Public relations experts always remind their clients: ``Never screw up on a slow news day.'' It's smart advice for any company, but ultra-timely for image-conscious tire dealers.
There's no slow news day for the automotive repair business. An auto is the second-largest investment most consumers make. The marauding media knows there's a minority element out there trying to exploit this investment any way they can. Sadly, the misdeeds of a small minority have tainted everyone in the vehicle service industry.
Dealers who prepare themselves will find working with the press-both the print and electronic media-much easier and more bene-ficial than they imagined. In many cases, a dealership's interaction with local media occurs when reporters need input from tire or auto repair experts-you.
A phone call from a newspaper reporter in Chambersburg, Pa., reminded me how much a refresher on press relations would benefit most service personnel. The paper was running a prepackaged auto maintenance supplement and the reporter was told to put a local slant on it by culling tips from local service professionals.
After several unsuccessful calls, the reporter said, he telephoned Scott's Tire Service, where owner Bill Scott answered his questions. (Mr. Scott suggested me as an additional source.)
Conclusions? Mr. Scott's politeness and cooperation easily distinguished him from other local ser-vice personnel, earning him some quotes in the story. Also, most service personnel come across as uncooperative and uncommunicative, the reporter said.
A few pointers are all you usually need to communicate effectively with a reporter. The simplest set of pointers I've seen, keyed to the letters P-R-E-S-S, appeared recently in Big O Tires Inc.'s newsletter, the Treadmore Tribune.
P is for ``prepare.'' Prepare mentally by getting enthused about the interview. Being enthusiastic about your work and your recommendations can make you sound more credible. In a personal interview, maintaining good eye contact boosts believability.
Old-fashioned courtesy-sending useful information ahead of time via fax-helps credibility.
Identify the most important things you want the reader to know. Get to the point with simple, specific sentences explaining these points. Never assume your audience will read between the lines or draw the desired conclusion from your statements.
You can't always prepare statements beforehand and these sometimes sound stiff and insincere. Try jotting a several-word summation of each main thought on an index card. Use it as a memory-jogger during the interview.
For the best results, plan ahead by scheduling an interview when you can give it your undivided attention. Business distractions can invite mistakes and misstatements, and diminish the importance of the interview.
R is for ``relax.'' Take your time answering questions. Pausing before responding is a sign of forethought as opposed to weakness. Plus, speaking slowly improves accuracy by making it easier for the reporter to keep up with you.
E is for ``explain.'' Never assume the reporter shares your enthusiasm for cars or auto repair. He or she may not know a lug nut from a ``plus 2'' fitment, so shelve the shop lingo and speak plain English. If the reporter looks confused, rephrase yourself and use additional or different examples.
S is for ``sincere.'' Always follow the rule that if you don't want something in print, don't say it! Off-record remarks often confuse a reporter or undermine the significance of your on-record comments.
Always invite the reporter to follow up with other questions or ask for additional clarification where needed. Don't lie, exaggerate or gossip about competitors. If you do, it's extremely possible the reporter will find out you did. Your reputation as a reliable automotive source will be shot-not to mention having to undo a lie.
S is for ``search.'' When the interview goes smoothly, politely search for other chances to earn your business more exposure.
Mention that you can provide input on tires or other auto service or car-related stories the paper does. If you appear fair, knowledgeable and cooperative, the reporter's likely to call you again.
Remember: A successful interview gets your name into the paper's news section, where folks who ordinarily ignore tire ads will see it and read your insightful remarks. And you won't have to compete with other names in ads.