Formula One has played a PR blinder by skilfully steering the story preoccupying critics and fans alike. In the wake of coverage of the notorious Presidents Club, attention has inevitably turned to other industries, as journalists develop the story. Liberty Media, which owns the rights to Formula One, has handled the situation with aplomb, recognising that many view ‘grid girls’ as outmoded, undignified, even offensive and announcing that it was “at odds with societal norms”. It also recognised that some fans, including many ‘grid girls’, would disagree with the decision to dispense with the practice of employing “glamorous” women to stand prettily next to cars, while male racing drivers, male motorsports engineers and mostly male F1 team bosses went about their multi-billion pound business.
Liberty Media and the sport’s governing body, the FIA, were correct – coverage of the controversial decision was mixed. While some applauded the move, other high profile voices were damning (Naomi Campbell: “they’re representing their country”; Bernie Ecclestone: “sponsors wanted to see the people that represented them very smartly dressed, which is what they did”). Opinion pieces lamented the triumph of political correctness and ‘grid girls’ gave interviews pointing out that they loved their job and nobody bothered to consult them before taking away their livelihood.
In crisis media training brands learn the best strategies for limiting negative coverage, including getting ahead of the story and steering the narrative before it becomes a crisis. The announcement that ‘grid kids’ will replace ‘grid girls’ from the start of the F1 season is a classic example of how to do this. It effectively:
- moves the story on with a ‘better’ one
- captures the attention of the media and its other audiences (fans, sponsors, F1 teams and their staff, other motorsports and other sports)
- promotes F1 motorsport as providing opportunity for talented young drivers and future stars
Importantly, it also creates plenty of future opportunities for positive media coverage, such as:
- F1 debuts ‘grid kids’
- Profile of a ‘grid kid’ destined for future F1 stardom
- Day in the life of a ‘grid kid’
- Female ‘grid kids’
- Child wins competition to be ‘grid kid’ for a day
- ‘Grid kid’ meets his/her hero driver
- Former ‘grid kid’ becomes F1 driver
- Former ‘grid kid’ wins championship
- Celebrity ‘grid kid’
- Driver and ‘grid kid’ father/son team
- Team offers ‘grid kid’ experience to deprived communities/sick children
Five top tips for steering the media narrative:
- Get ahead of the story. Respond quickly, correct misinformation, provide accurate facts
- Become part of the narrative. Give your side of the story to journalists and deploy consistent messaging across all your own channels (website, social media)
- Brainstorm where the story might go and prepare messaging and spokespeople
- Develop ‘better’ stories (a journalist will ALWAYS go with a better story) and tailor them for specific media outlets
- Ensure your spokespeople are trained to confidently get your story across in planned and unplanned (doorstep) interviews.