A Great PR Caper

Among other cool projects in my automotive career, I had the good fortune to work on the original Dodge Viper. While then-Chrysler reaped many benefits from this vehicle launch, it was a PR bonanza of major proportions.

How so?

The free media coverage generated by this car was astronomical. You can’t buy the kind of ga-ga gushing coverage from journalists that they wrote or talked on-air about this car.

Originally released in “any color you want, so long as it’s red,” when the next color was announced, jet black, Jay Leno was first in line and took delivery of the first black Viper. That’s newsworthy in itself, a well-known celebrity with a passion for cars plunking his cash down on a potential collector car.

But eclipsing that event was when the first-ever Viper (in red) was delivered to Los Angeles, it was featured on the 6:00 news. I was in Los Angeles and happened to see the newscast. I was dumbfounded at the coverage. Before or since, I have never seen coverage on the arrival of a car at a dealership.

When the opening of the newscast listed the major news being reported, the delivery of “First Viper in LA” was mentioned. When the segment aired, there was a reporter at the car dealership with a team filming live as the first LA Viper was being backed off the car transporter and driven past the camera, complete with the requisite vroom-vroom.

The excitement in the reporter’s voice about this newsworthy event surprised me. Here they were, in Tinseltown where movie stars and celebrities dominate the headlines, and they’re agog over a car? They were more excited than covering the Oscars or a grand opening of the next blockbuster at Mann’s Chinese Theater.

Delving into how this was accomplished or the reason for the enthusiasm is a research project that digs into what lies behind successful PR. I’d like to focus on the impact of successful PR and how this helps a product’s success.

How much press coverage did Chrysler receive for the Dodge Viper? More than they could have purchased if they spent the entire vehicle development budget on media advertising.

What was even more astounding was that Chrysler was solidly recovering from its second death knell. The LH sedans, dubbed “Last Hope” by the media, had been launched and were a success. The Neon had launched and was doing well. Minivans continued to be strong, and the new Dodge Ram pick-up was making waves.

But the general public perception of Chrysler was still of a company on the verge of bankruptcy. Again. The media didn’t cover the resurgence of a nearly-dead car company, nor the strong sales of several new models. Instead, they went ga-ga over a hot-rod, overpowered sports car that looked and sounded bad to the bone.

Perhaps the fact that Chrysler was in such dire straits and could pull off a car like the Viper made the story that much more interesting.

The end result was nationwide media publicity of the Viper that drove customer awareness and showroom traffic that spilled over into sales of all Dodge vehicles.

The moral of this story? Great PR drives brand and product awareness and interest. Awareness and interest result in serious consideration of the product, resulting in the purchase.

Before The Close occurs, the customer needs to move through the steps of awareness, interest, investigation, serious consideration, decision, and then purchase. PR is your starting point to drive awareness and interest. Marketing takes over to increase interest, satisfy investigation, develop interest into serious consideration, turn that into ready to decide, all of which primes the customer to finally decide and purchase.

(As mentioned in my previous blog post, great PR & Marketing can move the customer all the way through to deciding to buy and ready to purchase, making The Close easy.)

If you want to go viral, PR is an essential ingredient. I tend to lump it in with Marketing as both of them change and shape customer opinion, but PR is a technology in its own right and should be recognized for what it brings to the table.

Use PR properly and watch your bottom line soar.


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