Telum Talks To... Liz Dobson and Matt Chapman, co-founders of Automuse NZ

Telum Talks To... Liz Dobson and Matt Chapman, co-founders of Automuse NZ

Congratulations on the launch of AutoMuse NZ! Can you tell us a bit about the website and how it came to be?
Liz, Co-Founder / Edtior: Until recently I was the Motoring Editor / Editor-at-Large of DRIVEN, the New Zealand Herald’s motoring publication. I’d travel to Europe in business or first class every six weeks for car launches, and be the first to drive cars in New Zealand. Basically a dream job. I met Matt at a Rolls-Royce Cullinan launch at his farm, Parihoa, and as we had a mutual friend I went up and said hi. He responded by saying I had his dream job, and he wanted to be my apprentice (not the first time I’ve heard that!). But due to new management at DRIVEN (with no motoring or newspaper experience), I became very disheartened. Matt and I talked about setting up our own website (plus a few other ideas). On 10th December last year, I left DRIVEN. I then spent January and February testing cars so we could have content for when we launched, which was early March.

Matt, Co-Founder / Writer: The website is in its early stages, but we’re trying to be very disciplined with creating good content that people, who enjoy design and nature, can view the world’s latest cars against stunning environmental backdrops. AutoMuse aims to not appeal necessarily to petrol-heads (although we’re petrol-heads at heart too!) and so in that guise our articles have a lighter, more brief touch. 

What do your roles entail and what do your different backgrounds bring to the table?
Liz: I work full-time writing and reviewing cars, and as anyone who has a news website knows, that beast needs feeding a lot! So I work six to seven days a week to provide content. As I had such a great and strong profile in the motoring industry, when I announced my resignation and the new project, AutoMuse, we had tremendous support. I was able to get premium cars to test straight away, plus lots of brands wanting to be involved. I know from my experience at DRIVEN, plus being a Motoring Editor for glossy women’s magazines, that the motoring industry wants a lifestyle approach. I’m lucky that Matt has business experience and really supported me in tough times at DRIVEN. We also have the invaluable help of his team in Singapore for creating the website and social media, plus his New Zealand team to assist… otherwise I’d still be trying to work out how to buy a domain name! I think we also bring different news angles to the website; Matt loves scoop photos so in the morning he goes onto major international motoring websites to find out what has been spotted, and writes about it, whereas I do reviews and new release stories. But what started as an opinion piece for Matt (Which Lady Di’s Mercedes SL was the best) has turned into a weekly feature “Modern Classic” where Matt writes about cars (and even the famous garage from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). It is one of the most popular weekly features, which is great.

Matt: Liz is the real deal, being a Motoring Editor with many years experience in the industry. I just love cars and always have, but have also perhaps been a frustrated journalist. I have global businesses in the HR and hospitality world so my life involves many facets. Writing is cathartic for me, so it's fun to be writing and even more fun to be writing about cars, when I have time.

Matt, at 15, you sent a letter to Bentley letting them know that it was your utmost ambition to own a Rolls-Royce or Bentley. Do you now own that dream car?
I am very lucky to own a 2019 Bentley Continental GT. It's anthracite in colour, and is the Mulliner edition. I bought it as a treat when I sold ChapmanCG, my global HR search company, after many years of hard work. I think the Bentley GT is an iconic model that will stand the test of time. Essentially this is only the second edition, as the first edition lasted 17 years. I can see this as a car I’ll have for the next decade or more! 

What do Kiwis look for in their cars? How does this compare to other places?
Liz: Unlike Australia, we don’t have to travel too far to get to different cities, so smaller cars are prominent. But we’re also record breakers when it comes to the premium brands’ sporting models, such as Mercedes’ AMG line, Audi’s RS line or BMW’s M models. Per head of popular New Zealand has the most customers of these sports cars. But don’t expect to see them being paraded around. It’s usually hard-working business people who treat themselves to the vehicles. Also, we’re not very brand loyal - such as Ford versus Holden (RIP) of the past. If it’s a good brand, then people will swap into it. For example, a lot of people and companies are moving to Mazda due to the high standard and value of their products.

Matt: I think Kiwis look for value for money. But we are a culture that drive our cars a lot, so I think there is a fun factor that we need to enjoy our cars. Kiwis are aspirational so even if they haven’t got what they want, they like to read about it or dream about it. Perhaps that’s where AutoMuse comes in!

What are your most memorable moments since the launch of AutoMuse?
Liz: We were the first motoring media in Australasia to test the Rolls-Royce Phantom. It always feels great to get a scoop, considering we are such a new motoring website. We also were the first to test the Audi RS Q8. We are getting these as I keep in regular contact with motoring people, plus during New Zealand’s lockdown I’d message them about how they were coping. One of my strengths is building relationships within the industry - and it has paid off for us.

Matt: All the great cars coming through the farm gate have been very memorable. I’ve particularly liked the almost million dollar Rolls-Royce Phantom that we tested. Most recently, the BMW M850i Convertible was great fun.

How do you measure success for AutoMuse?
Liz: For me, it's subscribers, not just friends and family! Also being an authoritative voice in the motoring industry and having non-petrol heads coming to our site and enjoying our content.

Matt: Engagement and readership of our content is obviously very important, so we’re using online analytics for this. However, perhaps the greatest measure of success is that we’re having fun and feel this is a good use of our time. Liz and I have similar values in that we’re long-term focused, patient and relationship centric with everyone we come across.

What did you learn from lockdown as far as AutoMuse is concerned?
Liz: As there were no cars to drive during New Zealand's seven weeks of varying stages of lockdown, I resorted to old school magazine writing with weekly columns such as "Top Five...", "Behind the Design" (where I do interviews with car designers or find out what was behind the design of a vehicle), and "Around the World" (global reviews of recent cars that hadn't landed in NZ before lockdown). I'm going to start interviewing car brand ambassadors. I love hearing people's stories. 

Matt: We had a great chance to study global motoring news across many sites, so we had to be creative in our writing, taking inspiration from many places. We also made plans of what cars we wanted to review when lockdown eased. I reminded myself how much I love driving and was glad to get back out in my cars once I was allowed. 

What do you see as your goal for 2020? And the ultimate goal?
Liz: I want to be in the top five car websites in New Zealand, plus I have a plan for a great reality series based on AutoMuse. Ultimately, we'll sell AutoMuse - like the founders of CarAdvice.com.au. Personally, and this is something Matt stresses, we are to look at international sites as guidance - they are our competition!

Matt: I’m concentrating on my fitness and how I generate and use my personal energy for different projects. I think it's important to manage stress and commit to the right objectives. This is a complex year managing my global businesses, so I’m staying very focused on the “what” and “why”. I’m also training for a race called Snowman Race in Bhutan, which is one of the toughest mountain running races in the world, however this has been pushed back to 2021.

What do you look for in a good PR pitch?
Liz: For me, it's always the exclusive I'm after. No other media is getting it? Then I'll give you everything! Also, let's work together to create great content for AutoMuse and you.

Matt: I think it’s important to have a simple, easily understood message. It’s key to have a call to action. There should be an alignment between the values of different stakeholders. Passion should also kick in where you “just want to do it” in terms of buying or embracing the product or service. 

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