What Car?

From the outset, when it launched in 1973, What Car? set out to be different, says editorial director, Jim Holder. At an exclusive Gorkana media briefing this week, Holder explained how the magazine strives to talk to the “general consumer” and give them the stats, data and information they want to make informed car purchases.

What Car?, which is published by  Haymarket Media Group Ltd, offers consumer advice on buying and selling new or second-hand cars.

With nearly one million readers each month, the UK’s biggest car-buying brand – it’s online at WhatCar.com –  runs features on road-tested cars (regarded by many as the most trusted source of new car advice), reviews, consumer surveys, investigations, money-saving advice and car data.

As well as its print readership, which has risen 5% this year, WhatCar.com attracts 1.3 million users each month, offering news and advice on car leasing, new car deals and used cars for sale.

Holder is also editorial director of Haymarket’s two other automotive titles, Autocar (the world’s oldest surviving car magazine founded in 1895) and PistonHeads.com (an online-only magazine for sports car enthusiasts in the UK, which launched in 1998 and was bought by Haymarket in 2007).

In 2015, Haymarket decided to merge the editorial staff of What Car? and Autocar into a 38-strong team, with PistonHeads’ team of three keeping an element of independence.

“We now consider ourselves websites with magazines – especially from a What Car? and Autocar perspective”, says Holder. Of the 38-strong team, ten exclusively work on digital content, with the rest contributing to the site at some point each week.

In the briefing, which was chaired by Philip Smith, Gorkana’s head of news and content, Holder identified five key things PRs should know about What Car?:

There are four key content pillars in What Car?

Data – Not the sexiest of subjects, Holder admits, but it’s important to include the vital statistics of cars that are featured, and it makes up a quarter of the magazine.
Group Tests – The team compares two, three or four cars against each other and then offers a verdict. It’s one of the most popular sections of the print magazine.
Consumer Advice – Covering wide-ranging cases that affect motorists in general, be it Volkswagen Dieselgate or the Consumer Rights Act. Holder believes this is what positions the magazine as a consumer champion.
First Drive – Reviews on all the latest cars. The magazine has a strong subscriber-base, who want to know all about the latest cars on offer.

Readers treat print and online differently

The average magazine reader will buy a copy of What Car? around three times in a row, decide on what they want to buy and then won’t pick up a copy for another three years. They are typically men, aged between 35 and 55 and tend to be family car buyers.

There are 100,000 visitors to WhatCar.com every day. Holder describes it as “Britain’s biggest showroom”. Everyone who visits the site is looking to buy a car. A third of readers are women, who read around seven pages per visit. While the majority of readers will use the site for a period of three to six months and then drop out, there are far more regular users over the print magazine.

The team is looking for consumer experts

While all car tests are conducted in-house, Holder is looking for a roster of experts to contribute to the Consumer Advice section, whether it be a lawyer who is a specialist in dealership issues, an advice bureau, which can offer advice on the buying and returning process or experts who can talk about dealership disaster stories.

Know how the team works

There are 13 issues of What Car? published each year. The 10th of each month is the deadline date, and the team will become “incredibly inflexible” about what makes it into the magazine a week before that date. The print title is planned out six weeks in advance.

Know when to get in contact

There is a daily 9:30am news meeting, where the team works out what’s being worked on that day and the next. There is also a daily newsletter that reaches 150,000 readers each day. It goes out early in the morning on weekends so people can read it when they wake up. During the week it will be published at around 4pm to catch commuters on their way home.

What Car Audience

Agency and in-house comms professionals turned out for the briefing, which was described as “super insightful” and “informative” by the Gorkana community.

Cait Doherty, senior account executive at WE Communications, said: “Any time you can better understand the way industry-focused publications like What Car? work, especially what interests their readers, helps us to better inform our work on the communications side.

“It also helps us navigate between different outlets under the same publishing house with similar focuses, so it was great to better understand how Autocar and PistonHeads differ in their content.

“As always, I gained useful insight that can be applied to my clients and I look forward to joining the next media briefing.”

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