This month In the Tank, we talk to Carl Anthony, Managing Editor and Partner at Gearhead Media to discuss how to best identify media opportunities in niche industries, the importance of being authentic in your contributed content, and how he prefers to work with PR people.

Tell us a bit about Gearhead Media, your content, and your target audience.

Gearhead Media is an online publishing company dedicated to the automotive sector. One side of our business centers on the development and management of two automotive websites, Automoblog and AutoVision News. The other side of our business is about helping automotive companies expand their reach by creating custom content based on their needs. That might mean featuring a sponsored editorial on one of our websites or writing a series of thought-leader-style articles for their blog. 

The core of Gearhead Media, however, is our two websites, Automoblog and AutoVision News. The “elevator pitches” for each site go like this: Automoblog is an automotive news, technology, and lifestyle publication that helps readers understand more about cars and driving. AutoVision News, by contrast, supports engineers, scientists, and vehicle perception technology managers who are working on Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and, ultimately, autonomous cars. 

In so many words, Automoblog is more of a traditional car website. Our audience is primarily enthusiasts and consumers, and mostly male. We cover the latest new model releases, provide car reviews, and various ownership guides to help readers with buying or maintaining a vehicle. 

AutoVision News is more industry-leaning and focuses on the future of transportation. Most of our readers come from the greater autonomous driving community. They are working on new and advanced safety technologies, many of which will lead to fully-automated vehicles. 

Through AutoVision News, we facilitate dialogue and relationships with those industry professionals as they develop new innovations that will help create safer roads for us all.

How did you find your voice in an industry with several legacy publications that have dominated the media landscape for so long? What has keyed your successful growth?

When I was writing for 605 Magazine, I had the opportunity to interview Kiss. In that session, I remember Paul Stanley saying that, when they formed Kiss in the 1970s, they wanted to be the band they “never saw.” He later discussed the importance of connecting with fans and making them feel part of something special via the “Kiss Army.” In other words, Kiss fans from around the world were now part of a community of like-minded individuals. 

We do this in our own way with Automoblog and AutoVision News. We have sites that involve a community more so than a target demographic. I understand the need to say “target demographic” as it’s a term regularly used in business, but it seems so impersonal to me. I like the word “community” instead or, in the case of a really cool rock band, “army!”  

With Automoblog, our community is the person turning wrenches in their garage or welding a chassis. It’s the everyday car buyer who has questions before they head to the dealership. With AutoVision News, it’s an engineer working on the next machine vision algorithm in their lab. These are the people we wake up each day to serve; that’s our focus, and it’s helped us find our voice. 

Our media partnerships with organizations like AutoSens, MotorMouth Radio, Reuters Events Automotive, and Women in Autonomy are also meaningful when it comes to helping us hone our voice. These partnerships are essential as they help expand the reach of Automoblog and AutoVision News. We are tremendously grateful for these and the many other relationships we have in the automotive industry. 

It seems like one way you really ingrained yourself with the automotive community is by publishing high-quality contributed content from automotive enthusiasts to your site. Why was working with various external industry thought leaders important and how has that contributed content helped your site to grow?

Our readers can tell when they are looking at a generic piece of contributed content versus something written by a passionate industry professional. 

With Automoblog, our best example is Richard Reina, who comes to us by way of CARiD. While he serves as CARiD’s Product Training Director, he joined the Automoblog crew in 2015 as our resident expert on the classic and collector car market. Richard is also an expert on auto parts and accessories; two things Automoblog readers care about deeply.

Richard writes from a vantage point of having lived it. That’s key when it comes to producing high-quality automotive content. It’s the difference between a generic article about classic cars and a guy who, as Richard did, would eat, sleep, and breathe muscle cars during that time in history. 

When you consider that me and my partner in Gearhead Media, Chris Burdick, are both GenXers/older Millennials, Richard’s vantage point is suddenly very critical. We work with thought-leaders, like Richard, because they can provide insight to our readers in a way we cannot through their own contributed content. 

Likewise, with AutoVison News, we have two contributors, Divya Agarwal and Dr. Andrew Baker-Campbell. Given their specific engineering backgrounds – Divya, an expert in robotics and Andrew, an expert in sensor systems – they can connect and engage with our readers in a significant way. 

Industry thought-leaders like Richard, Andrew, and Divya are essential for publications like ours because their backgrounds and expertise are evident in their writing. As I said earlier, it’s the difference between reading generic contributed content that’s “pitched” versus a thoughtful and insightful article on a topic readers care about. The latter is more valuable because automotive is a hard business to “fake,” and our readers can tell if the person writing knows their stuff or not.   

The auto industry makes news every day in a variety of segments. How do you choose your coverage areas and decide what type of content your readers will be most likely to consume and engage?

Sometimes this is easy and then really hard! An easy example is the recent release of the 2021 Ford F-150 and Bronco. We knew, for sure, we needed to cover that for Automoblog. With regard to AutoVision News, we knew we needed to have something about the Amazon and Zoox merger. Examples like these are going to make headlines across the industry. So that said, we often follow the traditional news cycle as any publication does.  

The harder part is balancing what we can reasonably cover with our small team, versus how in-depth we need to go with the content. For both Automoblog and AutoVision News, depth and context are incredibly important. To the best of our ability, we need to answer the questions a reader has within the content.  

With Automoblog, that might be getting into the finer details on a new vehicle’s engine, suspension, or connectivity features. With AutoVision News, that might mean explaining how a liquid-crystal meta surface works, or why camera optimization is more scalable in the long run versus camera tuning. 

Articles like that take more time and energy than the quick five to 600-word news write-up. I often look for topics we can expand upon with a longer-form article, embedded tables, and even a “snackable” video. The hard part is determining which topics fit that bill and then balancing that with our current workload.

What is your preferred way of working with PR people? (This isn’t a leading question to get you to mention FischTank in any way – just interested in your tips/feedback on how you like to work with PR)

I am speaking only for me here, but I value collaborative relationships with marketing and PR reps that can be expanded on to create great content. Nothing gives me greater joy as an editor than to have this type of relationship with marketing and PR professionals. These types of PR professionals often help me gather quotes and additional information that proves valuable when it comes to elevating a particular piece of content. 

What makes these professionals stand out is how they humanize their work. In a world of mass e-mails and social media blasts, PR professionals like these tend to cut through that clutter with a warm and personal approach to their work. It’s hard to explain, and I am probably not doing the best job; but suffice it to say, I am immensely thankful for the marketing and PR reps that have taken time to get to know our publications.

I also think, for the good people who do work in PR, their job is an uphill battle. I started in the automotive industry as a car salesman, so I understand how negative connotations can weigh on you each day. When you want to reverse a traditional narrative about your profession, it’s never easy. I see good PR reps fighting this battle each day, including many of the ones we work with for Automoblog and AutoVision News.

For marketing, PR, and media relations reps that want to work with us, sending me a personal e-mail is best. I am less inclined to respond to a generalized template or a quick pitch for a guest post because we get so many of those each day. However, if you introduce yourself as a real person, then I am much more inclined to take the time to respond.

Want to hear more from Carl? Follow him on LinkedIn. Or to join the latest automotive conversation, follow Automoblog on Twitter and AutoVision News on LinkedIn.

Interested in sharing your insights in journalism, marketing, or communications in a future installment of In the Tank? Drop us a line.

Matt Bretzius

Matt Bretzius is President and Partner at FischTank PR.

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