Bringing New Ideas to Auto Dealers

02 May Bringing New Ideas to Auto Dealers

Early in my career as editor of the St. Louisan Magazine in St. Louis, Mo., I chose an article on how to avoid being ripped off by unscrupulous auto mechanics as our cover story. The cover photo showed a mechanic seated in front of a real car taking a bite out of a toy car. The headline screamed, “Don’t Let Crooked Mechanics Put The Bite On You!”

Okay, it wasn’t the greatest creative direction in the world. Heck, the article probably shouldn’t even have been the cover story of a city magazine, although mechanics making unnecessary repairs had been in the local news at the time. I was young and desperate to draw attention to the magazine.

It worked. The day that edition landed in mailboxes, I was summoned to the owner’s office. Seems the largest Ford dealer in the area, a major advertiser, called to complain because the mechanic on the cover was clearly sitting in a Ford Mustang.

Long story short, I was fired — or quit, depending on whose account of the events you believe. Either way, I was soon working as a copywriter for a local ad agency.

Fast forward to 2013: Auto sales grew by 8.5 percent last month, and Ford says it can’t make cars and pickup trucks fast enough to meet demand. Yet publishers and general sales managers say auto advertising has not picked up much this year. Why?

At last year’s NAB Small Market Television meeting, one speaker on a panel of auto dealers said from the stage, “All I know is that every month I give the guy from the TV station a ton of money, but I haven’t a clue what happens after that.” The comment got a big laugh, but dripped with truth and frustration.

I have been on sales calls with newspaper auto reps. Often the call goes something like, “Joe, what do you have for me this month?”

The automotive category remains crucial to most newspapers, television and radio stations. Sadly, we often don’t give these clients the respect they deserve. Here are three suggestions to help turn things around:carcare_cover

  1. Listen before you sell. What are the trends currently driving your dealers’ business? What are their problems? How can you help them solve these problems?
  2. Bring a new idea. When was the last time you brought something new to your dealers? A new environment for their ads? New content on your website? Social media ideas to drive people into the showroom?
  3. Be their megaphone. Every auto dealer has a website. No auto dealer website gets anywhere near the traffic your site gets. Help them by creating new ways to drive your site visitors to dealer sites.

Far too often, we take business from automobile dealers for granted on the theory that they need us. Thinking like that can be career-limiting, as I learned a long time ago in St. Louis. Turns out, ignoring your auto dealers is a surefire way to become VP in charge of finding yourself a new job.

P.S. You might appreciate the contrast between CTW’s current Car Care cover and that old St. Louisan cover I describe above. It proves you can teach old editors new tricks!