By David Shaw
This column builds on some of my previous columns about ongoing changes in our industry. This time, I want to discuss news, opinion and analysis; the relations with tire makers and how that is changing. It’s written in the context of tires, but is also relevant to other industry sectors.
Changing business models
Large parts of our industry are moving toward a new business model in which consumer data plays a decisive role. We want to understand our audiences and understand the processes and influences affecting each buying decision.
Through that understanding, we hope to develop services and products that meet customers’ needs, exceed their expectations and support their aspirational journeys.
The key to this is acquiring data on those needs, expectations and aspirations and interpreting it in ways that support the development of those new services and products.
Understanding the complete value chain
I’ve been reporting on all aspects of the global tire and rubber value chain for around 30 years, now. I’m fortunate that people from the highest levels downwards have given me some of their time to help me understand how this highly inter-connected industry really works. That covers everything from distribution, pricing and branding, to raw materials production and technology including mixing and tire building and mathematical modelling.
I hope that I have repaid some of that investment with some interesting insights and analyses. People tell me that my columns here on LinkedIn and on my own website have helped them to better understand this industry. I’m grateful to them for their confidence in me.
Reporting business models are still changing
Just as the tire industry is going through some changes, the news-reporting and news-gathering industry is changing radically. Three decades ago I was one of the first editors to move our paper-based publication from old production techniques to desktop publishing. That was just one tiny aspect of the changing business model of periodicals and publications. With the advent of web-based bloggers and vloggers, the industry is changing yet again.
People disengaging from traditional media outlets
Recent evidence shows that people – especially the below-30 generation – are losing confidence in the traditional media. They prefer to scour the web to find bloggers and commentators whom they trust. These authors steadily build a following through social media and word of mouth.
Seeking the opinion-formers
The media name for people like that is thought-leaders and opinion-formers.
The question for slower-moving, traditional industries, such the tire industry, is how to gain influence with these fast-moving, well-connected and independently-minded people. Because in most cases the bloggers and vloggers are individuals with a deep knowledge of their subject and an enthusiasm for spreading that knowledge.
From my experience, the PR function among the tire makers are reactive and tend to use established media directories to identify their target audiences. In my opinion, this is no longer enough. They need to be looking over the members and key posters on LinkedIn groups and finding regular ewriters about tires.
Old publishing model loses out to newer models
Applying poisonous inks onto dead trees and then shipping that physical product around the world is slower, more expensive and more environmentally damaging than simply putting that same information online.
Bloggers: 1; Print media: 0
The benefits of advertising with the bloggers is measurable, in terms of audience numbers, demographics and locations. Advertising associated with print media is none of those things.
Bloggers: 2; Print media: 0
Immediate feedback and open dialogue
An online blog permits immediate feedback and discussion and immediate sharing over multiple platforms. Print media does not.
Bloggers: 3; Print media: 0
Cost of entry
The cost of entry to the Blogosphere is zero. Cost of entry to traditional media is very high. At least, in financial terms. However, to be a successful blogger, one needs good sources of information; a deep knowledge of the industry and some experience. Some bloggers have that; others don’t. Some journalists have that; others don’t.
Bloggers: 4; Print media: 1
Passion for the subject
Finally, just to seal the point, the more committed bloggers – in all kinds of topics – tend to be the most passionate and knowledgeable people in their chosen subject area. That’s just how the web works – those who have something to offer earn their followers. I’m not saying journalists in traditional media are not passionate. Anyone who has met Dave Zielasko, Bob Ulrich, Chris Anthony or Arno Borchers would be crazy to suggest that. I’m just saying they do not have a monopoly on passion about tires.
Bloggers: 5; Print media: 2
Web-based publications do not make money
For good or bad, the mainstream media organisations find it hard to make money from web-based publications. I know, I was in that business for 20 years or more.
So I became a blogger.
But not just a blogger. I also produce a monthly newsletter; a weekly newsletter on the China Tire Industry and various full-length market research reports, all about the tire industry. Many people tell me that these are more informative and helpful to them than the traditional newspapers.
How do the tire makers engage with this blogger?
