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How to Find the Best Automotive PR Firm for Your Company

When you Google the search term “automotive PR firm,” you will get more than 304 million results.

YIKES!

What’s worse is that many of those listed on the first pages of the search results are there because they are great at search engine optimization, but not necessarily because they have significant – or even any – automotive OEM supplier expertise.
Some firms have simply stuffed their websites full of the right buzzwords for SEO, while their actual auto experience bank is virtually empty.

So, how can a traditional automotive supplier, a new entrant to the auto sector or a new mobility technology company find the right PR agency partner?

First, start by contacting a few editors (or advertising sales reps) from the key automotive trade media that your customers follow (such as WardsAuto.com, Automotive News or Automotive Engineering, for example) to obtain the names of the top two or three PR firms with whom they like to work.

Once you have that list of recommendations, visit the PR agencies’ websites and spend some time looking around.

Check out their current and previous client lists and review their team members’ backgrounds. This can help give you some indication of whether or not the agency and its staff have substantial and, more important, recent automotive experience.

Ask yourself:

  • Are they focused on the automotive ecosystem or do they try to be a jack-of-all-trades across a number of industry sectors?
  • Do they represent companies like yours and companies that are well-known?
  • Do they have testimonials from clients or media on their website, and if so, what do others say about the agency?
  • Are the agency staffers people that you would enjoy working with?
    Once you’ve obtained that info, you will have a better feel for which agencies might be the best fit for your needs.

Now, it’s time to talk with the agencies themselves.

Here are ten key questions that can lead the discussion to help you find the best match:

What percentage of the agency’s billings comes from the automotive supplier industry? The more, the better. If they spend most of their time working with clients in the automotive supplier sector, they will have a better handle on the drivers, trends, issues, media and customer insights … and they can be more efficient and effective for you.

Which and how many industry events does the firm attend each year? The answer can help quantify the firm’s experience working with clients at key industry events, as well as their own commitment to stay on top of the emerging issues, trends and players that can present PR opportunities. Do they know the ropes and the subtleties of the key conferences and trade shows? Get some specifics. Also, ask which and how many events they attend each year that are not billed back to clients. If the firm is not spending attending 35 or 40 automotive events a year, that may suggest a lack of commitment or connection to the industry.

What experience does the PR firm have in your company’s specific product category … or with other auto suppliers that have faced similar situations to those your company faces? Lack of such common experience is not necessarily a deal-breaker, but having some similar experience can definitely help save you time, trouble and money.

Does the firm study the auto industry and understand the key issues and trends? Do the agency staffers actually read the publications they are pitching? Do they know the mega-trends that are driving the industry and their relevance to your business? Is the firm active on social media – posting and commenting on industry trend-related content and sharing thought leadership? It is a lot more cost-effective to get an agency that knows the automotive business up to speed on your company than it is to pay for them to get up to speed on all the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of the automotive sector?

What do the agency’s current and former client contacts say about the firm? Current clients can give you good insight on the agency’s style and effectiveness, and former client contacts that have moved on are often vary candid and open about an agency’s performance.

How much bench depth does the firm’s account team have? Does the entire staff have automotive PR experience or just one or two members? At some larger firms, the senior people pitching your account often end up pushing the work down to inexperienced junior people. Find out who will be working on your account and how many years of relevant experience they people have. An average of 15+ years is preferable. Also, ask about what happens if your account lead is unavailable. Will the next member of the team have the experience and knowledge to help you?

What is the average length of the firm’s relationship with its clients? If it is just a couple of years or less, it could indicate the agency did not or could not deliver on its promise … or that the client’s and the agency’s expectations did not match up. Look for client-agency relationships that span 10 or more years.

Does the agency conduct research that would be useful for you? You’ll want a PR firm that keeps up with the ongoing changes in reporters and editorial opportunities at key media, and that continuously scouts the industry for speaking and sponsorship opportunities. A good firm will also watch your competitors and peers, and continuously evaluate what they are doing in areas such as social media, trade shows, press conference strategies, etc.

Does the agency offer you global reach? Some clients want support only in the North America. Others may need occasional support in other key automotive markets – such as China, Japan, India or Eastern Europe. If you might need some “boots-on-the-ground” support in other markets, it will help if the agency already has an established network of trusted, proven affiliates around the world that they can tap quickly.

Does the agency have an office embedded in the Silicon Valley area? With many Silicon Valley tech companies entering the auto sector, and many traditional auto suppliers establishing research and test centers on the West Coast, it can be a great advantage to you if the agency you select has an established presence in the Bay area. Ideally, you would want a firm that has a foot in both the Detroit and San Francisco markets.

The answers to these questions should help you to narrow your search down to one or two viable candidates for further in-depth discussions.
Ultimately, there are three key factors in selecting the right agency for your automotive supplier company – the three C’s:

• The agency’s competence in your segment;
• The agency’s credibility in the marketplace; and
• The chemistry between you and the people who will work on your account.

The 10 questions above should help you determine the agency’s competence and credibility.

To see if the chemistry is right, you should spend time sitting down with the firm’s staff a few times … and let your gut be your guide.

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To see how Bianchi PR has the right answers to the questions above, contact Jim Bianchi at jbianchi@bianchipr.com or call 248.269.1122.

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