MEDIA AUTO JOURNALISM: Media Roundup - Gearing toward motorheadsand soccer moms alike

America's obsession with cars is evident just from the number of

specialist titles available. But as David Ward discovers, other media

outlets are also revving up their auto coverage



With more than 200 million cars already on US roads and tens of millions

more new vehicles rolling off assembly lines each year, it's clear that

America's love affair with the automobile shows no signs of fading.



To their credit, automobile journalists seem to be up to the

challenge.



There are hundreds of media outlets dedicated to cars and trucks,

ranging from general-interest buyer's guides to the most niche

publication catering to the restoration and enhancement of specific

older vehicles.



Most of the journalists at these outlets are well versed in not only

describing a car's technical specifications, safety features, and

design, but also in conveying the intangibles, such as how it feels to

be behind the wheel and what buying a particular model will say about

its owner.



But while more than 6,000 journalists attended the North American

International Auto Show in Detroit a few weeks ago, only a fraction of

the reporters were considered top tier, and those writers have certainly

earned such respect. "The category has become so complex and the

engineering so advanced that it's no longer for the faint of heart,"

notes Daniel McCue, partner with Freeman-McCue, which represents Volvo

of America. "It's not enough to tell someone how good a car looks. How

serviceable will it be? Is it a prudent buy? And is it reliable?"



All this information must be provided within the context of an

ever-changing auto industry marked not only by consolidation and ongoing

labor and manufacturing issues, but also by global distribution. "As the

profession has grown in stature and in compensation, the top journalists

have become very savvy - not only about the design and manufacture of

automobiles, but quality issues, trend issues, and the future of the

business," says Stan Stein, GM of Manning Selvage & Lee's Detroit

office, which handles a number of other General Motors accounts. "They

seem to have a better grasp of the industry as a whole."



With the exception of those who cover automobiles as business and

finance stories, there are essentially two types of car reporters. "One

of them is the enthusiast, hard-core car guys," says Lee Morrell,

account supervisor with Edelman's Los Angeles office. "They work in

everything from 'buff books' like Motor Trend and Automobile, to car

sections like the LA Times' Highway 1."



Most of these outlets are aimed right at the heart of the American car

fantasy, and thus tend to highlight cars with powerful engines, great

handling, and new and innovative designs.



But most of these magazines will end up reviewing everything at some

point, even down to the smallest economy car.



In it for the long haul



By and large, auto reporters are car fanatics themselves and, as a

result, tend to be lifers in this category. While they routinely switch

publications, they typically stick with automobile writing for the

entirety of their journalism careers.



Pitching these writers - whether they're at Car and Driver, Road &

Track, cable network SpeedVision, or the growing number of radio

programs such as All About Cars - requires focusing on the car's

specifications, and getting the reporters at least some time behind the

wheel. "What you really shoot for is to get to these guys three months

before the car's on-sale date," explains Edelman account executive

Lauren Cilch, who works with Morrell on the Nissan Motor Corporation

account. "You do a press preview, and what you might do is either have

one location and fly the press out, or do it regionally at multiple

locations."



The top enthusiast car magazines tend to have an impact that carries far

beyond their direct readership. "An automobile in this country continues

to be an emotional purchase," McCue says. "The keepers of the flame, the

people who truly do understand all the complexities of the current

machines, as well as what it means to get behind the wheel of a shiny

red convertible, are the journalists at places such as Car and Driver,

Automobile, and Road & Track."



At the other end of the auto journalism spectrum is the general-interest

lifestyle media. "They won't necessarily look under the hood or look at

zero-to-60 times, but will look at, say, what's the perfect minivan for

today's soccer mom, or what's the best SUV to go off-roading," says

Morrell.



Driving into new markets



The good news for PR professionals representing car companies is that

the number of lifestyle and other general-interest outlets interested to

automobile coverage seems to be growing. Golin/Harris vice president

Jennifer Baker-Assidao says that while it's not easy, even traditional

women's and family lifestyle outlets such as Ladies' Home Journal,

Redbook, and Parents will cover some aspects of automobiles, such as

safety or comfort. "You have to have very consumer-friendly media

angles, and create story ideas around them," says Baker-Assidao, who

represents Toyota Motor Sales.



This approach works for many men's lifestyle outlets as well. "If you're

pitching the car guy at Stuff magazine, Marty Padgett, he's much more

interested in pictures and what kind of car will get a good looking girl

to jump in the passenger seat," notes Cilch.



Given the breadth of automobile coverage, it's not surprising that the

most respected car journalists represent a wide range of outlets. They

include Keith Naughton, Detroit bureau chief at Newsweek, David Welch

from Business Week, Bloomberg columnist Doron Levin, Tom Brown of The

Wall Street Journal, Car and Driver editor Fred Gregory, Motor Trend's

Chuck Schifsky, the Los Angeles Times' John O'Dell, and USA Today's

James Healy.



While outsiders may perceive it as a strictly male preserve, there are a

lot of well-respected female auto writers. They include Denise

McCluggage, who pens the nationally syndicated column Drive She Said,

Michelle Krebs, senior editor at Auto World, and Cheryl Jenson, who

works in tandem with her husband Christopher at Cleveland's The Plain

Dealer. "A good one-third of the list of North American Car of the Year

judges are women," says Morrell.



TV also provides a lot of opportunities for both hard-news car stories

and features. Although its distribution isn't quite a broad as some

other cable networks, Speedvision has a loyal following, as do

individual programs such Motor Week, Motor Trend Television, and Car and

Driver Television.



Given the amount of time Americans spend behind the wheel, radio is also

a natural outlet for car stories - not just locally, but also through

nationally syndicated shows such as the Miami-based Bobby Likis Car

Clinic, Car Talk, and All About Cars.



Stein says that even the traditional morning television shows will

feature cars in conjunction with other segments. "We had Chevrolet very

prominently on Good Morning America and the Today show through the

Olympic torch relay," he says. The relay featured a 2002 Corvette that

had been signed by prominent politicians and celebrities. "We ended up

with four-minute segments on prominent national television where the

talent is actually walking around the car, pointing out the features as

they look at the signatures," Stein marvels.



WHERE TO GO



Newspapers: Detroit News; Detroit Free-Press; USA Today; The New York

Times; LA Times; The Wall Street Journal; Magazines: Car and Driver;

Motor Trend; Hot Rod; Automobile; Road & Track; Hot Rod; Truckin'; Low

Rider; Consumer Review; Time; Newsweek; Stuff; Business Week; Turbo;

Consumer Reports; Collectible Automobile; various Peterson titles

Trade titles: Automotive News; Automotive Design & Engineering; Ward's

Auto World; 12-Volt



TV: SpeedVision; Motor Week; Motor Trend TV; Car and Driver TV; Car

Talk; Bobby Likis Car Clinic; Bob Long's All About Cars; American on the

Road



Internet: MotorTrend.com; Engines.com; Thecarconnection.com;

Autochannel.com; Microsoft Car Point.



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