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Auto Industry Using PR to Boost Sales and Loyalty

The 'Catch A Chevy' service was available at all SXSW shows this year.

May sales numbers may have shown a decline of 3.7 percent, but the outlook for many auto makers is positive. Over recent months, we’ve noticed increased signs of PR activity across the auto sector. We asked a few PR experts at auto companies what they’re observing and the role that PR is playing in their businesses.

“People are definitely buying more cars,” says Kyle Bazemore, senior manager of Infiniti product communications. The luxury auto brand recently re-upped its partnership with Amex Publishing, targeting gourmet foodies at a series of events over the next few months.

“Now it’s getting to the point where customers are saying, ‘I need a car,’” he added.

Ways of reaching those consumers have changed due to a number of factors.

“In the last three years or so, there’s a shift in trying to do more with less because of the recession,” said Bazemore. Of course social media has changed things as well.

Infiniti has been reaching out to bloggers with some of the opportunities for hands-on experiences that had once been reserved for journalists in traditional media. However, as evidenced by the aforementioned partnership, it’s not just the writers, but the customers themselves that are also getting the experiential treatment.

“We want to show what we do,” Bazemore said.

Rather than an increase in the amount of PR that they’re doing, Mary Henige, director of social media and digital communications at GM says you’re seeing different marketing efforts now that the economy is moving in a more positive direction.

“We’ve always been doing PR, but when you’re fighting bad news, it doesn’t seem as apparent,” she told PRNewser. GM is on the verge of surpassing Toyota to become the largest automaker in the world.

Digital communications is playing a big role at GM, not just to reach the media, but to get directly to consumers. Henige says the GM homepage is refreshed with story ideas, blog posts feature thoughts from consumers, employees, and others, and they’ve made assets like photos easily downloadable for those who want to add it to their social network pages.

Social media has also become an outlet for customer service, with GM making a point to respond quickly to what customers are saying, even when it’s a negative comment.

“Cars are something that people are really passionate about,” Henige says. “Maybe you’ve done something to disappoint, but if you respond, there’s positive feedback and from that point, it’s momentum building.”

However, unlike brands like Coke, which have products that people can buy daily, a car is something you’ll only buy every few years. While some brands have millions of online fans, GM, and the auto industry, has to work a little harder.

GM is also active on the events circuit. It had a presence at all of the SXSW shows this year, with a fleet of Chevy Cruzes taking attendees to sessions, a Chevy Volt lounge, and test drives of a Camaro.

According to Michael McHale, director of corporate communications for Subaru of America, the recession hasn’t cut into sales of its cars, with the company enjoying record-setting sales over the past two to three years. McHale attributed that to the consistent message that company puts forth from all facets of the company– “people love Subaru” — and its efforts to tell its “good news story” during the recession’s darker days. (Subaru won a marketing award earlier this year for a campaign for its Legacy brand.)

“We’re a small company. It’s a reality of share of voice,” McHale says. “In PR we’re used to  facilitating the news. Now we’re getting more used to making the news.”

For example, Subaru participated in this weekend’s Isle of Man TT race, setting a record on the course and, as the Wall Street Journal writes, “[boosting]  its credibility among high-performance driving fans.”

And with social media, McHale said the company was immediately able to communicate with consumers about how it managed to break the record.

Gas prices and lingering economic issues are still an obstacle for everyone, but the auto industry will persist with its PR efforts.

“It’s definitely not going to go away,” says Henige.

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