First Annual National Tire Safety Week
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
CEO

First Annual National Tire Safety Week

Following the Ford/Firestone tire recall, the issue of tire safety and maintenance became an area of concern for many Americans. Additionally, with the attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans felt apprehensive about air travel, and returned to the road in record numbers.

Paul Holmes

Following the Ford/Firestone tire recall, the issue of tire safety and maintenance became an area of concern for many Americans. Additionally, with the attacks of September 11, 2001, many Americans felt apprehensive about air travel, and returned to the road in record numbers.
The Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) saw an important opportunity to expand its consumer awareness campaign for tire safety, aiming to propel its current local tire safety efforts nationally. Dittus created a program, National Tire Safety Week (NTSW), which took place from April 29-May 3, 2002, to educate consumers about proper tire safety while highlighting the industry’s proactive efforts to legislators and policymakers.
RMA knew that it had a relatively dull, but very important safety issue on its hands when it approached Dittus Communications to create a national campaign to promote tire safety prior to the summer travel season. A major challenge Dittus faced in promoting and branding the first-time campaign was how to make tire safety an appealing topic to consumers and the media. Dittus also needed to show the importance of the issue, but make it easy to understand for consumers who say, “I have a tire gauge but no idea how to use it.“
Objectives for NTSW were to create widespread awareness among consumers of the importance of proper tire care; inform legislators and policymakers on the industry’s efforts to educate individuals on tire safety; and engage participation from RMA partners in NTSW.
  In an effort to gauge consumer awareness about tire safety and maintenance, RMA commissioned FrederickPolls to conduct a series of regional and national surveys. The findings stated that 89 percent of drivers surveyed do not check their tire pressure regularly. These and other statistics became integral in the development of an overall strategy.
Target audiences for the campaign were general consumers/drivers, tire industry leaders, lawmakers, policymakers and tire dealers/manufacturers. Of the general consumer segment, an emphasis was placed on women, as research from the survey indicated that only nine percent of female drivers are checking their tire pressure correctly, lower than the national average of 11 percent.
Dittus employed a third-party spokesperson, Car Smarts author and car expert, Mary Jackson, to promote the issue of tire safety to women, a key target audience for RMA, and to drivers overall.
RMA enlisted representatives from the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to participate in the launch-day press conference. Retail partners including Sears Auto Center, Merchant’s Tire, National Tire & Battery, and Discount Tire held tire safety events as a result of our outreach to them prior to the campaign.
Dittus devised a dual-city launch in Washington, D.C., and New York City simultaneously to educate both lawmakers and consumers. The Washington event was designed to be a “hard news” press conference during which RMA announced the results of its research, and additional participants included AAA and NHTSA. The New York event utilized Mary Jackson to appeal to a broader consumer audience, and included a television satellite media tour and briefings with high-profile consumer print media.
To prepare individuals for the summer driving season, Dittus assisted RMA in conducting six local city tire safety tours from March 21-April 18, 2002, prior to NTSW. RMA selected the Southeast region because in that area, the damaging effects of heat, combined with underinflation, often result in tire failure. Educational events were held at partner locations in Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Birmingham, Ala.; Tampa, Fla.; Raleigh, N.C.; and Columbia, S.C.
Dittus drafted content for the RMA Member Kit for its association members, retailers, and partners including “dos and don’ts,” ”how tos,“ and tips for dealing with the media. The kit and press materials were available at the RMA Web site at http://www.rma.org/.
Dittus secured a story with CNN by providing the network with an early interview with Jackson and the research results three days before launch. The story was produced and completed early, ready to air on the morning of the launch of NTSW.
Nationally, Dittus pitched the Wire services, television and radio stations, daily newspapers, women’s magazines, men’s magazines, automotive press, general consumer media, and online media outlets. The local markets were pitched upon each individual city tour, and we also reached out to the weekly community newspapers by drafting and disseminating a consumer matte release.
To entice the broadcast media to cover NTSW, Dittus created a media “teaser” consisting of a mini tire filled with automotive products including RMA tire gauges, the tire safety brochure, flares and a reflective triangle—all encased in shrink-wrap and secured with a bungee cord. Dittus took an innovative approach by targeting “Today Show” weatherman Willard Scott. The teaser was well received by Scott’s producer, and the RMA tire tips made it on the air.
 Dittus’ strategy and media outreach garnered approximately 400 million media impressions and nearly 1,000 placements, including a mention in Parade. As NTSW proved to be a very visual story, it was a significant success with television stations across the country. The CNN story was three minutes in length, featured Jackson, and ran on CNN’s “American Morning with Paula Zahn,” CNN’s “Live Today,” and was picked up by hundreds of top market television stations. CNN “Headline News” ran the story nearly 100 times over the course of two days, and the producers of the show invited RMA’s president, Don Shea, to participate in a live anchor interview. As part of the media tour, Jackson conducted desk-side briefings with Parade, Good Housekeeping, and Self magazines, and her satellite media tour yielded a dozen interviews in local TV markets across the country.
The Washington, D.C. press conference was attended by NHTSA and AAA executives who provided relevant statistics on tire failure and the importance of tire safety. Also attending were trade and print media representatives and more than 12 national broadcast outlets. With pending legislation for tire pressure monitoring systems, it was important for RMA to offer the government’s perspective and to earn positive Washington coverage and position themselves as a credible voice for the tire industry.
The local city tours at tire dealer locations prior to NTSW alone garnered 1.6 million impressions from 54 placements. RMA members and partners gained valuable exposure as tire safety advocates by providing valuable information to their customers, including brochures, tire gauges and window stickers. In addition, activity on the RMA site peaked in April with 40,092 visitor sessions and 20,446 unique visitors.
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