3 Tips to Get Coverage for Autonomous Car Clients

By: James Dohnert

The autonomous car industry is currently developing on two fronts: the tech front and the PR front. On the tech front, autonomous cars are perhaps less than 10 years away from realizing their full potential. For the PR side, they might be equally as far off if they’re unable to get the buy-in from regulators and consumers. We’ve already discussed how to cut through the noise and get coverage for autonomous car clients. This week we’ll share real-world tips to consider when pitching on behalf of clients. These tips provide a groundwork for understanding what the media is after and what you can do to get positive stories in the press.

Calm the Public’s Fears
At the 2015 In2Summit in Hong Kong, Microsoft Senior Director of Communications, Andrew Pickup, said, “The adoption of technology is all about trust.” His statement can’t be any truer for the autonomous car sector. Unfortunately, for the industry, studies have repetitively shown that consumers don’t quite trust cars without drivers.

According to a 2016 study by Kelly Blue Book (KBB), 51 percent of drivers prefer to have control of their vehicle even if it’s safer for them not to drive. Half of the study respondents also said they think cars are less safe the more autonomous they become as vehicles. This despite six out of ten respondents admitting that they know little or nothing about autonomous vehicles. KBB’s study – and similar ones like this Harris Poll from 2015 – point to a lack of consumer trust and knowledge about the industry.

The perception of poor safety about the industry is further compounded by research from the think-tank RAND. The policy think-tank found that it could take hundreds of millions of miles of test driving to deliver quantifiable safety assessments of driverless cars. RAND’s report notes that to gain that many miles of test drives would take tens of years. With an inability to quantify safety, it’s important for companies to double down on the potential safety benefits of the driverless car. Look at the issues with modern driving and see how autonomous vehicles can provide benefits to the roads.

Get Ahead of Perceptions through Education
Public perception will be a primary reason we see more autonomous vehicles on the road. Companies must get more than just early adopters on board if they want to create a scalable industry. Even if driverless cars hit the road by next year, a ton of drivers will be driving their analogue vehicles. That spells trouble for an industry that is already struggling to convince people the roads are safe with a driverless car in the next lane.

A study from Goodyear and the London School of Economics recently found that 55 percent of drivers surveyed are uncomfortable with the idea of autonomous vehicles on public roads. Another 60 percent of those surveyed said that, “machines don’t have the common sense needed to interact with human drivers.” Goodyear and the London School of Economics hypothesized that the reason for these negative reactions was a lack of knowledge about autonomous vehicles.

With this hypothesis at the forefront, participants were asked to think about driverless cars for 20 minutes and then retake the survey. Follow up answers improved sentiment by an average of 5 to 6 points. Studies like this show that proper education can provide an opportunity to turn a negative conception into a positive one with enough education. That sort of education will start with a media push that includes real insights into the technology and its safety potential.

Normalizing the Driverless Car
As an agency in the space, it’s your job to make a case for the industry on behalf of your clients. Autonomous cars companies are beholden to the perceptions that come with being part of a new industry. The PR struggle for these players will be to make a case that they can be more than just a novelty or extravagant technology. A burden of evidence is on them to show that the autonomous car is a viable alternative to the current car landscape. With this in mind, PR agencies must consistently be showcasing technology as an evolution of the auto industry instead of a disruptive force.

According to an AAA study from earlier this year, consumers are 75 percent more likely to trust driverless car technology if they’ve had experiences with semi-autonomous cars. AAA’s study showcases the unique opportunity for PR agencies to develop a narrative which normalizes autonomous cars. Agencies have the opportunity to highlight the pervasiveness of semi-autonomous technology to show that driverless cars are here to stay.

When pitching for clients in the space, agencies should remember that the driverless car is more than just technology it’s potentially changing the way that people are going through their day-to-day life. The media will play a key part in making the autonomous car more than just a cool idea. More than just the technology, autonomous cars can also create jobs and make millions of drivers’ lives easier. PR agencies can highlight the basic benefits of a driverless to show that the industry isn’t a foreign concept.

