Jefferson Slack, BWT Racing Point F1 Team: Marketing in the F1 ‘bubble’ and rebranding as Aston Martin

Commercial managing director Jefferson Slack discusses the team's marketing strategy, an upcoming rebrand and the impact of COVID-19 on the habits of F1 fans.

BWT Racing Point F1 Team

You recently joined BWT Racing Point F1 Team as managing director – commercial and marketing, which is a new role for the company. What will your main objectives be and how do you intend to achieve them?

The main objective is to take this Formula 1 team [Racing Point] that’s been extremely impressive in the past years in terms of its performance – especially given the size of its budget – and create an organisation that can reflect the ambition and the potential of Aston Martin Formula 1.

Our goal is to do that. It’s to build up a group of people in our organisation that reflects what Aston Martin should reflect as a brand. That is our vision. Then, underneath that, it’s all the elements of the business… how do you do better with more partners? How do you get more revenue into the business through sponsorships? How can we do a better job on social and digital? How do we better communicate? How do we create more fans? How do we market ourselves? What do we want to represent?

You described this is an exciting commercial exciting opportunity. What excites you about it the most?

The most exciting part is that we are building something. We’re growing, we’re building, the car is faster right now. It’s just nice to be part of something that is growing and building as opposed to either stagnating or even declining. Obviously the world is in a tough place now, and because of structural challenges, there are a lot of companies that – because they have to – they are cutting back. In our case, we have a very ambitious owner and he really wants us to be more and more competitive on all fronts, so it’s really exciting to be part of building that out.

Which marketing channels do you intend to focus on and why?

Today the world is on social. As a team, if we want to build up a fan base, we also have to speak to a broader audience. We have to speak to the core fans. We also have to speak to the casual fans and we also have to speak to people who may not be that interested in F1, but have an interest in Aston Martin.

We’ve got to come up with a really innovative way to attract more people. Social is at the forefront of that. That’s the starting point in what ways we can position ourselves within a grid of great brands like Ferrari and Mercedes. How do we position ourselves a little differently in a way that people will be interested in? There may even be a cultural affiliation, because they just like to aspire to be associated with the Aston Martin Formula 1 team.

So that’s our platform. What we need to understand is that we have to define well what our brand image and vision is, and then all the way through the executional platform of marketing. Certainly social will be at the forefront of that.

In what ways do you expect the challenge of marketing and F1 Team will differ from marketing other brands you’ve worked on?

I think that sports in general has an advantage in that if you just took the size of our business, if you just were to be a quantitative person and how much revenue we have, for instance, we wouldn’t be a very big business in the grand scheme of things. However, we would be a very high-profile business.

The same is true with a football club. It’s a very high profile business compared to its actual size, and there are thousands of businesses much bigger that most people would never have heard of. Therefore, we have an advantage. We are in a business that’s very visible and exciting, people are passionate about it. They watch it, they talk about it and they like to engage with it. The challenge is less to build an audience in a sense that you have people that are interested.

The challenge is creating a reason for them to support you if you are already an F1 fan. Many times it’s down to the drivers, or the type of team, or winning, or our marketing, but also how are we making people feel involved and included? The Aston Martin brand is already well known and well liked, so we have a little bit of a different challenge as well.

That is to make an F1 team that reaches an even broader audience than Aston Martin, which sells very expensive, luxury race cars, GT cars. That’s the real challenge. How do you take Aston Martin Formula 1 and broaden its appeal to the broader audience but at the same time remain true to the Aston Martin brand?

BWT Racing Point F1 Team is set to rebrand as Aston Martin F1 Team for the start of the 2021 team. What is the reason behind the rebrand and what kind of impact do you expect it will have?

The reason behind the rebrand is that Aston Martin is a brand with a great racing heritage in terms of sports cars. It’s been in racing for many years. It won the Le Mans 24 hours this year. It has a heritage, the legitimacy and credibility to go racing in Formula 1.

The flip side is, for Aston Martin from a marketing standpoint, Formula 1 represents the pinnacle of motorsports and the place where they want to be to demonstrate they’re performing. In addition, we have the advantage that the principal owner of the Racing Point team is also the executive chairman and controlling shareholder of Aston Martin, so there is a good relationship there. It’s a very nice synergy. It really means everything to us.

How do you think COVID-19 has affected the way F1 teams need to market and share their messaging with fans and potential fans?

I think Formula 1 is often described as a bubble, and it’s a very nice bubble. Today, with COVID, ‘bubble’ may mean different things, but traditionally the F1 bubble has been great. It’s world-class hospitality, it’s travelling around the world, it’s car racing, it’s fun. However, we have to be aware of what else is going on in the world, with movements such as Black Lives Matter for example.

The sport has to be culturally attuned. Secondly, we also have to be attuned to the changes, so we take new platforms where young people are spending their time. Tik Tok, for instance, which has really taken off. We have to figure out how we engage with these people through Tik Tok. Esports, the Netflix series on Formula 1, which I think has been transformational in having people who may not even be fans follow it. These are the types of things that you have to engage with. It’s a very competitive market place and there’s no reason we could assume that a 15-year-old kid today is going to become a Formula 1 fan.

He’s got lots of choices and it starts with Esports. He’s spending a lot of his time playing video games and you have to be relevant in those spaces. It’s a very competitive space. It’s changing constantly and we have to be good at getting our fans’, or potential fans’ attention, attracting them, giving them a reason to spend time with us.

As a marketer, what lessons, if any, do you feel you have learned from the COVID-19 and lockdown situation?

I think most people would tell you they didn’t have COVID in their business plan. It just shows that there are these unexpected moments in life and that you can’t assume everything is risk free. That’s an element of life. There have been a lot of winners out of this – not that anyone is actually ‘winning’ of course – but in terms of businesses that have become even more important today.

And it starts with technology. We are talking today on a Zoom call, whereas previously we might have sat down and met. We wouldn’t be able to do that today without the technology. In some areas, from a business standpoint, that’s what we focus a lot on as we are at the forefront of technology in sports as a Formula 1 team. Before, you went to an office or got on a plane and flew and had dinner with people and discuss business.

That’s very difficult today, so it has definitely affected our business. It’s affected the revenues that we’ve gotten from Formula 1, because they’ve also been affected. It’s affected the fans and everybody from an economic standpoint. Hopefully we will come through it. Again, we’re very fortunate that we have a very good supporter and backing in our ownership group.

How do you think COVID-19 has impacted the habits of F1 and how likely is it do you think this impact will be lasting?

You can’t really go to races and there will be a few places where you’ve had some fans, but certainly not like in the old days. In regards to hospitality, which is one of the unique things of Formula 1, it hasn’t been implemented this year. How long lasting is that? Formula 1 is a global event, which has some advantages and challenges.

The advantages are there are places in the world, such as Melbourne in Australia, which is pretty COVID-free, and is planning to hold a race. That’s nice because we’re not linked to one country. If we were a football team, you’d be in one country and if they had a big COVID outbreak then you’d have to stop playing. We can fly around the world of course, but that’s also challenging because flying around today is a lot harder. I think it’s more of a social issue and medical issue as to how quickly you can get a vaccine and help people and society.

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