In what ways can limousine operators use public relations to improve their visibility in their local communities?
There are so many things that are changing in the limousine market, such as the advent of SUVs being used for limousines, and the media have only recently come to realize that limousines are a viable and yet luxurious source of transportation for special events. Limousine operators, if they have new or interesting vehicles, can send letters and photos to their newspapers to get see if they would be interested to talk about some of the new trends and products. what they’ve got. Operators also might garner a lot of free publicity, especially around prom times, weddings and such. Operators might also use consumer awareness campaigns on what to do – how to pick a limo for a wedding, how to pick a provider of services, how to have a safe and stylish prom, the parents’ guide to limos, etc. You can also get involved with the local high schools that are having proms. Every school has a school paper. Maybe they’d be interested to know how to pick a limo. What kind of limo do you want? Do you want a bigger limo? What’s the advantage of the limo? Operators can position these types of things and do it as a consumer favor to a very targeted audience at each high school.
What sort of image do you believe the industry has?
The industry has gone through a lot of change with the advent of sedans being used by the business community versus stretches. There used to be a lot more glamour attached to the limousines; they were seen as a safe option for large groups versus just an individual rental. So, limousines are conceived to be group events versus an individual rental, which the black car industry has taking over.
What are some of the main challenges limousine operators face in regards to public relations?
The greatest challenge is sameness, basically appearing to be just like the next guy. Limousine operators need to promote the insides of their cars as much as they do the outsides. What matters is not so much the outside of the vehicles or how long they are, but what amenities you have on the inside. Operators need to realize that they’re in show business. It’s not just about transportation—it’s about show business. If it was about transportation, people would rent a car and a driver. It’s about the journey as much as getting there. Operators could offer the cars to the morning news show. Offer to take the host somewhere to do live remotes. Make the vehicles available that are really special and have outrageous interiors. Operators need to play the experience, and they need to play to the right crowd. If you have a stretched Hummer, that’s news, versus, lets say, a stretched Lincoln. Just play it to the crowd and understand that each of these crowds read and are influenced by certain publications, TV and radio outlets.
How might small limousine operators more efficiently utilize the Internet for marketing?
You can never have too many pictures on the Internet, and descriptions. Operators need to show a complete list of their inventory and the interiors of each. Usually, people that go to the Internet are shopping price. I would also be very aware of the Internet presence of competitors. Be aware of your marketplace by being aware of what your competitors do.
In these times of economic downturn, is it important for limousine operators, especially small businesses, to change their marketing strategies to stay afloat?
People always want – especially in the U.S. at this time – a good time; they’re always looking forward to reward themselves. Stretch limousines encourage people to have a good group event, a night out, a special evening, and to do it safely without having to worry about who’s going to drive home. Safety, convenience and a sense of wellbeing are what people need to promote in the limousine industry.
How can operators continue to market their operation while at the same time try to save costs?
They need a rifle approach versus a shotgun approach in regards to who they intend to hit. Operators know who their audience is. If there’s an event coming up, like the Super Bowl, what are these people going to look for in a limousine? Where are they going to look? Hit it there. I don’t think you can go out to the broad market anymore. I think that it’s just become too expensive to do that. Also, personal relationships are coming back. Get to know all the wedding planners in the phone book, and every tux and gown rental place in town should be your best friend – and make it worth their while. Perhaps there’s a way that you can reward them; offer a finder’s fee or something. Develop a system that works for you economically. You need to have visibility where people are renting for an occasion.
How could the limo industry take advantage of its high profile to gain positive PR?
With the advent of the new SUVs becoming limousines, I would call the local newspapers and say “Did you know that SUVs are being used for limos now? It’s a growing trend, and we have one of the greatest examples here.” Cite yourself as a source for when the media need to do a story on limousines.
How should operators handle facing the media should they be involved in an accident?
If it’s a high-profile accident, what all operators should do before they even open their doors, is have a crisis communications plan. First of all, you have to take into account the legal, lawful situation, and who’s involved and that type of thing. There should be one central source for information, and that should be cleared immediately with the legal counsel of the operator. The fact is that you can’t tell the media “no comment.” The operator always has to express interest in the well being of the passengers that were involved in those things. Make yourself available as soon as the correct and accurate information is available. Tell the media what they need to know. Be careful not to tell them more than you should and clear it all with your legal counsel. Everybody should have a crisis communication plan and that’s best done with a local public relations firm that has some experience with crisis communication. Just have them develop a quick plan as to what can be said and what can’t be said. Know what you have to tell the media and what you don’t have to tell the media. Just remember that “no comment” sometimes means “guilty” in the court of public opinion.
How is public relations different from advertising?
The readers of the publication need to realize that there are several ways to get information out and to get you customers – word of mouth, advertising and public relations. Public relations is less expensive in many places than advertising and it can get a lot more attention. It’s best to have a consistent program, not something that stops and starts. In many ways, public relations is limited only by your imagination and not necessarily by your pocket book.
Molina’s company Web site is at www.jmprpublicrelations.com. He is based in Woodland Hills, Calif., and can be reached by phone at (818) 992-4353.