Not so fast-selling cars & DIY PR; how Aston Martin fired its CEO, VW response is fine, and B&Q botched job

By Jim James,
Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of the SPEAK|pr Podcast
Andy Palmer’s response to being sacked by Aston Martin

Many people are going back to work soon, but Andy Palmer, former CEO of Aston Martin Lagonda, will not be one of them. Andy pioneered the Aston Martin SUV and Valkyrie supercar, but their share price had unfortunately lost 95% of its value over the last four years since listing. Despite analyst reports for Q1 of 2020 showing earnings down 45%, Andy Palmer and his team were supposedly still talking about reinvigorating Aston Martin as a luxury brand. However, there was no mention of a move to electric or of any other concept cars or manufacturing in China, which was one of the moves being touted by manufacturers like VW.

When news of Andy Palmer’s departure from Aston Marton broke in the newspapers and he was asked by the media about this, he said that he was not aware. In fact, he said he was, “unaware about the sacking.” When the media rang the offices of Aston Martin, they indeed said that they were reviewing the management team and somehow, the name of Tobias Moers, the boss of Mercedes AMG, is already in the frames taking over. This isn’t good for Andy Palmer, because it shows that he’s detached from the thinking of the Board, but also as a company, for them to allow this kind of news to get into the marketplace was unnecessary and an embarrassment not only for Andy Palmer, but also for the team. It presumably created a lot of anxiety for the Aston Martin team and its dealers.

The announcements that companies like Aston Martin make through these different channels can have quite an impact. The shares have not been open for trading, but as anybody would like to be treated, it also is a case for companies to make announcements about their management team into the media. From a PR point of view, what they did was unwise because it shows that there’s separation between all of the parties involved in running the business.

VW’s approach and what B&Q could have done better

Another company that has received bad news today is VW. They have been told that they’re going to need to pay compensation to 60,000 German VW owners in light of this diesel gate. The interesting thing is that the public’s response to finding out about the cheat gadgets VW put on their cars did not greatly affect the public’s perception of the brand. VW was still selling just as many cars as before. Also, they turned this into a way of reinvigorating their plans, and they decided they would become the largest manufacturer of electric vehicles in the world.

From one crisis where they were caught cheating, they flushed out the people, reinvigorated their teams, and announced that they would pay their dues immediately. Though they’ve taken a different approach to Aston Martin, both highlight the principle in PR of transparency and being respectable and respectful of people.

Measurement in terms of share price is just one of the ways people will respond to PR. Another one is brand engagement online and in-store. Instead of seizing the opportunity to reassure customers and staff of the safety of being in the store, B&Q, the DIY store, does not really offer a great customer experience these days. The queue to enter is usually long, and they lacked simple signage or instructions on things like social distancing and how to go about once inside the store, which could have been made slightly more enjoyable if they had sales or promotions, which they did not. Instead, it can be a silent and miserable experience, one where people get too tired of waiting in line that they leave before even getting to enter the store.

Website traffic says it all

B&Q’s website traffic is also pretty miserable, and almost all of their website traffic actually comes from direct search. They’re listed number 10 on the overall rank of DIY websites, and they have a bounce rate of over 43% on their website. People don’t spend much time on their website, whereas they do on Home Depot, the number one website in that category when it comes to social media engagement with brands, of which IKEA is number two. For B&Q, only about 1.2% of all the traffic to their website comes from social media. So, here’s a brand and a company that is really missing out on the opportunity. 

Looking at the Aston Martin figures on their website, almost all the traffic comes from America and in terms of its global rank, out of 145,000 websites in the world, it’s 46th in the car category. It gets 2.5% of their traffic from referrals, and nearly 75% of all traffic to Aston Martin are the result of people looking for Aston Martin, with only 2% coming from social. In other words, if you don’t know that you’re looking for an Aston Martin, you are not going to be finding out about Aston Martin by way of interruption. And so, if brands and companies are reliant on people finding them by key name, like being B&Q and Aston Martin are, this maybe accounts for the reality of their sales, because they haven’t got a halo effect. They haven’t got a referral network, and as anyone knows, businesses are not just about individuals. 

It‘s not necessary to have a huge company, but if you do, don’t simply let the store and history of the company be the selling point. As Amazon has proven, these legacy real estate ventures are vulnerable, and if you’re running a company that is not engaging with people online and using public relations successfully, that creates a risk. But if you follow the approach of VW wherein they turned a crisis and adversity into an opportunity for their brand, your business will hopefully go a long way. On the other hand, with B&Q, the experience from start to finish is, “I only go there out of necessity. If I could find an alternative, then I would go for that.” As of the first of June, alternatives are going to start open up. And as of the 15th of June, even more companies will be going back to work. Those companies that have lived through COVID as being the sole option for customers will have to compete again, and there will be many companies, hopefully yours, that have started to realise that PR, during good and bad times, is about being Compassionate, Optimistic, Values-based, Informative, and Digital. Moreover, expanding a brand requires broad awareness, and although Aston Martin talked in their shareholder report about moving up into being a full, well-known luxury brand, actually, that wasn’t where they were headed.

This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast SPEAK|pr, you can listen here.

Cover Photo by Jannis Lucas on Unsplash

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