On Publicising The Product

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A vacancy occurs for the post of Publicity Manager with a progressive Motor-Manufacturing Company. Excellent prospects and remuneration for suitable applicant. Write, giving details of age, education and experience, and salary required, to Box No. MS 1001.

Well, there you are . . . ! Some time ago we started with a clean sheet of paper to design a motor-car and, having been sacked by irate Captains of Industry for wasting our time over independent rear suspension, air-cooling and rear-mounted power-units, we have landed this new job as Publicity Manager, we will imagine with a big company making both ordinary and sports cars and to whom expense is of little concern.

You are ensconced in a handsome, if compact, office near the factory buildings, on a tubular-steel chair set behind a modern table on which stand an imposing set of telephones, interior communication microphones, an ash-tray presented by a long-suffering tyre firm and a blank pad on which to set down future plans and proposals. In an annex, sitting gracefully on a smaller chair constructed from the same diameter steel tubing as your own, is a bored blonde, a covered typewriter on a small table in front of her. At the moment she is regarding her blood-red finger nails with an air of resignation; she guards a corner cupboard in which repose the alcohols essential to the functioning of any Publicity Manager’s office.

Above you on the wall is a faded photograph of the Founder of the Company which has just commenced to reimburse you handsomely for assisting its sales-staff and agents to sell its cars; ahead of you stretches your brand-new career . .

How, readers, gentle or otherwise, would you pin that one down ?

The duties of a Publicity Manager fall under at least two, if not more, main headings—preparing sales literature and data, and arranging, or encouraging, publicity activities.

So far as catalogues are concerned, quality pays, I feel, although it is sad to see how this has deteriorated since the second World War –do you remember the magnificent Rolls-Royce catalogues issued prior to 1939, and does your papa still wistfully refer to the Berliet publications that set a standard before 1914?

If these ideals of print and glossy paper have had to be abandoned, at least make your present-day catalogue as attractive as you can, pretty girls are probably permissible, for they seem to be employed for selling everything from biscuits to corsets, dental cream to adding machines, but artist’s impressions of your company’s products which elongate the car to the length of a small ‘bus and widen its seats until they could comfortably accommodate the entire infants’ class of any modern village school, are OUT.

The wording of publicity material is an art you will have to acquire. Remember that plain “wishbone and coil spring independent suspension” may do for English buyers, but America will cast your catalogue aside unless you dress this up as “Esi-ride fluid-coil knee-action,” or something of that kind.

Whether Rolls-Royce were too honest, and frightened impending clients, when they included in their early literature an awful warning about what would inevitably happen if James spun the steering-wheel onto full lock while the massive and top-heavy “Silver Ghost” was travelling at full speed, I do not know, but Porsche has the right idea today—their instruction manual commences “Dear Porsche customer : Your purchase of a Porsche indicates that you too are a driver who not only likes to drive, but also wants to drive well. We are happy to see you join this exclusive group of automobile connoisseurs . . . You will soon note that when you meet another Porsche—anywhere on the highways of the world—he will usually turn on his headlights or toot the horn—a special salute that Porsche drivers constitute one family the world over, united in the knowledge that their car is something special, an exclusive automobile, internationally in a class of its own. Wishing you many thousands of miles of pleasure—the Porsche factory.

That starts the customer off happy, and Porsche are sincere, apparently, because when Motor Sport’s Continental Correspondent took delivery of his 1,500 Porsche at Stuttgart he had everything about the car personally explained, it was handed over with the tank full of petrol, and in the luggage space was a Porsche folding umbrella, which, like the car, is compact, low and made not to catch the wind ! Whereas the new cars which I have taken over (paid for in full, plus p.t.) have been rushed out to me, in one case with the tyre-paint still wet, tanks containing a thimblefull of fuel, and in the case of the most recent one, additional oversteer to contend with because the back Michelins contained but 8-lb. of air . . . This treatment has left such a sordid impression that if I had just taken on that job of Publicity Manager I should do my level best to persuade the management that every new car should go out to its new owner with a cheery handshake and the tank brimful of petrol—a gesture which wouldn’t cost much and should build up prestige lost with today’s take-it-or-leave-it attitude.

Requests from the Press for cars to road-test loom large in the life of a Publicity Manager. I should try to meet such demands to the utmost limit of the company’s ability, because exceedingly valuable publicity results, particularly from the test reports which appear in the motoring Press. I would wince, perhaps, at criticism, but would try to counter it by ensuring that the engineers whose job it is to service the Press fleet had done their work well and truly before Mr. Journalist came to collect his test-car—I should try to get in a good run beforehand to make certain nothing serious was amiss. Then at least I should have the satisfaction of knowing that any criticism levelled at my Company’s products was fair comment— and I could only hope that their faults and shortcomings would not be so serious that I should be obliged to refuse the more critical journalists a chance of testing any of our cars ! That I would deem a far worse advertisement than criticism of specific features in cold print . . .

