The Ford Focus Rally: Thoughts from a Chicago finalist

In October, 435 Digital’s Hana Yi wrote about the smart social media strategy behind the Ford Focus Rally.

In short, the Ford Focus Rally is a 5-week, cross-country road rally that kicks off in January. Six teams will compete for a grand prize of $100,000 and 10 Ford Focuses. The entire competition will be taped like a reality TV show and aired on Hulu.com.

The hook is in the social media. Each team will be comprised of two social media gurus who have large networks of followers. Throughout the five weeks, the gurus will need to tap into their networks to help them advance in the rally. The winning team will receive 10 Ford Focuses, eight of which will be given to the followers that helped them the most.

Since announcing the rally in September, Ford has been busy holding auditions throughout the country. The last interviews were held Nov. 20 at the Las Vegas Auto Show and now the finalists are waiting word from Ford. Ford has only tweeted a handful of times from its handle, @FordFocusRally.

John Morrison, a Chicago-based photographer and graphic designer, is among the finalists.  Perhaps not so coincidentally, his Twitter handle is @LocalCelebrity. We caught up with him today to learn more about the Ford Focus Rally and what he would do if selected to compete.

How did you find out about the Ford Focus Rally?

My friend Caitlin Rosberg (@crosberg on Twitter) found out about the Ford Focus Rally through Facebook. She is a fan of Ford Focus on Facebook because she already owns a Ford Focus. Her car is over 10 years old but she loves it.

The car is named “Little Red” and it has its own Four Square check-in downtown. Caitlin wants to upgrade it but she doesn’t need to since it still runs fine. So her main goal for doing the race is because she wants a new Ford Focus.

Why did Caitlin approach you to do the rally with her?

Caitlin thought I’d be the most interested of her friends in doing the rally. She also thought we’d make a great team.

We actually met each other through Twitter two years ago. I had tweeted about my birthday party and even though she’d never met me before, she showed up with Twitter cupcakes. They were literally homemade cupcakes with Twitter logos on them. We’ve been really good friends ever since.

Coincidentally, we found out we were on the same flight to SXSW in 2008 and we spent most of the week together and became near best friends. Really she’s a giant nerd and I’m a giant nerd, so we’d make a great team.

John Morrison and Caitlin Rosberg, left, with two friends.

Why do you want to do the rally?

The three things I love most are social media, photography and traveling. The rally would let me do all three at once across the country for five weeks.

Last year I went to Berlin and stayed at an anarchist collective. I blogged and tweeted about that experience every day. When I was done, I went to Paris with no agenda. Instead, I used Twitter to get around Paris. I’d tweet where I was and then I’d get people’s suggestions about where to go next. It was like seeing Paris through crowd sourcing.

So when I heard about the Ford Focus Rally, it just fit. I would love to travel America and try to solve some Amazing Race-style puzzles. But I’d also love to communicate with people about places I’ve never been, what I should do and where I should go. I would plan to put up a blog entry with a set of photos every day.

How would you feel about driving for five weeks straight?

Driving has always been a passion of my family’s. My parents actually organized some road rallies on Long Island when I was growing up. I remember being in the car and we were racing to figure out puzzles and to go some place to pick up items. I think my father had won a rally and then decided to start running them himself.

My grandfather also started the country’s first independently-owned Volkswagen dealership. It was called J. Morrison Better Cars Inc., and he opened it on Long Island right after the war.

I’ve always been jealous of my grandfather because he had the opportunity to drive all over the country. That’s something that’s really exciting to me. I don’t know much about how cars work or how to sell them, but I love to drive them.

So how did you become a Ford Focus finalist?

The auditions in Chicago were held at Rock Bottom on a Wednesday evening. It was the middle of October and we had only known about the auditions for two weeks beforehand. We had hoped to do a test road trip to see if we could tolerate each other in the car, but we didn’t get the chance.

We were actually surprised when we got to Rock Bottom. We were the only ones who checked in on Four Square, other than a waiter. We only saw blackberries and a Droid or two, but no other iPhones. We also didn’t recognize anyone from Chicago’s social media crowd.

