Author: Simona Kruhar Gaberšček | Read time: 8 min
“Formula E was founded to counteract climate change by accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles. That purpose has since extended to ‘racing for better futures’, including through our work on both sustainability and inclusivity,” says Katie Traxton, Chief Communications Officer at Formula E and Board Director with the European Sponsorship Association (ESA). The mission to drive sustainability was in fact the main reason behind her decision to move from her role at the successful sponsorship agency to a rights holder.
SPORTO: During the lockdown, you began writing an interesting blog for the European Sponsorship Association (ESA), where your new role and the career move you made during the pandemic was among the first entries. Was it more difficult for you to make this change under those challenging conditions when most people were experiencing uncertainty, fear of losing their jobs, anxiety or other similar concerns?
KATIE TRAXTON: Changing job during the pandemic has been an unusual experience. When I pictured my first day in my new role, I didn’t imagine that my ‘office’ would look identical to the day before in my previous job – sitting at my kitchen table. There are definitely some advantages to starting a new job in lockdown; the long days I was putting in to get up to speed were less taxing without my commute. However, in simple terms, I really like people and while my new colleagues at Formula E went out of their way to give me as warm a virtual welcome as possible, it isn’t quite the same. That said, what I’ve been reminded of in all parts of my life is not to take anything for granted. I feel lucky to have a job – let alone one which offers an exciting new adventure – and I appreciate every moment I share in person with my family, friends or colleagues a little more than I would have a year ago.
Prior to joining Formula E, you were a Managing Partner at WeAreFearless, ESA’s Pan-European Sponsorship Agency of the Year. Why did you decide to move to the client’s/rights holder’s side? How do you see the sponsor vs agency vs rights holder triangle within the industry?
There wasn’t a master plan. I spent three and a half happy years with the agency, learnt a lot and keep in touch with my team. I did and do believe in Fearless’ ambition to challenge convention to find opportunity and growth. I also believe in the people delivering it, but when I met my now boss and heard the vision for Formula E, I realised I had been presented with the right opportunity at the right time and it was too good to pass up.
In terms of moving from agency to rights holder, I think everyone should experience working in sponsorship from as many angles as possible. I’ve also worked for racing teams (BMW, Volkswagen), a large commercial partner (BP Castrol) and even in the public sector at the British Council. It’s important to understand where each party is coming from and what their objectives are. Formula E offers the best of both worlds – you’re in the beating heart of an international rights holder, strategising how to grow a business with exceptional potential, without losing the buzz of a creative agency, because you’re working for a dynamic, future-facing sport.
When you leave an agency, I don’t think you should leave the agency mentality behind. You should treat everyone like you do your most important client – from the respect you show them to truly listening to the problem they need to solve and continually striving to come up with better ideas to drive greater ROI. You always have to be at the top of your game simply to survive and I never want to let that mentality go!
Going back to your blog, diversity and inclusivity seem to be the main topics of your stories. What is your view on these issues in the sports industry?
Diversity and inclusion are nuanced concepts that mean different things to different people, but one thing we should all agree on is that it’s vital. Diverse teams provide visible role models that directly inspire young people to feel welcome in historically hostile environments. Being more representative of society as a whole in our workplaces also leads to greater creativity and better business results.
I’ve been campaigning for inclusivity in many different ways for over a decade, yet I still feel like I’m learning every day. For me, the role of those effecting positive change is to ask the right questions, not to have all the answers, and to encourage clear commitment, action and impact. Cultural change is a collaborative process and we’re slowly seeing more dialogue on the subject in the sports industry.
Earlier in the year, Formula E published an open letter signed by our founder and our CEO stating our position and inviting others both to join us on our journey and to hold us to account. Formula E’s progressive attitude attracted me to the organisation, and I believe more and more people will start to choose employers based on their values and behaviours as much as the job offer or brand name.
Sustainability has been another important topic in recent years. How can the sports industry benefit from incorporating a more sustainable approach and what to take into consideration? Do we really understand it?
Recently, Formula E was certified the first ever sport to have a net zero carbon footprint from inception. That achievement is something the team have been working on since day one – long before I joined the company. Yet as I’ve been learning about our approach to sustainability over the last six months, there are two key lessons that have stuck with me. The first is that sustainability is more than being environmentally conscious. Sustainability is environmental, social and economic and much of the best work lies at the intersection of the three. The second is that the gold standard approach to environmental sustainability – which our sustainability team strictly hold us to account on – is to measure emissions, then reduce them as much as is practical and finally only to offset the unavoidable remainder. While a more sustainable approach may be more costly, it’s important to remember that short-term cost is long-term gain. After all, we only have one planet.
