I’ve been writing about Saab on the web for nearly seven years now and anyone who’s been following Saab’s journey over that period will know that there has been a lot to read and write about over that time.
I’m fortunate now in that I’m employed by Saab to write for them. I have never been able to claim a lack of bias in my writing, and that’s especially so today. I’m comfortable with that, as I’ve never pretended to be anything but an enthusiast.
Whilst I’m paid by the company, I still try to make sure that there’s some level of balance in what I write. I won’t air all of our dirty laundry, but I will report the bad news. I’ll also make sure that the good sides of this company that are overlooked in the mainstream media get some time in the sun, too.
I’ve been labelled by one editor-in-chief as a corporate PR shill, which I think is a bit rich. Whilst I do have to liaise with PR about market-sensitive stories, and whilst I do maintain a page that speaks to tens of thousands of people per month, I actually sit outside of the PR department at Saab. PR’s job is to speak to the press. My job is to speak on a more personal level to the people and in time, when this is all over, include people in some good Saab experiences and stories. That’s the broad difference, as I see it.
I’d like Saab enthusiasts to be able to read articles on the web and make some judgements about those articles. Too often I hear people panicking about something they see in the news. Yes, we’ve been in some serious situations, but it’s worth bearing in mind that things are generally not as sensational as they are written up to be.
Here’s a few thoughts on some of the various types of information going on out there.
In my experience, the absolute best source for objective hard news stories on Saab’s situation has been Bloomberg. The guy who covers Saab for Bloomberg is named Ola Kinnander and his stories on any subject to do with Saab are worth reading. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He doesn’t give us an easy ride in any way. But the good thing about Bloomberg’s reports is that they aren’t sensationalist like so many others have been in the last months.
If you see a sensational news story about Saab in your regular paper, look for the Bloomberg (or Business Week) story on the same subject before you draw a conclusion.
Other good sources recently have been Reuters and Just-Auto, though the latter often needs a subscription for some of the more in-depth articles. Trollhattan’s local paper, TTELA, often has good, insightful and local perspectives as well.
There are also a number of Saab enthusiast websites that follow Saab news pretty closely. Many of these offer some insights that regular news outlets don’t, however one has to acknowledge that they aren’t ever going to be 100% objective. That’s the nature of an enthusiast site, after all, but they’re worth following with a measured perspective.
The internet has done some wonderful things for journalism and public access. It’s done some terrible things, too, however. Anyone with a few dollars, a laptop and a chunk of time can set up a slick-looking website and express their thoughts on their topic of choice. That’s a good thing. It’s how I got started. It can be a jungle out there, though, and the good sites are often hard to find.
If you get a shonky operator with a decent search optimisation strategy, they’ll have more eyes on their website (which is great for their advertisers) and as long as those eyes keep rolling in, the factual nature of the material on the site can comfortably take a back seat. Scraper sites, which merely lift content from other sites with no regard to its truthfulness are commonplace.
The key for operators of websites in a crowded space like the automotive sector is to have a good headline, one that will show up well on an RSS feed or on Twitter in order to get you to click through and read the story. The more sensational the headline, the better the chance of a click-through.
Just tonight, there have been stories all over Twitter stating that the cars in the Saab Museum were “seized by creditors”, leading to images in the readers’ minds of the vehicles being spirited away and the Museum being left empty. It’s not true, of course, but that’s a sensational headline for you.
Whilst some stories like the Museum story will twist reality into a sensational circumstance, some stories are just flat-out wrong. Several papers have prepared Saab obituaries already, and one made the mistake of publishing it yesterday. And this was a major media player in both print and television services. Beware.
The (only slightly) ugly
Beware also (but to a lesser degree), the story with an opinion provided by ‘an analyst’. Many news agencies will call someone up and ask for their opinion on a certain set of circumstances. That someone – the analyst – usually comes attached to a respectable sounding company name, and the opinion will usually forecast more of what’s written about in the story.
Think about it: very few of these people, if any, are ever going to stake their professional reputation on being on the wrong side of public opinion. Their analysis will almost always concur with the editorial line within the report. As with regular newspapers, content is king in online reporting. You’ve got to get the story out there and backing it up with a third party who may or may not know the specifics of Saab’s situation gives the story more credence. It also gives the writers an ‘out’ if the story turns out to be incorrect either generally or specifically.
A friend in Stockholm asked me what I thought of this report, this morning.
Whilst I have a great deal of respect for the Automotive News group of industry papers, every opinion piece about Saab right now, regardless of where it comes from, is nothing more than an opinion.
My response to Johan was:
Am not too worried by it, to be honest.
We’ve been canned by every automotive analyst everywhere and they’ve all been wrong so far. We just keep doing what we do. The fact that this guy is a Chinese analyst makes no difference because when it comes down to it, he [probably] doesn’t know much about Saab and what we’ve got to offer.
I should expand on that.
The writer in question has a much better knowledge of the climate in China than what I do, and I respect that. However, he’s not saying anything here that hasn’t been said since the PangDa and Youngman deals were first reported.
And whilst he knows the climate there better than I do, I don’t believe he knows what the details of our deal with PangDa and Youngman, nor the capabilities that Saab can offer as one of the last western brands with a global network and some serious engineering nous. We don’t come in with huge capacity, but we do come in with decades of experience and expertise.
My response, continued….
As with every one of these guys, they see our size and they write us off. What they don’t see is our capability, which is what’s on offer, which is what’s attractive to companies there, which is what’s written up in detail in the submissions that have passed the two hurdles in the Chinese approval process so far.
The writer for Automotive News China cites the failed Hummer deal as evidence of a tightening auto industry policy taking effect there. But let’s be clear, here. The failure of the Hummer deal was primarily due to the Hummer brand, which was effectively dead two years before the deal was even conceived. Hummer made products that were good for a very specific customer in a very specific economic and social climate. Hummer’s time passed a long time ago.
It’s not seen as a good career move for an analyst to vote against the odds. Fortunately for them, we live in a goldfish bowl information age where people generally don’t remember who said what, or why. They just move on to the next news article. The fact that we might survive against their predictions won’t have any negative consequences for any of [the reporters or analysts].
The application by PangDa and Youngman is still progressing through the approval process. As we mentioned last week, the deal has passed the local and provincial levels with no problems. We now await approval at the National level. We don’t take the process for granted. We don’t assume anything. We work hard and respond to any queries so that our case is clear.
If we appear confident, it’s not arrogance. It’s just confidence in our partners, and what we have to achieve together.
Of course, the downside for us at Saab is that we have a constant uphill battle to correct many of the misperceptions out there as a result of the bad reporting that happens at some outlets. That’s a battle we’ll have to keep fighting as time marches on. Results will be the key.
So if you can keep yourself educated and up to date as an interested Saab person, you can go a long way to helping us spread the right message about the company’s situation.