What Car? loves a good demo

It is no secret that the car market was hit hard by the recession. But, according to the latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, there are signs the market is experiencing a resurgence, with new car sales up 11 per cent in Scotland and 21 per cent in England in the first half of 2010.

What Car driving school
What Car driving school

What Car?, a monthly magazine for car buyers and a sister Haymarket title of PRWeek, has made a series of changes to capitalise on the brighter market, hiring a new editor and undergoing a major redesign. The new-look magazine hits newsstands this week.

Editor-in-chief Steve Fowler says this is the first time in several years that the magazine has undergone a 'root and branch rethink'.

'What Car? is never going to be something you pick up and get a belly laugh from, but we have given it a lighter and more entertaining feel,' says Fowler. It has also expanded its content: the 40-page The New Car Guide, previously a separate monthly product, will now be part of the main magazine.

To handle the day-to-day running of the magazine, What Car? poached Autocar.co.uk's deputy editor Jim Holder to be editor of the magazine in June, reporting to Fowler. Additionally, Stephen Hopkins was appointed art editor in the same month.

Fowler says over the past few years, What Car? has increasingly focused on the car buyer as opposed to the car enthusiast, to differentiate it from competitors such as Top Gear and Autocar.

'We are a test centre. We're not interested in writing about what it's like to drive a particular car through the vineyards in the South of France. We're more likely to take the car on the M25. Everything in the magazine is to service the pragmatic car buyer. Will it help our readers buy a car or get a better deal?' he says. So, how do PROs secure those all-important rave reviews?

Nissan's comms director Gabi Whitfield says: 'What Car? is the most respected car magazine in terms of shaping consumer opinion for real car buyers. The team are highly professional, approachable and open to innovative ideas.

'PROs should make sure their story has an angle that relates to the consumer - the magazine is a real consumer champion and buying aid.'

Richard Gotch, MD of automotive PR specialist Market Engineering, advises PROs to make sure they demonstrate a product properly: 'If it's a car test, explain the key points of differentiation that will interest readers and understand what type of route is needed to demonstrate its strengths.

Or explain how a gadget works and why it works better that way.' He adds that PROs should remember it is a practical magazine and advises them to keep an eye on readers' feedback: 'Provide expert comment on an issue of concern to readers and develop story ideas that build on something already being discussed.'

Fowler also advises PROs not to overlook the importance of the specialist freelance writers: 'Pitch directly to them. They know how to shape an unusual story to be attractive to the editor.'


Circulation: 83,102 (ABCs Jan-Dec 2009)
Frequency: 13 issues a year
Average reader: 62 per cent aged 25-54; 74 per cent ABC1 (NRS)
Website: whatcar.com
Contact: Steve.Fowler@haymarket.com; 020 8267 5550



Steve Fowler

What are your deadlines? We go to press two weeks before the issue hits the newsstands, but for the magazine we want things as soon as possible. We are already planning issues for next year. For the website, the deadline is now.

Describe your PR relationships We have a good relationship with car makers, who give us stories in advance for the magazine but trust us not to break them online earlier. We have never broken an embargo because it would ruin relationships.

What would be your main advice for PROs? Remember, we serve the car buyer, not a car enthusiast. So if you have a product that is relevant, we want to review it.

Do you treat the content for the magazine and the website differently? They have similar content, but it is presented in a different way. We can be far more visual in the magazine to give car buyers an opportunity to luxuriate in the car-buying experience, whereas online content is broken into bite-sized chunks.

Describe the What Car? team and their output There are 24 journalists who produce the magazine and website. We have just launched a What Car? driving school and also have evecars.com, a female-focused car buyer's site.

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