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.