Written at the end of 2015 for the earliest iteration of this site under the Turn Eight name, this post has been updated for the Racing Mentor audience.
As someone whose job involves interviewing drivers on a regular basis, the relationship between drivers and journalists can sometimes be equated to people and spiders – who is more scared of the other? It can be easy for journalists to be blinded by a famous driver, or nervous about poking an already-irritated lion post-crash. Likewise, one thing I’ve noticed in many interviews is how for many, dealing with a microphone is far harder than dealing with oversteer at 120mph. Particularly at club level, drivers just aren’t used to the media as having much of a presence and feel like it’s an added distraction they don’t need in the rigmarole of going racing.
As a professional microphone-shover-in-face, let me explain how we can actually be one of your most powerful allies.
Sponsors and investors will want to know what they are dealing with and whether pumping money into you and your race team will be a worthwhile investment. Chiefly, they will want brand reach – their logos on your car being seen by as many eyeballs as possible. Now, obviously the best way to achieve this is to win, right? If you’re up front, the cameras will be on you both on-track and atop the podium. However, winning alone isn’t always enough – you need to tell the racing world and beyond what you’re all about, and become a brand for yourself.
What’s your story? What’s your personality like? What’re your goals and ambitions? Fans want to connect with you, and if you give them a reason to follow you through countless race weekends, that’s a powerful tool, especially as it puts you in a more marketable position for sponsors. Social media has given us more of a platform than ever to broadcast ourselves to the world, but think of it like this: if you’ve worked hard to get a certain amount of Twitter followers or Facebook likes, then a motorsport media publication or website is a pre-made stage for you to take and make your own.
Hyundai Coupe Cup driver Dan Blake says: “I think club level relationships with the media are extremely important. At this stage in your career you don’t tend too get much media attention at all, so any that you get is a bonus. If reporters or journalists know you are good value for your opinion and views, they will come back for more. Having this sort of relationship with the media helps you create yourself as a brand too.”
The Cult of Personality
Ask yourself – What’s your natural personality like? How do you want fans and sponsors to perceive you? What makes you different from the established stars?
The great thing about motorsport is that, being such a vast arena, there’s plenty of room for different characters, and that’s part of the appeal for many fans. Where the challenge lies, however, is in balancing professionalism with honesty. Unleashing a pipebomb on how terrible your car was or a lack of support from sponsors is the fastest way to torpedo your career, but at the same time, fans love raw emotion and honesty – and there’s no faking out an audience.
British GT driver and Mazda MX-5 Supercup champion Abbie Eaton says: “I think it’s very important to come across as professional at all times but my personal opinion is that you should be yourself too. I like that about Daniel Ricciardo, he is down to earth and shows genuine love and passion to be on the grid. Those watching want to see drivers enjoy themselves and experience the highs and lows that the spectators do too. It adds real personalities to the sport rather than those that give interviews like they are reading off a speech that has been prepared for them.”
Both Eaton and Blake are unique personalities, of which comes across in their interviews. I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to both and many other drivers whilst on media duty, and the similarities and contrasts between their interview styles is fascinating to note – and a useful lesson for you going forward in your racing career.
The Brand Of You
Right now you might be getting nervous about the idea of having fans watch what you do, and being popular. Firstly, understand this: journalists and media are often as anxious about dealing with you as you are us, especially when the huge names get involved. Secondly, Racing Mentor has you covered, offering coaching on walking that line between raw personality and professional decorum; it’s easier than you’d think. Third, and most importantly – where fans flock to see you, sponsors and further media attention will follow, and the cycle will continue at an ever-growing pace.
“My experiences with the media have seen me build a bit more of a platform for myself,” adds Blake. “By showing my personality and being approachable I have been able to build a reputation. The media at club level is very important, as it’s extremely rare that you even get mainstream media wanting to interview you. Your relationship with the media can open doors for you but potentially and also close them too. The media talk to a lot of different people, some who can be pretty influential and there are, I imagine, quite a few off the record chats as such in an interview scenario.”
Going back to the initial point; sponsors want brand reach and a proud ambassador for their product. What better than a racing driver with a great interview technique, who fans are keen to meet and journalists are keen to talk to. A driver with quotes being shared across social media and major outlets to tens-upon-hundreds-upon-thousands of readers, viewers and listeners. If you can go into a sponsor meeting and pitch for funding with that momentum behind you, it becomes very hard for a cheque-writer to say no.
So next time you see a microphone or dictaphone, don’t recoil; take to the stage being given to you, and make it your own.