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Editor's Notebook

Last Wake-Up Call: Blistered by Another ‘Problem,’ It’s Time the Industry Takes Action

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Anger. Disappointment. Frustration. Resignation.

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I hurtled through a range of negative emotions after watching ABC’s “20/20” assault on the tire industry. After turning the whole thing over in my mind countless times, I finally came to the conclusion that it didn’t really matter.

They were right. 100% right.

ABC’s 10-minute primetime pasting of tire retailers and manufacturers selling so-called “old tires” was dead nuts on.

Before you think I’ve gone off my nut, consider this could have all been avoided. Now, the court of public opinion – which is never, ever wrong – says we’re the bad guys. Again.

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A few years ago when tire aging first became an “issue,” the argument was that old tires – six to 10 years or more – that were in service were dangerous…rubber degradation, oxidation, ozone, you name it. Our response? We stood on science, claiming there was no real evidence that older tires were a problem so, therefore, there was no problem.

Instead of saying, “We’re going to look into this and take appropriate action” – good or bad – we decided to argue semantics.

Now, with that “20/20” report, the pointing finger has shifted – significantly. In the report, tiremakers and retailers are accused of selling unused “old tires” (which ABC says are dangerous) as “new,” putting thousands of “ticking time bombs” (as the report stated) on America’s roads.
Our response? Yep, we played that tried and not-so-true science card again.

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We stamped our little feet and said there was no probable because there was no bonafide scientific evidence. Problem is, we don’t have any, either.

It would be easy to belittle ABC’s obvious lack of objectivity, but what’s the point? That kind of attention-grabbing “reporting” is the accepted norm today. Used to be that journalists were expected to be fair and objective. From college to our professional lives, we were held to those high standards with every story we touched.

That all changed when TV news divisions started worrying about ratings points and Q scores, and when panicked newspaper management struggled to capture the attention of short attention span Americans.

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Today, you’ll have a hard time finding any truly objective reporting anywhere.

Is it some kind of “media bias?” Hardly. It’s all about relevance. If there’s no audience or readership, there are no ads and no revenue. Today’s media delivers eyes by mixing “fact” with opinion and sensationalism. That once sturdy wall separating the editorial church from the sales state is now a tattered shower curtain.

Some still believe the old rules still apply. The new rule is this: “Get ahead of the story,” as PR pros say, anticipate media action and public reaction, and move proactively to correct “issues” – or get the Salem Witch Hunt treatment.    

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Corporations and associations in numerous industries understand that today’s media controls the message – unless you get out front with the message before disaster strikes.
Maybe RMA and TIA need a few lessons.

It doesn’t matter if there isn’t “scientific evidence.” Doesn’t matter if there are few – if any – real instances where “old tires” led to on-road injury or death. Doesn’t matter how one-sided and poorly researched the story was. Doesn’t matter a stitch because the viewers don’t know.

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ABC hung our anti-proactive industry out to dry in perception court, and the judges (every viewer) weighed in with a clear verdict: Old tires are deadly, and tiremakers and retailers are corrupt for selling them. The sentence? Well, a couple of frisky Congressmen could make things interesting.

Why do we get caught out like this? Because our industry can’t get its act together and act together proactively. We’re always “studying” and “discussing” (to borrow from past TIA and RMA statements), but can’t get to “doing.”

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Now we have to start doing. We cannot keep carrying pop-guns into a media-driven firefight.

A few years ago, TIA proposed an industry-wide checkoff-based consumer education program, similar to the efforts of dozens of other industries. That idea went nowhere; RMA didn’t want it and TIA wouldn’t press the issue.

It’s well past time for RMA and TIA to step up, get into a meeting room and work out a full-blown checkoff program. Drop the “competition” pretense, the silly anti-trust arguments, and the worrying about adding cost to tires. What’s another 50 cents a tire after the price hikes of the last two years?

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Bad things will continue to happen if we continue to meekly stick our heads in the sand. Get on the offensive, get our message out and take charge of our destiny. Do it together, and do it now.

We make great products, superior technology and add tremendous value in sales and service. It’s about time we had one loud voice to tell our story.

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