Contrasting approaches to PR strategy

Is it better to play the long game with a consistent and substantive slow burn approach to communications or are you tempted with the headline-grabbing, full-on PR attack? In-house teams and PR agencies are likely to be tempted with the latter, but perhaps that depends on the culture and strategic horizon of the organisation as a whole.

This distinction was highlighted recently by differing approaches to PR in the automotive industry and was exacerbated by the mainstream media frenzy for everything “electric” as opposed to petrol or diesel or even hybrid.

Prominent coverage in the mainstream media would seem to have delivered major wins for the PR teams behind recent announcements from Volvo and Jaguar in particular. Who can knock the great job they did in garnering visibility and interest in their brands with announcements of future products. They captured and milked the zeitgeist of electrification, hailed as the holy grail of personal transport in the face of pollution and global warming. Let’s ignore for a moment, issues with infrastructure that are typically passed over by both the media and politicians in mainstream coverage.

It was interesting to see the subtly muted response from competitor Lexus who simply tweeted quoting William Gibson that “the future is here – it’s just not very evenly distributed” and highlighting that 99% of the cars sold by the brand in the UK are electrified. Indeed, they have been for over a decade.

A few weeks later at the Tokyo Motor Show, parent company Toyota announced some potentially game-changing advances in transport technology. The understated manner of the announcements and their subsequent coverage contrasted starkly with the hysteria of their competitor’s product roadmaps and political headlines banning ICE vehicles. Here was a manufacturer committing to a date just eight years away to deliver both a cost-comparative hydrogen fuel cell car as well as solid-state battery technology that is likely to revolutionise electric vehicles. Where was the coverage apart from Jim Holder at Autocar? Was the message deemed not newsworthy or did the low-key delivery fail to cut through? Perhaps there just weren’t enough western media there to pick up and amplify the story.

In a world of increasingly unable to distinguish reality from “fake news”, what role should both PR and the media be playing in educating and informing in a balanced fashion? In the situation described above the Jaguar and Volvo PR teams did what they are paid to do, and the journalists writing about their news attracted views and audiences. Did either of them do anything substantive to further the bigger cause?

When considering what PR strategy to adopt, perhaps the answer, like with so many things in life and business, is to ask what you are trying to achieve or what your objectives are? Making a difference or grabbing some headlines?