How to become a Head of Communications in F1 – Qualifications, skills & more
We spoke to Haas F1 Team's Stuart Morrison to find out what a Head of Communications does, how to become one, and what skills you need for the job.
Being the Head of Communications of a Formula 1 team is central to their success, running all media operations, from interviews with drivers and team principals to organising TV appearances and press releases.
Stuart Morrison has worked for Haas F1 Team since the team began in 2015, but began his career in motorsport working for Jonathan Palmer in 1998.
But what does it take to become a head of communications?
We spoke to him to find out what qualifications you need, what skills you should have, and everything else you need to know.
What is a head of communications?
Any communications, primarily, the role has the overall responsibility for. It’s multifaceted, in some sense, but at its base level it’s the press and media for the race team. So that's not only kind of setting the communication strategy for the team and the press materials that go with it. At the track, it's very much coordinating all the media activities – whether it's come via F1, the promoter, setting up your own media sessions – just getting in any key messaging that you have.
I set the schedule for a race weekend from a PR perspective, and that's also working in with the marketing department as well.
So you wear many hats, I guess. But the top line is basically you're setting the communication strategy for the team and then executing it accordingly.
What does a head of communications do?
So from my role down, I’ve got a communications manager and a social media co-ordinator. Different teams have different sides of their PR team. Being one of the smaller teams on the grid, we're equally small.
So we organise all the media for the drivers, for Gunther, we love to help facilitate any other partner requests, we set their schedule on a race weekend. So we marry the team schedule, the engineering schedule, and the PR schedule, we present that to the drivers, so they know exactly where they need to be at all times. And then obviously we're dealing with partners, we're dealing with broadcast partners. We set the one-on-one interview times on a Thursday – on a race weekend, Media Day is our busiest day, because that's when we get to do all our things. So whether it's taking them to the FIA press conferences, the one-on-one interviews, we're also doing online group media sessions.
Back in the day, pre-COVID, it would be hosting media on site, doing TV scrums outside the garage, that kind of thing, we also then get involved in taking the drivers to partner events as well. So you kept pretty busy Friday, Saturday, Sunday, you would then be kind of at the mercy of the track schedule, and then you're fitting in all the media engagements around that. Again, we do post FP2 interviews, obviously, Saturday and Sunday, we're responsible for taking the drivers into the broadcast pen, and then subsequently the print pen and doing any interviews. We oversee the social media side of the team, and then putting out all the press materials - we run the team website, the video website, we work closely with our photography partner as well. So we make sure that we’ve got all the content together that’s then available.
How do you become a head of communications? What was your career path? What do you need to study?
I think traditionally, people probably get into it by a university level. They'll do something like journalism, or sports journalism, or possibly PR and media. I mean, I did a Bachelor of Arts degree in Film and Media Studies and, when I was doing it, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It was only really in my last year of university when I was getting more and more into motorsport that I thought that actually might be a cool thing to do. So I'd say at a university level, that's more likely, but I wouldn't say there's a degree that trains you to do the job.
Most people if they're studying PR and they want to go into PR, they might go into an agency and then they get agency experience and through that, then they might be able to kind of knock on the door of most sport organisations. Some people do to get to Formula 1 straight out of university, they might be able to get into a junior press officer role.
To get up to a head of communications role, usually, you'll have done some time as a press officer within Formula 1, then you might go to Communications Manager, a senior comms manager, and then head of communications. That's this kind of traditional route from an internal team standpoint.
But I graduated at the same time Jonathan Palmer was setting up the Formula Palmer Audi championship, that first ran in 1998. I was an avid Autosport reader and I saw from the back pages in the national section that he was setting up the championship. So I found his address, wrote him a letter and said, ‘Listen, I just graduated with a Film and Media Studies degree, I’m enthusiastic about motorsport, is there anything going?’
He hadn't even advertised for a press officer for that stage but he responded saying yes and flew me down to his offices in England, we had a chat and the next day he said he’d make me his press officer. Three weeks later, I packed my belongings from a car in Scotland and drove down to the south of England and that was it.
