This week’s PR Week has a rare feature on the motor industry – with even a mention for MIPAA. As a “cut out and keep guide” though, the seven featured PR heads can expect their published emails to be pinging with agency pitches next week.
The article concentrates on ‘lifestyle PR’ highlighting the industry’s focus on launching new models and reaching out to customers who are unlikely to read motor magazines or car features in newspapers.
I’ve never quite bought the idea that ‘lifestyle PR’ is a “Holy Grail” – as it generally means appointing an expensive “creative” external consultants to come up with some wacky idea to get mentions for motors in publications aimed at women in particular.
There is undoubtedly more choice when buying a car than ever before, and as most offer similar features decisions are not based entirely on logical comparisons for example, of fuel economy. So the focus shifts to emotional connections and persuading people that they need a car to match their self-image or lifestyle. Moving up the Maslow hierarchy maybe or reflecting persuasion via peripheral processing (Elaboration Likelihood model).
PR Week claims this requires greater knowledge of “consumers than carburettors”. But is this helpful? I’ve seen many creative agencies try their hand at delivering “lifestyle” coverage for motoring brands. Most come up with ideas that have little to do with the actual car being promoted, precisely because their teams know digglysquat about what is interesting about the particular vehicle. Hence, their creative concepts are distinctly forgettable, with the danger that it is the celebrity or idea that is recalled, but not the car being launched.
Of course, outside insight can be very helpful, but many agencies simply covert the motor industry’s PR budgets and deliver superficial campaigns that may increase cuttings, but do nothing to motivate buyers.
A couple of years ago, I conceived a model for motor industry PR, which identified a need to deliver in three key areas – people skills, product knowledge and PR processes. Traditionally specialist motor industry PR practitioners have been excelled in terms of their product knowledge, making them mechanics, or when combined with people skills (largely in working with motoring media), they’d be enthusiasts.
I would put the creative consumer PR agencies primarily at the people apex, as socialites. They have good relationships with non-motoring media, but lack sufficient knowledge of what the company needs to communicate.
Agencies pitching on the strength of their specialist knowledge of new media or evaluation, for example, are dominant in PR processes – they’re bureaucrats, or diplomats if they also offer strong people contacts. If they’ve knowledge of product as well as PR processes, I’d term them technocrats.
My argument is that it isn’t enough to be a specialist in any of the three key areas – or even a combination of two of them. What the motor industry needs – and this can be applied to other sectors – are PR practitioners who combine specialist knowledge of all three and therefore are competent ambassadors for their organisation or client.
It was interesting in the article to see mention of a number of vacancies within motor industry PR – what we need though, is less of the idea that you need to be a petrolhead mechanic to work in house, and greater recognition that the real value of motoring PR comes when a knowledge of consumers is combined with an understanding of the automotive business. And, by the way, this would involve recognition that most engines today feature fuel injection not carburettors.