Pirelli’s ‘integrated’ digital content model fuels huge traffic and engagement online

Success in building a lifestyle brand beyond tyres enhances pitch for higher IPO valuation

Pirelli’s online audience has increased by several million in the past two years across the web and social media after the tyre manufacturer embraced a new digital content strategy.

Pirelli, a FirstWord client, revealed figures as part of its recent initial public offering showing that in the first quarter of 2017 it was able to reach 88.3 million users through digital channels including its websites and social networks.

In the first quarter of 2017, Pirelli’s Facebook posts reached more than 2.1 million followers, up 16 per cent on the previous year. Pirelli Twitter accounts saw a follower increase of 27 per cent to over 221,000 followers and there was a 93 per cent increase in Instagram followers to 288,000.

In its IPO offer document, Pirelli explicitly references the growth of its digital “fan base” over 12 months as it explains the worth of this audience in its pitch to investors. This growth also drove high traffic to the main website, which Pirelli refers to as a “digital magazine”. The website saw over 500 articles published in 2016, many produced by FirstWord, on the subjects of product, motorsport, culture and sustainability, as well as more than 80 videos.

FirstWord director Adrian Michaels said: “Many of the pieces do not mention Pirelli or its tyres at all. The company understands that this is the worth of content marketing: there may be three years between the purchase of sets of tyres; they simply want to stay in touch with you by offering interesting stuff between those purchases, so that when the BMW’s tyres need replacing you will remember that Pirelli is a good option.”

The rate at which site visitors – of which more than half came from social networks – engaged more deeply with the content or brand has also increased more than ten times, according to the IPO document.

Pirelli has always had a powerful brand that communicates the company’s Italian heritage and its commitment to technology and creative culture. Everyone is familiar with its famous Calendar – just one of the company’s many activities in the arts, design and culture – which has been going for more than 50 years and was content marketing before anyone had heard of the phrase.

The company also derives great benefit from its motorsport sponsorships and activities, particularly as exclusive supplier of tyres to Formula One.

Pirelli’s communication department realised that in the digital age these high-profile activities could be the start of something much greater; an always-on content-driven newsroom and messaging machine that builds on the platforms already established by the famous brand, where all channels move in synergy to optimise content distribution and reach the greatest possible number of people.

“Telling stories – accurate, consistent stories that communicate key Pirelli messages – needed to become a vital part of developing the Pirelli brand and helping the company to reach its strategic goals,” says Maurizio Abet, director of communication. “So we set out to establish a new integrated communication model that means we have creative control over our own content.”

Integrated means that those who come into contact with the Pirelli name – from seeing it on the relaunched Pirelli.com or a front page headline in the New York Times to social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – are taken on a new journey from brand awareness to product consideration.

Thinking and acting like a publisher

Today Pirelli has become a publishing house and broadcaster. While its famous tyres grace premium and prestige car marques, a separate production line at HQ in Milan is creating a constant supply of high-quality content across media platforms. FirstWord was brought in as a professional journalism and newsroom expert to assist Pirelli every week in feeding and maintaining its editorial calendar. FirstWord also commissions, writes and edits stories for Pirelli.com.

The move into constant, high-quality content makes strategic sense. “We live in a noisy world where everybody wants to show their own content,” says Abet. “So the challenge is getting people’s attention, standing out from all of the noise. We believe that a key way to do this is with really compelling and frequent stories. We want to be front of mind when our customers consider buying new tyres and for our stakeholders to think we are a modern, hi-tech company able to take care of people and the environment”

Michaels added: “We are proud of the work we’ve done with Pirelli, and the people in Pirelli’s marketing department are, I would imagine, very pleased that all their efforts are being recognised as part of a company-wide effort to add to the group’s enterprise value.”

The content strategy

Pirelli’s content model has three distinct elements. First of all it has drawn up an editorial plan covering everything from Pirelli’s latest products and its powers of innovation to news in Formula One and analyses of the automotive industry. Second, it publishes stories across multiple media platforms and, third, the response to these stories is measured to ensure the editorial plan is working. It can be refined or updated at any time to boost its effectiveness.

Pirelli creates a broad spectrum of content, from articles and infographics, video and photo galleries to social media posts and press releases. Each activity aims to boost the company’s reputation, consolidate brand awareness and increase product consideration with key customers – in particular where tastes are often fickle and preferences change constantly. Through storytelling, Pirelli creates a world beyond tyres so that people remain attached to the brand even in those periods when they aren’t looking to buy.

To help create content, Pirelli works with specialist partners such as FirstWord, which began providing regular stories in 2015 and has also planned and written the prestigious Company Profile. A dedicated team at FirstWord liaises every week with Pirelli’s marketing department to ensure it fully understands the company and the issues affecting the automotive sector.

Each month FirstWord provides stories for the Pirelli website on topics as diverse as sustainability requirements, the technology behind anti-puncture innovation and Spotify lists of the best driving tunes.

“Working with specialist content providers that fully understand Pirelli’s philosophy and the automotive industry has allowed us to make a significant impact in a short time,” says Abet. “It is also beneficial to create a long-term relationship as both Pirelli and our providers can build a greater mutual understanding. The result is great content.”

Broadcast news and views

The content is distributed through a variety of media outlets – those owned by Pirelli include its website, social media sites, intranet, corporate news magazine and sponsored events. The content team simultaneously manages all these channels, creating consistency and building synergies – always creating a cohesive Pirelli message that maximises impact.

The final stage is to measure what is happening. The journeys that visitors take through the website are tracked and the real-time hit and bounce rates of individual stories are assessed. All the data is reported back to the editorial team, which can then refine the content plan according to real behavioural feedback from the audience. The feedback loop kicks in as the team continually boosts brand awareness and attempts to help convert contacts into consumers. Content, ultimately, will help drive sales.

The full brand story and its assets

In a world where everyone seems to be shouting in a competition to be heard, it is doubly important for a brand to have its own highly-recognisable identity. Pirelli stands alone in the tyre world as a brand with a reach and meaning that goes well beyond rotating circles of rubber; it is associated inextricably with the arts, with fashion, with design. Central to this are its own cultural activities, epitomised by the Pirelli Foundation, which was founded in 2009 as a home for the company’s heritage, and Pirelli HangarBicocca, a dramatic 15,000 square metre art space near the Milan headquarters. There is also, of course, the Pirelli Calendar – another global phenomenon that attracts huge media attention.

These links between external activities and the group’s core manufacturing can now be told regularly, and properly, via stories that people want to share. And it’s all in the online brand newsroom.