Making a Case for the Autonomous Car
The PR struggle for many players in the space will be to get coverage with positive sentiment. Musk, for his part, has gone so far as to claim bad press regarding autonomous cars is ‘killing people’. While perhaps overdramatic, it does speak to the PR challenges for the industry. The issues facing the sector’s landscape are classic PR issues for new technology. Just like all disruptive technology, getting ahead of the negative windfall and educating consumers will be key for establishing a market for the autonomous car sector.

Are Analysts Really ‘Pay to Play’?

By: Chris Nicoll

Are Analysts Really ‘Pay to Play’?

For as long as I’ve been in the industry I’ve heard of complaints about certain analysts or analyst firms being ‘pay to play’. Let’s first define what we mean by that and then see if the issue holds water.

The idea that a company must buy a subscription or services from industry analyst firms to get positive coverage is a misnomer.

For the record let me say that no reputable analyst will sell his positive opinion for a check. There are some disreputable analysts, but they are quickly found-out and their value just as quickly evaporates.

However, what is increasingly happening in the industry is not ‘pay to play’ for positive coverage, but ‘pay to play’ for feedback on briefings and announcements. That is a business model that more firms are embracing to boost revenues by monetizing their most valuable assets – the insights of their analysts.

But notice that I’d purposely referred to ‘pay to play’ for POSITIVE coverage. Most analyst firms will take a briefing from someone they do not currently cover or know about if the company can demonstrate they have some new technology or approach to some definable problem. It may only be a 30-minute introductory briefing to hear what the new company has to say, but it’s a start. Just don’t expect to get a lot of feedback in return. I think this is where a lot of the ‘pay to play’ complaints come from. That and getting left out of reports. I’ll come back to this point in a minute.

Industry analysts from my generation usually will provide some level of feedback during or at the end of the briefing as kind of a quid-pro-quo for the briefing. I’ve long felt that if you took the time to share some insightful feedback on your company and what you were seeing from your customers, then I would give you at least some comments in return. If my feedback was extensive, then I would require a paid engagement, but you would have a pretty good idea where I stand – positive and negative. My advice is to listen to the tone of their feedback. If you sense any red flags and believe the analyst could be valuable for your sales or marketing efforts, it might be worth paying for a consulting service.

But back to the POSITIVE coverage aspect of Pay to Play. I know of analysts who may temper their negative opinions of a client in their reports. My advice is to ‘pay attention to what the analyst is NOT saying as much as what the analyst IS saying’. I’m of the opinion that blatant positive coverage where it is not warranted will negatively impact the credibility of the analyst over time and that benefits no one.

I’m also not so naïve (or deaf) to not have seen patterns of coverage and positive statements coming from particular analyst firms regarding particular companies especially when it comes to market share numbers since forecasting usually requires some degree of managing or manipulating numbers. However, I’ve rarely seen someone able to objectively refute the forecasts in question either. When dealing with forecasts, we recommend working as closely as possible with the researcher to understand their particular methodology and tweaks they employ.

I think there is some expectation of coverage when you subscribe to an analyst’s program (notice I didn’t say POSITIVE coverage) such as being included in lists of companies in specific markets, etc. This falls into a gray area. Would I include them if they were not a client? Depends. Are they at the point in their technology or product development that warrants inclusion? Tricky questions with difficult answers. I used to refuse to put start-ups on speaking panels with established companies because start-ups not shipping products could make pretty much any statement they wanted about their upcoming product’s capabilities, while vendors shipping products were ‘stuck’ with what they had announced. For me, the ‘pay for coverage’ question falls into a similar argument.

I’ve seen, and we’ve had, clients with significant spend with analyst firms who somehow didn’t make into a report. Usually this is the result of an oversight rather than failure to reach some mythical ‘coverage spend’ level. But I know there are companies that do not get coverage because they have not yet shown the ability to impact the market.

And no amount of ‘pay to play’ should ever make that happen.

How to Get Coverage for Autonomous Car Clients

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Autonomous Cars are not just a hot topic, but represent a sea of change in social, technical and regulatory issues. Companies are joining the space in rapid succession and with each new player comes a flood of news. From automotive blogs to local newspapers, everyone is curious about what’s next for the industry. So, what is next? Actually, quite a lot. Tesla founder Elon Musk claimed we could see a fully autonomous car in just over a year. Self-driving taxis are even populating cities like Singapore right now.

