The world of social media offers an exciting and dynamic workplace, allowing people to combine passion and personality for a unique role. Working in social media in Formula 1 is even more coveted, as tweets can get tens of thousands of likes and retweets from fans almost instantly. With it being such a sought-after industry and career, how can you get a job in it?
We spoke to Motorsport Network’s Jess McFadyen to find out.
How do you become a Social Media Director?
I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career, I only knew two things; I wanted to be successful and I found the world of media fascinating.
One of my favourite films growing up was the early 2000s classic What Women Want starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. It’s set in an advertising agency and, while the film massively over glorified the industry, I was captivated by this beautiful, glamourous world of storytelling. But having no real idea how to pursue that, I chose to study English Literature at the University of Leicester (not my first choice university, which at the time upset me greatly, and which now makes me laugh that it was something that concerned me so much). English is a hugely transferable degree so I felt it gave me plenty of options when I would eventually graduate.
After studying abroad in Geneva for my third year – something I would encourage anyone to experience to really learn about yourself as a person – I returned to the UK for my final year and decided to get serious about landing a job after graduation.
At the time, a family friend used to work for a ‘little known’ magazine brand called Autosport, then owned by Haymarket Publishing. Haymarket regularly took on graduate salespeople. I had no idea what a media sales executive really was, but a job in media sounded like the right step to be making, and after I passed the interview process I was put to work as a classified sales executive for a business magazine called Management Today.
There I learned about the business of media – how it makes money through advertising, as well as how to persuade people to part with money. From the get-go I found a real passion in pushing the boundaries of what we could offer to clients. That’s always been what has driven me – new ways of thinking and being first to try new ideas and practices. I love looking into the future and coming up with new ideas.
I moved to become an Agency Sales Executive for Autosport.com and it was there that my passion for motorsport and media came alive. I quickly realised that it felt less and less like a job when I could talk about Formula 1 all day!
And while I was happy, I also noticed how little the company was embracing new media – social media. At the time, publishers and brands were only just starting to embrace social and in motorsport, one of the most inaccessible sports in the world – I could see how hugely important it would be for the industry.
That’s when I moved to Car Throttle – a social-first media start-up company aimed at targeting millennial car enthusiasts. I was one of their first commercial hires, and at just 25 years old and three months into the company, was made their Head of Sales. While navigating the new world of branded content and social first selling, this role also gave me experience in video and social production, content creation, directing, project management, P&L planning, Working for a start-up was life changing – you take on so much more responsibility and variety in your roles because of the small nature of the business.
Luckily for me it wasn’t long until motorsport came back into my life when the company acquired WTF1. I fully believe in carving your own path in life and this would be the first time I would encourage my CEO to create a new role for me and make me Head of Partnerships for the brand – the brand had never made real money before and it was my job to commercialise it and turn it into a profitable business.
After six months of success - and another round of persuading the CEO - I was made Head of WTF1, managing the entire team, planning our content strategy, and tasked with running the brand as a business and positioning it as a disruptor in the motorsport media space.
It was at this point I started to work on my own brand identity as well, and as own personal platforms grew in audience numbers, I made sure to use that to make a name for myself in the industry and become influential both with fans and with brands and companies that operate in motorsport. Being well known on social media has massively helped in me getting business, partnerships and people willing and wanting to work with me. It’s also meant that I’ve been invited to talk on panels to give my view point on the state of the industry.
After three years as Head of WTF1, I was approached to come back to work for Autosport and its sister brands at the Motorsport Network as Director of Digital Strategy, to apply what I’d learnt and bring a fresh new approach to how we communicate with our audiences.
What qualifications do you need?
Having higher qualifications is of course hugely beneficial, but more and more I think it’s becoming most important to have passion in your area and evidence of your abilities. This can be a portfolio of work on Instagram/Vimeo/YouTube. I always ask for portfolio first, CV second.
What should you study in school?
I studied English Literature - a broad subject that gave me a depth of understanding about proper communication, analysis, and creativity at a university where it was encouraged to also take on subjects outside of your major (I did business and politics modules, as well as a study placement working for a publisher). So I would say for anyone not sure exactly what they want to do then a subject like that is a good foundation.
There are more and more media degrees that specialise in content creation – be that broadcast journalism, video and design, communication, and I’d say that those are very applicable.
What other skills are useful?
On the business side of my role: I would say that 80% of my job is problem solving. The ability to see a situation and being able to fix it quickly and in a way that brings positive outcome. Other than (or as well as) that, organisation, forward thinking, innovation and a hunger to learn new things, being able to see the bigger picture or ways that things connect together, searching for efficiencies.
On the creative side of my role: Huge amounts of creativity, empathy or the ability to put yourself into the mind of audiences is key at all times. People skills and the ability to present confidently are also strong traits, working with people and aiming to inspire creativity.
How can I get work experience?
Everyone dreams of F1, and I don’t blame them, but there are so many smaller series and drivers who need help with their social media and digital efforts. So other than starting your own portfolio (whether that’s via social platforms like Instagram, or a blog) I would always say to reach out to those teams and drivers and offer to help them or to intern for them.
You can also ask to shadow people in the roles you think you’re interested in. It’s a bit harder to do during COVID-19 times, but often can land you real-world experience.
The biggest thing to remember though is that these people are probably very busy. So have a think about how exactly you could add value to them – not only does this usually pique their interest above a standard “can I come and work for you” email, but it also shows that you’ve thought about their business and what they might need, which shows dedication and research, and a level of care that should make you stand out.
Should I work for free/exposure?
I would always say no. It might be that you don’t get a full time or well-paying job, but if it’s for the experience then it can be invaluable.
What does a day at work look like for a Social Media Director?
No two days look the same. My job is incredibly varied as it has me working with almost all of our different departments, as well as within our own. So I try and divvy up my time between them depending on what the priority is. Digital is at the heart of everything we do as a business so it’s my job to make sure we’re operating according to best practice and working towards our company objectives. It’s a lot of emails and a lot of Teams meetings (at the moment), but I love that I get to work across the wider business.
A lot of my time is spent with our commercial team, helping to bring to life content campaigns which can take up a lot of time – but they’re important to get right as they keep the lights on! It also helps that my background is in sales, so I can try and help create content that our audience will respond well too, while also hitting client objectives.
My work cycle mainly follows the racing calendar, so during a race weekends I’m leading the creative team who are making assets and social posts to cover the race events in real-time. I’m there to support them and to make sure that our coverage cuts through the noise of social media and gets the best results to hit our KPIs.
During the weekend I also present a live fan Q&A on Instagram after practice, quali, and the race. I do this with our Motorsport.com F1 editor, Jon Noble. On a Sunday night I’m also a guest on the Autosport Podcast.