Everyone can see a revolution coming to our roads and the automotive industry within a generation, and this is going to be accompanied by a quieter change in the way we cover that momentous event as motoring journalists.
The days of the pure motoring writer who was fed and watered on an endless series of launches, motor shows and factory visits extending to several days have long disappeared.
PR has gone on a diet and so have motoring writers. In place of the traditional we are teased with social media snippets and snaps while the manufacturers’ press offices are facing ever tightening budgets and the journalists are a dying dynasty.
This à la carte approach to the car industry manifested itself in social media where both PRs and writers can dip in an out to feed themselves and their clients but rarely have anything of substance to say or enjoy but they are perceived to be players and must therefore be read.
This was a central point of the recent media discussion forum of the Association of Motoring Writer Groups and a very, very small number of representatives from the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association held at the National Transport Design Centre, Coventry. The first thing which struck me at the fairly centrally located meeting was the distinct lack of representation from some major manufacturers contrasting with a near full attendance from the groups. Is this indicative of the industry’s approach to the future I wondered?
While motoring writers might think they have a hard time, and some undoubtedly do, we rarely give a thought to PRs who face the pincer attack of product placement and planning coverage. It seems the PRs know how practically useless is social media, how hard it is to precisely and accurately gauge its value while their marketing and advertising colleagues pressurize them into making decisions the PR department don’t want to do based on their accumulated experience and knowledge.
There used to be PRs and motoring writers but now a third party has moved into the previous marriage of convenience, the “influencer”. These largely unknown persons can be genuine enthusiasts who lack the traditional journalistic skills and experience, some are born-again writers, but it seems more are simply in it for what they can get out of it.
A few PRs at the meeting recounted being asked to pay for inclusion in particular blogs, presumably because the “influencer” was so hopeless they cannot make their blog pay in any other way. This immediately blurs the line between earned and paid coverage, as noted in the meeting’s summary. It also means a reader cannot rely on a blog being totally independent and worthwhile.
Reassuringly, the PRs present did acknowledge that a press fleet loan was a good investment in most instances but the journalists must get into the habit of returning cuttings or URLs when something was published as everything is now tracked and accounted for.
The packed programme of launches does put pressure on companies and writers and there was a consensus that mixing print or magazine writers with social media scribblers and on-line only people does not work. With no-shows an increasing issue, it seems some companies are preparing to ‘black-list’ frequent miscreants. At least that’s what they say.
One simple and effective way to generate more coverage is to bring the industry to its people and have more regional group events for members to sample cars over a day or two. We know this has worked very well in thewesterngroup area over recent years and actively encourage makers to use this cost effective way of doing PR.
While some may consider motoring groups as being of no relevance in today’s world, looking ahead I can see them being more relevant than before.
The Western Group of Motoring Writers’ AGM will be coming up in November and now is the time for members to consider if they want to stand for the committee, or have items to raise for debate.
Nominees will need a proposer and seconder and more details can be obtained from our secretary Steve Grant at the usual email address.
Robin Roberts | Chairman WGMW