With so much attention, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for companies to get their stories noticed and out to the public. Reporters are getting a variety of industry pitches each day and questions about the industry are leaving many consumers confused about the space. Even as the technology continues to advance, the barrier for autonomous car adoption might end up being popular support. Companies will need to gain support from regulators – and get buy-in from consumers – to get real adoption in the world.

With that in mind, we’ve written a two-part series on how to get coverage for autonomous car clients. In our first post, we’ll discuss how to develop a narrative for the industry. Be sure to also come back next week when we dive a little deeper into the specifics of how to pitch to the media for autonomous car clients.

Create a Grounded Driverless Car Narrative

An effective pitch provides the groundwork for a great story. It needs to provide relevant context and new information. For the autonomous car industry, new information is plentiful but relevant context isn’t always well-defined. That makes it an interesting opportunity for a variety of industry players to provide relevant context for reporters.

The development of the autonomous car has been ongoing since at least 2009 and the technology used to create the vehicles goes back even farther. The technology’s long road to relevancy is an important distinction to understanding the progress it will take to get to the fully autonomous cars we imagine in our head. Currently, the industry thinks of driverless cars growth over the years as building on levels. The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has catalogued autonomous cars into five levels. According to the group, to realize a fully automated vehicle, companies must first take baby steps (or levels). The levels (or baby steps) are as follows:

  • Level Zero: This is your completely non-autonomous vehicle. From the Model T to the Prius, this is the car consumers have been buying for the last 130 years.
  • Level One: At this level, only certain functions are autonomous. Here features like electronic stability control are established. Level one is all about providing an easier – not autonomous – driving experience. This is the basic concept of the connected car of today.
  • Level Two: After level one, the creation of vehicles that take over primary control functions from the driver take root. Features like adaptive cruise control become mainstream at this level. Consider level two the connected car of the near future.
  • Level Three: Level three lets the driver cede some control of a vehicle. Like the Google Car, this level provides an autonomous experience in some driving use cases.
  • Level Four: At level four, drivers can give up complete control of the vehicle in most driving conditions. Vehicles at this level can effectively monitor roadways and make improvised decisions based on traffic conditions. This is the level that Tesla expect to be available by late 2017.

It’s important to think of these levels as a journey. When considering the levels across the same passage you can develop a narrative that grounds a media pitch. For example, if a client has a new innovation involving sensors in the connected car space, a PR professional can pitch it as another step towards the completely autonomous car. A good pitch should never be offered in a vacuum, as each player in the space is developing new technologies that might lead to something greater than an individual technology.

This is part one of our two-part series on pitching for autonomous car clients. Stay tuned for part two where we share three real-world tips to use when pitching on behalf of clients.

Is your competitor getting better coverage than you?

By: Jeannette Bitz

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Making sure your company’s PR efforts support the business’ goals is a constant grind. I wrote about this a couple of years ago but the insights are even more important today. Not only are there various responsibilities to juggle, but many marketing VPs are responsible for making sure their PR firm is driving constant coverage on news and trend stories. Some marketing VPs are under pressure to see their company covered in the business press while others need to find a way to map their PR efforts to a business outcome.

Separately, the media is under constant pressure to keep tabs on the changes in the tech industry; who’s behind the latest DDOS IoT security attack? Will Samsung recover from the Galaxy Note 7 device debacle? How will the next president elect impact the economy/tech industry? In addition, the media is bombarded with PR pitches. What’s even more challenging is that reporters are outnumbered by the number of PR pitches they receive.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nearly 5 PR people for every reporter. 15 years ago, there were two PR people for every reporter in the US.

  • 2000: 65,900 news reporters, and 128,600 public relations people
  • 2015: 45,800 news reporters, and 218,000 public relations people

This is a huge change, as companies seek to bypass a shrinking media industry and tell their own stories. We are only seeing the media landscape shrink further as buyoff options are offered to help media outlets drive a profit, see “‘A Grim Halloween for The Wall Street Journal.”

Certain media tactics can help you garner more press coverage and increase your visibility compared to your competitors. First, be clear about what your message is, who your audience is and what will compel them to respond. Understand and clearly articulate your buyers’ pain points and how your offering solves them.

