This year sees the return of the French Grand Prix after a 10-year absence from the F1 calendar. However, if you thought there’d been no racing action there since then, you’d be very much mistaken. A lot has changed since 2008 when F1 was last in town, with the track being recently resurfaced and the circuit aiming to become a destination for premium and lifestyle events. I spoke to Marine Deloffre, Head of Communications for the Paul Ricard circuit, about moving from fashion to motorsport and bringing a fresh look at how tracks are marketed.
Like many in the motorsport industry, Marine always had an interest in the sport admitting she had been “fascinated by cars and had loved them since I was young”. None of her family were involved in the sport and so the racing world was unknown to her, despite this she has forged a career in the industry, however coming from a very different background. “I began my career in fashion because I did luxury marketing for my studies,” she said, however after finding the fashion world extremely complex and not very transparent, decided to move on to the automotive industry. Having gained a ‘double-degree’ in both French and German Marketing whilst studying at Euromed Marseille and Hochschule Bremen in Germany, Marine went on to achieve an MBA in Luxury Marketing and International Management at the Institut Supérieur de Marketing du Luxe in Paris. With her experience in high-end marketing and being fluent in German, Marine’s passion for cars lead her to take up a trainee program with Mercedes Benz France. “They did a 2-year program where you changed roles every 6 months to develop quick adaption and help us network. I worked in product marketing for the cars, assisted the CEO of the Truck Department, and then PR and press for the cars and I really loved that part,” she told me.
Following her training, Marine went on to work for Mercedes Benz France in Paris for 5 years in the company’s marketing department as their Event and Sponsorship Manager. “We had a consequent marketing budget, so it was interesting as we could be part of many events, such as the Paris Fashion Week, golf events, sailing, Brand Ambassadors program, AMG events on the racetrack and 4MATIC events on ice. I really loved this world because it was a ‘man’s world’ and so it was very transparent, sometimes there was a little bit of an old-school mentality but then when they know you and see you are competent, then you get huge respect. Passion plays a big role I think,” she explained of working with the brand.
Being employed by the French division of the Mercedes Benz brand meant Marine had organised and attended many events at Paul Ricard. “This is where I discovered the track. I was always excited to come here as I think it’s the most beautiful and my favourite, it’s just an amazing track,” she said.
For personal reasons, Marine then had to leave Paris and move to the South of France meaning she could no longer work with Mercedes Benz. With Circuit Paul Ricard being in the region and having used the track as a customer with Mercedes, she decided to contact Stéphane Clair, CEO of Circuit Paul Ricard to discuss a possible job opportunity. He gave her a chance and in 2014, she started working at the circuit with the WTCC being her first racing event. “I didn’t really know the motorsport world, but I was a quick learner and so tried to learn about all the drivers and the teams. I then got a permanent position at Paul Ricard and so had to learn about the other motorsport events,” she said. Having previously worked in the fashion and lifestyle industry, she was keen to try and bring in some fresh ideas and encourage those not usually interested in the sport to experience it at the track.
One of the first things Marine wanted organise at the circuit was a rooftop party that would occur during a race, giving those attending a beautiful view of the surroundings. When the Blancpain GT series came to Paul Ricard in 2014, she organised just that. “We took a lifestyle view and invited bloggers which was new and different for a track to do in motorsport. We decided to say ‘OK, we don’t just want people who already know about motorsport, we want people from other worlds to experience our racetrack. On the roof of Paul Ricard, we had the party with a fashion show and beauty bar and so we got many people who come for the party, and then discover the racing world. It then had an impact on the ticketing and so was a huge success,” she described. However, she was keen to add that none of it would’ve been possible without the huge support and confidence of the circuit’s CEO Stéphane Clair who himself had a lot of ideas. A year later, it was clear his faith in her had been well-placed when her promoted her to the Head of Communications.
Having worked at the circuit since 2014, the French Grand Prix being back on the F1 calendar was something Marine had imagined and dreamed about, so when it was announced in 2016, she and all those working at the track were very excited. “The announcement was in the Automobile Club de Paris and after that it was amazing. There was so much press coverage and I remember Stéphane saying we needed to be prepared and ready to answer all the requests. For me it was an incredible experience because my daily work changed, and we have so many new opportunities for marketing and partnerships. It had a really big impact on our coverage, bigger than we’d seen before. There are so many marketing activations for us to set up, so it’s been very interesting,” Marine told me.
2018 has and will be an exciting year for Circuit Paul Ricard with a new logo, newly resurfaced track and of course, the return of the French Grand Prix. With this being such a momentous year, they wanted to organise an exciting Season Launch and so this was a task for Marine. “Stéphane said, ‘OK what can we do to launch the season in a creative way?’ I had 3 days to think of something and I came back to him and we’d both had the same idea. We proposed we have a huge grid, so have all the calendar with all of our events. We had 2 of each category in chronological order and organised the press conference like a huge grid walk,” she explained.
Very soon the F1 circus will arrive in France and as the Head of Communications for the track hosting the spectacle, Marine will be extremely busy. Speaking of the race weekend, she said: “we have a team that will do the social media, a team in the press room, I will be doing PR with the CEO and the VIPs that come. I will be making sure we have photos and good coverage of the top VIPs and also be checking the media and communications aspects of Paul Ricard. Our motto is: ‘work hard, stay humble’ and so we have to stay like we were before.”
The French Grand Prix may not have taken place for a decade, but that doesn’t mean that the French Public has lost interest in the sport, and Marine is hoping that the race will bring some success for the home nation. “We would love to have a French driver on the podium, it would be a great story for us. It would be even better if we could hear the national anthem and nice for the fans. In Monaco, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were 6th and 7th so there is a chance and we would love that,” she told me.
Marine Deloffre has waited for the return of the French Grand Prix and since the announcement, her days have only got busier. In a few days, 20 F1 cars will line up on the grid, but before then, there is still a lot for Marine and her team to do. Having originally started her career in fashion, she may not have travelled the stereotypical route to working in motorsport, but those skills she gained working in lifestyle come in extremely useful now. “You have to be passionate,” she said when asked what her advice would be to others. “As you go, you slowly make your own place. I didn’t come from a motorsport family but with hard work I soon gained my own little place in the industry. With hard work everything is possible.”
(all photo credits: Marine Deloffre)