Many automobile dealers don’t take advantage of the opportunities available to them through public relations (PR). It might be because they don’t think it’s really necessary … or maybe it’s due to the common misconception that PR and a dealer’s typical monthly advertising are essentially the same thing.
Though they do have a little crossover, by definition, advertising and PR are quite different. Advertising involves creating paid announcements for use in different types of media, such as radio, television, digital or print. Meanwhile, PR is a strategic process of communication that fosters a positive relationship between a company and the people in its market.
How does PR work? PR professionals build connections with media outlets and are therefore able to communicate a dealer’s message to a specifically targeted audience using a variety of different channels. They prepare and send details on strategic, newsworthy story ideas to journalists who, if they decide to, publish unbiased articles on the subject matter. This is why PR is given the term earned media. The ultimate goal is to get a dealership’s name out to the public and generate as much positivity as possible.
“PR professionals can be an integral part of a dealership’s marketing mix,” said Dean Turcol, a veteran public relations director who advises numerous dealerships across the country. “Positioning a dealership as a positive force in its community builds a favorable perception and increases overall awareness of the business. As long as dealers frequently take actions that complement their brand, products and services — activities that warrant genuine attention and recognition — a well-executed PR plan is an extremely effective reputation-building tool.”
Automotive PR is always seen as being extremely credible because it is presented to consumers in the form of a third-party endorsement of the dealership. When the media presents the dealer’s message favorably in a newspaper article, TV story or the like, it has the effect of supercharged word-of-mouth marketing — the best kind of referral available. Newsworthy story ideas could include dealership achievements/milestones, charitable sponsorships, noteworthy accomplishments of employees, special events and facility renovations.
Turcol also points out that PR is especially important when a dealership suffers damage to its reputation — real or perceived. “During times such as this, a public relations professional should always be consulted,” he said. “The importance of keeping an automobile dealership’s reputation intact cannot be overstated.”
In recent years, trust and transparency have become every bit as important as product quality, making public relations more necessary — and impactful — than ever before. Highly skilled PR teams are experts in making sure an automobile dealer’s expectations align favorably with public opinion. John Weis