By Kelvin Sng and Jejhar Singh
Fiona Smith is the Director of Media & Communications at Singapore GP Pte Ltd. She is involved in producing outreach initiatives and overseeing public relations for the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. In this article, she shares about her line of work, the motivations that keep her going and some challenges she faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She also reveals some misconceptions regarding public relations, and tips on how youths can prepare themselves for a career in the industry.
As Director of Media and Communications at Singapore GP, I oversee the public relations for the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. I work closely with government agencies and key stakeholders on all communication matters as well as crisis communications.
In addition, my team produces a variety of outreach initiatives to engage locals under the organisation’s community engagement programme. This includes a roving truck fitted out with race simulators, conferences, talks at schools, community events and many more. My team also develops the social media content strategy and provides community management for Singapore GP’s social media platforms (@F1nightrace). Today, the online community has grown to nearly 279,000-strong and we are extremely heartened by the support our fans have shown us over the years.
Having been part of the pioneer team for Singapore GP since 2007, I also facilitated the setting up and running of the Media Centre over the race weekend. This includes overseeing the logistical operations required to run the Media Centre, which accommodates approximately 500 international journalists and photographers, in accordance with the guidelines set by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).
We recently announced the cancellation of the 2021 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix for the second time, due to safety and logistic concerns brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, instead of resting on our laurels, we have to think creatively on what we can do in order to sustain interest in the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix. Obviously, the current messaging can’t be about our tickets, so we’ll be looking at other aspects of the street circuit and focusing on educating the general public about the night race in an engaging way. Do keep a look out for the interesting content via our social media in the coming months!
As Formula 1 is very technical, it is always a challenge for us to find innovative ways to convey information to the masses. It is always fun to explore ways to communicate the various aspects of motorsport to get people interested. For example, we produced an immersive 360 degree virtual experience where the public could understand what goes on behind the scenes. We also produced interactive exhibits and invited notable speakers to share insights about the sport.
Working in the public relations department essentially requires us to relay a message to as wide an audience as possible. That means being able to connect with people of all levels – be it a journalist, a stakeholder, or a student attending our school talk for the very first time. I’m always pushing myself to push the envelope and try new things so that I will not get stagnant. For example, we did a collaboration with Xin Li, a local artist (https://www.facebook.com/F1NightRace/photos/10157105145747191), to put F1 in a context where locals see the drivers in a different light, while at the same time shine a spotlight on Singapore. Below are some photos from some of our community engagement initiatives:
I love the unpredictability and the adrenaline rush of the race weekend. We have a very lean team so each of us must know our role and dive into it, while trying to support each other when we can.
During that period of time, we also work on very little sleep – our days start at about 10am and end at about 2am, as the Paddock runs on European time. We only have three days to get everything we need, so I’m constantly pushing myself to look at things from all angles to make sure I’ve got everything covered. One day, I could be conducting an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour, and on another day I’m struggling to find a trishaw in the middle of the night for a foreign television crew to film on our track. I’ve also had to be at the track at unearthly hours to organise a photoshoot or filming session in order to be able to ensure we have the right assets to promote the night race for the following year.
The cancellation of the races was a huge blow to us, and the uncertainty in the months leading up to the official cancellation whilst working from home was particularly challenging.
That being said, I’m so proud of my colleagues for being able to take things in stride and adapt quickly. I think part of it is due to the fact that being in the events industry, we should be ready to tackle any issue head on. We became a pro at holding meetings via Zoom, and continued to celebrate the small milestones. For example, during last year’s Circuit Breaker, my team held what I called ‘Covid Cribs’ to break the monotony of meetings. Each of us would take turns to give a ‘tour’ of their home via Zoom, showing a different side of ourselves in the process.
As the famous quote by Alexander Den Heijer goes: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”. In my case, I literally fixed my surroundings. I gave my house a mini makeover in order to make the environment more conducive for me. It’s easy to get carried away with work, so it is important to take the time to continue to pursue other interests and hobbies. For me, that’s going on hikes and dabbling in gardening. Sometimes I get my most creative ideas when I’m not thinking about work.
