Media + Motorsport by Louise Goodman
27th July 2018
Louise Goodman is an award-winning TV presenter and journalist with over 20 years of media and motor racing experience. Dubbed ‘the first woman of Formula One’ she made her name as part ITV’s Grand Prix presentation team and now co-presents the channel’s BTCC coverage. In her own words, Goodman talks the do’s and don’ts in front of camera, ways to improve and the importance of on-screen exposure
“You win some, you lose some, you wreck some.” That’s how legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr summed up a racing driver’s lot. He was right; there’s not a driver out there who hasn’t experienced both the highs and the lows of motorsport. Whether you’re winning, losing or wrecking though, one thing all drivers should be doing, is talking about it. Earnhardt was renowned for his memorable quotes.
It was his character and personality off track as much as his sublime skills on track that earned him the legions of fans who still revere his name to this day. He built that reputation, and won those fans, via the media that covered the sport.
No driver sets out to be a media star. It’s the adrenalin rush when the lights go out, the satisfaction of pulling off that overtake, the thrill of crossing the line first and looking down from the top step of the podium that you sign up for, not the media interviews that follow it. But any racer who’s looking to make a living from their passion needs that media exposure to achieve their ambitions in the first place.
Some drivers like to think they can do all their talking on track, but delivering the goods behind the wheel just isn’t enough in this day and age. Even if you’re winning races and championships in karting and junior series, that’s probably not going to be enough to get you to a point where your pastime can become your profession. Budgets are high in motorsport and, as most racing drivers know all too well, money is hard to come by. The “Bank of Mum & Dad” will probably only fund you up the first few rungs of the motorsports ladder. After that, you’re going to be in need of some sponsorship.
Unfortunately, companies that will pay your racing bills just for the love of the sport are all too few and far between. Most sponsors need exposure to justify that funding and it’s the media the provides that exposure. Sponsors also want ambassadors to represent their brands so ensuring that you’re getting the right kind of exposure is vital too. So how do you ensure that you’re getting your share of the limelight? How do you shine in the spotlight when it falls on you?
Some teams and drivers employ press officers to manage their PR. It’s not always an easy job as I can testify having been a press officer for the Jordan Formula 1 team earlier in my career. Luckily for me, I never had the thankless task of managing Kimi Raikkonen’s PR, although I often had the unenviable job of trying to get a usable quote out of him when I was ITVs Formula 1 pitlane reporter.
Don’t get me wrong – I love Kimi – but trying to get him to respond positively to a microphone is never easy. He has an impressive lack of interest in promoting himself, his team or his sponsors and any answers that you do manage to elicit are delivered in that familiar monosyllabic drone. Kimi has become a cult figure thanks to his disregard for the media. His “I was having a s***” response to Martin Brundle’s question about why he hadn’t appeared at a presentation to mark Michael Schumacher’s final race in Brazil is still many fans all-time favourite grid-walk interview. It’s partly Kimi’s lack of interest that’s led to his popularity but just because Kimi gets away with it, that doesn’t mean today’s young drivers can. Kimi started racing in a very different financial and media age. It’s debatable whether he’d had have made it out of karting if he was at the start of his career now rather than getting close to the end of it.
There are times when every driver – even Kimi – has to stand up and defend himself in front of the media. No matter how skilled you are at racing on the edge, there will always be times when you’ll trip over it. Accidents and incidents are part and parcel of motorsport and how >> you handle yourself in those trickier interview situations can have a large impact on your reputation. It’s much easier to convey the good news – to talk about that late braking overtake that led to your race win – but knowing how to announce bad news in a good way is a vital skill for anybody who will ever have to face a journalist after an uncomfortable outcome.
It’s difficult to explain that you dropped out of a podium position because your engine gave out, but there is a way to say it without throwing anybody under the bus. The way you handle yourself in those tricker interview situations can have a huge impact on your reputation.
It’s important for everyone in sport these days to manage their reputation; that’s why Formula 1 teams have all those press officers you see holding voice recorders in the background of interviews. It was a one-woman job back when I was the press officer for Jordan Grand Prix, but the media landscape is very different 25 years later. Nowadays we live in a world of 24-hour rolling news and a world where social media can play as big a part as the mainstream media in shaping reputations. That takes a lot more managing. On the plus side though, it also adds up to a lot more exposure that’s potentially out there for the taking. Unlike the Formula 1 drivers, you may not have the advantage of a press officer to help you find your way through the media maze but there’s a lot that drivers can do for themselves.
