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With all the new players entering the automotive industry to market their technologies that will enable the new mobility — tomorrow’s connected cars and autonomous vehicles, the automotive supplier field is more crowded than ever before.
And many of those new entrants, as well as many traditional automotive suppliers, recognize that they need an automotive public relations firm to help them stand out and succeed in this highly competitive market.
But how do you find the right firm?
Google the term “automotive PR firm,” you get more than 296 million results. Yikes! And what’s worse, those listed on the first pages of the search results may be there because they are great at search engine optimization, but not necessarily because they have significant automotive supplier expertise or knowledge.
To help you wade through potential candidates in your automotive PR agency search, you might start by contacting a few editors from key automotive trade media that your customers follow, for the names of the top three PR firms they like to deal with.
Then, once you have that list of recommendations, visit the agencies’ websites and check out their client lists and 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. Do they represent companies like yours or companies that are well-known?
Once you’ve got that info, it’s time to talk with the agencies themselves.
Here are a few key questions that will help you determine the right automotive PR agency for your company:
1. What percentage of the agency’s billings comes from the automotive supplier industry? The more, the better, meaning they spend more time in your industry, and probably have a better handle on the trends, issues and media, so they can be more efficient and effective for you.
2. Which and how many industry events does your firm attend or work for their clients each year? The answer can help quantify the firm’s experience at key industry events as well as their commitment to understand the key issues, trends and players. Do they know the ropes and the subtleties of key conferences and trade shows? Get some specifics. Also, ask which and how many events they attend each year that are not charged back to clients. If the firm isn’t spending attending 25 or 35 automotive events a year – that may suggest a lack of commitment or connection to the industry.
3. What’s the average length of the firm’s relationship with its clients? If it’s generally just a couple of years or less, it could indicate the agency didn’t deliver on its promise … or that the client’s and the agency’s expectations did not align.
4. What experience does the PR firm have in your company’s specific product category … or with other auto suppliers that have faced similar situations? Lack of such experience isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but similar experience can definitely help save time, trouble and money.
5. 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 even more candid and open about pluses and minuses of the agency.
6. 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 have a handle on the mega-trends that are driving the industry and their impact upon your business? Is the firm active on social media – posting and commenting on industry trend-related content? You’ll want to get the agency you select up to speed on your company, but it will be more cost-effective for you if you don’t have to pay to get the agency up to speed on the industry as well.
7. What’s the firm’s bench depth in terms of account personnel? 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 passing the work down to junior, inexperienced people. Find out how many years of relevant experience your key account people have. Also, find out if what happens if your account lead is unavailable. Will the next member of the team have the experience and knowledge to help you?
8. Does the agency do its own research within the industry that would be useful for you? In addition to staying up to date on the changes in reporters and editorial opportunities at key media, you’ll want an agency that is constantly monitoring the industry for speaking and sponsorship opportunities, and evaluating what your company’s peers are doing in terms of things such as social media, trade shows, press conference strategies, etc.
9. Does the agency offer you global reach? Some clients want support only in North America. Others may need occasional support in other markets – such as Brazil, China or India. If you might need some “boots-on-the-ground” support in other markets, does your agency have an established network of affiliates around the world they can tap quickly and confidently?
The answers to these questions should help you to narrow your search down to a few viable candidates for further in-depth discussions.
Ultimately, the key factors in selecting the right agency for your automotive supplier company will depend upon 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.
Hopefully, the questions above will help you fathom the first two. For the chemistry part, sit down with the firm’s staff a few times, and let your gut be your guide.