It’s amazing to me how so many great car dealers leave so much on the table by not taking advantage of public relations opportunities. Essentially, public relations is a process of communicating ‘non-direct sales or promotional’ news regarding internal and external ‘people’ events connected with your business.
The following items are considered a public service announcement or ‘PSA’ because they are not a commercial promotion, but rather newsworthy for promoting or reporting on an event the general public might find of interest.
- Job promotions and new hires
- Major anniversary celebrations
- Good deeds to benefit the general public by a dealership principle, employee or customer
- Contributions from the dealership and/or its employees to special charities and causes
Dealerships can hire an outside public relations firm. Often current advertising/marketing agencies can handle public relations projects as part of their services. Ideally, there is someone in the dealership organization who can assume the responsibilities. Today, there are a number of Internet public relations assists such as PRweb.com. For a reasonable cost you can post public relations events and public service announcements with text and pictures, which will be delivered to specific zones you specify. PRweb is actually a very good service I’ve used on multiple occasions.
“nothing really moves the needle in building brand trust like sharing events regarding people who work for the dealership.”
Local newspapers still publish public service announcements and job promotion/new employee items at little or no cost. Contacting the local editor will point you in the right direction for submission. Local television and radio stations also run no-cost PSA’s for events such as charities and donations, however they have to be devoid of any kind of direct commercial promotion or puffery. Your ad agency or internal marketing person can negotiate this process through the local station sales manager who can refer the PR to proper channels. Often station ‘news’ departments and ‘sales’ departments will tell you they don’t cross each other’s territory but the fact of the matter is, if you are spending a large chunk of money on a station, the sales manager can be influential in getting PSAs on the air.
30 years ago when I founded an automotive advertising agency I met a dealer in Canada who had a brilliant strategy for public relations. He not only garnered great ‘earned’ media (not paid for) but also used a large portion of his own paid advertising for his public service concept. He had a large container in the showroom of the dealership with which he invited any organization that needed publicity to deposit the information. The dealer would then record announcements for the events ranging from ‘bean suppers’ to ‘quilting classes’ and would run these announcements as part of his paid advertising campaign. Eventually, the stations he used agreed to charge him a reduced rate for the announcements that were purely public events. He made a lot of good friends in the community as the ‘official community events billboard’ and he also sold a lot of cars. I still have the cover of Ford’s dealer magazine with his picture on it.
Several of the dealers I know and work with have community PR programs that have served them well. They range from inclusion of events in dealership advertising to the use of dealership showrooms and conference for meetings and events.
One of the most innovative ideas I’ve heard of is a dealer who has made the donation of cars to local charities a major part of his advertising spend. Six times a year the dealership donates vehicles to needy, charitable, non-profit organizations and occasionally to individuals whose need was apparent. An example of this was the case of the woman with five children whose young husband was killed in a car accident, leaving behind the family with no insurance.
The dealer runs ads on local media asking for people to nominate their favorite local charity for the drawing of a vehicle. Some of these charities take it upon themselves to ask all of their contributors to speak up for them. And then every 60 days, with great fanfare, the dealership presents a used vehicle complete with maintenance and warranty to the charity. The costs for these promotions come directly out of the advertising budget and the dealer believes it is some of the highest return on investment of any marketing spend the company enjoys.
A good public relations program does much more than share the ‘human’ side of your business. It builds brand trust better than anything else you can do.
Twice a year one of my dealer friends in the Midwest holds a Sunday evening charity square dance event in his massive showroom. There is a live broadcast from the dealership and an auction of various items contributed by local merchants. At each event a different charity is chosen to receive the funds raised. This dealer sells 75% of the trucks in his market and has one of the highest repeat/referral rates in his region.
Some years ago I was in the showroom of a dealer client in California on a busy Saturday. I struck up a conversation with a shopper waiting to be helped by a salesperson. He told me he had driven over 30 miles through some pretty heavy traffic to shop. I asked why he would do that. He told me that he had read a story about this dealership buying a truck for a young fireman who had been badly burned while fighting a fire. In his words the man said “I can buy a car from anyone I want, and I know I can negotiate a good deal so I wanted to spend my money with someone who shows they care about the community…and when I heard that story, I said…this is it. This is where I’m buying a car today.”
You advertisements can say that you care about people all you want. But nothing really moves the needle in building brand trust like sharing events regarding people who work for the dealership, who shop at the dealership, and/or who live in your community. That’s the power of public relations and one of the best marketing investments you’ll ever make.
Author: Jim Boldebook
JIM BOLDEBOOK is Founder of CBC Automotive Marketing, an advertising/marketing agency working with some of America’s most successful dealerships. He has been in the broadcasting, advertising and marketing fields for almost 50 years. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org