Sponsors are vital in motorsport, without them, teams would not be able to race and continue to develop every year. To ensure these partnerships are successful, partner managers are required to guarantee that sponsors see a return on their investment, ultimately remaining with the team. Bárbara Clemente works in this role for Williams Racing, having started her career in Formula One in hospitality, before joining a marketing agency and then moving to the Grove-based team. I spoke to her about marketing, discovering a love for Formula One and her advice for others.
Coming from a family who were passionate about sport, Bárbara spent much of her childhood either playing or watching a variety of sports, however her passion for motorsport came when she was older. “My family loves sport, especially football so we would watch every single Real Madrid game. I played tennis for nine years and I’ve always loved playing sports as much as I have watching them. In terms of motorsport, I remember having barbeques with family and friends and watching the Grands Prix, but I wouldn’t say I was an avid fan until I began working closely with Formula One and it conquered my heart,” she told me. However, she certainly did know the industry she wanted to work in, growing up hoping to follow in the footsteps of her older siblings. “They’re both in marketing,” Bárbara said. “My sister is ten years older and my brother fifteen, so I saw them progressing and I think that led me to wanting to be in the industry. I studied for three years in Madrid and was then granted a scholarship in Finland. Sometimes people get to the end of school and don’t know what they want to do, but I never had that problem.”
Just two days after graduating, Bárbara secured a role working with Universal Pictures as a publicity and marketing coordinator. “My sister had previously worked for them and knew about a role that had come up so she put me in touch with the person doing the interviews. It was great to be out of university and straight into the entertainment industry which has a lot of potential and reach, so it gave me the opportunity to learn a lot,” she explained. Bárbara became part of the team who marketed and publicised films both big and small to the Spanish audience. “I’d support the execution of the global publicity and marketing campaign planning for films whilst ensuring regional market objectives were met. As part of the local activation and marketing strategy, I’d coordinate international tours, press junkets, premieres and film festivals. We had both small titles, but also blockbusters like ‘Minions’ and ‘Fast and Furious’. No day was the same! It was also really exciting; we got to watch the movies a year before they came out because if you don’t, you don’t know who your audience is, and sometimes the activation ideas came out of the movie. It did mean I couldn’t go to see the Universal titles with my friends because I had watched them already!” she said.
Bárbara’s love of motorsport began when she first started working in the sport, with this first experience coming through a role she had previously had whilst studying. “Like most people, I needed money. I applied to work for ten days at the Madrid Open as a waitress in the hospitality area, and the company that was doing the catering is the same that does the catering for the Formula One Paddock Club. I carried on with my studies, graduated and joined Universal Pictures and then got a call saying they needed a waitress for the 2015 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. I thought: ‘I have my career, I don’t need to go back to waitressing’, but then decided it was Abu Dhabi, I had never been there, and it was all paid for. I took the chance and fell in love with Formula One. I had found my passion,” the Spaniard told me. However, she was soon faced with a difficult decision when she was offered a full season in Formula One. “I got another call to say they had a role to coordinate part of the hospitality offering for 2016. I remember calling my Mum saying: ‘I’ve got an amazing job, but I want to leave for a hospitality role which is not even what I want to do! What do I do?’,” she said. After deciding she needed a change and having never had a gap year, Bárbara took a chance.
After working in the Formula One Paddock Club for 2016, and most of 2017, it had become clear to Bárbara that she wanted to return to her first love of marketing, though didn’t want to leave Formula One behind. “The good thing about the hospitality role was that it put me in an environment with huge networking potential. You meet a lot of people who work for teams, sponsors and the motorsport industry in general. I kept every single business card I was given and can’t stress how important that is! When I left hospitality, I emailed everyone,” she said. Through her networking, a contact put her in touch with Right Formula, a sports marketing agency.
Having secured a role as an account executive, in January 2018, she began working on a new project. “Right Formula works for various motorsport clients. Pirelli and Formula One were putting together F1 Pirelli Hot Laps to give car manufacturers the opportunity to showcase their road cars on the track and bring VIPs to promote the sport. They needed someone to lead, so that was my role. I was also supporting other clients, but my main focus was on the Pirelli account, planning and delivering the new project,” Bárbara explained. A lot of the work for this role would be done before the event, with her then attending races in key markets where she would be responsible for leading operations, planning and execution.
