Auto-Biography: the future of the UK auto sector with Dan Strong
In the first of a series of interviews with key figures in the Automotive sector, Toby Richards-Carpenter speaks with Dan Strong, founder and co-owner of DMS Media, a successful creative agency that produces films and other digital content for some of the world’s leading car manufacturers, such as Toyota, Mazda, and Honda. His career path has taken him on a fascinating journey from traditional car journalism to ground-breaking online journalism to the business he runs today. He spoke to Toby about the things he’s learned along the way and what the future may hold for the UK’s auto sector.
1. How did you get into what you do?
I would love to say it has just been about a love of cars but actually the attraction of the media began for me at local newspapers. My family was involved in publishing, so I come from a media background – striving and wanting to be good at communicating and engaging audiences is ingrained in me. It so happened I loved cars, and so I could bring the two things together. Successful journalists build relationships and have an angle, but there is a reality where you also have to build relationships.
Making the move from motoring journalism to a creative agency which produces work for some of the major car manufacturers was a big step but I have managed to retain a creative freedom. The science of communication has evolved over time. Algorithms, for example on Facebook, predict what you might want to watch – these are now the key drivers of the world in which we operate.
One crucial experience along the way for me was the launch of Carwow, which I did with Mat Watson. I listened to Mat speak about how he wanted to talk to people – to de-mystify the language of talking about cars and translate it into plain speaking. People these days look to both expert reviews and user reviews for their information, and so the idea of the expert review presented in accessible fashion was very successful, and Carwow has remained successful with that formula.
Personally I have noticed my career breaking down into six year cycles, comprising 12 year blocks with six year groups of what I was doing. So car journalised began at Emap working on Max Power, followed by Dennis Publishing, working on Auto Express, Car Buyer and Carwow, and then I moved into the industry side for six years before launching DMS Media. It’s been fascinating and rewarding!
2. What do you know now that you wish you had known at the outset of your career?
If I knew what would happen in the future would I change what I’m doing today and would it change the outcome? I don’t know about that. I strive for constant improvement, so I think I would not give the game away to my younger self, I’d say keep going, you need to work hard!
I would also add that you should never underestimate the culture that you can set yourself – you need to ask yourself, what are your values?
3. What legal issues do you encounter in the course of your work?
It’s changed over the years in relation to publishing and creating content. Back in the day, the car spy photo network was important for car magazines, and at times they didn’t ask too many questions about the origins of the shots, ownership of imagery, had the pictures been taken in a private place, had they been obtained legally and so on.
These days, one legal issue I need to be mindful of is section 20 of the Advertising Standards Agency guidelines, which means you can’t promote cars being driven quickly or aggressively, and if you get that wrong your work can be taken down. Then of course I need a working knowledge of GDPR and data, and the rules around websites serving cookies – it’s a tight framework.
4. Where do you think the UK automotive industry is heading in the future?
Enormous change has visited the car industry on every level, not just in the way cars are powered, but also to the way they are being sold, for example who is funding the purchase, is it being made through a third party such as Carwow and so on. And more manufacturers are starting to follow the Tesla agency model instead of the traditional dealer network. There will always be a need for service agents, but in some cases dealers’ roles are being condensed into single operation role rather than the full package beginning with a sale of the vehicle.
In terms of future trends, the car market is driven by intense competition. There is a drive for sustainability and innovation. Globalisation in the UK will play increasing part in how we ride out coming years. Brexit has not been kind. Building new battery factories is not the work of a minute, as we have seen with British Volt.
Away from battery technology, hydrogen is and will be hugely important to heavy duty vehicles such as JCBs, as it refuels quicker, has better energy per kilogram and is easily transported. Car manufacturers are all pursuing EVs as a magic solution but they aren’t. Petrol engines are pretty efficient and, in my view, to mandate a single solution such as the EV won’t work.
Dan Strong is an ex-motoring journalist and experienced communications consultant with a track record of building and launching successful media brands. Today, Dan runs the film production company, DMS Media and is the co-founder of Ascendancy, a communications agency. He delivers board-level comms support and is experienced in originating, developing and shaping content and communication strategies for some of the world’s largest companies. He leads a team that works across Europe to deliver outstanding content across clients’ retail, social and internal communication channels.
Readers can find out more about DMS Media here.
You can find out more about Toby’s legal expertise on our website. If you need advice or assistance in relation to your business or any of the legal issues mentioned in this article, please feel free to contact Toby who would be delighted to hear from you directly.