In light of the recent crisis, communication has been proven to remain essential. However, the way in which people communicate has been drastically altered as everyone has been forced to adapt to a digital world, virtually overnight. Despite the life-changing circumstances, it’s been amazing to see just how nimbly this industry has responded in these unprecedented times. We tapped a few MAMA members who represent car manufacturers to gather their communications best practices and other ways they’re endeavoring to stay relevant and in touch with journalists throughout the pandemic.
1) What communication tools have you found most effective for keeping journalists in the loop during these unprecedented times?
Kelley Enright, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA): Beyond the traditional ways of communicating with media such as email and the newswire, we have really tried to get our message out through the various social media channels during the Coronavirus pandemic. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, all of the brands at FCA are reaching out to their audiences and media outlets to keep them informed of the latest news. Our communications team has also done quite a few Google Hangouts with various media associations and outlets across the country to keep them informed of news, such as the Uconnect 5 presentation that was conducted with MAMA members in April.
Michele Tinson, Hyundai: In an effort to maintain a strong connection to our media colleagues during this unprecedented time, Hyundai offered a series of virtual Zoom sessions via MAMA eMeets featuring Hyundai executives and our newest products: Sonata HEV, Venue and the all-new Elantra. These sessions allowed us to reengage with the automotive media in an informal and fun way without placing anyone at risk by attending an in-person program. (Although not the same as a physical event, these came in a close second, especially with a pizza surprise!) We appreciated the willingness of the MAMA organization in supporting the new initiative and the overwhelmingly positive response by media members as evidenced by the high participation levels. We would like to believe virtual sessions may continue as an added component to information sharing and personalized interactions into the future, despite the impact of COVID-19 on large gatherings.
Neil Dunlop, Kia: We have found personal communication to be the most effective way to stay in touch with media during the pandemic. We feel very much that our media friends are family and we have tried to remind them of that when we can. During the last few months we have communicated through The Kia Kitchen series as with one-to-one phone calls, other videos, and traditional PR tools such as press releases.
Wendy Payne, Nissan: For me, as a remote employee throughout the year, some things have not changed at all while other things have changed a lot. I have found that Zoom works very well for both staying in touch inside and outside the organization. I have also just been picking up the phone and calling folks a lot more than typical. Most of my media contacts travel a ton, but now I know they are home, so I pick up the phone and call them. I have had some great conversations in recent months both on work topics and personal ones.
Curt McAllister, Toyota/Lexus: We have utilized a variety of tools, ranging from Zoom-like applications to pre-recorded, streamed news conferences to good ‘ol fashioned phone calls, to check up on the welfare of journalists on a more personal level. We’ve also enhanced our regular correspondence by expansively emailing a Toyota and Lexus Weekly News Recap, summarizing news and announcements from both brands during the course of the previous week.
2) What considerations have you had to keep in mind for new product launches or news stories throughout COVID-19?
KE: All of our employees at FCA have worked diligently to stay on track with product development. The senior management team at FCA has been exceptional at keeping employees informed and motivated during the last few months. We have been a little quiet at FCA as we have been in the final development phase, but just know that we are getting ready to showcase new products soon! We are confident that you'll be excited to see what we've been working on.
MT: It has been vitally important that we all remain empathetic towards the current environment and its resulting impact on everyone. Although business must still go on, it remained a priority that Hyundai continue to offer journalists content to cover without our being allowed to hold typical automotive press programs, auto show reveals or product drive events. For example, we launched our all-new 2021 Elantra virtually, a first ever for Hyundai North America. We are hopeful that our commitment in providing ongoing Hyundai news via numerous channels including: daily updates on the company’s COVID-19 actions via our Hyundai media site: http://www.hyundainews.com, pitching creative storytelling and/or highlighting relevant topics such as affordability, value, executive leadership and eco-friendly advancements in our press releases, helped to reinforce our appreciation of journalists. Hyundai also remained committed in providing access to our products via DriveShop, our local press fleet vendor. (We expanded cleaning of Hyundai press fleet vehicles and no-contact vehicle deliveries and pickup to provide a safe vehicle loan experience.) We believe these efforts further conveyed the importance of maintaining opportunities for journalists to do their jobs during a time of uncertainty, and perhaps also helped make life “a bit easier” to manage during such a challenging time in our industry and country.
