ANALYSIS: PR drives Korea’s car challenge in Europe

Korean car maker Hyundai’s tie-up with Edelman for pan-European support highlights the escalating PR battle in an overcrowded and stagnant European motor industry

Korean car maker Hyundai’s tie-up with Edelman for pan-European support

highlights the escalating PR battle in an overcrowded and stagnant

European motor industry

At a time when Korean, Japanese and American car manufacturers are vying

aggressively for market share with indigenous European firms, there are

signs that PR agencies are set to benefit.

Edelman looks poised to help Hyundai Motor Europe boost its corporate

reputation across the continent. And this drive, along with the

activities of fellow Korean manufacturer Daewoo, highlights some

critical issues in motor industry PR - both in terms of marketing

communications and wider corporate issues. Despite Korean ambitions, the

European car sector is not expected to grow by more than two or three

per cent this year.

‘To all intents and purposes the market is stagnant,’ says Times

motoring correspondent Kevin Eason. ‘The market peaked in 1989 but still

hasn’t recovered from the recession.’ Nevertheless, more models are

being launched than ever before.

Paul Taaffe, Hill and Knowlton’s president and chief executive for

Europe, the Middle East and Africa says: ‘Companies are becoming

increasingly aggressive in promoting their cars. New technology means

manufacturers can produce new models in low volumes for niche markets.

The conventional definition of the marketplace is changing.’

Apart from the flood of new products, PR potential is boosted by a wave

of new editorial opportunities outside the specialist media. How are

manufacturers responding?

Hyundai’s next major launch will be that of its first ever sports coupe

this autumn. UK PR manager Steve Kitson admits it will be a small volume

vehicle. Nevertheless it will be supported by a six-venue summer

roadshow and 120 UK journalists will be given a ‘ride and drive’

opportunity - a clear indication that the car industry, traditionally

renowned for its high PR spend, is losing none of its extravagance.

Kitson confirms that PR will play the lead role in the coupe launch

because small volumes rule out big ad campaigns.

At the same time, PR is becoming more targeted.

‘The better PRs are becoming far more scientific in their approach’ says

Michael Harvey, editor of Autocar, ‘They are learning to target

different media with tailored stories and broadening their scope to

include new media titles such as new lifestyle magazines.’

Last year Hyundai used Cameron Choat for a project to identify and reach

audiences which tend to avoid the standard motoring press. Kitson says

this approach will continue with the coupe launch, using men’s lifestyle

titles to target new, carefully defined consumer groups.

But while Hyundai, an exporter to the UK for 13 years, continues to

strive for a one per cent market share, newcomer Daewoo has achieved

close to this in just over a year.

Daewoo’s determination to eschew dealers and sell its cars directly to

the public with a three year warranty has shaken up the sector. PR

manager Mark Carberry claims its 1995 launch into the marketplace was

the most successful ever in terms of registrations.

He says: ‘We grew awareness from four per cent in April 1995 to 92 per

cent by the end of the year. With only two types of car we’ve created a

strong brand in a short period of time. Creative marketing and PR has

been a major factor.’

Last November Daewoo brought in Jackie Cooper PR with a brief to target

‘all the media they could’ to get the company’s customer service message

across. This included targeting women, the ‘grey’ market and disabled


Senior partner Jackie Cooper says: ‘Daewoo, with its emphasis on

breaking the mould of car selling, is a PR dream. We’ve been able to

take the advertising campaign forward and promote the service side,

reiterating the marriage between manufacturer and customer.’

Marketing communications aside, both Hyundai and Daewoo have recognised

that they cannot afford to ignore the long-term effect of their

corporate reputations on sales. Japanese competitor Nissan has long

realised the benefits of positioning itself as a British manufacturer to

cash in on car buyers’ nationalistic loyalty.

For Koreans this can be a problem. Last year Hyundai ran its

controversial ‘prejudice’ commercial which tried to counter a perceived

anti-Asian sentiment. Although Daewoo’s Carberry believes Hyundai’s

approach was brave, he thinks it confuses the car-buying decision -

which can be effectively influenced through advertising - and wider

issues that are better tackled through PR.

He recognises that, as major conglomerates based on the booming Pacific

Rim, the two companies’ European ambitions could be seen as Korean


Daewoo is currently developing a five-year communications plan likely to

feature the integration of its European corporate affairs while leaving

marketing communications in the hands of country managers.

Unlike Daewoo, Hyundai already has a centralised European office in

Frankfurt and Edelman’s brief suggests Hyundai’s own communications

plans are well underway.

Hyundai’s Kitson says: ‘While the national franchise operators already

swap ideas, we’re looking to co-ordinate more on a pan-European level

particularly in the area of corporate affairs.’

Big plans, big budgets. The PR opportunity for agencies and highly paid

in-house staff is clear. Yet Korean importers represent a mere fraction

of the market. Japanese ‘transplants’ Nissan and Toyota have equally

ambitious communications strategies.

And the traditional giants such as Ford, Vauxhall and BMW are unlikely

to take it lying down.

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