Magazine article Marketing

How Innovative PR Benefits Marques: Record Sales Have Thrust Car PR into the Spotlight. (Public Relations)

Magazine article Marketing

How Innovative PR Benefits Marques: Record Sales Have Thrust Car PR into the Spotlight. (Public Relations)

Article excerpt

With an increasing volume of column inches and airtime dedicated to motoring, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that automotive PR is adopting a more substantial role.

Once the reserve of 'petrol heads', motoring has leapt out of the pages of What Car? and Top Gear magazines, to be embraced by the lifestyle media, the likes of GQ, Vogue and Esquire.

While many sectors are experiencing economic gloom, the car market appears remarkably healthy. "We've had a record year, with a phenomenal rise in new car registrations -- 2.5 million registrations to the end of 2001," says Jon Stanley, spokesman for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. These figures are up 10.7% on 2000 and up 6.9% on 1989, the previous record year.

No doubt this has been aided by the introduction of new-style registration plates last September and the squeezing of new car prices by 10% over the past two years. But despite anticipating a slight drop in sales this year, car manufacturers remain determined to reach beyond the motoring correspondents and target consumers through mainstream channels.

Reaching all audiences

One of the main reasons for this wider communication is that the industry is learning to target women.

"Automotive PR has become more inclusive," says Jeremy Clarke, managing director of Lawson Clarke, PR consultants to Peugeot. "An estimated 50% of purchasers of new cars and motoring services are female, so the communication must take this audience into account."

Consolidation in the car manufacturing industry has also put a greater emphasis on PR. As shared expertise has levelled the field in terms of cars' performance and reliability, communicating the brand has become a major point of differentiation.

"These days there are no 'bad' cars as such, they are all becoming much of a muchness," says Gary Axon, manager, product strategy and communications for Saab GB. "It's about providing positive, succinct facts and placing much more emphasis on the marque or model."

Last July, Saab launched its range of nine-to-five cars to the world's media at the Royal Danish School of Art and Architecture in Copenhagen. "With the building's stark, minimalist approach to design, where everything has a purpose, we felt the venue reflected the Saab brand quite well," says Axon. The manufacturer also took journalists to a nearby disused military air base for vehicle testing, tying the event to Saab's heritage in aircraft manufacturing.

But the pressure to place more emphasis on PR in the mix has also come for financial reasons. "When we aligned car prices with Europe last year, marketing budgets were squeezed," says Jon Zammett, head of PR at Audi UK. "In that situation, what can you do, except spend less on ads? So, competition between in-house PR departments has increased in the past year, as people realised that PR is an inexpensive way out."

While manufacturers are happy to deal with the bread and butter of automotive PR -- talking to motoring correspondents, maintaining press fleets and hosting launches -- an increasing number are turning to hired help, to crack the holy grail of grabbing the lifestyle media and reaching mainstream consumers.

Last summer, youth and consumer PR agency S. Punk and its sister events company Cunning Stunts worked with BMW on launching the revamped Mini. …

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