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The connected consumer and the evolution of PR

Martin Hayes looks at the evolution of PR in the automotive industry

Since Henry Ford was a boy, getting car news to consumers has relied on a variety of tools, with advertising having the highest impact – albeit at the highest cost – and the words of the motoring journalist being arguably the most influential. The stars of the cars, from Jeremy Clarkson to Jay Leno, via the motoring correspondent of your local newspaper, have a treasured place in communicating brand and product differentiators. It is their opinions which guide and focus those discussions across the world wherever motoring enthusiasts are gathered together.

jay-leno-reveiwBut this is changing, and those whose role it is to transmit brand messaging and new product features need to understand what is going on. The same revolution which is delivering the connected car is also delivering the connected consumer, able to access a vast array of facts and opinions about his or her car from their desktop or mobile device. In this fragmented world, it is much more difficult to pick out the source of those opinions: yes, the truly committed will search for the views of their trusted guide, but for many a comment is a comment without much quality control.

So how are OEMs’ communications teams shaping up to this new world? Well, the product launch is still king – and flying groups of journalists around the world to some exotic destination or other to test drive the latest model on offer still works. But it is expensive, and the increasing speed of introductions makes affordability worse, putting more pressure on launch events.

At the same time, the question has to be asked, who to take? With the plethora of motoring blogs, are traditional print titles where it is at any longer? This is a complex picture and with a generation of new car drivers and buyers rapidly approaching, for whom a Tweet is more likely to be of influence than a five-page carefully crafted road test report in a specialist magazine, it is one which is not going to go away.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that a new model is evolving for getting messages out to consumers. There will always be a group of journalist ‘gods’ for whom nothing is too good, no location too exotic and no slice of the chief executive’s time too expensive. But there is going to be a much larger group of pundits for whom simpler, cheaper and more accessible communications tools will need to be deployed. The webinar will have an increasing role but that does not deliver on a new car’s driving qualities.

Will the dealer have to step forward to provide access to models close to each media outlet? That may be a frightening thought for OEM PRs but there are few alternatives. At a Chinese motor show not long ago, police had to take action to control thousands of ‘journalists’. The writing is on the wall: look for changes in the way cars are launched and written about: there will certainly be more opinions and more tests, but not necessarily clearer messages.

Martin Hayes is Executive Chairman of Orb Communications Group, parent company of Automotive PR (APR) and Torque PR

This article was first published in the Q1 2014 issue of Automotive World Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue

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