash idea to the creative team, and our Senior Creative, Daniele, came back immediately with a reference for a rain curtain that absolutely sold the idea back to me. I’d seen one at MONA in Australia, so I knew how cool they were.
“From there, our mad idea became more of a reality through collaboration. It wasn’t easy: we had a hundred moving parts to stay on top of and a million unique challenges to fix, but the concept got better and better as more and more people chipped in with ideas, both practical and creative. I think a big part of the client getting the idea and trusting us to do it was the fact we could sum it up in one simple sentence: a GORE-TEX test inside a carwash. Doesn’t get much simpler/weirder/wilder than that.”
Charley Greening, Senior Account Director & Media-Dinner Dodger
“It’s Tuesday, the event was on Thursday, and I’ve already seen three pieces of social media content that I would class as holy grail stuff. The social media teams from some of the best print publications in the UK - iD, Dazed, Highsnobiety, THE FACE - all came to our GORE-TEX carwash to film. It would have been exciting to get just one of these teams down to an event, let alone all of them.
“Sure, The ACM contacts book definitely helped me bag the RSVPs, but the concept did most of the heavy lifting: a lot of media names I’ve not worked with before attended, and that’s purely on the back of how good, weird, and intriguing our idea was.
“We couldn’t have done this without a lot of trust from our client, GORE-TEX, who were willing to take a risk and do something totally unexpected. The conventional client-agency dynamic is outdated, and it holds great ideas back. It feels like we form teams with our clients – we treat each other as colleagues and have trust in each other’s decisions. That’s how you get fifty of the biggest media names to your event. Lots of brands might feel safer working within a traditional hierarchy, and I guarantee they’re the ones that are still throwing old-school media dinners. I’ve not once thrown a media dinner in my three-and-a-half years at ACM.
“I can’t think of another event where The Running Channel and Dazed would both attend, and both make an edit for social. That sums up the ACM media network. We’re the experts who can take outdoor stories to mainstream media, authentically. We can get our clients in the hands of the core-est of core titles, as well as the biggest lifestyle outlets and newspapers in the world. We’re the agency we say we are.”
Chris Sayer, Copy Editor & Waft Detector
“If you’ve been reading the ACM newsletters this year, you may have noticed that 80% of them include the words ‘wafty’, ‘jargon’, or ‘wafty jargon bullshit’ (the other 20% will have either a reference to making a cup of tea or thrash/heavy metal – I love what this company lets me get away with). ‘Wafty’ is my overarching term for everything that’s wrong with agency copy. It’s the empty, prefabricated, meaningless guff that makes readers 100% glaze over, that takes up space where creativity should live, and – as a mainstream journalist of 13 years – leaves red teeth marks in my fists.
“It’s why I never – never – start an ACM press release with a ‘Hey X! I really hope you’re well today.’ Because it’s a lie - no PR really hopes that. It’s disingenuous, and the journo knows that. Cut the flab, get right to the bones, speak like a human, and keep eyeballs on your email using a little intrigue and creativity – that’s the ACM approach to press releases and media comms in 2023.
“My job of writing a FOMO-inducing press release was made easy by the weirdness of the event concept. It created the intrigue for me, so there was no messing with my opening line – ‘Quick question for you: have you ever walked through a carwash?’.
“Did it work? Did it trigger the WTF response I wanted? I’ll let these five media replies do the talking:
‘Can’t say I’ve been to something quite like this, so I look forward to it.’
‘Yes I’d love to come and go through the carwash!’
‘Now this is an activation! Please put me down to come by.’
And my personal favourite:
‘Just to clarify: I’m going through a carwash?!’”
Daniele ‘DC’ Chiarantini, Senior Creative & Drenched Designer
“I can’t say I’d branded a carwash before this event. When I joined Mark and Charley for the first site recce, I had to think strategically about where branding would be most effective and impactful for photography and social content, without spending big. Luckily, the GORE-TEX identity is clean and minimal, so that massively worked in my favour.
“I was very happy when my rain curtain idea made it into the concept. I’ve always wanted to work with one, and I’m really proud of how it looks, and how guests were interacting with it, in all the social content I’ve seen.
“I’d say the outcome was quite different from the first idea that Mark came to me with, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes it can be a nightmare when a million different people all throw their opinions at a project. But I’m not lying when I say the ACM creative process, and the room it gives for everyone’s input, created a reality from one of the wildest and funniest ideas I’ve ever heard.”
Stu Duggal, Account Manager & Carwash Test Pilot
“I was the guy who took the question of ‘can we get journalists to walk through a carwash?’, and got journalists to actually walk through a carwash. I had to coordinate everything necessary to break down the technicals of the GORE-TEX labs, bring them to London, and build an appealing, relevant, and accessible event for the top brass of UK media. I tell you, making a dank carwash tunnel look cool is a hell of a job. Even more so when you’ve got to build and dismantle it in 12 hours.
“It was always going to be weird, but we needed to make sure the event was intriguing, too. Our choice of location is a good example: if you live or work in London, you’ll have walked past Shoreditch’s American Carwash a bunch of times. But you might not know what it is there for. I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to explore a secretive London institution.
“This one really has the ACM brand stamp right across it. It took a very technical outdoor story and made it relevant to a range of media outlets. I can think of hundreds of agencies that would have relied on a far safer, far more corporate, way more boring method to showcase the GORE-TEX materials. But I genuinely can’t think of anyone else who would look at that Shoreditch American Carwash and think, ‘Yep, that’s where we’ll host the media event of the year.’”
Eleanor Mayle, Account Executive & Chief Sock Sourcer
“On day four of my job at ACM, I was pushing some of the UK’s top journalists through a carwash.
“The event was definitely weird, but at the same time it felt really… true? Authentic? It felt like a place where people would spend an evening, like a secret pop-up they would go to with mates. It was low-key and chill, but at the same time it was getting a lot of attention: a few passers-by asked what was going on, and if they could have a go.
“That was the intrigue that really sold it to so many media attendees. One writer from The Evening Standard told me he had absolutely no idea what he should expect, but just knew he had to come and check it out.”
Matt Barr, ACM Co-Founder & Convention Crusher
“Our culture is a huge reason why every element of the GORE-TEX event was so great. We work really hard to make ACM a place in which everyone feels confident to pitch in with ideas. When someone says they’re not creative, what they really mean is that they’re not in the habit of being creative. The more you work at it, the more constructive feedback you receive, and the more space you’re given to have bad ideas, the better you’ll get at it. I firmly believe that.
“The premise of ACM is to not run an agency like everyone else. When we see a marketing trope – of which there are many – we question how we can do it differently; we don’t do things just because others have done it before us. When every member of your team can prove that, you can take out-there ideas to clients and they’ll trust you to run with them.
“An ACM event is smart, a bit funny, and kinda knowing, but always accessible. They give the client and audience what they need in an original way. The carwash gave media a funny and out-there way into the GORE-TEX brand. The concept gave them a reason to care about our event and give their time to the client. There are so many infinitely better ways of bringing a story to life than the bog-standard press release, stale launch, or – shudder – stuffy media dinner that tend to prevail. We set our stall out quite early with GORE-TEX; if we’re going to work together, let us build a level of trust so we can create better ideas for you and work together to get better results. They totally got it.
“It’s so clear that everyone pulled together to make the carwash idea happen. It made full use of everyone’s different talents and roles. I’m dead proud of that.”
Been to or organised a better event than that? Let hear it…