|Kahn Media's Dan Kahn says the old PR strategies of press releases and free product are now only part of a total marketing strategy.|
At 30 years old, Dan Kahn of Kahn Media is redefining the very role of public relations in the automotive aftermarket. By helping companies with real-world budgets like Hotchkis, Red Line Oil, and Spectre dominate the social media and online landscape, Kahn is proving that online smarts and strategy can overcome larger competitors with more traditional marketing plans.
A life-long automotive enthusiast and member of SEMA's Young Executives Network council, Kahn has translated his passion and years of experience in editorial and public relations into a successful career. Here he shares his thoughts on building a successful online media plan:
What has changed about marketing within the performance industry?
"Five years ago, all you needed to do was run print ads, traditional press releases, send out some free parts to editors, and maybe do a press clipping report. Today that strategy will doom you. Back then, 100% of your marketing budget could go to print advertising and it was hard to screw up. Magazines are still important, but today they shouldn't represent more than 20–30% of your marketing budget."
So how should a company look at their marketing in the current landscape?
"The unfortunate reality for a marketing director in 2010 is that the 70% in remaining budget needs to be carved up into little tiny slices. Items such as online advertising; forums; blogs; video content; social media advertising such as Facebook; press releases; keywords; and in bulking up your editorial creation capabilities. Before, all you needed was a fat print budget and a 'PR guy' that could butter up editors and send out free parts. The bulk of the dollars that were going to print now need to be distributed into more resources, more people and a vision and strategy to attack those little slices."
What role does public relations have in this emerging media model?
"While traditional public relations activities—the act of sending out press releases to media and product to editors—are still important, the role has expanded into a 360-degree approach. We spend the lion's share of our time for clients creating content that isn't just a stiff press release. Generating editorial content, video clips, spy shots of new products and answering feedback from forums, websites and blogs all falls under the PR banner in 2010. It's not simple like it used to be. Our clients need a strategy that engages the consumer where he is learning, reading and educating himself."
Let's say you are a successful performance company, but you're not investing online yet. Where do you start?
"Without a doubt, you build yourself a premier website. If you don't have a great web presence, all of your other online marketing will not be effective. Make sure you have a good newsfeed or blog on your homepage, and you need to install Google Analytics so you can track your overall traffic. Then you need to do a good review of your resources: who do you have dedicated to online marketing? If the answer is no one, you need to figure out how to bring some expertise in-house, or hire a company that can help you create a good online plan. It's too difficult and slow to learn it."
Any tips that are low-cost or free to get started with?
"First, collect all of the e-mails that you can get your hands on. Canvas your sales department, customer service department and vendor lists. Getting started with a good e-mail newsletter that gets mailed regularly is a good start. Make sure your website collects e-mail addresses from new visitors. Facebook and YouTube are good websites that can give you free exposure in return for a little time and sweat equity.
Tell us about your strategy with online forums and blogs?
"Forums and blogs have tremendous potential for our clients, but here's the rub: If you can handle the dialog with the customer effectively and also be willing to be totally transparent, it can be great. If you're not yet willing to open yourself up to organic discussion on your products, you will really struggle. You need to be willing to post fresh content, spy pictures, basically release information and provide public customer service. It's not formal and you can open yourself up to criticism, sometimes founded, sometimes not."
Pretend you are a marketing director for a performance company. How do you defend to your CEO a forum post that turns negative, as he questions how you could ever put the company in that position?
"I would tell my CEO that this type of marketing is aggressive and important, but not without risks. Ninety percent of the time when something negative is addressed publicly, the best thing you can do is acknowledge the issue, address it and work to find a resolution. And 10% of the time, you're just dealing with a customer who just isn't going to be happy no matter what. You need to be professional, strong and helpful. And if the CEO comes down on you for the negative press, you need to explain to him or her that you can't please all of the people all of the time. We take a measured risk for engaging the public directly, and it's worth the negative issues when they come up. The only way to avoid this is to avoid engaging the customer, and that's the death of our company."
If you are a young marketer in your company, how should you approach your company principals with new ideas and emerging technologies? Should you be overly persistent in pushing your company into the 21st century? What if they resist?
"Here are a few facts that many people in our industry don't fully appreciate: This year Gen Y will outnumber the Baby Boomer generation, and 96% of them have joined some type of social network. It took TV 13 years to reach 50 million users, yet Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine months. The fastest-growing segment on Facebook is 55–65 year olds. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world. What does all that mean? Social media is the fastest growing communication method in modern history. Your competitors are getting onboard in a big way. If you're not, you'll be in a defensive position from here on out."
How do you feel about the statement: "This is the way it's always been done so this is the way we will continue to do it?" Do you feel that statement has any merit? As a young professional, should you listen or should you forge ahead?
"In 2010, our industry is built on the shoulders of brilliant pioneers such as Bob Petersen, Vic Edelbrock Sr., Wally Parks and Ed Iskenderian. The model they came up with worked brilliantly for 60 years. It still works. The key is not to consider digital media an "either/or" prospect when compared with print and traditional marketing. The latter two are still vital and necessary. But the former is rapidly becoming the primary form of communication for most modern companies. I believe our mission in YEN, as young executives, is to look forward for the industry as a whole and help shepherd the aftermarket into 2010 with new ideas, new ways of communicating and new forms of enthusiast-driven marketing. It benefits our individual brands and the industry as a whole."
With the emergence of the Internet and social media, do you feel that good old fashion face-to-face interaction skills are lacking with young marketers? How can you best mesh to two worlds together?
"I have found that young marketing people are overly dependent on e-mail. While Blackberry, instant messaging and e-mail communication is great, there's no replacement for a real face-to-face or phone conversation, particularly when you're building a new business relationship. I push all my people to spend as much time on the phone as possible, and we have "e-mail-free" hours where they are only allowed to use phones."