A few weeks ago we attended a Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Detroit event hosted by ArvinMeritor. The event, “Detroit Three PR Executives Discuss Communication Polices and News Approval Process,” turned out to be much more than simply walking through the guidelines and giving the PR pros in the room a lecture about what the former “Big Three” (Chrysler Group, LLC., Ford Motor Company and General Motors) will not approve.

If you have previously attempted to get anything approved by a major automaker, you know it has not always been the most seamless process. Katie Helper, manager of corporate communications at Chrysler, gave a new outlook on working with them stating, “There is no more secret handshake.”

Todd Nissen, manager of corporate and supplier communications for Ford, and Tom Wilkinson, news relations for General Motors, reinforced much of the feedback and advice Katie shared. They stressed that as most companies in the manufacturing industry have experienced staff reductions, any way to help promote positive news is welcome.

A few things to keep in mind when working with the Detroit Three or any automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM):

  • Play by the rules. Make sure to reference their suppler guidelines before submitting anything to them for review.
  • Give them reasonable time to review. There are multiple contacts that may need to review and approve materials, sometimes including contacts in the purchasing department. If you know something is coming but don’t necessarily have anything ready for review yet, give them a call and talk through your ideas and they can often help you get your materials approved faster. Standard guidelines advise two weeks advance notice.
  • Think about how your news announcement can benefit all parties involved, not just your client. Automakers are dealing with multiple news stories and announcements nearly every day, so differentiating your story will make it more timely and worthwhile to approve.
  • Think beyond the press release. Can your clients engage and collaborate in new and creative ways with OEMs such as through social media, ride-and-drives or events?
  • Don’t break news! There is no faster or easier way to damage a relationship with customers than by breaking their news first.
  • Give a heads-up. If you know coverage is going to run that features news about their company, let them know before it runs. Help them be prepared, especially if sensitive information was shared during an interview.

Overall, it was refreshing to hear the automakers’ willingness and excitement to collaborate and help promote positive news for the industry.

—Deana Goodrich and Jenn Korail