From there, I've networked my way from job to job. So I went from Palmer Audi to F3000 for a year. Then I went to work for a sports agency that managed people like Dario Franchitti and Allan McNish and Dan Wheldon. I worked in a variety of different accounts, I was working on the Mobil 1 sponsorship of the British Rally Championship, Champion spark plugs, Yokohama tyres. But I was working more on the driver side as well. And then I got transferred to America for a year working with Dario and Dan and IndyLights and IndyCar. Then I ended up in Canada for 12 years and I worked for myself, so I set up my own company and just freelanced myself out and again, worked with a lot of guys doing different things.
But all of that came from just getting that first opportunity with Jonathan. I really think that motorsport is a career where once you get your foot in the door, provided you're effective and good at what you do, you can move forward from there, because then a lot of it is genuinely networks and relationships. I think I've never had a job that I've applied for, there's always been an opportunity that has come about.
So for example, when I read that Haas was being set up, I knew somebody who worked at GoDaddy, because they sponsored James Hinchcliffe’s Andretti team, and I'd been doing James's PR for years. So they put me in touch with somebody from Stewart-Haas, who in turn put me in touch with Gunther. So again, I just networked my way there, sent them my credentials. I got in front of the right people and the job became mine a few months later.
The thing I will say to people who asked me how to get started, you've just got to create opportunities, whether that's the case of asking a local race team if you can help out with their social media or something. There's always going to be teams that need somebody to handle the social media or somebody to handle the website, so it's really just a case of if you haven't got experience, you've got to find a way to kind of get yourself in front of people and showcase what you can do. If you are good at content creation, then show people and it may well be that you're going to do some volunteer work for a while or get an internship or something like that.
But possibly the fastest way to build a body of work I would say to people is if you can get agency experience, because you can work on a multitude of accounts, and then you might then find, after two, three years working in those agencies that you find something that really is more your niche, and then you go down that route.
Jessica, my Communications Manager, got a job in Formula E straight out of university, she was comms manager there for five years. Mark, my social media coordinator, did journalism at university, and then he went to work straight for the Rugby League. So again, he had a sports background, which was appealing to me.
I really don't think there's a tried and tested formula for it, it's really just about making those connections and things just kind of aligning.
You just have to apply for things too. One of the things I would say is don't put at the top of your resume in big black and white writing, huge motorsport fan. Because to me, it's actually a turnoff, because there's so much more to this job than just being a fan and certainly for a Formula 1 role, especially if it's gonna be a travelling role, it's about the lifestyle as well. The two hours that people sit comfortably on the couch and watch the grand prix is very different from actually being there, where we're doing 12 or 14 hour days at the track. So it's a case of just letting your credentials sell themselves.
What other skills do you think are useful outside of grades or qualifications?
Obviously, initiative - just based on my own experiences, my initiative is what’s allowed me to get where I am, because I don't wait for opportunities to create opportunities. It is the ability to network and get on. I know PR people who seem quite awkward around other human beings, but it definitely helps if you're adaptable, and you can forge relationships. I mean, in this day and age, definitely having the awareness of things like social media and how these things work helps, because whether you like it or not, you have to be aware of these things and how they interact and how they impact fan engagement.
I'm a little bit more old school, I deal mainly with media, and I have a social media co-ordinator who deals with social media, but you have to have an understanding of it all.
There's no one size fits all, but definitely the ability to use your initiative and work hard. Motorsport is not a nine -to-five job, I don't know anybody in motorsport that really works a nine-to-five job. So if you're looking for that profitability, then forget it, it's not going to happen.
The media side of motorsport is a brutal market. It is about having the passion, but you've got to let that passion drive you. If you just want to watch races, then that's fine, but a lot of the journalists I know in the paddock, the freelance guys and girls who use their own money to get to the event, and it costs a lot of money, but it becomes a lifestyle. And if you're passionate about something, and you're happy to put up with that lifestyle, or living that lifestyle, then you can definitely make a career out of it.
So I think the more experiences you can bring to any role, the better, quite frankly, and it doesn't just have to be motorsport. As I said, I think coming to things with, even a sports background, it's definitely an advantage.
Stuart Morrison, Head Of Communications, Haas F1 Team and Guenther Steiner, Team Principal, Haas F1
Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images
How could someone trying to kickstart their career get work experience?
I think you've got to follow the teams online – when I say teams, there's WRC, BTCC, whoever it is. If you genuinely want to get a start, you've got to know who all the teams are, and you've got to follow their social media feeds. Often, if they have something like an internship, they'll advertise that.
