In 2020, BBC Radio 1’s flagship show, Top Gear, featured a sponsorship by a major automotive company, which at the time was Mastretta car company. The resulting imbroglio went way beyond the surface of a regular car-finance programme, to the extent that Mexico demanded a public retraction from the channel over the issue. The show is among the BBC’s popular, with an estimated global audience of around 350 million listeners – not to the slightest chagrin of Mastretta’s senior management. It was, they claimed, a case of “farming prestige” gone awry.
When I was researching a book about media PR and the impact of PR on public opinion, I put this episode in the past among the “prize ideas” as one of the many examples of the maxim that every cloud has a silver lining. This one certainly did. The flap over the Top Gear sponsorship provided yet another opportunity to remind us of just why we use PR in the first place. PR experts such as Fareed Zakari and Laura Bennett, writing in the Financial Times, claimed that it was the exposure of the story which boosted sales for the firm, rather than the relationship between the corporation and the show itself.
For me, however, it showed the perils of press freedom and the willingness of big news organisations to allow themselves to be bullied by a little-known private citizen who had made a passionate personal statement. The clip goes on to show the Mexican government’s reaction to the stunt, when President Felipe Calderon took the unusual step of publicly backing the comedian. He said that David Dyson – a British national who has lived in Mexico for most of his life – was free to express himself in any way he wished within the confines of Mexico. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Mexican government is happy to allow the comedian to perform there, simply because they gain world attention when they do. It is probably a form of PR, but it is a kind of bullying too, and David Dyson did not take kindly to that.
This story, in combination with the mastretta car company’s own PR blunder, demonstrated just why the maxim that every cloud has a silver lining really does apply. PR gurus are often perceived as self-aggrandizing and arrogant, but they have an essential role to play in educating the public about issues and pressing issues that affect everyday people. Sometimes they have a tendency to forget that they are all just human. And while I was reporting this story, I had been reading in an article about a young woman from Miami Beach who had lost her grandmother to cancer, and who was deeply influenced by the public’s negative view of Mexicans. She was deeply disturbed by the reaction she had to some of the comments that were made about her by the Mexican press and media, and the way in which she was undermined by the media that wanted to portray her as a sympathetic figure who had lost her grandmother.
In fact, I would say that the lesson that most PR gurus need to learn in this age of social networking is that the internet can make you lose your mind if you’re not careful. People are more becoming engaged online, and the ability to connect in such a way as to engage other people with the same interests, goals and passions are growing at a breathtaking pace. If someone is trying to tell you that the internet doesn’t work, then they are clearly not using or understanding the medium to its fullest potential. The truth is that Mastretta Car Company achieved greater car sales after being ridiculed on a British television show. What greater marketing tool could they possibly have been offered?
When you’re looking at a PR agency or an SEO firm that is in North America, you have to remember that it is not about the dollars and cents, but rather about how much they connect to your global audience. Think about the fact that Mastretta Car Company has achieved worldwide popularity with their website shot on a shoestring budget and also think about the impact that they’ve had on the Mexican automotive market, and the role they play there. Mexico is not only a key player in the automotive industry of Mexico, but they are a powerhouse in the realm of Mexico’s auto manufacturing as well. They are considered a key partner and accomplice by many in the U.S. and Canada. If you want to increase your business internationally, then I would suggest that you consider a PR agency or SEO firm that has a strong background in marketing Mexico and specifically Mastretta Car Company.