Working in Formula One can be difficult, especially when you are part of a brand-new team with no experience in the championship. However, working in a brand-new championship in which none of the teams have experience can be extremely challenging with all employees, regardless of their previous work, having any experience. Emma Bearpark has worked in both F1 and FE, as well as working as a PA for a Formula One driver, so I spoke to her about her career and how managing social media for a team has changed in the modern age.
Emma has always enjoyed watching motorsport and motorbike racing. “I was a big Damon Hill fan,” she said, “I was one of those millions of people who when Damon won the championship, was like Murray Walker with a lump in my throat. I was not fanatical, but I was intrigued by the sporting event.”
Despite this, she never had an intention to work in the industry having originally studied for a Geography degree at university. From there she went into PR, however of the fashion variety, rather than motorsport. After spending eight years with a Bond Street based fashion brand, Bearpark wanted to challenge herself and so moved to The Big Group, an agency where she would have to juggle several clients based in different industries. Through this, her first experience working in motorsport came about.
“One of Mastercard UK’s clients was Jordan Grand Prix and they wanted to take some guests to Silverstone, but nobody in the office had an interest in motorsport,” Emma told me. After going along and meeting with the Jordan team, including their drivers at the time Giancarlo Fisichella and Takuma Sato, she also attended an event soon after at which Sato also was present. Bearpark decided that she wanted a change of direction, and to combine her love of PR with her life-long passion for motorsport.
Her first role in the sport came with BAR Honda who at the time wanted to expand their PR department. Her responsibilities included forging relationships with the engine supplier, the Japanese media and also managing requests for Takuma Sato. Bearpark admits she was thrown in at the deep end having never worked with Japanese colleagues before and no experience in motorsport. However, her previous role dealing with a variety of clients helped her to adapt quickly.
Although motorsport wasn’t the original intention, PR has always been a passion for Emma. “Even though I did a Geography degree, I knew I didn’t want to be a surveyor or anything like that. I definitely loved the idea of PR, and I loved working for the fashion group and organising events,” she said, adding that her roles in PR have been perfect for her as she was one of the first faces in the team that people would meet, and confesses she is “very chatty”.
After leaving BAR, Emma went on to join new team Super Aguri F1. “I was asked to move there with Takuma by Honda because of all my understanding of Japanese culture and my great working relationship with Taku,” she explained. However, after only a few years, the team collapsed mid-season leaving their employees with no jobs.
Luckily, Bearpark had become established in motorsport and so was presented with several contracts, one of which was with the BBC. “On CBBC they wanted, between Newsround and other popular programmes, to talk about Formula One because that’s when the BBC had acquired the (broadcasting) rights,” she told me. “I went in as a consultant and I worked with them to help obtain interviews, snippets and videos that they could show on the Red Button service with the CBBC audience in mind.” Having had experience setting up the BAR Honda fan club, Emma had worked closely with fans before, though working with those of a CBBC age was different for her.
Following her stint with the BBC, Bearpark went back into PR, however this time working as a PA for a F1 driver. “I’d known Jenson Button for a long time and so I was very honoured and proud that they trusted me,” she said. Emma spent a summer working with Button, covering for his long-time PA who was on maternity leave. Working with one driver can be very different to working with a team as you have to deal with personal matters as well as the team, the FIA or series (if appropriate) and media requests. “I learnt a lot about how busy a successful F1 driver’s life actually is and it made me realise how little free time they actually have to themselves,” she explained of her time working with Button.
Being part of Super Aguri, Emma has experience in helping a team who are brand new to a series. This came in handy when she was asked to join Andretti for the inaugural season of Formula E, speaking of it she said: “one of the reasons Andretti asked me to join them in year one was because I’d had experience of working with the FIA already. It was the first time Andretti had entered an FIA championship, so they were seeking someone who could assist the team manager and help establish them with European media.” Since Formula E was new to everyone, she still had a lot to learn herself even though she had worked in a FIA championship previously, which Andretti had not. “It made the experience fun and challenging because we were all learning together,” Emma explained.
Bearpark now works with another FE team, but her role now is not just focussing on the sport. “I joined NIO in May 2017 as it’s UK Communications Manager after consulting for LEGO and Warner Bros. to update my lifestyle PR experience. My role at NIO includes media relations and global social strategy for the NIO Performance Program – its Formula E Team and EP9 electric supercar events – and the brand’s automotive side. Team China Racing who competed in the FE series in year one evolved in to NEXTEV and was rebranded to the NIO Formula E Team last year. NIO is an automotive brand in China. Our first road car was launched in December 2017 and will be on the streets in March/April.” Emma informed me.
Online activity is particularly important in Formula E, making Emma’s role extremely important. “I try my best to maintain constant interaction with the fans because that’s what the championship is all about. Part of our role is of course to help promote sustainability and making the link for electric car racing technology from track to road, but ensuring fan engagement is high, especially for ‘FanBoost’ and so on is especially important,” she told me, adding: “I think across the board Formula E drivers and teams are more accessible and social media savvy than any other series.”
The main reason for this is likely to be because of the ‘FanBoost’ feature in the Championship. Online voting allows fans to award extra power to their favourite drivers. The three most voted for racers are awarded the ‘FanBoost’ before the race. This makes the Championship more interactive and accessible to fans who feel they can really play a part in it.
Having worked in many areas of motorsport, Emma Bearpark’s advice to others would be: “get some experience, work at a track, even if it’s work experience”. She also recommends working for a marketing or sponsorship agency if you are interested in PR as it can help you to find the area of motorsport that you really want to work in. “It’s also about perseverance, just keep trying,” she added, as it took her 10 years of working in PR to get to a role in motorsport. Now working in Formula E, a constantly changing and progressing championship, Emma finds her job challenging at times, but hugely rewarding.
(all photo credits: Emma Bearpark)