At Haas, we haven't had interns certainly in the UK office yet, because we haven't really had the capacity to host them if you don't want to, because I'm travelling so much. I'm not there at the office all the time. And if somebody is just stuck at the office, it can be quite boring, they probably want to be where the action is. But equally, because we're small, we don't have the capabilities to just have kind of interns at the track in that respect. But I know some teams do obviously operate like that.
So you've just got to see where the opportunities are, you've got to follow things like Motorsport Jobs and see what's out there. And then obviously, if you see a company that is hiring a lot of people, business is obviously going well, so there's no harm in just writing to an HR manager. And obviously, there's things like LinkedIn now as well. I think you've got to be courteous and how you approach people through something like LinkedIn - I mean, I get a lot of approaches that are quite rude, I would say always, just because it's presumptuous that you're going to get back to them. I think also just have a little bit of courtesy.
So yeah, it’s reading things like Autosport, it’s seeing what's going on. When you see a new series is being created, or when you see a new team is being set up, if you've switched on, you will see the opportunities out there, because there's always something going on in motorsport.
And just as far as the traditional pillars of teams and Formula 1 and whatnot, you just have to keep looking at the websites and the career sections, and just trying to find out who the key players are. It never hurts to write an email to somebody. Because if there's something there, then people will remember you. But it may be that they don't have anything at the time, but you just have to keep plugging away at it. That's the only thing I can think of - if you want it badly enough, you'll find a way to make it happen. It may well be that you have to do a little bit of a detour or maybe go to an agency for a couple of years or do something on the weekends volunteering.
What does a normal day in the office look like for you?
During the build-up to a race weekend, I've already done the groundwork of a lot of my scheduling in terms of interviews that have been accepted. There's always that element where you get a last-minute request or something. So at the moment is just making sure that all the materials for the next race are prepped, so that's my driver PR timetable, it’s liaising with the FIA to see whether or not they’re needing Gunther in for a press conference, making sure I've got my media availability ready to go so I can inform the press when our guys are going to be available, finding out what the partner requests are going to be and if there's any other demands that are going to be placed on the drivers or Gunther.
I'm spinning the second plate of the upcoming races as well and making sure we’ve got stuff for that. And then I'm also looking currently four weeks ahead, because we've got further races coming up, plus Pirelli tyre testing, so I'm sorting out my schedule for that. I'm just mindful of what changes need to be made for the schedules. We also have partner filming days as well, so again, I'm arranging that.
When I'm not at the racetrack executing things, I'm either live or die by my timetable or my schedules, because you have to be organised in this business, and you get so many requests. I'm always looking at the next thing that's coming down and making sure it's as organised as possible. So it's really just looking to see what's coming up, we've got a busy few weeks coming up ahead. So that's really what I do when I'm not in the office or when I'm not on track, it’s the preparation work. By the time I get to the track on a Thursday, my weekend should be fairly set, bar the odd request that you might get from a TV broadcaster who maybe wants a quick word with Gunther before FP1 or FP2 - everything else is pretty much set in stone, because the groundwork has been done beforehand.
You get to organise fun things as well. A couple years ago, I had the guys run the NASCAR at COTA because obviously Gene’s sister team is Stewart-Haas Racing. And they’d never had a chance in three, four years to drive the NASCAR and I simply said to Gunther one day, why don't we get a NASCAR to COTA and have the guys driving on the United States Grand Prix. And so Kevin and Romain [in 2019], when they turned up on the Thursday morning, they just got in the car and ran around for an hour with Tony Stewart coaching them, they had a great time. And that's all they saw of it. But what they didn't see was the several weeks and months of planning that goes into that to make it happen.
Nothing ever happens easily but that's what I enjoyed when you get the ability to create something, to create an opportunity, and it can be very difficult in Formula 1, especially with the schedule, being as heavy as it is to come up with those opportunities. But when you can, and you give the drivers an opportunity to do something a little bit different, then it's brilliant because they absolutely loved it. And from a social perspective, we got a lot of hits, a lot of content, we work well with Formula 1, you bring in partners to these things to try and generate even more exposure for and that's really where it's satisfying. The race weekend thing is very kind of bread and butter, and there's a real sense of satisfaction at the end of a race weekend.