Having been a journalist in the mainstream media for 30-odd years, I understand how the processes operate. As a blogger for the last three or four years, I am slowly learning the differences.
A journalist in print media has access to many resources: dedicated staff at the tire makers who will respond to their needs; invitations to press events; access to senior personnel; free travel and accommodation at industry events and so on.
The industry’s response to me as a blogger is very different.
In a few cases, I get more or less the same privileges as the journalists. That’s partly because I already have some history with some individuals and corporations and partly because some tire makers and others seem to think that I continue to make a strong contribution to the industry as a blogger.
I don’t appear on the lists of relevant media in the established directories, so many out-sourced agencies do not know that this column or my other materials exist.
I’m not complaining. It’s entirely up to certain companies how they choose to spend their money and allocate the time of their executives. Furthermore, I’ve chosen not to appear in those directories. Too many lazy PR operations use them to bulk-spam all journalists with entirely irrelevant material.
Media Relations are not the only sources of information
Besides, most succesful commentators on specific industries have a network of contacts who will speak with them about most aspects of the tire industry. Often this is done on an ‘off-the-record’ basis so that they are not quoted as an official spokesperson, even though they know more than the official press contacts. I also search the web in multiple languages; scrutinise stock market announcements; listen to webcasts and participate in investor calls, giving me a broader perspective than those who respond only to media department information.
However, I think it may be instructive to the industry at large to compare the different official approaches that I see from the blogging side of the fence. If there are any media specialists out there who feel that they could do better in moving their communications activity out of the 20th century and toward a more mobile, dynamic business environment, the next few paragraphs are for you.
Advice to media teams
If I had any advice to offer from this side of the fence, I’d suggest the following:
A rigid policy is going to be counter-productive. The world of media is in a state of very dynamic flux, with new business models; new publications and authors springing up all the time. Many of these authors are highly specialised and do not fit the traditional model of freelance or employed journalists, so do not appear in your industry directories. Media offices are going to have to become more adaptable and flexible towards getting their message out across different media platforms.
The historic media model that ‘official’ magazine brands from the big-name publishers are the best vehicles – whether by web, newsletter or paper magazine – is no longer true. Ask any 15-30 year old how they consume news and opinion. It’s not the big-name publishers they go to.
Media professionals will increasingly have to engage with individuals who know their business, whether those individuals are aligned with any specific publication or not.
I’d suggest that for each media vehicle or blogger you look at their audience to see if that is the kind of audience you want to reach. If publications or bloggers cannot show you audience data, then by all means use gut instinct, but any online publication or blog today should be able to show you its reach; its readership and engagement data (Incidentally, mine now are far better than they were when I was employed as one of those official journalists).
If an outlet carries influence, whether you like the message they put out or not, you need to engage. Research shows consistently, that working with critics and engaging with them is the only way to reverse that position.
How they perform
So here is a run-down of the different companies’ approach to this particular blogger/journalist. Please note, this is a purely personal position. I have not discussed these assessments with other journalists, or bloggers, but would welcome feedback (either in public or privately) from others who consume the services of PR professionals to see if my experience is common or unusual.
Bridgestone press office: 7/10
Bridgestone sends out press releases, but also publishes most press releases on their own websites. Their PR people will discuss different subjects at exhibitions and shows, but tend to protect their executives from questions, unless those executives specifically ask to speak with me. Websites are reasonably informative. Most of the Japanese-language press releases are not translated into other languages.
One US press site is configured badly so that Firefox users cannot access it.
Occasional invitations to press events, press conferences at shows and exhibitions
- http://www.bridgestone.co.jp/corporate/news/index.html (Japanese language)
- https://www.bridgestoneamericas.com/en/index.html (Configured badly)
Michelin press office 2/10
Unfortunately, I have to report that the Michelin PRs I have had the misfortune to deal with are not just unhelpful, but actively obstructive. Also they employ slow, and poorly-informed spokespeople who rarely have answers, and almost always have to refer back to head office, introducing delays that are inconsistent with the pace of the modern news business.