ND: Of course the inability to travel has upended traditional product launches and we have pivoted nicely to create a program (starting yesterday, June 30) with the launch of the new K5 that we hope was as close to being live and in-person as possible.
WP: For the new 2021 Rogue, we went all online with backgrounders via Zoom and a reveal with pre-taped videos of our executives discussing the vehicle and its new features. It has worked very well for us and we are very happy with the outcome. I just think that journalists are looking for content to cover, so it works. In the future, if auto shows do not start back up, we will see how long this model works for automakers. I believe we will all have to get more creative with online reveals.
CM: COVID-19 has forced us to look at auto shows and product press launches differently, for the time being. We are fortunate to be living in a time where technology has given us multiple avenues for immediate info dissemination, in the matter of a few keystrokes. We’ve had to recently stream news conferences for both Toyota and Lexus products previously scheduled for the New York International Auto Show. For our Sienna and Venza joint premiere, the post-event media metrics have been very strong, due to mass online availability and journalists’ collective appetites for new products and anything non-pandemic related.
3) What advice do you have for media contacts to stay up to speed on the latest brand and product news?
KE: Follow all the FCA North America social media channels as well as each brand (i.e. Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Mopar, Fiat and Alfa Romeo) and make sure you are registered to receive news that is posted to our media website. That website is media.fcanorthamerica.com. And, of course, contact me if you need anything!
MT: As the Midwest Hyundai Corporate and Product PR lead and conduit to HMA HQ, I welcome your questions, ideas and insights and encourage you to reach out directly at any time for Hyundai updates (email@example.com or mobile: 734-740-4650); Visit our media site: https://www.hyundainews.com and sign-up for specific news alerts; follow us on our social media sites: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as staying actively engaged in the Midwest Automotive Media Association for amazing OEM industry presence, networking opportunities and vast product insights throughout the year.
ND: Subscribe to our news feeds and reach out to our staff with questions and story ideas. We’ve tried to be proactive, but often we can’t anticipate a publication’s needs. Call us up or email us with story ideas. Don’t worry if your ideas are crazy, we’re crazy, too. We like crazy. We’re good with anything.
WP: I find that a lot of brands (including Nissan) are using LinkedIn very effectively during COVID-19. Also of note: more and more employees have found the time to become advocates for their companies via a myriad of social channels. Also of interest is that you can often get a different perspective from an engineer who shares a story versus a marketing or communications employee, which could bring up an idea for a story that isn’t the typical automotive content piece.
CM: Toyota and Lexus have strong press room sites – Pressroom.Toyota.com and Pressroom.Lexus.com. Media members can sign up for free subscriptions to the sites, where press releases are immediately emailed to them as soon as they populate on the sites.
4) Anything else you want to share?
KE: Stay on track. Be patient. Be safe. We miss you and can't wait to see all of your smiling faces again soon!
MT: We are in this together. We welcome feedback on ways to improve and support each of your stories as best we can. Thank you to MAMA and its leadership team for their continued Hyundai support and willingness to think “out-of-the box” and pursue new ways to best support our “new” normal while helping to produce creative, objective, factual story-telling and perhaps sell some cars and SUVs!
I look forward to our next face-to-face, in-person (no hugs) program! Stay safe. Stay well.
ND: We’ve had our press fleet operational during the pandemic and strict cleaning protocols are in place. If you have a story idea for one of our vehicles let us know. We’d love to work with you.
WP: I have found during this time our staff has gotten even closer that we were previously, we have been on many Zoom calls together and have been able share camaraderie in a way we didn’t before COVID-19. I hope and I believe it will continue.
CM: Toyota and Lexus made the decision early on in the pandemic not to close its national press fleets. As PR professionals, we saw the fleets as “lifelines” to the media, providing them with the opportunities to keep reporting and writing stories relevant to the auto industry. In doing so, we also made sure our press fleet partner, DriveShop, was adhering to CDC protocols for the safety of their staff and members of the media. We’ve received numerous notes of “thanks” from journalists in keeping our product pipelines flowing during these difficult times.