But then the flip side of that is you have weekends like I had in Bahrain [last year] when Romain had his crash, and it's not that you're not prepared for it, but the level then of media pressure you come under, and the demand for access to the people like Gunther and Romain himself. That crash happened on the Sunday, and then the Monday we announced Pietro as his replacement, when I was still doing the medical updates for Romain in hospital. But we'd already scheduled that week to announce our 2021 drivers. And so on the Tuesday we announced Nikita, the Wednesday we announced Mick.
It was undoubtedly my craziest week. But again, you just have to keep yourself organised. You work long hours, you resolve communication with Gunther and the main people in play. And when we got to the end of it, we were like right, we survived that. So as much as a lot of a race weekend can be routine, when something like that happens, or everything goes out the window, and then you kind of go into crisis management mode. So as much as people think it's all about the glamour on the grid in Monaco, we were in a situation there were it was essentially life or death.
Romain Grosjean, Haas F1, Kevin Magnussen, Haas F1 and Stuart Morrison, Head Of Communications, Haas F1 Team
Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images
What does a race day look like for you?
Race day for me is almost my quietest day on a race weekend. Sometimes in the past, we'd have an autograph session, or they did a fan forum event, but we haven't had that in the past year, so there's quite a long window. So my Sunday morning for the most part is then spent working on the next up and coming races because it's never usually too crazy, so it gives me a little bit of time to actually continue with my prep work for the next event or whatever is coming up in that week. It could be admin or planning, it's also a time for me just to kind of network and catch up with some other people in the paddock as well.
The drivers have their pre-race meetings or engineering meetings, we also get them ready then to go to the drivers parade and there might be some interviews we've got to take care of as well. And then I'll often be on the grid just because sometimes Gunther might be doing some TV interviews there, or I might be taking some photographs that I’m giving to our social media coordinator.
And then when the race starts, I tend to watch the race from my office, so I’ve got my headphones on, I have it on the screen, I've got the commentary going. And then it's really a case of just being eyes and making sure that you're aware of everything that's going on. Obviously if a driver crashes out of the race, you then have to make sure that he goes down to the TV pen before the race is finished. Or if both guys finish, you have to make sure that your PR people are there to take them into the pen. Then straight after the race and the pen it’s about typing up your press release, getting your race report out, making sure the media site is updated, make sure the social channels are updated.
Depending on how you've gone in the race, you might get more requests from the broadcasters who are live, so they might say listen, can we try and get Gunther for five minutes or Formula 1 might want to try and get one of your drivers onto their live Twitter desk. So you're being a lot more reactive after the race, as well.
It just really depends, but Sunday overall is a fairly steady day. There's not too many surprises. In that I'd say Thursday is absolutely always our busiest day. Friday, you know, you’ve got more track time than Saturday, you’ve got qualifying on Saturday, there can be more meet and greets with partners as well. So it's a lot of it is wash, rinse, repeat, but you never know when something's going to pop up. All it can take is one thing and it can totally skew your day a different way.
What else should people know about the life of the head of communications?
That it might look cool, but there's a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes that people don't see. But it's very rewarding. When you do get to stand on the grid in Monaco, or somewhere like that, and you're looking around, and you're like, 'Yeah, this is cool'. We don't all go to parties, and we don't all lead this wild extravagant lifestyle, but you look around, and you realise you're doing something very special. I never take it for granted, because it's a privilege to be able to be there - there's thousands of people who would happily swap places with you.
And also we're all replaceable, I don't think I'm doing anything that's special. Somebody else could be doing it, but it’s me that’s doing it just now. There's only 10 heads of communications in all of F1 in terms of teams, so it's a cool thing when you put it in those terms. And I'm very fortunate that the other comms people and the other PR people in Formula 1, they're a good group of people, because we all understand what we do. Yes, the people in the garage have got long hours, very physical hours, physically demanding jobs, especially places like Malaysia or Singapore.
You know, people sometimes think that we just kind of float in and we just work with drivers and off we go but everybody in the paddock environment, they have different pressures and different responsibilities and you can't base your job based on what you see somebody else doing.
There's many nights you speak to any PR person where the other guys might be finished but you're in some event two hours away from your hotel with your drivers and then you’ve got to drive back again. But this is just the nature of the beast. It's a case of you've got to be prepared to put in that work, but it's very rewarding, it's very satisfying and it is cool. When you get to the end of a race weekend, heading to the airport, you say, 'