Nearly 50 years ago, Toyota entered the North American forklift market and is the top-selling forklift brand in the U.S. Toyota, noted by Forbes as one of the top 10 brands in the world, leverages earned media coverage to maintain its position. In 2016, Toyota Material Handling U.S.A. (TMHU) hired our firm to support the brand with public relations.
The first step our specialists took as the public relations partner for TMHU was to conduct primary research in the form of an earned media audit. The audit included a review of pro-active release distribution, attributed contribution opportunities, authored content activity, media pitching, clip analysis and more. The research was used to develop an earned media strategy for the year. Our specialists also conducted competitor analysis to gauge editorial content share from Toyota’s top three competitors in the material handling space.
During the onboarding process with Toyota, our specialists set a goal to leverage earned media coverage in trade media outlets to drive Toyota as an industry thought leader. In 2015, Toyota forklifts earned coverage from 50 media outlets. Our specialists set a goal to increase Toyota’s earned media coverage 20 percent by the following year. We also chose to leverage statewide and local media to promote its role as a responsible corporate citizen in Indiana, including its home of Columbus.
To address trade media, our specialists developed media lists for horizontal and vertical markets targeted by Toyota. The horizontal lists targeted the material handling industry as a whole, including distribution centers, bulk handling, automated material handling, plant services and more. The vertical lists targeted food, beverage, rail yard, port cities and other industries that require material handling equipment.
The approach with Indiana media began building a media list of business publications that covered business news on a statewide basis. We added the local newspaper in Columbus, the town in which Toyota’s facility was located, to this list.
The next step for our specialists was introducing ourselves as Toyota’s new public relations partner. We did this by emailing and/or calling each media contact on the list. The introductions allowed our PR team to pass along our contact information – most importantly, our cell numbers – to trade and local media. Reaching out to these journalists also gave us the opportunity to build report and offer Toyota’s expertise to comment on industry trends.
Finally, our specialists built a strategy for pro-active media outreach. The plan included outreach via news release distribution and pitching. Our specialists also planned to communicate with trade journalists to track story topics and pro-actively offer interviews with Toyota experts according to article focus.
Our specialists began providing public relations services for Toyota in June 2016. The results provided in this narrative includes public relations outcomes for June – December 2016. The budget for our public relations work during that period was $37,000, which was not completely dedicated to media relations.
Our position as a new partner with Toyota presented a few unique challenges, mainly in learning the proper approval channels and understanding the company’s review timeline for releases. We also faced the challenge of sustaining coverage without a steady release of new products. In place of new products, our specialists found newsworthy content via case studies and facility upgrades to drive earned coverage. Our pro-active pitching of expert interview opportunities also carried us through dry spells absent of product news.
With the 2016 results report in hand, Toyota deemed the first six months of our firm’s work a success. Our goal to increase Toyota’s earned coverage exceeded our expectations. Our specialists, using 10 news releases and more than 20 interviews, earned coverage – in just 6 months – in more than 75 publications. The coverage included every horizontal and vertical trade media that we targeted. We also earned coverage in local media, showcasing Toyota’s investment in the community of Columbus. Our specialists are looking forward to comparing the results of a full 12 months of media relations at the end of 2017.
Our specialists learned that we should continue harnessing the brand equity of Toyota. The ability to couple their brand strength and the top-ranked forklift title with our specialists' pro-active approach to earned media was a successful strategy. We also learned that diversifying our content offering by looking for opportunities to move outside of traditional press releases, is a set opportunity to increase earned coverage.