Automaker Public Relations — Crisis PR Strategy

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Public Relations Strategies for Top Automakers during the Covid-19 Crisis

As expected, U.S. automotive sales fell sharply in March. When people are stuck inside, tele-commuting or furloughed, they’re not going out buying cars. Even companies that were having a great year, like Fiat Chrysler, saw double-digit drops in sales. In a statement, the company put the bad news bluntly: “Strong momentum in January and February was more than offset by the negative economic impact of the coronavirus in March.”

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Auto Industry COVID-19 Communications Strategy

General Motors and Toyota both reported a sharp decline as well, blaming the pandemic for the drop in sales. Overall, the U.S. auto industry is struggling. Market watchers have been quoted in the media describing the drop as “falling off a cliff.” They say that’s understandable given that three-quarters of the population lives in states or cities that have been told to stay home except for essentials. This is in addition to many Americans who are concerned about pay, or keeping their jobs, while millions have already filed for unemployment.

So, what kind of consumer PR campaigns are the automakers using to get people into the dealerships? That varies, depending on the brand. Some have judged Fiat Chrysler’s incentive programs as “the most aggressive” in the market, including longer, interest-free loans and deferred payments for 90 days for qualifying buyers. Many companies are also expanding online buying programs, handling the entire process from viewing to credit approval to payment estimates all online.

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Some states have gone in a completely different direction. They are closing dealerships entirely, cognizant of polls which show a large percentage of potential car buyers planning to wait this out and buy from a dealership, even delaying service appointments, which hurts another stream of income for dealerships.

These circumstances are having a ripple effect on the industry. Most automakers are halting production of new cars and trucks, with some figures putting that number at 97% in North America and Europe, while some are not putting a date on when they will start up again.

So, from a consumer PR perspective, what can these brands be doing to keep customers connected when they know they won’t be coming in to buy any time soon? The fundamental answer is to increase the opportunities to connect and build relationships. Now’s the time to be seen investing in people, building brand recognition and consumer confidence. Giving people hope and a smile in a time when those are tough to come by. That won’t stop the decrease in sales, but people will start buying again and the operable question is, “from whom will they buy?”

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These circumstances are having a ripple effect on the industry. Most automakers are halting production of new cars and trucks, with some figures putting that number at 97% in North America and Europe, while some are not putting a date on when they will start up again.

So, from a consumer PR perspective, what can these brands be doing to keep customers connected when they know they won’t be coming in to buy any time soon? The fundamental answer is to increase the opportunities to connect and build relationships. Now’s the time to be seen investing in people, building brand recognition and consumer confidence. Giving people hope and a smile in a time when those are tough to come by. That won’t stop the decrease in sales, but people will start buying again and the operable question is, “from whom will they buy?”

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Automakers will Provide Ventilators Free of Charge

Another week has passed since COVID-19 came ashore in the United States. Medical facilities in hard-hit areas are stressed, resources stretched thin, and people are scared. It’s a volatile situation, in desperate need of some good news and comfort… and some CEOs and top brands continue to step up to help out.

This week, it was Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who said on Tuesday that his company has extra FDA-approved ventilators that they will ship free of cost to hospitals in regions where the automaker already delivers. On Twitter, Musk sent his message out to anyone in need: “Device and shipping cost are free. Only requirement is that the vents are needed immediately for patients, not stored in a warehouse. Please let me know…”

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While no reports about this story included the number of ventilators the company has to spare, “some” is less than what a few overtaxed hospital systems will have if projections about the virus hold. Due to the shortage and the expected demand, governments across the world have been begging for assistance from manufacturers, especially automakers, to help them treat patients for whom the ventilators could mean the difference between life and death.

Ford Motor Company also answered the call, pledging to produce 50,000 ventilators over the next 100 days, in conjunction with General Electric. Going forward, the company also said it could build 30,000 more each month for as long as necessary.

Reports such as these put brands like Tesla, Ford, and others who have stepped up to help during this time in a position to show consumers where they stand on their company’s commitment to being a good community partner, as well as a profitable commercial brand. As they sit home, looking for signs of good news and hope, consumers will remember the companies that took a vested interest in helping the people stay safe and healthy.

There have been a host of news stories at this time reminding brands that consumers will remember how their favorite brands acted during this unprecedented period in their lives. This is a reality that should not be ignored or taken for granted. There is opportunity here that may well help to define many brands for generations. Not just who helped, but when and how. What were they doing at this time and how was it perceived?

Smart brand managers and PR pros will consider these questions with all of their current accounts and create messaging that reflects the heart of their brand in a way that is timely, connective, and helpful.

Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations. 5W PR is a leading digital pr and influencer marketing agency.

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Ronn Torossian is CEO & Founder of 5WPR & one of America’s most notable PR executives. He is the Author of best-selling PR book, “For Immediate Release.“

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