How to cut through the twaddle about social media

Ever since I got my first job in PR I knew that marketing was essentially a load of old twaddle. I left that world years ago and now they call it social media or social marketing but it's all the same smoke and mirrors silliness.
I feel I can say that fairly safely because Great Escape Cars has just been shortlisted for the Excellence in Social Media category of the annual Birmingham Chamber of Commerce awards. So apparently I know a little about it. 
I'd love to say that's true. But I don't. What success we've had has been less about reading the latest musings of social media gurus and pioneers and more about doing the stuff that should come naturally to most folk: being open, honest and enthusiastic.
Marketing bods give stuff names - like social media - to imply you need them to do it properly. Untrue. If you run a small business you should be using social media; there's no secret to it. Just like you don't need anyone to teach you how to have a conversation, nobody in a fancy suit needs to tell you how to do social media. 
So, entirely free of charge and definitely not at £95/hr consultancy rate, here are my top 5 social media tips. 

1. Be committed
The sole difference between successful and unsuccessful social media is commitment. Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin are happening 24/7 and if you jump in you need to stay in. Stay engaged. Keep talking. Keep interacting. 

2. Be enthusiastic
I am lucky, I do what I love and love what I do. But whether you sell chrome plated widgets or hire classic cars, show the love. The people you want to talk to will respond to enthusiasm. 

3. Be engaging
There are several ways to communicate with people - some broadcast their views at you, others sit and listen and others engage. The mistake many companies make on social media is to only broadcast. But social media requires engagement. Don't just broadcast your latest sales success because only you really care. Instead, talk about stuff your followers are interested in, and slip the sales stuff in occasionally. It works much better.

4. Be you

Too many corporate social media accounts read like a dull day in the dirctors' dining room. Social media is direct and immediate and it's your opportunity to show who you and your company really are. Forget the nonsense about 'brand values' because what you say and do on social media is what counts. Get rid of the suit and tie and get with the programme. 

5. Find an audience
If you can get to grips with 1-4 you need to get an audience. This is where most budding social media-ists lose faith. As in life, people don't flock to kneel before your wit and wisdom. You need to build your audience. On Twitter you do this by following like-minded accounts. On Facebook you have to promote your posts and use other paid-for tools. Linkedin is self-explanatory.

Marketing is the science of the bleedin' obvious and so is social media. There are tricks to learn but most of what you need is common sense. Above all, try it: any business needs to be there. We are because we have a business to promote but it is really more than that: I enjoy the engagement with customers and enthusiasts. 

Great Escape Cars is @classiccarshire on Twitter and Great Escape Classic Car Hire on Facebook. To find out more visit www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733







How to keep hard working classic cars working hard


Retirement, I'm told, is something to look forward to. No more work just long lazy days wondering why the neighbours don't cut their hedge, wash their car or cut their grass often enough. Bliss.
So it must be for many elderly old cars, removed from the daily commute to be polished and mended and enjoyed on occasional sunny weekends.

1976 MGB Roadster
Not so, however, for the age-defying classics on the Great Escape Cars fleet. When I casually browsed our hire data recently I was staggered to discover that our cars are covering 10,000 to 15,000 miles during a hire season. On Average. With an average age of 40 years old and a typical hire season of eight months, these old cars are working at a monthly mileage that is twice that of a modern car. To put that into more acute perspective, they cover in two weeks what most classic cars do in a year. Wow.
As proof, I've included a few photos of our cars' recent MOTs on this page.

1974 Jensen Interceptor 
All of which may explain why I have just spent £60,000 (and counting) on improving the fleet over winter. It also keeps a team of four full time Great Escape Cars mechanics busy ensuring our cars are reliable and roadworthy for each hire. The result is a frankly remarkable 97% reliability record across our fleet in 2015.