Engage with the right outlets and reporters

Know who within your target customer base will be the easiest to influence and also has purchasing power. How does this group get information: through social media, blogs, trade outlets or search? What pain points will buyers have if they don’t change how they do business? Once you’ve narrowed this down through an online search, review media kits or background information about the different publications or blogs to confirm if you’ve identified the right outlets. Also, pinpoint which publications mention your competitors and target them in your media outreach.

Most media outlets encourage reader participation and look for meaningful feedback. While reporting the news is still core, reader engagement, social shares and engagements is important. Media outlets have moved to a community model, encouraging reader comments and engagement on their sites. Don’t promote yourself. Instead provide insights you have gained from your experience. This strategy not only builds credibility with reporters but also positions you as a resource for future stories and helps you gain attention when you want them to cover product news.

Connect to bigger trends

Connecting to bigger trends requires that you regularly monitor the news for stories that are relevant to you or about which you have an interesting point of view. Companies successful at generating more coverage and gaining share of voice dedicate multiple resources to trend tracking and pitching.

Such monitoring helps you find places where you can insert your opinion (not a product pitch) and better position yourself for inclusion in broader trend stories. Be clear ahead of time about which trends are relevant for you and your buyers and develop pitch points so you can respond quickly. Don’t be afraid to take a stand or contrarian point of view. The more interesting your perspective is, the better the chance you’ll be quoted. But use common sense. Don’t ever take advantage of tragedies to promote your product.

Data Is a bonus

Reporters often look for unique data that may support or counter a premise about an industry event. Whenever possible, provide supporting market research and infographics as part of campaigns and press releases. You may even find it worthwhile to conduct your own survey on a topic relevant to your market, publish the results in a paper and announce them in a press release. Proof points can be a great way to gain attention, as the media love numbers and percentages that can validate ongoing trends and market opportunities.

Respect the reporter relationship

Many companies make the mistake of treating the media as a one-way conduit for telling their stories; they do not respond when a reporter asks for a perspective or quote on another story. The more you can help a reporter in his or her quest to write a story, the better the long-term relationship. Some reporters, particularly in the business press, will offer to keep information on “background;” what you say will not be attributed to you. You won’t get quoted, but if you help the reporter out, he or she may be more likely to respond to an email request or phone call in the future.

No one tactic will help you trump your competition when it comes to press coverage. It takes a mix of them to keep your name front of mind, even in the absence of news. Remember, the more helpful and reliable you are as a source, the greater your chances are of developing strong relationships with reporters and of receiving greater coverage in the media that matter to you most.

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242297

Peering Through the Looking Glass

By Chris Nicoll

I’ve been writing about how coordinating your communication programs is just smart business (See: Is your outreach hitting on all cylinders). Each of these programs, AR, PR and Social Media, takes money, time and effort to run, not to mention significant executive mindshare. Each has its unique benefits and the maximum benefit is gained when each supports and builds upon the other. What also helps is stepping back and taking another perspective to gain unique views and insight.

My colleague at Engage PR wrote a blog post about her insights from the Inside the Newsroom series event with WIRED magazine. Leslie Johnson’s post underscored a key issue that I think many people are missing today: Secondary Story Angles are Key. To expand on her point briefly – with topics such as IoT and 5G dominating much of the press attention these days it can help your company, product or solution get noticed if you can link what you are doing to these hot topics.

Let’s take 5G as an example: With 5G talking about gigabit speeds using mmWave and cmWave spectrum, the impact is on everything from the processors to handle that much throughput, to graphics displays for 4K and VR services not to mention battery life and that is just on the device. Backhaul and latency are problems with today’s networks – 5G makes these issues bigger. With Always-On and billions of devices that also makes security a nightmare. So without even discussing radios and spectrum we’ve identified a wide range of story ideas that directly link to 5G. Where do you fit in? Knowing how to tailor your message to the press and analysts will increase your visibility and gain momentum for your company.

Engage PR will be hosting a webinar on October 3, 1 pm ET where I’ll talk about how to effectively maximize and integrate your programs, changes in the analyst business that may be impacting your AR program’s effectiveness and some examples on linking your business to key trends.