I came into the job fully knowing what the job expected of me and threw myself into it. While I give 100% to my work, I also make time for my family and friends on weekends and over the holidays. While I unfortunately do not have the luxury for that during the race week, where we stay at a trackside hotel because of the long working hours, I try to make up for the missed moments with my two daughters over the rest of the year.
Personally, it is important to not focus on the ‘what-ifs’ and look at the positives instead. I am fortunate to be blessed with such an understanding family who dotes on my girls when I am busy with work. When they were still infants, my mum would stay in my hotel room with my baby during the race week so that I could spend time with my daughter at the end of the day, even if it meant just cuddling them as they slept and waking up earlier to have breakfast with them. As they grew older, my girls actually looked forward to hanging around the event site with my husband while waiting for me to finish work. When I do spend time with them, I also make sure it is quality time. They are my biggest cheerleaders and I hope I am doing a good enough job as a role model to them.
As my first few jobs were Public Relations (PR) in the hospitality and tourism industry, my current job felt like a natural progression that fits me perfectly. My experience in my previous jobs made me realise that I would better excel in a position that was not entirely desk-bound and did not have a ‘template’. Formula 1 was an added bonus. My dad brought me to watch races when I was young, so working on the pinnacle of motorsports right here in Singapore was a dream come true.
Some people think that Public Relations is a glamourous job, where employees simply spend their time writing press releases and entertaining the media to get the stories published. The truth is that it takes a lot of practice to hone the craft. Likewise, a huge portion of public relations is also about managing said relations, especially in times of crisis, and understanding what the media is looking for in order to pitch the issue from the right angle.
Another common misconception is that we only work for three days in a year, given that the race weekend is over three days. This is definitely not true. In fact, we usually start selling tickets for the following year over the race weekend itself, which means we should already have the content ready for publishing while we are busy with the running of the event. Buyer behaviour patterns differ worldwide, so we have to focus on our campaigns to different markets throughout the year too.
First, practice, practice, practice. Writing is such an important skill and is the basic requirement of a communications professional. Unfortunately, clean copies are hard to come by. Some people are used to a certain style of writing and would struggle to write it in any other way. The only way to improve yourself is to read a wide range of materials to familiarise yourself with different styles, and then practice as many forms of writing as possible. For example, you may be required to write a corporate press release, or a lifestyle feature article for a blogpost, then challenge yourself by condensing your message and keeping it to Twitter’s 280-character limit.
Second, do not be afraid to try something new or unexpected. I never appreciated what I picked up from any of my previous jobs, until there comes a time when I would realise I had subconsciously learnt something after all.
Third, embrace change. I view social media as a huge vehicle for communication in general. There is so much potential in what you can do with owned media, and with social media constantly evolving, picking up new skills and becoming an expert in that domain is a great way to stand out from the crowd. It is important to keep abreast with the latest trends in order to remain current and stand out. Some brands might still be grappling with the latest social media platform, and here’s where your youth is to your advantage, so own it!
Fourth, stay woke. Being in PR ultimately means you are managing your company’s brand, and how you behave in public reflects on that too. It’s easy to forget when posting on your own social media with stories that disappear, but remember nothing is temporary. Therefore it is important to always conduct yourself in a manner that your future employer would feel confident in putting their brand in your hands.
Fifth, expect the unexpected. A good PR representative should always be prepared for any scenario so that he or she is not caught off-guard. It can be something as simple as having a refreshment kit consisting of oil absorbing sheets or wet wipes, which will come in handy when one is overseeing a photoshoot of a spokesperson. Another exercise I like to do when we are planning a campaign or preparing ourselves for an interview is to play devil’s advocate. Each of us will take turns to fire difficult questions or scenarios so that we can brainstorm how best to tackle it. Of course, it is impossible to possibly predict everything so as long as you remember to expect the unexpected, you will be able to keep a cool head and manage the crisis effectively.