Formula E, with its electric racing cars, plays its part in reducing climate change globally and, because of its rules (such as teams not being allowed to charge or replace their battery mid-race), accelerates innovation in this field. Are innovations and the ‘sci-fi looking’ cars the main driver in attracting the audience? How would you describe the typical Formula E fan and how does he/she differ from the Formula 1 fan?
I think our fans believe in the sport as a whole. A key factor for them is the unpredictability of the racing product – we’ve had five champions in our six-season history and eight winners in eleven races in Season Six alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re a long-term motorsport fan or new to racing, that’s exciting! The race-to-road innovation attract fans, since they directly impact people’s futures. What’s truly unique is the combination of awesome racing underpinned by that reason to believe.
Sustainability is environmental, social and economic and much of the best work lies at the intersection of the three
Compared to motorsport in general, our audience are younger, have a greater concern for environmental and social issues, and are prepared to pay more for brands that have a positive impact on the world. Ultimately, we’re a future-facing, purpose driven sport – so anyone with a passion for competitive racing, cutting-edge technology who wants a better, more sustainable world for the next generation will love what Formula E has to offer. As a lifelong motorsport fan, I can assure you that there’s room in any fan’s heart for both Formula E and Formula 1. There’s also plenty of space for atypical motorsport fans curious about a new sport to join us, too.
In the recent months, when electric racing cars were ‘parked’, Formula E introduced “Positively Charged”, a part of the FIA’s #PurposeDriven initiative. Can you tell us more?
Positively Charged represents both our racing and our reason; the combination of high performance, unpredictable and exciting city centre racing, and positive impact that makes Formula E unique in global sport. Through the Purpose Driven movement, the FIA encourages all motorsport to respect its duty to the environment, health and safety, diversity and inclusion, and community involvement and development. We are delighted to play our part in that, making sure that the Positively Charged spirit runs through everything we do and working together with our ecosystem as one large community united in a common goal.
Formula E lets fans play an active role in influencing the outcome of the race. Fanboost gives fans the opportunity to vote for their favourite driver, giving them an extra boost of power during the race. This kind of approach cannot be applied to traditional sport. Could we describe it as a kind of Gen-Z (future) fan-engagement?
Formula E is a young sport, tailor-made for the future. It’s an innovative and adaptable blend of the real and gaming worlds. We don’t jump on trends because they’re trending, we pioneer new and interactive ideas that appeal to the next generation of sports fans. I’m possibly biased, but I believe it’s all about effective communication. By giving our fans or potential fans the opportunity to be part of the sport, we get direct feedback on what works well and what could be better. We need to build trust with our fans by listening to them and understanding what is important to them. We know that unpredictable racing with a purpose at its core resonates, but that we still need to evolve and love getting feedback.
When we launched our first esports series during the coronavirus-driven season pause – the ABB FIA Formula E Race at Home Challenge in support of UNICEF – our product translated really naturally. We also ran two grids; one with all twenty-four of our Formula E drivers going head-to-head for esports honours, and one with top gamers and influencers fighting it out for a real-world prize.
On the topic of sponsors, ABB partnership won the Effie Award, automakers like BMW, Audi and Nissan use the innovations and insights they have developed from Formula E to improve their everyday electric vehicles … Can you share any other examples of brands successfully using the platform and activating their partnerships?
We worked with Enel to use their latest product innovation to improve the sustainable footprint in Rome. By connecting the infrastructure that powers the Formula E 2019 Rome ePrix to the grid, we were able to ensure optimum power usage for seven days, including pre- and post-race. This authentic partnership in action is an example of how we work with our ecosystem to deliver against common objectives that meet our collective purpose while also showcasing what each of our partners uniquely has to offer.
At BT Sport Industry Awards 2016, Formula E received a Cutting Edge Sport Award for the app based on 360° video technology. How is the development of technology affecting the future of Formula E, not only in terms of racing cars, but in terms of the content as well?
Formula E is a test bed for the next generation of electric vehicle technology. Each generation of our cars is designed to go further faster. We are currently racing with Gen2 cars. With Gen3, we will see even faster charging, more standardised parts to focus sustainable investment into key race-to-road parts and lighter and nimbler vehicles, with higher power enabling even more exciting racing.
It’s important that Formula E – or any sports property – presents itself in a consistent way across everything it does; that’s what makes a great sport or brand that people can understand and feel connected to.
It’s important that Formula E – or any sports property – presents itself in a consistent way across everything it does; that’s what makes a great sport or brand that people can understand and feel connected to. Therefore, just as we seek to stay at the forefront of innovation on the track, so too will we be looking to consider the latest industry trends, thought leadership and new channels as we evolve our fan engagement content.
Our future focus also means that we test and learn new ideas to see what works best. If you want to lead the way in any industry, you can’t be scared of failure – as long as you learn and use that lesson to course correct and inspire your next success!
The interview was first published in the SPORTO Magazine No. 15 (November 2020).