The world of public relations can be a tricky one, with press officers often having to find the balance between pleasing their clients and the media. However, this becomes even more difficult when you are working in a demanding industry such as motorsport, which is fast-paced both on and off track. Rachel Cavers has worked with the FIA World Rallycross Championship, Petronas (one of Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport’s main sponsors) and the FIA World Endurance Championship. I spoke to her about how she first got involved in the sport, starting her own communications business, and her advice for others.
Growing up, Rachel was surrounded by motorsport with the roar of rally cars being the sound of her childhood. “Next door to our family farm is a rally preparation factory (Dom Buckley Motorsport) so I was used to seeing, but mostly hearing, rally cars hurtle up and down our road from a young age. The Jim Clark Rally also used part of the farm road as a rally stage so I used to watch rallies often as a result and loved the thrill of it. There’s something so raw about rallying that you don’t always get in other forms of motorsport,” she said. Despite this interest, Rachel hadn’t considered that working in the sport would be a possibility, mostly because she didn’t know in which direction she wanted to go in her career. “When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I went to Edinburgh University and it wasn’t until I left four years later that I even learned about public relations. I certainly never imagined I’d work in the automotive world but I wouldn’t change it for anything,” she explained.
After studying English and History at University, Rachel decided that she wanted to go into the journalism industry, though admits: “I didn’t know a huge amount about PR – a gripe of mine actually because I feel schools should teach pupils more about other lines of work besides becoming a lawyer, accountant or doctor.” Following her graduation, Rachel began working as a reporter for a local radio station and a newspaper, however she felt neither of these roles fully suited her. “I then sort of stumbled into the PR world as a junior account executive at a small sport event agency. It was a brilliant decision as I got to experience so much. This is a huge benefit of working for a small agency, you’re thrown in at the deep end and you have to learn quickly,” the Scot told me.
Her first role in motorsport came after she was made redundant from the aforementioned agency. “I was looking for a role that encompassed the event work I had been doing but also involved some travel. At the time I had a friend who worked in Formula One and I remember thinking how glamorous her job sounded! I was bitten by the travel bug at that stage in my life and the ability to travel and work in sport at the same time suddenly became very appealing. I started applying for motorsport related jobs and lucked out with my first role as a press officer with M-Sport working on their Ford WRC programme and so I moved to Cumbria. Relocating to take the WRC job ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve made – I wouldn’t be where I am now had I not taken that risk,” Rachel said.
Following two years at M-Sport Ltd, and a further two years at a PR and communications agency covering the motorsport and automotive industries, Rachel joined the FIA World Rallycross Championship as their PR manager and FIA media delegate. Speaking of how this came about, she explained: “it sounds cliché but a big part of the motorsport industry is who you know. My last three jobs have come about through people I’ve met in the business. To that point, it’s never worth making enemies because you don’t know when you’ll come across someone again. Reputation is important and contacts are key.” Her role was to deal with everything media-related from TV requests to promotional events and all global communications. With World RX only being promoted to World Championship level two years previously, she became the only communications member in the team. “It was a unique opportunity to create a press office from scratch,” she said. “From setting ‘comms’ guidelines and a crisis communication plan to implementing a formal media accreditation process. It was such a cool opportunity and over the first couple of years we saw huge growth. It was a privilege to have been part of that journey.”
After four years in the World Rallycross Championship, an opportunity arose with a London-based agency. “(the role was) looking after Petronas’ media activities based around their sponsorship of the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One team. It was my job to gain extra awareness for Petronas through earned media so I attended F1 races to manage their media programmes and helped with content generation. I was only there a year but it was a brilliant experience and even took me to the middle of the Borneo rainforest with Sky TV as we used Lewis Hamilton as our ambassador to highlight Petronas’ CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts in the rainforest,” the communications expert described. Following her departure from Petronas at the beginning of 2019, Rachel set up her own motorsport PR agency, Cavers Communications. “I’d always wanted to set up my own agency and work for myself but had never had the nerve nor the opportunity to do it,” she explained. “However, at the end of 2018, an opportunity came up with the FIA World Endurance Championship to help with their media relations and it allowed me to do it freelance, so I took the plunge. Alongside my move to Cumbria, it’s the second-best thing I’ve done!”
Her company’s main client is the FIA World Endurance Championship where she is the Media Manager and a PR Consultant. Being self-employed, she works from home in London, regularly travelling to the Championship’s head offices in France as well as holding meetings online. “There are times when I miss the social aspect of an office, however, I speak to the team regularly on calls and via Microsoft Teams, plus make regular trips to Paris and obviously we all work together on events. This role has also meant I’m now trying to communicate in French! This is an added challenge but one that I’m persevering with and taking weekly lessons,” she said. Rachel’s role still allows her to fulfil her passion for travel with the FIA WEC racing all over the world. “It’s a lovely, varied calendar with the 24 Hours of Le Mans as its flagship race. I did my first Le Mans last year with sportscars one area of motorsport I hadn’t worked in before. It was every bit as amazing as I had imagined! Completely exhausting – physically and mentally – but an honour to be part of such an incredible event,” she told me.
Having already had a varied career, there have been many memorable events and highlights for Rachel, with her saying: “I’ve made some life-long friends working in the industry and that is very important when you’re away from home for long periods at a time. In terms of actual events, I’ve got four that stick out in memory: the first is the aforementioned trip to Borneo with Lewis Hamilton and getting to see orangutans in their native habitat – that’s definitely something that doesn’t happen every day! Another is when I did PR for Tuthill Porsche during the Safari Rally where I travelled through Kenya and Tanzania for ten days on the most incredible adventure, it was a trip I’ll never forget. Hosting media on a luxury ice driving trip in Sweden for Below Zero two years in a row was nothing short of extraordinary and travelling back to the UK from Istanbul by bus with M-Sport when the Icelandic volcano struck was a grim, but equally memorable occasion!”
However, these amazing moments only come from the hard work that is put in behind the scenes, and with PR, there are many challenges. “It can be difficult to position your client to the media in the right way in order to get the best coverage – a story that will satisfy the client and the media simultaneously. Of course, the danger (and beauty!) of PR is the risk that a journalist may not write exactly what you want them to. Keeping everyone happy is the biggest challenge and I probably speak on behalf of any press officer when I say that!” Rachel said.
Rachel Cavers has spent several years working in the PR industry. Despite ‘stumbling’ into it, and into working in motorsport, she wouldn’t change it for the world. However, nobody suggested the career to her when she was in education, something which she finds frustrating. Speaking of her advice for those who may be interested in the industry, she said: “it’s not as glamorous as people think. Being away from home can be tough and it’s definitely not for everyone. The hours are long, there can be difficult personalities to deal with and it’s high pressured. You also need to start from the bottom and it can take years to build up the relevant experience until you find your perfect role. As I said earlier, reputation is hugely important within motorsport – work hard, act professional and most important of all, be nice. Those three ingredients combined with a little bit of luck can get you a long way.”