1992 Alfa Romeo Spider
I am, I think justifiably, proud of this achievement, particularly because I know for a fact that it is not typical of this hire sector.  I'm also pleased in an irritatingly self-satisfied way because it means we deliver a better service for our customers. We are the only classic car hire company with our own full service workshop and therefore with this commitment to vehicle quality and reliability.
Making classic cars reliable enough to withstand very high mileages in the hands of hundreds of different drivers every year is not easy. It doesn't help that in many cases the starting point is a car that wasn't much cop when it was new.  Most of our classic hire fleet comprises classic British cars built, allegedly, by British Leyland such as MGs, Jaguars, Triumphs and Morrises. They date from the early 60s to the mid 80s, a period of 25 years during which BL learnt nothing except perfecting how to make cars badly.

1969 Porsche 911
Any car that survives for 40 years has to be one of the better examples, which helps us, but sadly the fundamental design flaws and the poor quality of parts still affect them.

We run a full service workshop with four full time mechanics
We overcome these problems through very careful maintenance and sympathetic improvements, such as electronic ignition. As a general rule, any new car to our fleet will take 12-18 months to reach a standard of reliability that we're happy with.  This happens irrespective of how well maintained the car has been or how reassuring the previous owner is: when you suddenly subject a car to a massive increase in use it will throw up its foibles.
Another key to making our cars successful is knowing them inside out.  Our workshop has spent a lot of time working on our fleet so when a problem occurs, they can generally address it quickly. We keep good maitnenance records, so we know what we've done.

1960 Morris Minor Convertible
Generally our cars fail now because of poor quality replacement parts.  This is extremely frustrating because we source them from well known marque specialists - and when a fault occurs blaming a new part is not the most immediate thought.
Despite a hefty investment in reliability, sometimes cars still break down. They're old and it's inevitable. It's also annoying and frustrating for the customer.  But, after eight years hiring out classic cars I know that we have done everything we can to minimise the risk.  But we can't eradicate it.
When you're looking to hire a classic car here are a few pointers to help ensure you get a reliable car:

1. Check how long the car has been on the fleet
2. Find out what the maintenance regime is
3. Ask about the car's condition and when it was last mechanically and bodily overhauled
4. Ask what mileage it typically covers in a month
5. Ask what problems there have been recently
6. Find out how often the breakdown service has been called out to this car
7. What percentage of the cost of your hire goes back into maintenance (ours is 35%)

To find out more about the maintenance and improvement regime for our hire fleet call 01527 893733 or click here.

________________________________

Graham Eason
www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 893733














When is a Jaguar not a Jaguar?


Classic car enthusiasts are, well, an enthusiastic lot. And with passion, as any social media user will instantly recognise, often comes pedantry. As a fan of cars and regular victim of pedantry I feel on safe ground when I suggest this is A Fact.
Nowhere does classic car fandom and a forensic interest in Being Right collide together quite so dramatically than over the vexed issue of classic Jaguars. Specifically, what The Best version of each one is.
William Lyons' penchant for making a lot of different cars with a lot of different specifications provides ample fodder for endless debate. Admittedly Porsche did the same with the 911, but restricted themselves to just one car. Jaguar repeated the idea across many, many cars.
The endless specification changes and the often lengthy production life of Jaguars means that if you don't have the 'right' spec then, for some aficionados, you might as well be dead. For proof just look at the relative prices of 2.4 and 3.8 Mk2s and early and late E Types. 
Sadly a customer decided to hang onto my E Type - five months and counting - so I'm not quite ready to split hairs over the relative merits of various models. I just want mine back, if you're reading this.  
Mk2s, however, carry less personal baggage. In fact I've been thinking about them a lot lately as we're restored one for our classic hire fleet. And I've just read some web copy rather vociferously decrying any Mk2 specification except the owner's one.


The debate around Mk2s is fuelled by the many different Mk2s that were sold, plus the Mk2s that weren't called Mk2s but were S-Types. Or Daimlers. 
Before we put our first Mk2 on the fleet in 2008 I endured much advice on the 'best' Mk2. Perceived wisdom is that it's the 3.8 'MOD' (manual overdrive), preferably with power steering. So that was the first one we got, and we've still got it.
Rather inevitably, as soon as we got it some bloke in a cap shuffled up beside me at some car show or other - I think it was in Suffolk - and told me point blank that a Mk2 with power steering was 'ruined.'  Which just goes to show that some people are silly.


