History

Where Did MPG Come From?

What we know today as the Motor Press Guild began in 1984 as IMPA West, an affiliate of the New York-based International Motor Press Association. One of the primary instigators was Matt DeLorenzo, who was rewarded for his trouble by being elected our inaugural President. Here are some of his recollections, which he contributed to MPG MilePost in 2009, the year we celebrated the 25th anniversary of our Guild by asking past presidents and other founders for their accounts of How We Came to Be:

With the success of MPG and similar auto writers groups around the country, it’s difficult to picture a time when the was only one such organization, the New York-based International Motor Press Association. Of course, IMPA had a national membership base, thanks to a two-tier dues structure that gave a break to those of us who didn’t live in the Greater NY area.

The idea of getting writers and PR folk together on a regular basis was a powerful one, so it just seemed natural to many of us on the West Coast that there was enough critical mass to form a chapter — IMPA-West, or WIMPA as we liked to refer to ourselves.

I believe I was chosen to lead the new chapter while I was on a bathroom break … nevertheless, the group that formed back then included many of the same people who are members today, like Joe Tetherow, Ted Biederman, Chuck Koch, Erich Dahlquist. Sadly, some have passed on, like Dean Batchelor, who lives on in the award bearing his name, as well as Tony Hogg, Len Frank and more recently Michael Hollander.

Our first meeting was held at the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, with Craig Breedlove as the speaker. One of the challenges in the early days was finding a suitable lunch spot. For awhile we alternated between the Portofino Inn and the Velvet Turtle in Long Beach to accommodate the Orange County contingent. With the help of Bob Beaver, who was at the time the West Coast PR rep for Peugeot, the group settled on the Proud Bird since it was, as it remains today, mutually inconvenient for everyone.

While we had strong representation among working journalists, the real backbone of the organization was the PR professionals who believed in the value of the monthly meetings and who worked tirelessly to arrange the programs that drew from the top ranks of the auto industry.

Back when the group was formed, we had modest goals — monthly meetings with high caliber speakers, a trend that continues to this day … I’m proud to have been a part of it. — Matt DeLorenzo, first President, 1984

George-Ann Rosenberg was made President the second year (her own memories are below), then Dean Batchelor, Mike Anson and Jesse Snyder followed in terms of one year each. All seemed well for “WIMPA’s” first few years, the relatively small Los Angeles membership content with the monthly luncheons and little more.

But trouble was brewing. Here’s how veteran newspaperman and sixth President Ted Biederman described the conflict:

This is a story of a revolution. I was the last President of IMPA West and the first of the Motor Press Guild.

As I took office as the sixth President of IMPA-West in 1989, the newly selected board had several concerns: what was happening to our dues, the money we sent to IMPA?; communications with IMPA; the refusal to produce membership and contact books on an annual basis; of the two books IMPA produced during the first five years of IMPA-West approximately 50 percent of our members were left out; and the launching of our own Track Day.

[W]e had grown large enough that we were sending IMPA about $10,000 in annual dues. In return, we received postcards each month regarding monthly meetings in New York and our meetings here in Los Angeles. Most of the time those cards arrived after the meetings were history. We also received the occasional IMPACT newsletter and an invitation to IMPA’s Test Day — back east. It didn’t seem like much for our $10,000.

Several trips to New York to open a dialog pretty much fell on deaf ears. Just being part of IMPA should have been enough, was the attitude. We thought that arrogant, at best.

We asked for some of our dues to be sent back to us so we could start our own Track Day. At that time we thought about $5,000 would be enough to cover our expenses plus the $40 per member to attend. That request was denied too. IMPA told us they were using our money to support the test day at Lime Rock and to cover the costs of IMPACT and that they had no money to support our functions.

Over several board meetings we decided to go ahead with plans for our Track Day, but in order to do so we had to ask the manufacturers to participate in offsetting our costs, since we had zero dollars. The fee we worked out was $10 per car and $10 per manufacturer rep in attendance. We thought that extremely reasonable.

When the powers at IMPA found out our plans they went ballistic. “You can’t charge the manufacturers,” they insisted. You know — the church and state thing. We argued that the manufacturers’ PR staffs were members, so what was the big deal? Their reply was, “No, no, no.” We said okay, but we once again asked for the funding. Once again the answer was no.

