Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2003   by Andrew Ross

CounterTalk: Knowledge Building – Promoting Car Care

In many parts of the country, warmer weather has come late but fast, which will leave many consumers looking for ways to wash off the winter grime, both literally and figuratively. Your challenge is to get them to come to you.

With May Car Care Month rolling around, you’ll start hearing some of the larger players running consumer marketing campaigns, enticing them to buy everything from waxes and polishes to accessories.

With the limited marketing budgets that many jobbers have, launching local-market initiatives to compete with the big box retailers is probably out of the question. Typically, national chains roll out spring specials on a variety of car care products, as well as promotions on spring vehicle inspections. You know: 53 points for $19.95. This does get consumers in the door and the inspection promotion can be easily duplicated by your trade customers, and probably is.

The difference is, of course, that the big players will splash their specials all over the airwaves, while the local independent will generally make do with a sign out front and some flyers.

As daunting as it may seem, though, to leave behind that one-dimensional come-on, appealing to the consumer does not have to involve slick television commercials.

Here are a few tips on how to put a plan of action together:

1) Find out the locations, addresses, and phone numbers of the local media. It may seem like a simplistic first step, but you’d be surprised how many people never get past it.

2) Don’t call yet. Put a plan together of what you want to do. Be realistic about how much you can accomplish. Then call just to find out the deadlines of the local newspapers. Don’t just call the advertising department; call the editorial department, too. Their deadlines will be different.

3) Prepare a budget. Whether you are thinking of just running some ads in the local paper or want to take a public relations approach, you’ll need to at least get an idea of how much money you want to spend.

4) Take into account co-op dollars from suppliers. Pick your best three suppliers of car care-related products and get their commitments. Also, ask for their advice. Many reps have seen more failed campaigns than a Canadian Alliance candidate in Quebec, and can offer advice on pitfalls to avoid.

5) Gather the materials you need: images and copy for any ads you may want to run, scripts for radio spots, or products for demonstrations.

6) Consider putting a plan together that combines print and live components.

7) Pitch story ideas to the local media. Consider, for example, a car washing clinic. Couched in the right terms in a press release and follow-up phone call, you can likely attract the local newspaper and maybe even television station to hear from the “experts” on how to properly clean and protect “your second largest investment: your car.” The trick is that the clinic you do for the media can’t be the same one you do for the consumer. You should do both, however. The media event should be held during the week, possibly early in the week. You may be surprised by the fact that, for example, you may have to get information to a local newspaper the week prior to when you might want something to appear.

8) Editorial media coverage is great, but you can’t count on it. Your little story may be slotted in for the front page on one day, but then a barn burns down and your coverage goes up in smoke. So you should always have a plan to distribute flyers or have paid advertising appear when you want it. As we say in the business: free publicity is great, but you sometimes get what you pay for.

9) Make notes and keep records so that next year, you can pull out a file and skip a few steps.

10) Thank all of the people who helped you along the way. This includes reps, staff, and reporters who showed up for your event, and consumers, too. You’re not going to compete with the big box players on price or, likely, selection. But you have them beaten hands down when it comes to personal service. Don’t let your advantage slip away.

The Automotive Industries Association of Canada has some car care resources available at, as does The Car Care Council in the U.S. at Of particular note is the Event Planner under the Industry section.

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