Creating a multimedia editorial package that will resonate with readers takes a lot of time, thought and collaboration. For Automotive News, its Retail Realities project took months of research, reporting and editing to develop stories that would work for print, podcasts and videos.
For this package, six Automotive News reporters and editors plus a video team traveled across the U.S. to get a front-line view of how automotive dealers had been approaching some of the biggest issues affecting dealers. They did this in order to provide dealer readers with information to help them navigate their own responses to challenges. The project resulted in a 20-page print portrait of the industry as well as a four-part podcast series and a special video report that were released in 2019. The project ultimately received ASBPE’s Cross-Platform Package of the Year Award in 2020.
Amy Wilson, retail editor of Automotive News, which is a Crain Communications Inc. publication, says the idea for this package came to her more than a decade ago.
“It actually goes back quite a long time ago, though not in this format at all,” she says. “It evolved. I’ve been a journalist with Automotive News for 20 years, and 10 years into my career here, I moved over to covering retail issues full time. The whole time I was covering retail issues, I just thought I would love to spend a week in a dealership. I would learn so much. This is such an intricate and complex business, and there’s a lot about it that we don’t understand. I wanted to be able to do a deep dive and inform my own knowledge about the beat.”
Over the years working on the retail beat, Wilson visited many dealerships, but some of those trips were restricted to a few hours. She says doing a deep dive at a dealership wasn’t able to happen with all the deadlines and assignments she had been juggling.
In 2018, Wilson stepped up as retail editor at Automotive News, and she says she was still intrigued by the idea of doing a deep dive at a dealership. At that time, she had a newer team of reporters working on the retail beat, and she thought it would be great for them to do a deep dive at some dealerships to learn the industry. To ensure that was possible, she says, the team had to come up with a way to produce something from those visits.
“In early to mid-2018, we were having serious discussions about whether we could turn this into a reporting project of some kind,” Wilson says. “We decided that yes, indeed, we could. The key would be to find dealers who are willing to have us come and be a fly on the wall but that we know are grappling with issues that are facing dealers more broadly or have adopted an approach to solve problems that are facing dealers more broadly.”
Making it a reality
The Retail Realities project was not a one-man project—it took a team of reporters and many hours to pull together, Wilson says.
The project started with brainstorming and figuring out dealers and themes that would work for the package. “I came up with several ideas—like it would be really interesting to be on the ground as a dealership was going through a facility renovation,” Wilson says.
The team then recruited several dealers who would allow Automotive News reporters to be on-site for several days to observe and report about that facility and the issues it faced. They scheduled dates to send reporters and videographers to various dealerships across the U.S. When the reporters visited the sites, they brought with them high-quality voice recorders to be sure to capture good audio for the podcast portion of the project.
Wilson adds that reporters had special time carved out for them to write and focus on this project specifically. The publication’s podcast and video teams also spent hours going through transcripts and selecting the right material to use in the digital components.
With the final project, Wilson says the print and digital components did not look identical.
“For instance, with one of the installments about LaFontaine Automotive Group, the print piece ended up being different from what we used on TV and in the podcast,” she says. “They just tapped into several interesting themes.”
The final Retail Realities package was well-received by readers of Automotive News, Wilson adds.
“We had a lot of engagement,” she says. “Being able to go in and examine the issues [dealers face] and not just tell the story of the dealer we visited but to bring in some context and other experts to these stories really provided some information that I think was helpful to our dealer audience.”
Tips for cross-platform packages
Wilson advocates B2B editors “don’t give up on an idea,” even if it seems challenging or time-intensive.
“If there is something you really want to do, keep thinking about it,” she says. “Keep talking to your colleagues. Try to figure out a way that it’s manageable for the resources you have. If there’s a way you can take that idea and apply it to something else that’s going on in your industry, that’s my first piece of advice.”
With larger projects, time management is also critical. Wilson provided her reporters dedicated time to just focus on this project so their attention wasn’t pulled in various directions. She also had to evaluate how much time she would spend on it compared with other projects.
“As we were developing the project in the early months, one of my editors gave me some advice and said, ‘I know this is something that originated in your own desire to go and do this, but you should think very carefully about whether you’ll have the capacity to manage and edit this project and also go out and do an installment,’” Wilson says.
She adds that she had taken that advice by focusing on managing the project instead of taking on too much. However, she says, she had to step in and do some reporting work late in the project after a timing conflict came up for one of the reporters.
It’s also good to communicate with publishers on larger projects, she adds. A lot of resources went into this project, so Automotive News worked with its publisher to find a sponsor or advertisers for the project.
“The publisher was really engaged from the beginning,” Wilson says. “They figured they could sell this to our advertisers, and they did. They sold a sponsorship. There was no involvement in editorial decision-making [with the sponsor]. But the fact that we were able to get a sponsor who was all in, that helped make it work.”