The Christmas “post” always includes one piece of mail with a shorter life-span than a turkey – the annual SMMT yearbook for the coming 12 months.

It is only a matter of hours or days before this hardy annual goes soft and become outdated.

In fact it has been known to be out of date even before it lands on a doormat, such is the pace of PR careers in the  industry.

I am now eagerly waiting to see exactly when the Press & PR Guide 2020 becomes history. Looking over previous editions now being joined by the superceded Press & PR Guide 2019 is also interesting. Departed directors, deceased colleagues, closed communications centres and, of course, the PRs who have shipped out to other motor manufacturers or left the business altogether to take up other careers, can be seen or omitted in successive editions of the white book from the SMMT. 

If you bother to look through the 80-odd, sometimes very odd, pages in the SMMT Guide this year you will see some interesting statistics which reinforce how important the motor industry is to muttering rotters and the UK economy, how dependent we are on foreign owned businesses and their arms-length administrations this side of the English Channel. What happens after the UK leaves the EU remains to be seen and it’ll be interesting to see the SMMT Guide 2021. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Thumb through the PR contacts and there seem to be more agency names than ever giving practical and expensive support to motor manufacturers. You wonder what’s happened to the “in-house” teams of experts now replaced by consultants, and why this has happened.

Is it good or bad management to run down your resident PR people and engage outside consultants and support? Some agencies are made up of very experienced long serving ex-company men and women now privately contracted to do almost the same job as they did inside the fence but for higher money than they earned before. Other agencies are engaged on a more casual basis and often work with non-motoring clients as well and generally are not as knowledgeable or committed and it shows.

In reality this depends on how professionally the agencies are instructed, monitored and deliver their services, and I have been impressed and disappointed in equal measure. 

The clintcher is often when you need to contact someone out of hours or have a particular technical query and it’s usually only the senior in-house people who prove themselves available and reliable, but with some exceptions. 

The exporting of PR also explains why more press events are tagged onto dealer programmes run by agencies who have little idea of the real demands of journalists and how they differ to the “showroom set”. Some do get it right but many do not help journalists. 

There are a few traditional PRs who still know and provide what journalists want and they stand out but don’t always get prizes for their efforts. Their events are always a pleasure and informative from beginning to end. 

Both agencies and in-house operations suffer from ever shrinking budgets and this is indicated by the paucity of photography on certain events. There may be an excuse for a modest selection of images with an international first drive but when it comes to UK media events surely there has been enough time to source and photograph right-hand-drive models and have them available either on memory sticks or an up to date website.

It’s the same cost cutting lying behind the profusion of car adverts showing almost always left hand drive models and a flashed line to the effect that “UK specifications may differ”. Yes, we have steering wheels on the right, not the left and generally try to stick to the left hand side of the road. 

To me it’s a waste of money promoting in the television or cinema adverts a car you cannot buy-as-seen and how much reliance can you place on that first drive from darkest Europe or America if the car does not truly represent what you can buy in terms of engines, suspension or trim?

Robin Roberts
Robin Roberts

Robin is the longest serving chairman of The Western Group. He’s been vice chairman or chairman for over ten years and oversees the annual Western Group PR Driving Day each summer assisted by the group committee and supported by group members.

He contributes to a number of outlets in Wales and the UK, including the Driving Force editorial syndication agency feeding the biggest regional news and feature publishers in Britain.

Robin specialises in the Welsh automotive sector and motor related businesses with interests in Wales and publishes which covers news, features, trade and motor sport in Wales.

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