CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - Fuel prices drive interest in car PR

Client: United States Council for Automotive Research (Southfield, MI)

Client: United States Council for Automotive Research (Southfield, MI)

Client: United States Council for Automotive Research (Southfield, MI)

PR Team: Strat@comm (Washington, DC)

Campaign: Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles

Time Frame: February to March 30, 2000

Budget: Less than dollars 75,000 (includes media relations, management of venue, VNR and radio media tour)



No news is not good news for PR folks charged with staging a press conference. Strat@comm faced that challenge earlier this year when the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR) hired the agency to build news coverage for cars that had already been unveiled to the public.

The cars had been developed by the Big Three automakers - Ford, GM and DaimlerChrysler - after they had forged an agreement in the mid 1990s with the federal government to build road-ready prototypes by 2004 of fuel-efficient, safe, affordable cars that meet current emission standards.

The project, known as the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles, receives from both government and industry. USCAR, a collaborative effort of the Big Three, wanted to showcase the prototypes.

Although each manufacturer's concept car had been introduced to the media before the March 30 conference, USCAR wanted to highlight the combined effort to stress that progress is being made toward fuel efficiency. 'The challenge was how can we do it again and make it news?' says Strat@comm principal Ron DeFore, whose firm started working on the news conference about two months before it was held.



Strategy

Several factors were working in USCAR's favor. Drivers' dissatisfaction with rising fuel prices created a media-relations avenue for USCAR. Honda and Toyota had been receiving some media attention for putting their own alternative vehicles out on the road, although - unlike the concept cars of the Big Three - they are considered too small to suit the tastes of most Americans.

It also helped that USCAR was able to get Vice President Al Gore to attend the event - not to mention that hints were emanating from the White House that a major announcement regarding the partnership's mission might be coming.



Tactics

In over 600 pitches to reporters, Strat@comm emphasized that the Big Three's prototypes would be shown together and that the VP's office was hinting that a major announcement might be made. Consumer anxiety over rising gas prices also was noted.

Strat@comm brokered deals with the Associated Press, CBS Radio and The Detroit News to issue stories on March 30. 'They helped build interest among the rest of the media,' says DeFore.

A VNR was produced and distributed to TV stations the day of the news conference, and a radio tour featuring a USCAR spokesman was conducted.

The message emphasized the development of fuel-miser cars.



Results

At the press conference, Gore expressed support for the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles - but he made no major announcement.

Some reporters left disappointed.

'For the media it was a bust,' asserts Harry Stoffer, Washington correspondent for Automotive News. But Stoffer believes that the Big Three may have shown policymakers just how much return the government was actually getting from its investment in the partnership.

Fortunately, Gore's presidential candidacy and the recent spike in oil prices have helped extend the media's interest. Seventy-six reporters attended the March 30 event, and Strat@comm's tracking reports show that multiple TV news stories were generated in the New York, Los Angeles and Chicago markets. Coverage on CNN, CNNfn and MSNBC reached opinion-leading viewers. The tracking service estimated that 15 million viewers saw the news conference. Also registered were over 7 million print impressions and nearly 5 million radio impressions.



Future

The full-efficient cars, either individually or together, will continue to be exhibited at select seminars and conferences.



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