Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Objective of PR Should Be . . .

To help an organization achieve its objectives. Period.  Sounds shiny-strawberry-on-the-whip cream obvious, but all too often, it is not.  In a recent meeting, someone said, "Why don't we do x?"  And why not?
X sounded interesting
X was cool
And depending on how X was configured, X could be developed in a way that would help this organization achieves one of its objectives.  Let's call this legitimate objective "Y."
"What should X look like?  How will we pull off X? Wouldn't X be cool?"
From square one, X should be challenged, "How does X support Y, precisely?"
I my travels, I find PR people sometimes focusing on X; Y is an afterthought, or worse yet, a non-thought. 

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I have a new client whose name I can use because I'm going to tell you how smart he is . . . because he actually is pretty damn smart, and has this focus on True North, on the Big Y, that is refreshing.  His name is Joe Verbanic.  He's the Marketing Director for OSRAM/Sylvania's Automotive Aftermarket.  In a recent presentation to him on our 2011 plans, we had objectives spelled out, except they weren't the exact right "Y."  After listening to our presentation, he calmly, methodically, asked us to go back to those objectives and asked us to remember what he'd told us when we first presented our capabilities several months ago on the our Automotive Practice.  His "Y" was the proverbial strawberry-on-whip cream: "Will It Drive Sales?" or WIDS?  Then we talked about lots of X's, or things we could do to drive sales.  WIDS had secured reserved parking in the front row of the meeting attendees' minds, and after discussing--as is so common in every PR ideation/planning session--how this X would work compared to another, we went through lots of cool, creative ideas and put them to the WIDS test.  Some super interesting ideas didn't pass muster, so they fell off, as they should have. 

Because cool ideas are not the point. 

Achieving Y is the point.

 X serves Y, not vice versa.

Occasionally we forget that relationship, or don't consider Y as we should in the first place.  People in these meetings on the agency side are then often afraid to say so of their own idea ("I don't want to contradict myself in front of colleagues and clients") or even scarier, the clients' ideas ("I don't want to challenge the client's ideas and upset them or show disrespect") or most sacrosanct, a co-worker's idea ("Bad politics, they'll think I'm angling for pecking order with the client or higher ups on our side of the table.").  But if Y gets lost, as it sometimes does, we have to have the gumption to ask the question . . . especially if you're convinced that it doesn't help the cause.

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By the way, Joe really wants to know--especially now that it's getting dark earlier--and earlier if you're satisfied with how well you can see driving to work in the dark or driving home at night.  If you're not satisfied, you do something about it for less than an hour or your time and $50 bucks or less.  If you want to see what real people say about these (in short they LIGHT UP THE NIGHT, but won't last as long as stock), check this thread which gives contains a pretty good assortment of real people's experience with them.  Sylvania has actually improved the design to make the more a bit longer lasting in recent years.

Let's thank Joe V. for keeping Y, our shiny strawberry, in our gun sights.  Y is the Master, the PR is but the servant.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Tale of Two Turbos: Cruze vs. Jetta


Reuters has a good piece on turbochargers that ran yesterday that nicely sums up a good deal of the good on turbos, especially for the U.S. market.  Ten years ago, U.S. motorists enjoyed VW products that could get an honest 50 mpg highway (EPA said 49 mpg I seem to remember) from their stellar little 1.9l turbodiesel that went into the Golf and Jetta.  Decent U.S. compacts were seeing mid- to high-30 mpg highway.  Fast forward to today, and that gap between turbo gas and turbodiesel is quickly closing.  The ever-scrappy Scott Burgess of The Detroit News wrote a piece today on the new uber-fail Volkswagen Jetta (google the reviews, no one really likes it), which points out that the turbodiesel only manages 42 mpg, even though the engine has only gained 100 cc of displacement. 

