Finding his ‘drive’

GVL / Luke Holmes - Aaron Robert poses in the parking lot outside of the Mary Idema Pew Library.

Luke Holmes

GVL / Luke Holmes – Aaron Robert poses in the parking lot outside of the Mary Idema Pew Library.

Kyle Doyle

The cars are the stars every January in Metro Detroit. The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) attracts people from every race, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing and walk of life to unite over one thing: automobiles. People pour into Detroit to see what new cars and technologies the world’s biggest automakers have put out.

Journalists and public relations representatives are no exception.

Grand Valley State University sophomore and public relations major Aaron Robert was one of 13 journalism and communications students from across the country selected to participate in General Motors’ “Discover Your Drive” diversity journalism program from Saturday, Jan. 7, to Wednesday, Jan. 11, at the Cobo Center and other Detroit locations during the 2017 NAIAS.

The 13 participants were tasked with making videos, tweeting, conducting interviews and creating content about the show using the hashtag #DiscoverYourDrive on Twitter. The participants used this hashtag from the moment they arrived at the Renaissance Center to the day they spent on the floor to the day they spent driving around the city in Chevrolet Volts.

“A+,” Robert said about his experience with the program. “We did so much and I learned a lot. Not just about the cars but also how to develop as a student journalist.”

Robert learned about the competition at the beginning of a Public Relations Student Society of America meeting and jumped on the opportunity. He saw it as a good way to gain some experience and, being a public relations major, see things from a journalistic perspective.

“(Journalism and public relations are) more similar than different,” Robert said. “We’re both telling stories, albeit my reasons are different than their reasons. But at the end of the day, we’re both writing, sharing information with others through creative means.”

As someone who helped Robert find out about the event, Adrienne Wallace, assistant professor of advertising and public relations at GVSU, knew Robert would be a perfect fit.

“Aaron is a gifted writer,” Wallace said. “He understands how public relations and journalism work together. He’s not afraid to approach people. He’s friendly, yet not cocky. He’s got all these attributes that would make him successful.”

The participants filled their days with all sorts of activities and workshops, all sponsored by GM. The workshops included sitting down in groups with professional journalists from such publications as The Detroit News and Inc. to learning tips and tricks and sharpening their journalistic skills through participation in small groups and work in the field.

The teams took time Monday, Jan. 9, to walk around the floor of the auto show and talk to members of several different car companies. Robert himself was able to talk to several engineers from some of the German manufacturers, as well as GM employees.

“It may sound like a trinket that GM sponsored this, and it is true, but we were able to do a lot on our own, too,” Robert said. “We were able to interview people on our own from different brands. We had mentors from across the country and working for various publications.”

While walking around the floor, some participants of the program were able to talk with high-ranking executives of the GM brand, but Robert missed his chance with U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

As Robert put it, he was in the backseat of the new Chevrolet Traverse and somebody was in the passenger seat. He said she was talking to somebody outside the car about emissions and the environment. When he got out of the vehicle, he turned back and realized it was Sen. Stabenow.

He was disappointed he didn’t get an interview with her, but he said it was still cool being that close to a U.S. senator.

Over the five days Robert spent in Detroit, he said his biggest takeaway was that confidence is key.

“Confidence goes far, very, very far, especially in the media industry,” Robert said. “If you’re afraid of what people might think of you, it’s only going to to hold you back, especially in terms of interacting with others on your team and being confident in what you’re producing and presenting that to others. That’s very important.”