As an American, Grands Prix are not something I ever paid attention to (I had to look up how to pluralize it!). While there was a Grand Prix in Austin this year, the U.S. and especially my home state of North Carolina is NASCAR country, which features touring cars. So when I joined Edelman Abu Dhabi and started working with Yas Marina Circuit (Edelman client) and the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, I had a crash course in Formula 1.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, with a sold out crowd of 50,000, turned out to be one of the most exciting events in the racing calendar this year. I thought it also held some important communications lessons about being scrappy and taking advantage of any resources available whether you’re a driver, a fan or a publicist.
- Sometimes less is more: Race winner Kimi Raikkonen famously told his team over the radio as they continued to provide him information about the race, “Leave me alone. I know what I’m doing.” Sometimes constant feedback to your star player or your spokesperson just adds to their nerves instead of preparing them to do better. It’s important to find the right balance.
- Find your open space: Current leader in the World Drivers’ Championship, Sebastian Vettel started at the very back of the pack (number 24) due to an error in the qualifying round. He ultimately found his way up to the third place position with some adjustments to his car from his team and impressive driving. We were just as scrappy after the race. A journalist wanted a quote from the Circuit’s CEO, who is understandably quite busy at that time. However, both the team and the spokesperson were flexible. The CEO cleared a few minutes from his schedule and the journalist and PR team literally jogged down the paddock to get to where we needed to be on time. It resulted in a front page story the next day with a quote from our client’s CEO.
- Connect with your audience: Almost all the drivers take the time for autograph sessions, because they are wildly popular with fans, who stand in long lines to meet their heroes. On the PR front, most of our race-enthusiast fans were in the stands already so traditional media wasn’t the best way to reach them. Our team worked to engage spectators throughout the weekend by responding to messages on Twitter and Facebook. We also developed a Facebook application to give fans, who uploaded photos from their seats just before the races started, a chance to go to the podium afterwards. It was a win for clients because it encouraged fans to be in their seats at the start of the race, and a win for fans because they had the chance of a lifetime to be right by the winner’s podium.
I had a lot of fun and learned a lot about the Formula 1 competition. It’s a really interesting sport, and the cars are a feat of technology and engineering. The race itself also taught me important lessons about thinking on my feet to come up with ideas and directions that can work in the moment. Like Sebastian Vettel, being fast and flexible is the best way to put yourself ahead in the end!
Julie Wilder is a Global Fellow in Abu Dhabi, from Los Angeles.