So we filled out some questioners where they asked us who we were, how many followers we had on Twitter, embarrassing stories about us—little pieces to understand our personalities. Then they pulled us into a room and interviewed us with two other people.

What kind of questions did they ask you during the audition?

The interviewer asked Caitlin about how we knew each other, so she told them the story about coming to my birthday party with Twitter cupcakes and how we went to SXSW together. He glanced at her paperwork and immediately asked her why she had so many followers on Twitter. She has like 900 and so they were surprised by it.

Caitlin spoke about how she’s a girl and a nerd and very active on Twitter, engaging with people. She does the same thing on Twitter that I do—she follows about 50 percent of the people that follow her. To both of us, using Twitter is more about actually talking with people rather than the politics of following the right people.

But really they just asked us to tell them who we are and why we were there. I think they just wanted to see how we responded unprompted.

So how did you find out you’d advanced in the competition?

So we left Rock Bottom and felt like we did pretty well. They told us that we’d hear back some time in early November. But then we got a call that night and they brought us back for an interview that Saturday. It was at a hotel in downtown Chicago with the same guy who’d interviewed us the first time and another girl.

They videotaped the interview with us to see how we bantered. At one point in the interview, we said the only thing we may not agree on is musical taste. Then Caitlin said she would subject me to a lot of Phil Collins.
They told us that our interview would be screened by Ford executives and producers of the reality show. We also had to fill out a 9-page form that explained more of who we were, whether we had ever done anything that could be disparaging for Ford. It’s a reality TV show so they want to know whether this person has been on other reality TV shows, things like that.

That was the end of October and we are waiting to hear from Ford about next steps. We know that they did their last interview in Las Vegas on Nov. 20.

Do you know who the other finalists are?

We don’t know. On the Ford Focus Rally website, you can apply by posting your own video. I saw that a couple of guys I know from Chicago posted videos on there.

So what are you going to do to make sure you make the cut?

We are going to send out a Twitvite to all of our followers to show their support. A Twitvite is an invite system that is similar to Evite or Facebook events. We’re going to set up the Twitvite so that Ford Focus knows that John and Cailin are going to bring the thunder if they are get in the competition. The Twitvite will include @focusrally and our hashtag which is #TeamAwesomeSauce.

#TeamAwesomeSauce?

Yes, it’s a little long for a hashtag, but we’re going with it anyway. We have lots of ideas for how we’re going to promote ourselves.

Anybody that helps us out, we’re going to ask them to use that hash tag. We’ve also purchased a domain name for our new website and we’re creating a Facebook fan page. But that’s just the beginning.

So if #TeamAwesomeSauce competes in the Ford Focus Rally, how will this change your life?

I may have to quit my job. I work for a technology retailer in downtown Chicago and I teach people how to use computers. It’s a great job and I hope I don’t have to quit it—I want to emphasize that.

If we do make the cut, we will go off on this 5-week road trip, and I’ll plan to photograph and blog every day. If we win the rally, we’d also get $100,000 and 10 Ford Focuses. Caitlin and I have a company idea, but I can’t divulge too much about it. We would plan to use the $100,000 as start-up capital for our business.

Last question. What do you think of the social media strategy behind the Ford Focus Rally?

I think it’s a smart strategy if they choose the right people. I recognize that we would be vessels to talk about Ford. Our followers are going to read about Ford and experience a lot about Ford. Some people will probably be turned off by that, but other people will be excited and follow us because of the rally.

Like I said, I only follow the people that I’m actively engaged with. The people I know will actively support us and that will do a lot of good things for the Ford Focus brand. They will see my friends get into this as I get into it.

I’m excited about the possibility of driving a Ford Focus, especially the features in the car. They use synch technology to get my iPhone to communicate with the car, it has integrated GPS and a touch screen in the car.

The whole Ford Focus Rally concept has already rasied my opinion of Forday. We just went through the economic crisis where positive perceptions of American cars was at an all-time low.

To do something that’s really about experiencing America ina Ford Car that is all souped-up with the kinds of stuff that people in social media would be excited by, I think, is brilliant.

-Tracy Samantha Schmidt