Reporters rarely venture to a company's annual shareholders' meeting expecting big news to break out.
They are almost always staged affairs. The chairman gives prepared remarks about all the progress the company has made during the past year. Votes are cast for directors, with little doubt about the outcome. Pastries are nibbled.
But the meetings are worth attending for one reason: the shareholder comment and question session. It's fun to watch the CEO squirm at sharp criticism over the stock price or try to keep a straight face at an off-the-wall suggestion.
General Motors' annual meeting last week offered a bit of both, although there was more smiling than squirming.
One shareholder offered GM CEO Dan Akerson his vision for more comfortable drivers' seats. Another guy griped that he just flew in from California and wasn't offered any coffee. Another suggested trying to get the nickname "Greatness Motors" to stick.
Then a building contractor named Jim Slade from Goodrich, Mich., walked to the microphone and gave Akerson a marketing idea: a gift card program for dealerships, similar to the cards you can get at Lowe's or Target.
After mentioning as an aside that he's disappointed in the meager gas mileage he gets out of his Chevy Colorado pickup, Slade said the card could be used toward service or accessories at any GM dealership or could be put toward a new or used car.
Maybe GM could even give some cards away to college graduates to get them to "examine what GM has to offer," Slade said.
"We'll look at that," Akerson promised him. "Sounds like a pretty good idea to me."
It might sound like a cheesy idea. But GM has been trying hard to get customers to return to its dealerships for service. I can think of worse uses of marketing dollars.