I should insist that our Press cars were kept in really good fettle, but I would not allow any special tuning to be carried out, because in this world you get precious little for nothing and improvements to speed affect m.p.g. figures and vice versa. In this connection, do you remember the naughty sports-car manufacturer before the war who brought out a new model and was very anxious that its performance figures should look impressive when they appeared in a famous weekly motor journal ? After the road part of the test concluded the car came to Brooklands, where the manufacturer had a depot away over on the Byfleet side, It was the easiest thing in the world, while the unsuspecting journalist was wined and dined in traditional fashion at the Aero Club, for mechanics to remove the standard cylinder head and substitute a special high-compression head. Result—paeans of praise for the car’s roadworthiness, good fuel-consumption figures AND a maximum speed of better than 80 m.p.h. That was all very well, but when customers discovered that their own cars of this type would not get within about 12 m.p.h. of this speed, back they came to the factory. The manufacturers had to issue a statement to the effect that the speed of the road-test car had proved exceptional—and that is about the worst sort of publicity a firm can have unless it is to refuse to allow its standard cars to be tested in case they don’t get entirely criticism-free write-ups . . .

A similar thing happened to a Coventry manufacturer in the ‘twenties, when an over-optimistic fuel-consumption claim proved a gambit which failed, bringing disappointed customers in streams to the factory in search of more m.p.g.

Whether a Publicity Manager should defend his firm’s products against Press criticism is a debatable point. In the old days S.F. Edge perhaps overdid it on behalf of Napier and A.G., but a pithy letter to the correspondence columns of the magazine concerned is better, surely, than a strong silence ?

Success in competition events is perhaps the best publicity of all and if we are fortunate our Board of Directors will encourage this activity, appointing a Competitions Manager to look after the special department concerned. The Publicity Manager must work in close liaison; if no competition department is envisaged he should do his utmost to assist private entrants driving his firm’s cars.

It is significant that today four out of our five big manufacturers take competition work seriously—B.M.C., Ford, Rootes and Standard. The Standard/Triumph group also encourages private owners of Triumph TR2s, in a very practical manner.

Individual runs and stunts come very much within the compass of a Publicity Manager, but it is getting more and more difficult to think up original feats. In the past they have been many, ranging from ambitious trans-Continental safaris and record bids, to top-gear struggles between capital cities in Great Britain.

They have included the ascent of Snowdon, up the railway track. by A.C. and Stoneleigh light cars, the climbing of the steps at Clovelly by a bevy of A.C.s, an ascent of Ben Nevis in 1911 by a model-T Ford (Sydney Allard tried this between the World Wars, but his Ford V8 Special rolled down the mountainside). Round Britain Runs on a given expenditure of fuel and oil, such as accomplished by a couple of 1927 Singer Juniors, the Round-the-World Tour and 30,000 miles in 30,000 minutes in Invictas by the Cordery sisters, foreshadowers of popular Sheila Van Damm, which won them the Dewar Trophy on two occasions, Austin’s attack on American stock-car records at Indianapolis with an A90, the lovely idea of F.S. Bennett, when he mixed the bits of three Cadillacs at Brooklands and built one good one from the lot, to prove standardisation, and divers other R.A.C.-observed feats of endurance, performance and peculiarity, for which purpose Brooklands Track was exceedingly handy. In recent times such accomplishments have been fewer, because the higher speed of modern cars, more crowded roads and maybe a less gullible public have taken their toll. But quite recently these things have been done—the VW Microbus Tour of Britain. National Benzole’s 24-Hour Run at Goodwood with two Ford Anglias and their Land’s End-John o’ Groats-Land’s End with an A50 saloon, and the Inter-Varsity Land Rovers’ return journey to the Cape, etc., etc.

The fifty consecutive ascents of Bwylch-y-Groes which won a Rover 14/45 saloon the R.A.C. Dewar Trophy in 1926 might well be repeated in 1955 by those seeking to publicise air-cooled ears like the VW, Citroen 2 c.v., Allard Clipper or Bond, or the new little Fiat 600 with its unconventional location of the radiator.

The Big Five see the value of their own house magazine—the Ford Times, Austin Magazine, Motoring (Nuffield), Modern Motoring and Travel (Rootes), Standard Car Review and Vauxhall Owner—but these usually require a complete separate staff under a competent editor and are outside the direct province of ourselves as Publicity Manager !

