I read a comment on Facebook somewhere recently: ‘they’re falling like flies’. And I flinched for a moment, because the flies being referred to, was us. But it’s not too late to save our species though.
On a wider scale, we’re seeing the erosion of real quality journalism with unfortunate consequences on real world events that will impact us all sooner or later. But I’ve written about all that elsewhere. Today I want to micro this down to automotive media, and further zero-in on our region.
Just this week alone I’ve heard of a handful of casualties in the local car journalism field. And whilst they are obviously rivals, some of them are friends and people that I respect and appreciate. So I take no glee when I hear of people losing their jobs or having to move on. It’s sad and indicative of a distressing trend.
Some time ago I wrote warning people off a career path such as I chose nearly 30 years ago – Don’t be an Car Journalist – and some of what I predicted in that portentous piece is now playing out for real. Carmageddon might be further down the road still (but inevitable nonetheless), but in the meanwhile yours truly and my kind are being prematurely catapulted towards extinction.
Obviously a large part of traditional media – and I’m looking at you dead trees and ink – is dinosauric (if that wasn’t a real word, it is now) and was always going to struggle for survival in this new media renaissance, but even those evolving and adapting with the times are not safe, or necessarily being rewarded, and can be termed if not Jurassic behemoths, then potential Digital Dodos.
And it’s not that we’ve come too little too late either. It’s that the tarmac is being pulled out from under our wheels by two very distinct forces: Advertisers (or lack of) and Influencers (too many of).
Let’s tackle the latter first (because they’ll partly segue into the former). And first let me go on record as saying I have nothing against the rise of the SnapChatters and Instagrammers per se – they’ve identified a niche, they’re mastering it in their own ways, they’re working it and making it work, and to an extent, they’ve created a whole new industry out of literally nothing. So kudos and respect where it’s due!
However the vast majority of them bring no substance to their coverage of a product or service. What you get is usually a pic (a pretty pic mind) and a post. So they should be seen by manufacturers and PRs as an additional or supplemental offering in their armoury of media exposure.
But there are two problems. Firstly – Bullshit Numbers. No doubt some are legit celeb-level Influencers with huge numbers (although read this for proof that micro-influencers are more effective than macro-influencers), but most have just mastered the dark arts of manipulating the follower-figures and self-promoting their alleged impact so brazenly, that fiction becomes fact, and spurious reach trumps actual impact.
Secondly – they are supremely malleable. And that makes perfect sense of course, because they are not, after all, journalists. They never took any kind of journalistic equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath to be independent, fair, free and truthful. Honestly neither did most of us journalists either. And the reality of journalism – as already been alluded to above – is very far from those ideals these days.
Nonetheless those are ideals that on some level, whether subconsciously or legislatively, we scribes-in-service all strive for. And along the way, we accumulate and even enshrine knowledge, credibility, authority and experience of our subject matters, which of course naturally endows us with a level of gravitas when we cover cars and the automotive industry.
As for Influencers, for the most part, pay them and they’ll say, do and post whatever you like. You’ll never get negative or even questioning coverage from them.
And there’s that segue I was referring too. You have to pay for Influencers – and whilst at the genesis of this era of Influencers they used to be happy to turn up to your event for a Goody Bag or a few hundred dirhams, these days I’ve heard outlandish numbers popping up across our industry – $10,000-15,000 for a single Instagram post for example! And we’re not even taking major league celeb-level Grammers.
Again, fair play to them, if people are dumb enough to fall for your con, can I really begrudged you the opportunities you’re tapping into? No, not really.
Okay, well maybe just a little. Actually a little more than that, in particularly when it eats into our pot. And therein lies the rub.
Advertising revenue for media is diminishing at an alarming rate, and as many marketing budgets slice off large amounts to dedicate to Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising (between them they take 20% of global advertising budgets), the remaining amount is divvied up to media outlets, which now also include Influencers – and they’re clearly scooping up a larger amount of the pie then we are. By some margin!
For most media organisations, advertising is their lifeblood, without which they have no choice but to shutter up and take the long walk of honour into oblivion. A lot of larger properly-run organisations have large infrastructures – the economies of scale were efficient when times were good, but in these chastened days these become burdensome liabilities.
For smaller organisations like ours, Motoring Middle East, where we are flexible, able to adapt to changing circumstances more easily, and can keep our overheads to an absolute minimum, (plus produce genuinely engaging and worthwhile branded content!) it is possible to eke out a living. Just about.
But with the twinned problem of advertising cutting their budgets and agencies taking forever and an age to pay up, resulting in crippling extra costs to counter stunted cashflow – nothing is guaranteed in these uncertain days.
However all is not lost. There are still enough of us good guys to make a go of it; still bringing the A-game and doing good work, whilst being appreciated, respected, admired, and followed by a genuine flesh-and-blood audience. Not multi-digit numerals at the bottom of a post, but people that recognise you on the street and stop you to ask for car-buying advice (which happens surprisingly often to us – and we welcome it!).
It’s up to manufacturers, dealers, advertisers and PRs to take a stand and decide they will support serious media – in addition of course to courting the cool kids on SnapChat.
Remember that buying a car for most people is a big step, and whose advice do they seek when choosing their next motor? The floozy with followers and the mannequin with makeup, or the experience dedicated auto-journalist who is ardently sincere in dispensing the soundest advice and information possible?
Influencers may be a passing fad, or they’re here to stay – personally I think they are probably here to stay, at least until they are usurped by the next big thing – but if this trend does pass, Marketers and PRs may well pop their heads back up and look around for proper media, only to find there isn’t any left.
Don’t let that happen.