Rebecca Banks is one of the most respected PR and communications specialists working in motorsport, however, she has always been keen to cover a variety of areas, with her company’s ethos of carving “a niche in fusing the worlds of motorsport and automotive with lifestyle and entertainment”. I spoke to her about discovering a passion for motorsport, her career, and keeping everyday interesting.
Sport was very much a part of Rebecca’s childhood with it often on the TV as she grew up, however motorsport was not something either her or her family were involved in. “I took an interest in football as it was what my Dad and uncles would watch and then when I was a little older, my Dad used to take me to Anfield to watch Liverpool play a couple of times a season. I genuinely knew nothing about motorsport before I worked in it and I often joke that I might have been able to name only Michael Schumacher at a push! It simply wasn’t on my radar,” she said. Despite sport being the family’s passion, it wasn’t an area that Rebecca had considered for a potential career, with her saying: “I would never have thought that it was an option – it was something you saw on TV and was a million miles away from the life I lived. I had no family that worked in the sport or marketing industries, in fact, growing up I always wanted to be an English teacher, it was one of those types of jobs that you got taught at school was a respectable career!”
Rebecca’s introduction to the PR and marketing world that she is so experienced in now, came when she was a teenager. Whilst studying for her A-Levels, by chance, she saw an advert that changed the direction her career was to take. “It was accidental fate – serendipity if you will. I saw a tiny advert in the back of The Sunday Times for a PR and marketing course at a media college in Oxford. I didn’t even really know what PR and marketing was, but something got me interested and I made an appointment to visit the college and signed up there and then. I loved everything about my course and it was during this year that I started to put the equation together in my head that I had this passion for football and for PR and I could somehow try to combine them,” she explained. As she neared the completion of her course, Rebecca started thinking about the roles she could go on to do. Having decided to combine football and PR, she began seeking out opportunities that allowed this, however a college recruiter suggested an alternative. “They didn’t have any (in football) but they did have a lead on a role for a PA to the Chairman of Prodrive, David Richards. They were looking for someone on their second job, so I offered to go and do two weeks work experience so they could see my capabilities. At the end of the fortnight, David offered me the job full-time. I knew nothing about the industry but I was keen to work hard and do a good job,” Rebecca told me.
A year after securing her first fulltime job, another opportunity arose at Prodrive that would allow her to use the skills she had gained through her course, alongside those from her current position. “A role came up as the PR and marketing assistant for the Subaru World Rally Team which was operated by Prodrive. David was fantastic in encouraging me to go for it as he knew that was the career path I wanted to take. I learnt so much working there about the industry and ways of working,” Rebecca described. After four years with the team, she decided to start looking elsewhere, and although initially wanting to move away from motorsport, Rebecca saw an opportunity that she couldn’t miss. “I was ready for my next challenge; I wanted to ensure I got a breadth of experience to keep learning and growing in my career. I was actually applying for jobs with consumer PR agencies but I was already considered niche! A job came up as a Press Officer at the BAR Honda F1 team and I went for it. F1 is the pinnacle of motorsport and I knew I would be able to learn there. When I joined the drivers were Jacques Villeneuve and Jenson Button, it was such a rich learning experience when I was still young and F1 teaches you to operate at the top,” she said.
After ten months working in Formula One, Rebecca returned to her first love of football, as she joined Coventry City Football Club as their Junior Sky Blues and Charities Coordinator on a short-term contract. Wanting to expand her horizons within her career, she then became freelance allowing her to cover a wide range of industries. “This was a very deliberate move,” Rebecca said. “I did not want to be completely niche. I did PR and events for racing drivers, teams, sponsors and then other PR and events agencies that covered more consumer clients. I learnt so much from those big agencies that has been valuable throughout my career.” This diversity and variety within her work allows Rebecca to explore her many interests and keep her work interesting, not knowing what each day may bring. “I love that no day is the same and being constantly challenged. One day I might be in a field at a music festival, the next I might be at a race track doing some PR and the next I might be at the Olympics running a hospitality programme. I’ve worked across so many disciplines of motorsport as well; from Formula One to rally, sportscars to GP2, and other junior formula. I love the creativity that is involved in coming up with ideas for all sorts of different things,” she explained.
In 2014, after ten years of being freelance, Rebecca and her friend and colleague Emma, set up Revolution Communications. The agency focusses on PR and communications; talent booking and management; event design and management; sponsorship and hospitality; and social media. “I met my business partner, Emma, when we were both hired to work on an event doing a similar role. We got chatting and realised we had a lot in common and a lot of the same aspirations. We also realised that if we worked together and set up a boutique agency, we could service bigger clients and projects than we could do alone so we took the chance and the rest, as they say, is history,” she told me. However, starting her own company wasn’t something she had been planning, but the opportunity seemed to come at the right time. “It wasn’t a deliberate move,” Rebecca said. “Earlier in my career I knew I wanted diverse experience, but none of the moves I made were down to any masterplan; I just did what I felt was the right thing at the right time. I was happy freelancing, but when I met Emma, something clicked into place for both of us and, after spending some time working together to see if we thought it was the right thing to do, we made the move to do it.”
With her being the agency’s director, her role involves many different aspects of the business, with the joy of her job being the variety of situations she can find herself in. “Every day really is different. We have days that are based in the office (obviously a lot more than usual at the moment), and those can involve things like strategy or event planning, client liaison or writing press releases. There are event days which could be launches or photoshoots, filming days, press junkets or podcast recordings. Then there are busy days at a race track which will involve jobs like media liaison, running social media, managing racing drivers and team management for marketing activities and fan events. But one thing remains across all these days is EMAILS,” Rebecca said. Though with being a director comes a lot of responsibility, but of course the love of her work hugely outweighs any challenges. “There’s the saying that if you find something you love, then you never work a day in your life, and I think there’s truth to that. Every day is not a walk in the park, but broadly I feel very fortunate to have found what I think was meant for me. From a business perspective, everything rests on you; from running it effectively to bringing in enough business and managing cash flow, and that is all on top of making sure you are servicing clients to the absolute best of your ability and to the high expectations that we have set ourselves. That means I can’t close the door on my work at 5pm, but I’ve chosen that and it works for me,” she explained.
With such a varied career, there have been many amazing moments along the way for Rebecca, with one of her first clients still remaining a friend and colleague over a decade later. “My first client when I went freelance in 2004 is still a client of my agency today – racing driver Nelson Piquet Jr. I’m so proud that we’ve worked together for so long,” she said, with other career highlights including: “winning Best Social Media in the 2019 Formula E Awards for our work for Mahindra Racing, making a world first happen with Lewis Hamilton in his Formula One car racing Ken Block in his rally car for Top Gear Live, not sleeping for 24 hours as we took a Rolls Royce from Lands’ End to John O’Groats to raise money for Breast Cancer Care featuring Chris Evans, Gary Barlow, James May and Professor Brian Cox, event management for Vodafone at the 2012 London Olympics and winning Best Team Communications in 2005 in the GP2 Series.”
With so much experience, Rebecca is the perfect person to advise anyone looking to work in the PR industry, though some of her advice is a little less conventional. “Laughing burns calories. Fact!” she said, adding: “enjoy what you do and do what you enjoy, have a goal and make steps to reach it. A dream is nothing without action. Understand that you need to start at the bottom, you need to earn your way up the ladder, success won’t just land in your lap. Work hard but live well and have a personal life as well, balance is important for physical and mental health, and push yourself out of your comfort zone, that’s when you’ll achieve great things.”
All photo credits, unless specified: Lou Johnson, Spacesuit Media