When I was an accounts office supervisor at a Ford dealer in Gloucester in 1972 and then a sales administrator at a Chrysler dealer in High Wycombe the following year, little did I know that this was the foundation for what was to become a 45-year long career in the motor industry and which came to a conclusion earlier this month.
A few years as a journalist at a then very new What Car? was followed by a move to the ‘dark side’. I’ve represented Lancia (rust = ‘fake’ news, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjgHSqdY5nQ); Ford (management by committee); Fiat (management by emotion); Vauxhall (career opportunity); GM (travel opportunity); Vauxhall again (‘grown-up’ job); British Motor Show (goodbye to NEC) and Cadillac, Corvette and HUMMER (never realised I had so many ‘friends’!).
Over the past 10 years I’ve been at JJ Marketing providing PR support for Manheim Auctions, Lombard Vehicle Management, Auto Trader and more recently working with trade organisations ACFO and the VRA and online vehicle remarketing specialist ADESA.
As I progressed and gained more control of events my approach to PR became more robust. That resulted in journalists with credible outlets being invited to events and launches rather than ones with a status, real or imagined. In those days membership of the Guild, and to a lesser extent of regional motoring groups was considered by many as a passport to anything and everything. My approach was somewhat different, and my actions were not welcome by everyone. What was also becoming evident was that about 80% of coverage was generated by about 20% of attendees.
I’ve encountered influential journalists who were modest, and marginal journalists who were arrogant. The latter were inevitably high maintenance, while the ‘grown-ups’ could look after themselves. Journalist behaviour could be amusing, entertaining but often outrageous.
Drink was usually responsible for behaviour that was inexcusable but not always. Examples of unexpected behaviour include a church warden who regularly emptied the contents of the mini bar and a trade publication journalist who spent most nights at launches pleasuring himself to the accompaniment of adult movies.
Then there was a senior (in age not status) regional journalist who thought it was okay to abuse a manufacturer’s hospitality by asking the receptionist to be upgraded to a double-bedded room, so his girlfriend could spend the night with him. When challenged he argued it was okay to do so because she would be having dinner in the room and not with the other journalists!
Drink, however was responsible for the need to completely redecorate a suite at the Schlosshotel Kronberg during the launch of the Ford Granada in 1985. How a journalist of such modest stature, but larger than life character, managed to ‘decorate’ all four walls of a large bedroom remains a mystery to this day.
A lot has changed during my ‘journey’ and while I have just about embraced the technology and emergence of social media I cannot understand the current obsession with ‘influencers’. There were ‘influencers’ in the last century, most of whom at least had a good knowledge and understanding of the industry and its products even if some were self- appointed and/or had a high regard for themselves. Today’s ‘influencers’, many also self-appointed and with a high regard for themselves, seem too ready to accept the marketing message which compromises their objectivity.
Over the years I’ve realised that the only qualification you need to become an effective PR operative is to have been to agricultural college to be trained as a sheep dog as you spend most of your time pointing journalists in one direction or another.
I’ve enjoyed every minute. The many ‘highs’ far outweigh the occasional ‘lows’. The one constant, and for me a highlight, has been the interaction and relationship with journalists and fellow PR operatives.
However, with everyone in such a hurry and everything so immediate these days the vital thing that is missing now – and it applies as much to journalists as it does to PR operatives – is the time. The time to think, to research, to put in perspective, to reflect, to be objective and to respond. It also compromises time to develop relationships, the life-blood of effective and successful press relations. When we had time, we were the better for it.