Have you heard of Drive to Survive? If not, you’re absolutely missing out! Season 5 of this runaway hit is now available on Netflix, taking viewers behind the scenes to map the twists and turns of life in Formula 1. Not only has it broadened the visibility of the sport generally, it’s also a bit of a crash course (pardon the pun) in public relations techniques.
So, what can we learn from a Formula 1 documentary series? Enough to fill a shoey! Away we go…
Be consistent in your messaging
Having consistent messaging is integral for brands, businesses and organisations. By prioritising them as a central part of internal communications, you make sure everyone is singing from the same song sheet. This is particularly important in dealing with the media, and most especially in times of crisis.
In this latest season (E09 for reference) of Drive to Survive, racing team Red Bull was accused of breaching its 2021 cost cap. Given it had come second in the season’s Constructor Championship, which is based on team points, this was big news. And the media pounced. But it was evident Red Bull’s comms team had a strategy to navigate the situation, which was to avoid answering questions on the alleged breach until the investigation was complete. In interview after interview, team principal Christian Horner and driver Max Verstappen answered any breach-related questions with a simple message that they were focused on the 2022 season. By not buying into the media interest, they avoided fanning the flames and allowed the investigation to run its course. For the record, Red Bull was found guilty and received a fine and mechanical penalties to hinder the performance of their cars for 12 months.
The teachable takeaway: Consistent messaging is crucial to brands, businesses and organisations, especially in times of crisis, when they allow you to control the narrative. But don’t wait until then. Instead, be proactive in defining who you are and why, and what you stand for, as these key messages should be the anchor for your communications strategy.
Embrace media training
Passions can run high, tempers can snap and rivalry can get heated on Drive to Survive, but there’s one thing you won’t see – people being clueless on camera. This is because everyone on the show has clearly had media training. They know how to sit and stand, how to stick to messaging and how to avoid being tripped up by tricky questions. Not only does this make for excellent viewing, it also ensures the individuals represent themselves and their team correctly, and act professionally.
At heart, media training comes down to making people feel prepared and comfortable for any media interaction, be it broadcast, print or beyond. This covers not just what you’re going to say, but also how you come across, from being mindful of appropriate body language to learning how to deal with tricky or unexpected questions. Media training is critical not only in helping you to avoid mistakes but also in presenting information about your brand in a way that is informative, accessible and memorable.
The teachable takeaway: Media training is an essential part of marketing and branding, as it ensures individuals feel confident in front of the camera and microphone and can represent their brand in a positive way, both in planned opportunities and unexpected moments. This training should also be consistent and ongoing to ensure it’s up to date and front of mind. After all, can you imagine if an F1 driver forgot their training in front of the camera? It would be chaos off the track.
Choose your media spokesperson wisely
If you follow F1 (and even if you don’t) you’ve probably heard of Daniel Ricciardo, the Aussie driver who made the headlines in a big way last year when he farewelled the McLaren team. This year, he’s a reserve driver for Red Bull, which is arguably a step down. But even though he’s not in pole position, Daniel features constantly on Red Bull’s social media channels and campaigns. Why? Because he’s good in front of a camera, with personality, confidence and humour that appeals to fans, plus a critical understanding of how to stay on brand and on message. For proof, view Daniel’s appearance on the Red Bull social media and 2023 campaigns.
So, what does this tell us? That sometimes the boss may not be the best person to front the media – whether news or social channels. After all, people can be media-friendly but not great in the spotlight, something which may just come down to their confidence in front of the camera.
The teachable takeaway: Choosing the right spokesperson is critical, as they can make or break your image and brand across news and social media. With this in mind, it may not always be the CEO or another senior employee that is best to put in the spotlight. Instead, choose the person who is most natural before a camera and make sure they are media trained with the right messaging.
Be aware of cameras – and always consider yourself on the record
In episode 2 of DTS this season, we saw a team principal meeting where Christian Horner (Red Bull) and Toto Wolff (Mercedes-AMG Petronas) got into a heated argument about car designs. Horner mentioned the conversation might be better off-camera.
Then, in episode 9, Horner walked out of an important meeting, surprised the cameras were rolling and waiting for him to exit.
While these are unrelated incidents, what they tell us is that Horner – unlike everyone on the show – is always mindful of the presence of cameras and understands a cardinal rule: That you should always assume you’re on-the-record in their presence. It’s a good rule to follow.
The teachable takeaway: Always assume cameras are rolling if you are in the public eye – and even if you’re not. This will ensure you speak appropriately and don’t accidentally get caught out saying something that could cause reputational damage. Remember the interview starts the moment the journalist and the camera person/photographer arrive – from the moment they enter your building to speaking with staff members and prescoping calls with you and your communications manager. It’s all on the record and part of the bigger story.
Check before you post
In episode five of this season, Oscar Piastri (2023 McLaren driver) announced on social media he would not be driving for the Alpine team in 2023. Awkwardly, this was news to Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer who was under the assumption that’s exactly what Piastri would be doing since he was unaware the driver was in talks with any other team. Oscar’s social media post caused reputational damage to Alpine and lead the team to threaten him with a lawsuit.
Whether you run social media for a brand, business or company, or use the platforms personally, you need to remember the advisory to ‘check before you post’. Every aspect of any post should be checked and approved before publishing. This means images, copy, hashtags and paying attention to small details. As part of this, it’s also imperative to have social media brand guidelines. These outline how employees and other stakeholders should be talking about, and representing, the company online. Again, it’s about singing from the same song sheet.
The teachable takeaway: Check, double check and triple check all social media posts and comments that are going online on behalf of your brand, business or company. Ensure all employees understand the social media brand guidelines and adhere to them. These procedures should be the basis of your social media strategy.
Drive to Survive has demonstrated the importance of a strong communications strategy no matter what industry you work in. We may not all be destined for the F1 pit lane (as sad as that might be) but the documentary series is worth watching for a crash course in navigating the media landscape.