You could start by building a relationship with the journalists who cover your series. Making a personal connection with some key media in the paddock can pay dividends in the long run – especially in those tricky interview situations. A quick chat in the paddock might be all it takes. Much as I’d love to, I don’t have the time to catch up with all 120+ drivers racing on the BTCC package over the course of a race weekend. The drivers who approach me have a better chance of shaping my perceptions of them and getting their stories told. It stands to reason, if we don’t know about you, we can’t talk about you!
Make contact with your local media too – local newspapers and radio stations are always on the look-out for interesting stories about sportspeople in their region. Generating media coverage isn’t always easy. It takes bit of persistence on your part and an interest in motorsport from the journalist in question. Most of all though it needs to be an interesting story. A lap by lap account of how you trailed home in ninth place isn’t going to have any radio station rushing to book you for an interview. ‘Local driver breaks through for a maiden win” has a far greater chance of appearing in the sports pages of your local paper.
So, get out there and meet the press … and interact with the fans as well. After all, the fans are the lifeblood of any sport. Not only do they travel for miles and spend their hard-earned pennies to watch you race but they are the very people who those all-important sponsors are trying to reach. Drivers are the most visible face of motorsport so use that visibility
to your advantage.
Social media is a fantastic tool for doing just that and it enables you to shape exactly how you’re seen without your image being filtered through a journalist’s perceptions. It’s a tool that needs handling with care though. There are plenty of reasons for drivers to be fighting against each other but the ones that should matter are the battles you have out on track, not the ones that rage over social media. They’re undoubtedly entertaining for onlookers but not what your team, your championship or your sponsors want to see.
So how can a driver help themselves to get the exposure their sponsors demand, get the kind of exposure that benefits rather than detracts from their reputation and build a loyal fan base for themselves? That’s where training comes in.
Training is now recognised as an integral part of every racing driver’s life. The days when weight lifting for drivers involved raising a few pints in the bar after the race are long gone. Beneath every modern professional driver’s race suit lies a serious athlete honed through hours in the gym and miles on the bike. Simulators are increasingly employed to perfect on-track skills via virtual training laps and many top stars employ sports psychologists to sharpen their minds and focus their goals.
The same approach applies when it comes to the media. Don’t just take it from me though. As nine-times Grand Prix winner and FIA World Endurance Champion Mark Webber puts it: “It’s a no-brainer that working with the press is a huge part of being a driver. Understanding how the media operates and learning how to work with them is essential if you want to make it to the top of your game.”
So, what does media training involve? First and foremost, it’s not about turning racing drivers into PR machines who give bland quotes and gratuitously name-check their sponsors. That’s not what I want to hear when I approach a driver with a microphone and it’s not what the public wants to watch on their televisions either. We want memorable personalities with original comments who aren’t afraid to speak their own minds. Dull quotes and worn clichés won’t get you column inches in a newspaper >> or magazine either; they want stories with a controversial quote that grabs their readers’ attention or a novel angle that make those readers want to learn more.
My media training sessions are about giving racing drivers a better understanding of how the media actually works so they can work with them to mutual benefit. You’re never going to get the maximum out of a car you’ve never sat in. The same principle applies to working with the media. It’s all about being prepared. If you know the different approach to take for live rather than pre-recorded TV interviews you’re more likely to make a good job of it. If you understand how to pitch your comments so that your audience can relate to it, you’re going to make more of an impact on them. Viewers who’ve tuned in to watch a motorsport show will be interested to hear about your turn-in-understeer. Tell that to your local TV station and the audience is likely to switch off, mentally if not literally, because they won’t understand what you’re talking about.
Media training helps put a driver into the driving seat in an interview rather than being a passenger and having to go wherever the journalist takes you. It’s about making sure that you use the exposure to benefit your own agenda and not just the journalists. We teach people how to use social media productively and professionally, look at how your body language can impact an audience’s perception of you and how you can use your voice for maximum impact.
It’s not just a lecture though – we put the theory into practise so in my sessions I put the drivers through a whole range of different interviews, on camera, including some of those more uncomfortable ones! Reviewing the footage together enables the drivers to see what they’re doing and how they can do it better. It’s not always a comfortable watch but it’s like media telemetry; a tool you can use to improve your performance.
If you understand your environment and feel in control you’re more likely to make the right impression and have the confidence to get your personality across… whether you’re winning, losing OR wrecking,