So began the Revolution! It didn’t take but a minute for our board to determine that we needed to break away from IMPA and to take charge of our own future as a group. I was privileged to join with past-presidents Jesse Snyder and Dean Batchelor to create our new independent group and write a new constitution [the Bylaws — Ed.]. As I recall, it took us about three or four meetings to put it together. The only thing we didn’t have was a name.

We took our findings and the new constitution back to the next emergency board meeting. It was a great meeting. We went over the entire thinking and results that Dean, Jesse and I had agreed on and the board was in complete consensus.

But we still needed a name. We went back and forth, with dozens of names and some very dumb acronyms being thrown out. Then, out of the blue, Don Prieto, who was pacing up and down the room, screamed …

Let’s put Ted on pause here and listen to The Don’s own account of that seminal moment, which he recalled for us in 2001. A board member in 1989, Prieto had a long background in drag racing but the name that came to him carried industry-wide relevance:

We met at Eric Dahlquist’s place [the Vista Group — Ed.], and it was Eric, Dean Batchelor, Chuck Koch, Ted Biederman, Paul Dexler, Helen Hutchins and me [plus John RettieEd.] And we were wrestling over what to call this thing. I’m walking around, because I’m aggravated that we can’t come to a name, and I walk up to this cover of Motor Trend magazine displayed on the wall. They had done a story on miles per gallon, and the blurb was MPG. I said, “What about MPG? Motoring Press Guild,” I think is what I said.

And Dexler said, “No, Motor Press Guild.” So that’s how the name came about. — Don Prieto, founding member, MPG

Back to Biederman:

We took the results of that meeting to the membership and without dissent the Motor Press Guild was created. It was gratifying and a privilege that I was the one to inform IMPA that we had withdrawn and would no longer be participant in their organization.

And I can brag to my grandchildren that I once led a revolution. — Ted Biederman, MPG President, 1989

John Rettie, who followed Biederman in the presidency (and who served again a decade later), takes up the tale:

One of my first tasks as President was to ensure that Track Day was put on a solid foundation. Volunteers who did not get paid for their time had organized the previous couple of Track Days. We decided it would behoove MPG to pay someone to organize the annual event. The ideal someone proved to be Ilona Shillman, who ran it successfully for many years. She was the first “staff” person to be paid for their services for the group. Since then, of course, MPG has become large enough that several other aspects of our needs have been met with paid providers. — John Rettie, MPG President 1990 and 2004-05

A few years later, Matt Stone presided over a surge of growth for the Guild:

My term as MPG President began earlier than planned, and not for a happy reason. I joined the board in 1994 as what was then called Executive Vice President, pleased to serve with my friend, the late Len Frank, who was elected President that year. Len was the first to admit he wasn’t a very “organizational” person, but he had good ideas and loved the forum that MPG provided. In those days, it was understood that by being elected EVP, you were cued up to be President the following year. So I was on deck for ’95.

Len had barely taken the oath of office when we learned he had cancer. Treatments, and ultimately surgery, put him out of commission, so I effectively stepped into his chair in mid-‘94. Len left us in June, 1996.

On the happy side, 1995 turned out to be a year of growth and change for MPG. I was teamed with a great Board, folks that wanted to get things done. We initiated the Dean Bachelor Award, combining it with the MPG Holiday Dinner. We changed the board election system to the current three-year term format. We hosted “Club MPG,” a cocktail party gathering held at the end of the first LA Auto Show media day (jazz, food and drink, or drive-time traffic on the 110 — your choice). We cleaned up the Bylaws. We designed and printed cool new membership applications, commissioned the first MPG lapel pins, and had some great board meetings on my back patio. We even began investigation on something called a website.

Our political squabbles were few, as I always felt that type of activity was, at best, wasted energy. The rest of our board was equally results-minded. Membership was about 350 at the beginning of 1995, but we ended the year with around 500. Of this I’m particularly proud, as it set MPG up to become the industry’s premier automotive media trade group.

