I recently constructed a short (8 questions) survey to gather insights into the state of Motoring Journalism in South Africa. Using SurveyMonkey, a link was sent to all the motor industry PRs, as well as four industry experts that spend a lot of face time with the media. The following results were obtained following completion of the survey by 21 of them.
The reason for the survey? To provide better insights to aspirant motoring journalists attending my motoring journalism lectures.
QUESTION 1 – In the greater scheme of things, where does the value of a motoring journalist lie? (Rank by importance)
RESULT – QUESTION 1
- Creating Brand/product awareness
- Influencing/Changing existing public opinion
- As mechanisms to deliver your brand’s (the car brand) message to the public
- Generating sales/leads
QUESTION 2 – To what extent do you agree with the notion that Motoring Journalists’ importance is declining?
RESULT – QUESTION 2
Motor Industry PRs still believe Motoring Journalists perform an important function, with only 14,29% agreeing absolutely that their importance is declining.
QUESTION 3 – What determines a Motoring Journalist’s value to you? (Rank by importance)
RESULT – QUESTION 3
- The size/reach of their publication
- A strong personal relationship founded on mutual trust and respect
- The quality of their work
- Known preference for your brand
- Proven track record (history)
Note – It is interesting to see that although “Know preference for your brand” ultimately ranked fourth overall, six PRs ranked it first (only one less than “Size/Reach of publication”).
QUESTION 4 – What are the biggest mistakes that Motoring Journalists make when dealing with PRs?
Note, in this section I left it up to the PRs to use their own words to describe three major areas of concern. I’ve grouped the results as follows (a few other concerns were raised which couldn’t be grouped, but were in the minority, with two or less votes each);
- Arrogance (think they are more important than they are etc.) – 13
- Entitlement (to test cars/launches etc.) – 9
- Bias (towards brands and to specific types of cars), Lack of Objectivity/fairness – 7
- Lack of knowledge/research/understanding – 6
- Asking for advertorial/money – 5
- Lack of initiative/lack of pro-active content generation – 4
- Reporting influenced by gifts/trips etc. – 3
QUESTION 5 – Do you have the means to accurately measure the reach of predominantly on-line motoring journalists?
Note – Somewhat alarmingly only 8 of the 21 are confident that they have the means to accurately measure the reach of predominantly on-line motoring journalists.
QUESTION 6 – List the five motoring journalists that, in your view, has the most influence (ranking).
Note that in this question several PRs chose to rather list publications. I’ve listed publications separately, below the journalists.
- Denis Droppa (The Star) – 15
- Steve Smith (CAR) – 12
- Mark Smythe (Business Day), Jannie Hennop (Volksblad), Egmont Sippel (Rapport) – 7
- Hannes Oosthuizen (Cars.co.za) – 6
- Lerato Matebese (Business Day), Jesse Adams (The Star), Marnus Hattingh (Die Burger) – 3
- Thomas Falkiner (Times), David Taylor (Cars.co.za) – 2
- Ian McLaren (CAR), Ciro de Siena (Cars.co.za), Brenwin Naidu (Ignition Live), Richard Webb (freelance), Braam Peens (Top Gear), Pierre Steyn (Weg!, Go!), Jan Sime (The Production Shop), Glen Hill (Citizen), Nicol Louw (CAR), Sergio Davids (Wheels24), Deon Schoeman (RPM), Peta Lee (freelance), Jannie Herbst (Leisure Wheels), Mark Jones (Citizen) – 1
PUBLICATIONS (note, do not read too much into this, as the question asked for journalists, not publications – I’m merely listing the received responses)
- CAR magazine – 7
- Business Day Motoring, The Star, TopCar, The Citizen, IOL/Independent– 3
- Cars.co.za – 2
- TopGear, Wheels24, Beeld, Die Burger – 1
QUESTION 7 – Most content delivered in South Africa is reactive to the industry (press releases, launches etc.). How highly do you value content featuring your brand that is generated proactively (with no initiation from your side)?
Note – With a number of PRs indicating a general lack of a pro-active work ethic in Question 3, it would appear this is a great opportunity for journalists/publications to make their mark.
QUESTION 8 – Gaining access to press launches and test cars is vital to all up-and-coming Motoring Journalists. What are your three top requirements for this to happen? (eg. Guild Membership, large audience etc.)
Note that, again, the PRs could use their own words to elaborate, and were given three opportunities each to respond. I have grouped responses into clusters as follows.
- Publication Reach/Audience Size/Influence – 19
- Quality/credibility (of publication) – 16
- Integrity/professionalism/attitude (of journalist) – 7
- Guild membership – 5
- Knowledge/experience – 4
- Driving course attendance, Initiative/pro-activeness, Balanced reporting, Likes my brand – 3
- Relationship – 2
So, what should aspirant motoring journalists take from this? Based on questions raised during my lectures, most motoring journalists struggle or don’t understand how to make an entry into the industry. Motor Industry PRs are, to a certain degree, the gatekeepers to the industry and convincing them of your worth is crucial.
Based on the above, motoring journalists that are lucky to start their careers at established publications (especially print) are going to be accepted much faster and easier, as audience size/reach and credibility will all be linked to the publication. This is what happened to me at the start of my career, and it’s the only reason why concerns about credibility etc. were never an issue for me. However, with opportunities at major print publications being very scarce, this doesn’t happen very often. I was lucky.
Predominantly on-line motoring journalists face a much tougher entry. Motor Industry PRs are not always in a position to easily and accurately measure their value, so you will have to be much more pro-active in your attempts to convince them, especially if you are a one-man operation (such as a blog).
From experience, and based on feedback from the industry, I can vouch for the fact that “entitlement” is a major source of irritation and many motoring journalists simply rub PRs up the wrong way. In discussions with various PRs it has become clear that they regard obvious mentoring by a respected journalist or “being part of a credible team” as very important.
Ultimately, what you have to realise is this: Motor Industry PRs are faced with a great many requests similar to yours. Very few motoring journalists in South Africa can be regarded as indispensable, and cracking the nod with one car company doesn’t entitle you to the same treatment from the others. So… until you appear at or near the top of the list published in response to Question 6, you will have to work hard at the following;
- Convince them of your audience/reach (a 1000 UUs may be great for you, but how does it compare with the rest of the industry?)
- Convince them of your knowledge/credibility (make sure they see what you publish)
- Build a professional relationship with the PR (without becoming a pain in the you know what)