Bike – January 1977
Written after I’d been flown along with the so-called cream of European motorcycle scribblers to a press launch of several new Yamahas in Marrakech – most notably the XS750 triple and the XT500 – I couldn’t help but reflect on the new-found marketing awareness of the Big Four. In later years this would extend to even greater largesse flung at the m/cycle press which until recently was pretty much taken from granted but in these straightened times could soon become a thing of the past. I also resisted any mention of the availability (or otherwise) on the launch of the infamous (?) whacky-baccy that Morocco was then famous for.
In this month’s issue of this organ you’ll read an account of Yamaha’s lavish Moroccan press junket – that’s unless you only buy Bike for the pictures (and I am informed that such people do exist, most of them called Stomper, Skunk, Masher and own Tritons built almost entirely from parts stolen from breaker’s yards in obscure Midlands towns… but that’s another matter).
Well, depending on just how candid Mr. Editor Nicks’ report (the estimable Mike Nicks took over from me as the mag’s second editor, and still can be found scribbling for Classic Bike – MW) of this splendid exercise in public relations turned out to be, you will have some idea of the extraordinary lengths that Yamaha NV went to in order to impress jaded hacks such as l with the virtues of five brand new models. Actually that’s perhaps not quite accurate, for from observations made during those most enjoyable five days of over-indulgence, I once again came to the conclusion that not all motorcycle journalists are what I perfunctorily described as ‘jaded hacks’.
And there’s the rub.
You see, motorcyclists have always been regarded as the poor relations of those who own cars, not only by the government, police authorities and mass media, but also by the public relations world. Consequently those who produce newspapers and magazines for the motorcycling community have generally been treated in a far less professional manner than their colleagues in the four-wheeled press, certainly as far as public relations are concerned.
Friends of mine who write for car mags are forever nursing jet-lag in their Hampstead penthouses as they attempt to recover from six-days spent eating and drinking it up in Barbados to celebrate new interior trim options for the Autistic Allegro, before rattling off a few hundred words filched more or less verbatim from the press kit on the portable electric typewriter they were generously presented with as they left the specially chartered Concorde at Heathrow. Then a few days later they’re off to New York aboard the QE2 to familiarise themselves with the latest electric invalid carriage designed by Lord S*****n (Snowdon – MW) and specially tuned for handicap (ouch!) racing around the poop deck. But for us miserable sods who are responsible for chronicling and, indeed, to some extent fuelling the Great Motorcycling Boom from behind our creaking Olivettis, it’s a very different jar of tadpoles.
(Which puts me in mind of a certain rather well lubricated national newspaper correspondent attempting to explain the expression ‘pissed as a newt’ to certain equally well oiled Italian journalists one evening in Marrakech.)
The weekly press usually carry some hashed together ‘road impression’ of a new Japanese or Italian model from one of their foreign stringers, a month or two before the bike is due to be announced for UK sale. The companies responsible for importing these machines seem to assume (perhaps with some justification), that apart from a few 10 x 8in glossies and a duplicated press handout, such pre-availability publicity in the weeklies will generate sufficient public interest in their new whizz-bang to shift their entire import quota from the showroom floors once they finally arrive. Sure, there’s a road-test version or two available which we all wait patiently in turn to ride, our views on which invariably don’t appear until six months after the damn thing’s been on sale anyway, the vagaries of printing schedules being what they are. But I’ve always been under the distinct impression that except for a few favoured editors who’ve been in the business since 1909, the attitude of British importers (nee manufacturers) toward road-tests of new models has, at best, been one of grudging tolerance, and at worst, a means of getting as much mileage as possible (sic) out of bikes they use to do a certain amount of pre-Iaunch evaluation work on themselves anyway.
However, I am happy to report that Yamaha’s North African foray marks the end of that era.
For a start, all four Japanese marques are now imported by companies who have thoroughly revitalised management structures (and stricturesl), or in some cases by completely new companies, with a definitely improved sense of public-relations awareness. Suddenly the Japanese manufacturers have realised that Europe is their second biggest export market and that the UK represents just about the biggest slice of the continental cake. And all of a sudden it’s time to get serious!
BMW were the first to take the British motorcycle press seriously, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, and slowly but surely the other importers have followed their initiative. Condescending ‘wait-and-sees’ from overworked sales managers have slowly given way ‘would-you-like-to-come-and-tries’ from professional PR men, and this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Have you noticed Honda’s adverts in the Sunday colour supplements or their posters in the tube stations? Or Kawasaki dressing up their dealers showrooms like Barnum & Bailey? Or the abundance of Suzuki promo-flak that hits you every time you trundle into a Heron filling station for your three quid’s worth of four-star? Christ, even Jawa~CZ are advertising in the Daily Mirror.
Yes, what the British industry should’ve been doing in the ’sixties is finally happening, courtesy of some none-too-soon oriental inscrutability in the mid-seventies. And it was clearly a big treat for some of us sixty, count ’em, sixty, assorted pressmen who were flown into Marrakech by Yamaha to find ourselves the subject of so much attention.
Not that l pretend to be above all that sort I of thing. I’m as grateful as the next man for a free air-ticket and a magnum or two of Chateau Special Brew. But I have had the benefit of three years’ writing for the music press during which I went for whole weeks without eating, drinking or travelling at the expense of anyone but record and management companies. So whilst our Moroccan binge certainly didn’t leave me with any feelings of jaded complacency, I was able to judge it in a slightly different light to some of my compatriots. And in that light it was a very smart, smoothly executed piece of public relations.
But make no mistake, we are in for tough times ahead. The pound continues to plummet, foreign manufacturing costs and the prices of natural resources steadily escalate, and a lot of motorcycle dealers and smaller importers are riding what’s left of the boom on the backs of the Big Boys who’ve finally made it happen. Yamaha NV’s public relations bright-spark, Rod Gould (the notable ex-racer – MW) suggested to me that by the end of next year, there’s won’t be a haIf-way decent 750cc motorcycle on sale in Britain for less than £2,000, and he’ll probably be proved right.
Honda have already issued directives to their dealers to cease the price-cutting war. The new hierarchy at Mitsui (Yamaha’s UK importers) are about to seriously revise their dealer/spares network. Suzuki are already owned by an industrial group with its feet firmly planted in retailing and petrol sales. Kawasaki are selling motorcycles almost exclusively through solus-site dealers.
Once again I repeat myself, things are getting serious. And I for one am delighted. Not because it means more press junkets to exotic hot-spots, but because at long last the motorcycle press is being treated with some sort of respect by the motorcycle importers. And that’ll make my job a lot easier. Theirs too.
Finally, let’s go over to the Everything-You-Read-About-Them-in-the-Sunday-Papers-is-True Dept. I opened my copy the Daily Mirror this morning and nearly choked on my caviar and french toast as my eyes lit on the headline ‘Hell’s Angel girl is jailed for killing a cripple’. Yes, here’s an item for Stomper, Skunk and Masher at last, for 23 -year old mini-skirted Hell’s Angel momma Rita Stewart kicked a 30 year-old crippled hippie (had to be a hippie, natch) to the ground with her platform boots, then stabbed him thirteen times in front of an admiring gang of Hell‘s Angel onlookers.
Ah well as freeloading hacks jet to Morocco to ride expensive exotic motorcycles in the blazing sunshine the real world still goes happily about its business
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