It is often said that serving professional trade associations is a thankless job. Not so in my case. I found it a rewarding experience, and remained on the board another eight years because of that. Whatever I put into MPG has come back to me ten times over in friendships made, business done, and lessons learned.

Thankless? Hardly. But I still miss my friend Len. — Matt Stone, MPG President 1995

Our 14th President, BJ Killeen, also contributed her thoughts in 2009:

I served three years in MPG, two as President and one as Vice-President, and though it was at times frustrating, it was extremely worthwhile. Because MPG is so large, it’s impossible to please everyone. Whether it’s the day of the monthly meetings, or the length of events like Track Days, being on the board means always doing what’s best for the majority.

I heard from many that the Proud Bird wasn’t the most convenient location for the lunch meetings, and I agreed. During my tenure, I spent many hours researching, along with other board members, potential locations for the meetings; from Orange County to the Valley, we looked at hotels, restaurants, manufacturer buildings and other places, but the Proud Bird always came out on top because of its free parking, easy access to freeways, outside display area, private rooms and buffet availability.

Track Days was another event that took a lot of effort to organize (I will be eternally grateful to Nicki Forbes-Robinson), and because Willow Springs Raceway’s prices were reasonable, we stayed there. I’m thrilled to see the event has moved to its new location, and thought that this year’s event was a great success.

The MPG contact book is another membership advantage that has tripled in size since I was President a decade ago. Finally going to a ring binding was a big step that we also looked at, but we stayed perfect-bound at the time for cost efficiency.

The one change I wanted to institute was a budget to spend on monthly speakers to increase attendance, but was unable to change the minds of some members. I’m glad to hear they have been doing this for a while now.

The Motor Press Guild early on was considered a lesser spin-off of IMPA, but I know it has grown into its own strong organization that will continue to serve the automotive media and manufacturers, and will forever be proud to be part of the group that continues to flourish and grow stronger every year. — BJ Killeen, MPG President 1998-99

Chuck Koch managed to avoid the presidency, but from the very beginning he has tirelessly served MPG in many other roles. He has encyclopedic knowledge of the organization’s past. Why is something done a certain way, or why don’t we do something else at all? Chuck knows. He was there when the original decision was made and, most likely, he can quote the relevant Bylaw about it. And from 1995’s inception of the Dean Batchelor Award, Chuck devoted endless hours of his personal time to organizing and shepherding the annual process, from nominations through judging to presentation.

Never having served as MPG President, I’m not really sure why Editor Lyons asked me to contribute this last-in-a-series article commemorating the first 25 years of the Motor Press Guild. Maybe no one else wanted to, or maybe it’s because I have the reputation for attending more Board of Directors meetings than any other living human (assuming one is actually living while attending board meetings). I suspect the former is true.

But as for the latter, my run as the Cal Ripken, Jr. (in longevity, certainly not ability) of MPG began in 1986, when Mike Anson asked me to serve as Secretary. Having been told that previous Secretaries had taken a rather cavalier attitude towards the job, my campaign slogan was that I would attend Board meetings. This seemed to carry the day.

And then, to the chagrin of politicians everywhere, I actually fulfilled my campaign promise. It sort of became a habit and, Board member or not, 23 years later I’m still attending them.

During the 23 years, and by rough calculation 250 meetings, of my Board attendance, I have witnessed huge changes in MPG. From the days of Don Prieto giving the Treasurer’s report out of, literally, his checkbook (“We have money in the bank”), we are now a chartered non-profit corporation with an annual budget in excess of $300,000 and the CPA, financial statements and tax returns all that incurs.

We used to be able to count our membership on our fingers and toes — our first printed member roster was not more than a few pages long. MilePost was a Spartan-like four pages edited by Paul Dexler. [Later, Doug Stokes stepped into that role; David Bird was long the Art Director. — Ed.]

But thanks to the palace coup engineered by Ted Biederman that created MPG out of IMPA-West, followed a few years later by Kevin Smith’s decision to restructure the group, we have grown to be the largest automotive press association in the country. We boast a 300-page Media Guide that’s become a comprehensive directory of the automotive industry, a new state-of-the-art Website, and a digital MilePost. We need a lot more fingers and toes to count us all.