They post many (but not all) press releases on their various websites; some of those websites are out-sourced while others have in-house branding. This varies by country and region, making it almost impossible to get Michelin’s official viewpoint without referring to the corporate PRs. They have confusing website structures; multiple spokespeople for different audiences such as press, investors, civil society, customers, race teams, OE customers etc,. They also operate many Twitter accounts and websites divided both by business segment and regional interest.
Michelin’s over-complicated and excessively rigid internal rules for engaging with different target groups means that when someone falls between definitions, Michelin has no adequate response. They are still largely organised on country/regional basis with minimal support for international organisations.
Michelin PRs refuse to allow access to executives at exhibitions and shows. There are never any invitations for anything. They sometimes decline to answer, or simply ignore legitimate questions.
- http://corporate.michelin.com.cn/new_list.html (Chinese language)
Goodyear press office 8/10
Do not send press releases, but publish most information on a variety of websites. Will respond to questions promptly and professionally. Will facilitate access to executives at industry events and shows.
Continental Press office 9/10
Do not send press releases, but all releases are available on the web. Clean, simple website structures. Staff in press office are responsive and helpful and will grant access to executives, if appropriate. Executives are available at industry events and conferences. Press office will facilitate meetings with executives.
Occasional invitations to corporate events and to press conferences at exhibitions and industry events.
Pirelli press office 7/10
Do not send press releases. Some releases are available on the web, but over-complicated website structure makes it difficult to access some of these.
Company is in transition due to acquisition by ChemChina and the consequent restructuring of car tire and industrial tire divisions. Too much emphasis on F1 and calendar for my purposes, but I guess this is what most visitors to their website want.
Execs are available at industry events and exhibitions, usually get support from press office, if they are around. Rare to get invitations for anything, though the company is having fewer press conferences and media events during the transition.
Sumitomo Rubber Industries Press office 3/10
Do not send press releases; do not issue invitations; unresponsive to requests. Difficult to get in touch.
Executives are rarely present at industry events. Hard to get to know them.
Yokohama Rubber Press office 4/10
Send press releases, and post them online, but rarely respond to questions. Difficult to get in touch. US website is poorly configured for Firefox users
Executives sometimes visit European events and are available at those events.
- http://www.y-yokohama.com/release/?lang=ja (Japanese language)
- https://www.yokohamatire.com/newsroom (poorly configured website)
Hankook Press office 7/10
Post all press releases on multiple websites; send out press releases, will issue invitations to press conferences at industry events and exhibitions. Press office will support requests for interviews with executives.
Limited resources mean response to emails is slow, but press officers warn that emails need to be followed up with a phone call.
Cooper Tire Press office 3/10
Do not send press releases, but post some of them on the central website. Unresponsive; do not issue invitations; slow to respond to emails; do not make executives available. Press officer has reputation for being obstructive.
Maxxis / Cheng Shin Press Office 1/10
Do not send press releases, do not post releases on central website. Unresponsive; difficult to get to know.
Zhongce Press Office 1/10
Do not send press releases, do not post releases on central website. Unresponsive; difficult to get to know.
GiTi Press Office 5/10
Gradually improving. Limited website with very limited news. Do not distribute news releases. Reasonably responsive when contacted. Executives available at industry events and exhibitions. Website is out of date.
Apollo Press Office 6/10
Responsive; send out press releases; offer invitations to industry events and exhibitions; make executives available for discussion;
Website could be improved. Press releases still sometimes use password-protected site. This defeats the whole purpose of issuing news releases.
Awkward website; no archive of press releases.
Sailun Press Office 7/10
Responsive, active, send out press releases; post news on different websites; offer invitations; make executives available. Seeks to engage with bloggers. News on website is badly out of date
Nokian Press Office 6/10
Does not send out press releases; but outstanding website includes almost all releases. Single, well-designed website includes almost all information needed in a clear layout. Press office is not terribly responsive. Never sends out invitations; executives are available at a few industry events and exhibitions. Limited support from press office in arranging interviews. Clear social media strategy with clear, easy to navigate links to all social media accounts.
David Shaw has reported on the tire industry for over 30 years in both the mainstream media and as an independent commentator. This article was also published on LinkedIn