Working in Formula 1 is any motorsport enthusiast’s dream. Sophie Ogg, Head of Communications for Williams, gave us an insight ahead of the Bahrain Grand Prix on what being a leading female working in the fast lane is really like.
Sophie has worked for the Formula 1 giants since 2010, and in that time has worked her way up to overseeing the communications team across all of the Williams brand. Hard work, determination and a passion for racing has landed her the job of a lifetime.
However, it isn’t all glitz and glamour. Spending more time in a hotel room than your own living room and grabbing ten minutes sleep whenever and wherever you can, there’s a side to Formula 1 that the cameras rarely reveal. You have to be versatile, organised and a veteran at handling the jet-lag. It’s far from easy in this 24/7 role.
What does your role as Head of Communications at Williams F1 entail?
Sophie: As Head of Communications, I am responsible for creating and implementing a communications and digital strategy to support the business aims of all divisions within the Williams Group. As the Group has expanded, so has the role of the communications team. I oversee a department of eight people, responsible for all the communications, both internally and externally, regarding Williams Martini Racing, Williams Advanced Engineering, Williams Heritage, our CSR programme and investor relations. We recently brought our digital operation in-house, which has allowed us greater creative control to deliver innovative solutions to improve the efficiency and quality of work. The role is extremely diverse and a 24-hour a day job, so the challenge is to remain proactive as well as being versatile enough to react to the changing climate both at the track and away from it.
What does a typical schedule at a race weekend look like for you?
Sophie: A typical race weekend always starts with preparing our team PR briefs and schedules for the weekend. This includes being aware of any sporting news as well as updates on the technical and engineering front. This brief can change hourly, so it’s my job over the weekend to ensure everyone is always up to date with the most current information, in particular, our drivers and senior personnel. Race weekends have a very set formula, with Thursday the traditional ‘media day’. Our drivers have a number of commitments including speaking to both their native and international media, both TV and print. Friday, the focus is on the track. So we follow the action and ensure fans and media stay up to date on any developments. Saturday is always quite busy with FP3 and qualifying. During sessions I will always be stationed in the garage, enabling me to feed out any updates for our social media channels, to media in the pitlane and also the marketing department at track looking after our guests. Our busiest time is always after the sessions, so when most people wind down after qualifying and the race, that’s when we start overseeing TV interviews, press release writing, online content updates; it’s an ever-growing list! In between all the scheduled items I try and make time to meet with key members of the press and our partners to plan future events or features, it’s one of the exciting parts of the job! If all goes to plan, there is a pretty set formula for managing the drivers’ schedules, interviews, tv work…. But the great thing about motorsport is that things always change, and most of my time is spent formulating new plans depending on what we get thrown at us and what happens on the racetrack!
What inspired you to get involved in motorsport?
Sophie: I have been a motorsport fan ever since my dad took me to a British Touring Car Championship race in the early nineties. I knew then that I wanted to work in a motor racing paddock. After that, I found a local race team and started washing wheels, basically doing anything just to be involved and learn more about the sport and make as many contacts as possible in the industry. I did this alongside a public relations degree at university before working in a London PR agency, to gain some experience in the media industry. Over the years, I then worked my way up through a number of motorsport series including Vauxhall Junior, Formula Ford, Formula BMW, British GT, A1GP and the World Touring Car Championship before finally stepping into Formula One with Williams back in 2010.
What skills are most important to enable you to excel at your job?
Sophie: I think the key things you need for this job are passion, dedication, organisation, versatility and the ability to sleep anywhere!
Passion and dedication are needed as the job is 24-7 and it does take over your life. Adding the extensive travel on top of that, this year that includes 21 races plus the additional testing days, means that it does become a way of life, rather than just a job. It may sound glamorous, and I am fully appreciative that there are some great perks to the job in allowing me to visit places I may never have otherwise gone, but it is a tough life, not only on yourself, but on your friends and family.
Organisation is key. You need to be able to organise your workload, manage people, and prioritise and manage complicated and constantly changing schedules. It would be a luxury to get to the track and only have to worry about what is happening there and then, but in reality, you do this alongside your usual day job!
Versatility is also important. No two days are the same, and if that kind of work stresses you out, then PR and motorsport are probably not the right path for you. Life at the race track is an emotional rollercoaster. It’s an ever-changing environment, whether it be track action or news stories breaking, nothing stays the same for too long.
Sleep is a precious commodity. You sleep when you can. You never know when you’ll be woken in the night or in the office until the early hours due to an upcoming announcement or event. Jetlag is a standard state of being and if you can’t sleep on aeroplanes, on buses, or in the smallest Japanese bed in the world…. You will quickly burn out!
Were there any particular challenges you faced on your journey to becoming Head of Communications which you feel were made harder because you were a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Sophie: I have never seen this as a problem. I always knew that it was a male-dominated industry, but it never once occurred to me that that was strange, or that I couldn’t achieve what I wanted to in the sport because of that. I have always been focused on the job I’m doing. Men have made comments along the way, but when I talk about the work I’ve done, my path through motorsport and why I love the sport, any negativity about being a girl quickly disappears. I have also found that once people get to know me and what I’ve done to get where I am, they respect me for that and quickly accept me as one of the team.
I’m a firm believer that if you put in the work, you will eventually reap the rewards. I never doubted my own ability to achieve my goals, despite numerous teachers and career advisors telling me I was crazy to think I could make a career out of motorsport. I do believe that ultimately Formula One is a competitive industry, and every team wants the best person for the job in every role, so all you have to do is make sure you are the best person for the job.
In the early days, I do remember sometimes getting an awkward look when it came to packing up the garage in the pouring rain at Snetterton because I think the boys thought they shouldn’t make me do it. But I never wanted that and so never let them give me an easy time. If I was there, I was there to work. That has always been my attitude. You have to contribute in every way that you can, and my advice to anyone is to always start at the bottom and work your way up. I think that applies to any industry, I don’t believe anyone should be gifted things in life, you should earn them, male or female.
What advice would you give to young females who are looking for a role in media in motorsport?
Sophie: Don’t let anyone tell you that you that you can’t do something. Full stop. Don’t be intimidated and don’t try to be something you are not. Work hard, gain experience and don’t see yourself as any different to anyone else trying to become successful in motorsport. All the women I know who are successful in motorsport, from mechanics and engineers, to press officers and lawyers do it because they love their jobs and they don’t see themselves as being ‘different’ or doing something out of the ordinary in any way.
And finally, what has been your favourite moment at Williams F1 so far?
Sophie: My favourite moment was our race win in Barcelona 2012. I remember having to ask someone from Red Bull where to go after the race, I’d never recced what happens when you win until that point! I ended up in the TV pen holding Pastor’s (Maldonado) sweaty towel, his drink’s bottle, the trophy and all my usual bits and bobs including my radio, Dictaphone and driver caps…. I looked like a bit of a rookie again but it was worth it!
We had celebrated Frank’s (Williams) 70th birthday that weekend as well as claiming pole position for the race. After all the excitement, we then had one of my scariest moments in motorsport, as during our post-race talk with Sir Frank in the garage, the garage set on fire. Thankfully, everyone was ok in the end but putting that all together, it really made for a weekend that I will never forget.
Sophie is certainly a role model for any female wanting to work in the world of motorsport. We wish her all the best for the future and, the Williams Martini Racing team a successful 2016 season.
You can follow Sophie on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/Sophie_Ogg