Track Day has gone from a gathering of a few friends, which Ilona Shillman and Helen Hutchings organized on a volunteer basis, to a major event with a paid professional staff and a cast of seemingly hundreds. MPG now opens the Los Angeles Auto Show with our keynote speaker. Our annual PR Survey has become the industry benchmark. MPG’s Dean Batchelor Award enters its 16th year as one of the top journalism honors for professionals in our business.

I’d like to think I had something to do with all this growth, but in reality we’ve all had a lot to do with it: The many volunteers who worked, and still work, on MPG programs; the Board members who donate so much of their time to give the organization direction; the committee members who look after ongoing MPG business; and everyone who has ever braved the traffic-laced vicissitudes of the 405 to attend a lunch at the Bird. Without all of these, MPG would not exist. At least not at its present level.

So, what do I have to show for those 250 board meetings? A lot of satisfaction at seeing the group grow and succeed, striving to meet the needs of an ever more diverse membership. That … and a lot of gray hair. — Chuck Koch, founding member and former Executive Director, MPG

Finally, let’s hear from George-Ann Rosenberg, who was a journalist when she helped start MPG but who has since moved into public relations. Her remarks stem from both perspectives:

I suppose it takes a bit of youthful arrogance to say, “Hey, let’s start a press club; you get the envelopes, I’ll get the stamps,” and then proceed to invite about 60 professionals who are senior to you in every possible way. But that’s sort of how it started, in a nutshell. And, 25 years later, I am amazed and humbled by the success of MPG and what it has grown to become.

I was President of what is now MPG in 1985, after having served as Vice President in its first year under Matt DeLorenzo’s leadership.

In late 1983, I helped Matt organize IMPA-West. We were both twenty-something journalists who had a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of creating an ongoing forum for the local automotive community. And, yes, IMPA-West was affectionately nicknamed WIMPA, which Matt thought was funny and I hated. (Never tarnish the brand! Not even in jest!) Clearly, I was destined to leave journalism for a career in PR and marketing. And, by the way, MPG is a great name. Hats off to whoever came up with that.

Keep in mind that the country was bouncing back from a recession at the end of 1983. The domestic industry was in turnaround and most people were pretty positive about the future. As a country and as an industry, we had survived two oil shocks and we had a new mandate for fuel efficiency. The times, and the cars, were a-changin’ and, for all the griping about econoboxes, there was real innovation taking place. It was an exciting time. At least that’s how I remember it.

So, with a lot of support from friends in the PR world, we worked to organize what many of our colleagues had been talking about for quite a few years. It was the right idea at the right time. Southern California had indeed become a major force — we were the hub of the new import industry, we lived in a car-centric culture and we had the lion’s share of the national enthusiast press. The West Coast was the new vanguard. At least that’s how I saw it.

The success of that early effort was attributable to everyone in the automotive community who participated and made it a viable press association from the get-go.

There was nothing particularly remarkable about my tenure as President in 1985; I was cheerleader-in-chief and just did my best to keep people enthused about participating. In the years that followed, many dedicated people worked hard to lead and grow the organization.

I moved on, literally and figuratively, to … other industries and other pursuits. But I have always remained committed to the concept of professional community. We participate in press associations and similar organizations for many good reasons — to advance the interests of the membership, to recognize achievement, and, most importantly, to exchange knowledge. It’s all worthwhile, and almost always fun.

Looking to the future, I will offer this: All press clubs today have the challenge of addressing member needs and priorities in a changing media environment. But perhaps more importantly, all professional associations need to fight to stay relevant in an era where communities are increasingly virtual, and knowledge is often accessible without the need to literally gather. I think it’s important to keep looking for new ways to build value in the kind of personal interaction that local associations afford, because I think gathering is important. Whether it’s in the public square or at the Proud Bird.

As for the current economic crisis, it’s frankly a lot scarier than the early 1980s, although I believe that American ingenuity will prevail in the long run … I don’t know what this means for MPG members, but I hope that being involved in MPG will be helpful in weathering whatever comes next. — George-Ann Rosenberg, MPG President 1985

—compiled by Pete Lyons, editor of MilePost