Inevitably, having bought what most - but not him - believe to be the best Mk2, the story doesn't end there. Because it turns out the best Mk2 isn't actually a Mk2, it's a Daimler. The V8 250 uses the Mk2 bodyshell but with the superlative Turner V8. Most are auto yet it is a very good car. But not a Mk2 so nobody really wants to hire it. 
Cast the Daimler aside and most of the debate about The Best Mk2 revolves around engines, gearboxes and power steering.  Mk2s came with two other engines besides the 3.8, the 2.4 and 3.4. The 2.4 can't pull the skin off a rice pudding so definitely isn't The Best.  However the 3.4 could possibly lay claim to being The Best. For some, and not just the people who argue black is white for the simple joy of it, the 3.4 is a sweeter engine that gives little away in terms of power to the 3.8. I've driven both and, reluctant as I am to enter the Hair Splitting Olympics, tend to agree. It is better.
With the awkward issue of engines cast asunder, debate turns to gearboxes. Again, Mk2s came with three: two manuals and an automatic.


The Holy Grail is a 'MOD' Manual Overdrive car with synchro box as fitted from 1965. It's definitely the best box, but doesn't warrant dismissal of the earlier Moss Box, as also fitted to early E Types.  In the E the robust but slightly ponderous Moss box blunts the car's sporting pretensions, but in the Mk2 is feels at home. There is no synchro on first but otherwise the Moss Box provides a solid, firm change that is easy to master. As for the auto? It works fine in the Daimler but simply doesn't suit the Jaguar XK engine, which thrives on torque and needs to be in the right gear to maintain progress. A Mk2 is about driver engagement and an auto hardly delivers that.


And finally, on the subject of power steering, yes or no? On our hire fleet we have one of each and I would struggle to choose one over the other.  The unassisted car is a little heavy at low speeds, but then it has a massive wheel to compensate. On the plus side the steering is light on the move, like a Jaguar should be, and gives the feeling of piloting an ocean liner, which seems somehow very right. The PAS car is more maneuverable in a car park but suffers from a very poor turning circle, which sort of cancels out the advantage. It also loses a little something in terms of driver feel and engagement, typical of these early attempts at power assistance.
All of which essentially gets us nowhere.  I'd love to sit down on the pedant's throne and claim that a 3.4 with MOD and PAS is the perfect combination, but really it isn't.  There really isn't a perfect specification, there's just ones that aren't right (like an auto) and ones that suit some people more than others.  And that's why at Great Escape Cars we have two of the most popular specifications available: a 3.4 Moss Box with unassisted steering - as close to an original, early car as possible - and a 3.8 MOD with power assistance, which many consider the ultimate version.
You can hire either car from £229/day or £399 for a weekend.  These prices include insurance, unlimited mileage and RAC cover.

You can find out more at www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.


___________________________

Graham Eason
www.greatescapecars.co.uk
01527 8903733







£60,000 investment in hire fleet quality




One of the bugbears of the internet, whether you're buying flowers for a loved one or trying to find someone to love, is that the reality doesn't always quite match up to the description and images.

The same, sadly, is true of the different but no less essential world of classic car hire. Since very few people have the time to spend visiting their choice of classic hirer, their first experience of their chosen car is usually when they arrive to collect the keys.


Since I started hiring cars in 2006 the quality and reliability of my fleet has been critical to me, because it's my name on the door and it matters. So we were the first hire company in the UK to set up our own fully resourced workshop - and we're still the only one - and this winter I've personally invested £60,000 to improve the quality and presentation of our fleet.

This doesn't imply that the cars were in a bad shape - they were all perfectly presentable.  But hire cars work hard - they typically average 10,000-15,000 miles in an eight month season - and ours had picked up various dings and chips.  Some were also showing signs of bodywork deterioration typical of these high mileages.



Our investment in the fleet involves over 3,000 man-hours of work on cars varying from our 1964 Ford Mustang to our AC Cobra replica.  The work includes resprays, bodywork restoration and mechanical overhauls.

All of the work has been undertaken by our own workshop, which is staffed by four full time mechanics.

Our revamped fleet is ready for hire from March 2016. To find out more visit http://www.greatescapecars.co.uk or call 01527 893733.