Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

Matthew Levatich has resigned as CEO of iconic American motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson. The manufacturer has been struggling for some time, leading many to believe a change of leadership was necessary.

As the board began its search for a new CEO, board member Jochen Zeitz took on the role of communicating these changes to the press and the public. In his initial statement, Zeitz said the board and Levatich “mutually agreed” the time for “new leadership” at the company had arrived.

It’s not a surprise move, given Harley has been dealing with slumping sales in the United States while also attempting to make inroads in overseas markets, which are dominated by German and Japanese manufacturers.

Market watchers have blamed an aging target market for Harley’s slumping sales, but they’re not able to account for the precipitous drop in profits in 2019’s Q4. With the booming economy, some expect leisure vehicles, such as boats and motorcycles, sales should be on the rise. Or, at least, maintaining.

One of the questions not being asked is if Harley-Davidson is doing enough to attract a new market. If the company’s prime target is aging out, what’s the company doing to reach younger people who’ll soon be in their target demographic? Another way to ask this is: “What’s Harley doing to connect with new consumers on social media using digital PR?” Why digital PR? Because of the proliferation of mobile devices and the lifestyle shifts of all cohorts ages 15 to 55. It’s not just teens and 20-somethings spending their lives online. Many older Americans are spending a great deal of time living, communicating and shopping online, especially through social media.

If legacy companies such as Harley-Davidson—which depend on mystique and brand story as a huge aspect of their promotional campaigns—fail to shift some of their efforts into serious digital PR campaigns, they’ll struggle to reach a market that’s spending so much time online. When a company with so much going for it struggles to connect with generations that have money and might be interested—because its not accustomed to advertising and marketing through digital media—its clearly missing out on opportunities to supplement and, eventually, replace its current customer base.

The company has a rich history and a good story, and much to offer a new customer base, but, when it doesn’t invest fully and enthusiastically in a digital PR campaign, it’s failing to meet that market where they are. Sure, it will still get sales through traditional media and word of mouth, but those can’t sustain a brand forever.


Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.