The global automotive industry, and particularly the Big 3 US car companies, have been making the headlines regarding its future survival in the economic downturn. What is interesting is the level of support for PR emerging from journalists who are actually considering the impact of losing players in this huge industry.
Automotive News reports how Ford’s CEO, “Mulally has identified the public’s skepticism as a barrier to Ford’s long-term recovery” and goes on to state: “Ford must continue the PR campaign to make a perception change stick with the public.”
It can be easy to be defensive when times get tough, and the first reaction among some in PR in the US auto industry was to complain that its voice wasn’t being heard.
There has been a very close relationship between the specialist automotive media and PR practitioners, and just last week, I heard a top UK journalist claim the coming year is going to need both to work even closer together.
But again there seems to be a sense of defensiveness – Ford’s online expert, Scott Monty is cited as saying: “The auto makers in general have gotten a black eye in the media, and we didn’t feel like we were getting a fair shake.”
The industry does need to ensure the public and politicians value its social and economic contributions as well as recognising the efforts that have been made in recent decades to become more efficient, cost effective and build vehicles that are more environmentally sensitive than ever.
That’s clearly a job for public relations – but such communications need to genuinely reflect change. Short-cutting the mainstream media by going online with the message is one route – but the credibility of independent journalists who understand and support the message is even more vital.
Arguably there has been too much clinging to the old ways and particularly the short-term profits made from larger vehicles in the US – bolstered by the lower fuel prices there.
There are real perceptions that need to be addressed and relationships built to change these. The specialist auto media of course have a vested interest in supporting the message – the UK Guild of Motoring Writers recently reported how its members need to be prepared for fewer car loans and launches in 2009. But their voice is important in helping other influencers and publics understand the wider perspective of the industry, and the knock on effects of the “credit crunch” on the sector.
Maybe now times are really tough, we’ll see fewer attacks by journalists on PR practitioners and more recognition of how the two need to work together to ensure the public are better informed.