To say the last 18 months have been a challenge is an understatement. There’s been a perfect storm with the COVID-19 pandemic, worker shortages and now massive supply chain disruptions that are creating ripple effects across all industries – including consumer, electronics, medical and automotive. 

One industry that has been hit particularly hard during the pandemic is automotive. We’ve all seen the stories about empty dealership lots because of the chip shortage and the trickle-down effect on service shops that can’t get parts because of supply chain issues.

Without cars to sell, OEMs, suppliers and dealers are forced to make difficult decisions, and marketing and communications budgets are often the first to get cut to save in other critical areas. But the moment you stop telling your story, you’ve already begun to lose market share. 

Research shows that continuing your efforts in marketing and communications will help ease customer and employee uneasiness, showcasing strength and leadership. Additionally, you’re in a better position to increase market share and sales with less competition in the space

How you communicate your message is critical. Consider the changes your audiences are going through – what frustrations are they experiencing and how you can ease those frustrations, while managing expectations.  

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The perspectives we don’t often hear are from the media and the industry. How are they navigating their way through these disruptions and how can communicators help them?  

What the media wants

The current tight inventory situation may be leaving dealer lots looking more like vacant lots, but for the media, there’s no shortage of demand for stories about the health of the industry. Consumers want to know how to find the car or truck they need or desire, industry employees want the truth about prospects for continued employment and investors are basing their moves (in part) on what they’re seeing and hearing in the media.

That all means not letting up on the accelerator when it comes to developing and sharing impactful stories to get your message in front of the most people.

So, which stories sell?

We first need to look at the topics dominating headlines. For consumer-focused publications, affordability and choice are top of mind. The average price for a new vehicle is at a record high but folks still need to get around. They’re ditching public transportation because of health concerns so private vehicle ownership is the main option. So, find stories on how they can get the best deals. They may be on used car lots.

On the other hand, in industry-focused coverage, electric vehicles and related technologies are hot topics for automakers, suppliers and industry readers — especially groundbreaking innovations in battery safety and charging.

Connecting journalists with sources and information that tie in with these topics in a meaningful way is a key to success in storytelling. These words are not just dominating headlines, but online searches, as well. And with so much news consumed online, journalists are often just as concerned with search results as communications professionals. Knowing which words and subjects people are most commonly searching for, and including them in your messaging, can help give your story an edge in an increasingly competitive media landscape.

It’s really an easy call. When you spend sufficient resources to successfully market your stories to the media, you’re winning widespread distribution of your message from credible and influential sources. Not a bad investment.   

How the industry is responding

Despite the ongoing disruptions – not only from the semiconductor shortage, but also shortages in resins, steel and even labor – the auto industry remains incredibly resilient. In fact, through the pandemic automakers and suppliers have accelerated the pace of technology innovation and product development, and we’re now on the cusp of launching a staggering number of new vehicles over the next five years.

Among those, we can expect an estimated 130 new battery electric (BEV) models, along with the latest advanced driving assistance and safety systems, enhanced connectivity, cloud-based infotainment and in-vehicle experiences like never before.

Make no mistake, while production has slowed and sales are down due to lack of inventory, this industry will soon cycle back to full speed. Through this unprecedented time of accelerating product development and innovation, no brand, automaker or supplier can afford to put their marketing on pause and “wait-it-out.” To do so would leave their brand, employees and dealers out in the cold while the most forward-thinking brands continue to attract attention, customers and even the best employees with their excitement around innovation.

Certainly not every company can match the excitement of a Ford F150 Lightning, Lucid Air or Rivian R1T pickup launch. However, to compete, you need to be in the game, not sitting on the bench. Every company has something to be proud of, and in this time of accelerated innovation and product development, brands must continue to showcase the best of their innovations to remain relevant and top of mind – or they risk getting lost in the dust of an industry changing at lightning speed.

With abundant automotive innovation and much more to come, it’s imperative to keep your messages top of mind.

If you’d like to learn more about how a strategic and integrated communications program can support your business goals and guide you through these challenging times, let’s connect. 

Tina Sullivan is President and COO at Franco; Ed Garsten is a contributor to Forbes and an Integrated Media Consultant at Franco; Brian Esterberg serves as a Strategic Advisor for Franco.