 In Detroit's corner, the new Chevrolet Cruze will go up against the Jetta (and forthcoming, sure to be pretty competitive Ford Focus), and the Cruze Eco will get 40 mpg highway using regular grade pump gasoline and a very underspecified 1.4l gas turbo.  Pricing for the Jetta diesel was unvailable for the new model, but we know the Eco model of the Cruze will start at $18,175.   There's no way you'll be able to touch a new Jetta diesel for under $20K; even though they've made the car cheaper, the diesel adds a variable geometry turbo (as opposed to a simpler, waste-gate, non- variable geometry turbo), pricey high-pressure fuel injection (Cruze to use cheaper, less efficient port-fuel injection) and not-cheap exhaust aftertreatment that is far more costly than the conventional 3-way catalytic converter in the gas powered Cruze (oxides of nitrogen, and to a lesser degree, particulates--otherwise known to we wood-burners as "soot"--are still the bane of diesel exhaust).  Let's guess that the cost difference is $4,000.  Is $4,000 worth it for a 5% improvement on something that already gets 40 mpg?

Don't get me wrong, I love turbodiesels.  Diesel proponents would rightly point out that the Jetta would likely have 100 additional lb.-ft. of torque that would make the Jetta likely feel much more stout in daily driving.  But most consumers are not cross shopping torque ratings like this author.

My point: gas turbos, as pointed out in the Reuters piece, are likely to skyrocket in coming years.  Ford already said they'll offer gas turbos on 90 percent of their vehicles in coming years.  Full disclosure, GM and Honeywell are clients of my firm; I own neither GM nor HON stock.  That said, would I really like to own a Cruze turbodiesel, especially if they made a hatchback or wagon?  Hell yeah.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Out of the Category and Into the Culture: Hankook Case Study

Most auto suppliers have a fairly easy time earning media placements in the trades: a leadership change, a truly innovative new product, or an executive willing to shoot his mouth off on a trend will do the trick. Then again, the trades are supposed to cover your company and your products if you actually have news.

But what about non-automotive publications? If you have a consumer-facing product or service, one that actually changes the driving experience appreciably for consumers, how successful are you at earning coverage outside of automotive?

We call this the move from category (auto media) to culture (consumer-centric media). Interestingly, the media relations tactics--the story angles, the pitches, the contextualizing of your story--will also work in many cases for non-automotive media relations . . . . you just have to be a whole lot more clever about how to throw your pitch.

Let's take non-automotive business media as an example. The following happened last summer.

Hankook, a South Korean company and the 7th largest tire manufacturer in the world, was bringing their CEO to NY for a few days, and wanted some business press exposure. Mind you, Hankook's stock doesn't trade on U.S. exchanges, they have a fairly small North American footprint by way of employment and zero manufacturing in North America. So why cover them if you're Business Week, Time magazine or any of the wires (Reuters, Bloomberg, AP, Dow Jones), without a whiff of hard news?

The answer: make the story bigger than Hankook, but first and foremost, find the story. Here was ours. "Between the low-cost, low-tech Chinese and high-cost, high-tech Japanese there emerges a low-cost, high-tech tsunami of aggressive business growth from South Korean, Inc. Samsung, Hyundai (the only winner of the 2009 auto sales "carpocolypse"), LG all came to become ascendant in the U.S. market by providing incredibly quality, incredible value and in many cases best-in-class warranty. The Japanese are scared, and should be. The Koreans are coming. And winning. Hankook Tire is no different. They are the fastest growing tire company in the world with the world's highest margins. They are the #1 supplier to the fastest growing market in the world (China). And oh by the way their CEO will be in NY on these two days, would you like to talk to him?" We targeted five specific Tier 1 business outlets in NY and succeeded in securing interviews at four. For this company, in that media market, that's a win.

Too many times, PR people will lead with "Company x has a new product, want to talk to our CEO (of a nobody company)?" Why would they? Companies introduce new products everyday, so unless your firm is launching the new iPod beater, journalists have more importance things to cover, like say Apple or Google. Great pitches, like any good story, have the ability to make people care. It's more art than science, but trying to tell a bigger story is always a good place to start.