There’s a new normal shaping the motoring world and how journalists and PRs react to it and one another.

Motor shows seem to be dying faster than the fashions of the human models used to adorn the stands as the traditional calendar is not just screwed up and thrown away but burned by participants and organisers.

Who would have thought just a year ago that the Geneva motor show would have been cancelled, not once but twice. The mighty German show held ever other year is now being tipped to become an automotive economic and environmental event rather than a showcase for car makers without conscience. 

We cannot even look to motor-sport for distractions as this year’s F1 and WRC series have been decimated but not destroyed and are only getting underway when the usual summer break would dictate they shelter. It’s all upside down, back to front or inside out, whatever way you want to look at it.

Looking at the 101 days of lockdown in the UK has seen various actions and reactions by the motor industry which has struggled to return to operations which now dictate a safe working distance between assembly line workers as well as office staff. It’s coming back, slowly, and so are the PRs, but with mixed results.

Over the time of the lockdown we saw how well or badly individual companies handled their affairs and it did not mean the biggest hitters were the most successful, but some smaller PR operations were remarkable in keeping their brands in the public and that is car-buyers eyes.

For what it is worth I felt the more experienced PR teams did a far better job than those who have relied on less experienced but also less expensive PR executives. Lockdown produced leaders and left-behinds and it showed. 

Journalists who have survived the Coronavirus-19 epidemic which has damaged their incomes will find it harder to get work because outlets have disappeared, either temporarily or permanently but also there are some newly appointed PRs now working for companies who have no knowledge of the writers. 

On the one hand, car makers have saved millions of pounds by not running press fleets and events but they have also had restructuring costs to absorb and this has soaked up funds so each new event, whether PR or not, or car loan is getting scrutinised in detail. I have read of agents, who seem totally unaware of the real world, doing the rounds and lobbying car makers for extended loans of vehicles for “influencers”. Traditional motoring journalists, and regional writers in particular, have told me they are facing problems procuring cars to fill their regular pages as agencies have been engaged to ‘measure’ cuttings or exposure and well as fleets or their operations are restricted by the need to clean the vehicles.

Some companies have been very proactive in getting the turnarounds done professionally, quickly and hygienically, others rely on hope and a quick wipe over with a damp cloth before they scoot off to the next job. A sort of spit and sod-it scheme.

The feedback I have had is that under pressure the less experienced PR teams are floundering to make things work within the restrictions they find themselves while the same issues are merely another challenge for more experienced colleagues.

For now, we are seeing a slow return to work but events will be postponed or cancelled, or moved on line in some cases for the foreseeable future. While that may be convenient it’s not a comfortable prospect when journalists want the chance to talk face to face with executives and need to actually drive cars to report on them. 

The annual early summer SMMT driving day was a casualty of CV-19 but it’s been rescheduled for September I’m assured and it will be interesting to see how the industry copes with the distancing and detox of cars between individual drives. One thing’s for sure, the job is unlikely to ever be the same again.

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 WheelsWithinWales.uk which covers news, features, trade and motor sport in Wales.

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