In 2019, Bárbara decided that she wanted to move from her agency role, to one within a Formula One team and so applied for a partner manager position with Williams Racing. Whilst at the Canadian Grand Prix with Right Formula, she was contacted by the team’s Head of Partnerships and Events. ‘’That was my first meeting, I then had two more, one with HR and another with Claire Williams, and then got the job,” she said. As a partner manager, Bárbara is the day-to-day contact for some of Williams Racing’s partners. Speaking of this, she explained: “I work closely with them to define their business objectives and pencil a strategy which will lead to a return on their investment through the utilisation of contractual assets. Each sponsor has different rights and objectives to meet depending on their commercial involvement. I support them to identify opportunities to elevate the partnership, devise activation programmes so they see a return and ultimately, we retain those sponsors’’
‘’One of the assets our partners have is the opportunity to bring guests trackside. For most, it will be in key markets for them, so we plan events and activations on and off track. For example, Acronis are based in Singapore, so that’s really important for us. During the Singapore Grand Prix, we will activate a lot off-track to ensure our partner is being delivered rights in line with their local strategy and to support them to achieve their objectives.”
Organisation is a huge part of Bárbara’s role with planning happening months in advance, and this is one of the key skills needed. “You are often working on different markets at the same time,” she said. “I can be preparing for Bahrain whilst also preparing for Canada because Bahrain might be a key interest for one of my partners, but then Canada is of interest to others. You also have to be bubbly and open because you are facing guests all the time, whether it’s garage tours, factory tours or events, you need to be approachable. You also need to be able to manage the workload and know how to react in stressful situations in such a fast-paced environment.” Her current role requires both the skills she gained working in hospitality as well as that from her work in marketing with Universal Pictures and Right Formula. Speaking of how her agency work has helped her, she said: “in marketing you have three legs: the rights holders, the sponsor; and then the agency. Having worked on the agency side previously, it gave me a wider perspective and helped me build up a diverse portfolio as I had the chance to work with multiple brands across different activations and marketing channels.”
After leaving the hospitality side of motorsport, Bárbara knew she wanted to remain in Formula One, however, with that came the realisation that she would have to move to where most in the sport are based, with this being one of the biggest challenges of her career. “I knew I needed to move to the UK. The rights holders are here, Formula One is based in London, most of the teams are based in the UK and so are the sponsors,” she explained, adding that the challenges of her current role are: “if I’m trackside, I still have to be on my emails working on the race at the end of the season even if it’s June, but things need to happen now. There are approvals that are needed, and sometimes it can be hard to juggle all of it. It is worth it though when you see it happening”. Seeing her plans come to life is undoubtedly one of the best parts of her role, however getting to meet some incredible people is also among the highlights of her work. “Having the opportunity to host so many people trackside and getting to meet people during pitlane walks, interact and see their faces when they are close to the cars is really touching, especially with kids. It’s the people you meet that makes it really extraordinary and the fans truly are everything,” Bárbara told me.
After starting her Formula One career in hospitality, Bárbara decided she wanted to combine her new love for motorsport with her long-time passion for marketing. After applying for a role with Williams Racing and being unsuccessful, she re-applied the following year, securing her perfect job. Speaking of her advice for those wanting to work in the sport, she said: “I would say there are no shortcuts, you need to work really hard. I applied for a role at Williams Racing and I didn’t get it, I didn’t even get an interview or an email. That didn’t mean I wasn’t capable of doing it, I just didn’t have the right skills at that time so I didn’t give up, and a year and a half later, the same role came up and I got it. You have to trust time, persevere, and also trust yourself, if it doesn’t work out the first or second time, eventually it will… it did for me. When I look back, I started as a waitress and look where I am now, so it doesn’t matter how you start, it’s what you do with it, so dream big!”
Heading photo credit: Kym Illman