Last week’s news that American Honda is shifting some 2015 ad spending from television to digital and had already moved its Summer 2014 cable budget to concert sponsorships (Spots n Dots 8/20/14) is a wake-up call for the industry. Jim Doyle, President of Jim Doyle & Associates, a sales training and marketing consulting firm for television, says “Honda’s not going to be the last guys to do this.” The auto manufacturers are increasingly pushing their dealers, via co-op spending, to increase their reliance on digital marketing. But, he says, there are things that local TV sales operations need to be doing to maintain the long-established relationship between television and selling automobiles.

“We shouldn’t be anti-digital. After all, we offer lots of digital products,” Doyle warned. “But we’ve got to be very clear to dealers about the power of the TV-digital solution to dominate markets. He noted that many local TV stations and cable operators are offering digital solutions way beyond just a station’s own website. “So I would package my TV assets, my mobile platforms, or my desktop website with a TV schedule, but I might be calling on that dealer completely separately to help them manage their SEO [search engine optimization], SEM [search engine marketing] and Facebook stuff.”

Doyle says the increased emphasis on digital marketing absolutely will continue and TV sellers can’t play ostrich. He notes that it’s reminiscent of what happened 25 years or so ago when a new generation took over management of dealerships from their fathers and shifted spending on marketing from newspapers to television. Now, though, the new generation is oriented to digital media.

A top priority right now is to have relationships at the owner-dealer level. “Many times those relationships are going to have to be built by general managers in a generals-to-generals approach,” Doyle told us. “Number two, we need to resell the power of our core product, because today’s dealers, largely handled by agencies, have no one telling them how powerful television can be. We need to sell the idea of the combination between digital and television as the way to dominate markets,” he said.

Doyle noted that in terms of what dealers are now spending on digital, the percentage going to television-related digital assets is “very, very small.” He says television sales operations have to be more effective in advocating their digital solutions at the owner-dealer level—not just with the agency or at the digital manager level within the dealership. “Our competition for digital is the dealer verticals that are dealer-only and they have a pretty compelling sales story—but our sales story hasn’t been done and there are people who are doing some significant amount of money on digital by managing a lot of the dealership’s digital activities,” Doyle said. “But those kind of sales are occurring at the owner-dealer level, not at the agency or at the [dealer] general manager level,” he added.