Before the war Rolls-Royce had the splendid idea of issuing the most beautifully contrived publications, one about Rolls-Royce cars, the other to do with the Bentley, which were full of photographs of these cars in elegant settings all over the world. The paper was glossy art, the blocks superb, and the cost I would not care to contemplate. Yet this was a wonderful means of advertising the dignity of Rolls-Royce products, even if a lean 1920 Silver Ghost standing in the shadow of an Eastern Temple always seemed to me to emphasise the ugliness of the forward-set radiator of later Rolls-Royce cars. There is little justice in the world, for I remember congratulating the R-R publicity man, the late Millard-Buckley, on these magnificent publications which he was generous enough to have sent to me, saying what a fine life he must lead driving about in a “Phantom III” with his Leica looking for material. “I may get the Leica,” he replied, “but they don’t provide the Rolls-Royce, I drive about in an old Rover.” His best memorial is the present R-R catalogue; anyone who knew the pre-war product can only weep.

From which memory arises the conviction, in this breast at least, that good photographs of fine cars in natural surroundings are the finest of all publicity pictures.

Many manufacturers associate themselves with the appropriate one-make clubs to their mutual benefit. A.C. Cars take an active interest in the A.C.O.C., the Bentley Drivers’ Club has the blessing of Rolls-Royce Limited (there is a Rolls-Royce Trophy in the Club’s possession). The late Ettore Bugatti presented the B.O.C. with a Grand Prix Bugatti for members’ use before the war, while the M.G., Riley and Sunbeam-Talbot Clubs are actually factory-sponsored.

Well-presented cars of historic antiquity have a very definite publicity value, which makes it hard to understand why until recently the Rootes’ Group has cold-shouldered the Humber and Sunbeam Registers. As Rosetti Publicity Manager I should hasten to present a trophy to the Rosetti Enthusiasts C.C.! If I were Publicity Manager to an old-established firm I would nudge the Directors’ elbow when a veteran or Edwardian specimen “our” make came on the market—and, purchased and restored, I should hope that the worthy vehicle would become not so much a museum piece as an active travelling representation of the quality of Blank cars down the years, with myself at the wheel on suitable occasions. Austin, Nuffield, Rootes and Vauxhall do, of course, possess stables of antiques for this very purpose. In charge of such a stable I should be very careful never to abuse the old vehicles—as once happened when a veteran de Dion Bouton appeared in a gymkhana for the purpose of transporting a Lyons’ “Nippy” in a brief bathing-costume from the scene of a beauty-parade. (Someone pass Miss Nagle a glass of water, quickly, please!)

After attending to these many aspects of the god Publicity, should I relax ? Or should I cope patiently and politely with the obscure requests of editors and journalists, plan the firm’s stand at Earls Court, hustle the photographer to the touching scene of famous film-star taking delivery (having jumped the queue and sans any sign of a cheque) of her new Blank and try to rustle up a bigger and better advertising stunt embracing all the Blank models (mechanical, not flesh and blood, Mr. Ticklebottom) ?

The Press can drive you nearly round the bend at times, with their frantic requests for a sectional drawing Of the 1910 swash-plate Blank or the weight of last year’s station-wagon with the doors removed, but what seems peurile to the publicity tycoon can be life-and-death to the journalist and it pays to humour them in the long run. Coming from Blank Motors to real life, the Ford people run a model Press Service which I, in my newly-acquired job, would hope to emulate on a smaller scale.

Thinking up fresh stunts is the most difficult of the lot and I would hardly hope to emulate the Sternol Oil £5 flag scheme, whereby motorists spotting the flag and producing a tin of Sternol were paid a real crisp fiver; or the gambit of the Pierce-Arrow people who steered one of their cars through crowded city streets with a shifting spanner replacing the steering wheel to demonstrate the lightness of the steering; or Alan Hess, who flew and motored an Austin A40 Sports Round the World in three weeks, outpacing Jules Verne. But if it were baby cars like the Citroen 2cv, or Fiat 600 I had to publicise, how about a race round Hyde Park in the rush-hour between Stirling Moss and Mike Hawthorn, Ken Wharton to act as starter, with Lord Lucas on the finishing line ?

On that note I must leave you, readers gentle and otherwise, for the Motorcar is on the ‘phone asking why I allowed the Auto to test the new Blank Straight-Twelve before they had had a smell of it, my managing director has come in waving the latest catalogue on which the printers have posed a nude instead of a bathing beauty against one of our cars, and anyway it’s 11.15 a.m. and time for lunch.—W. B. [Which all goes to prove what Publicity does to you 1.—Ed.]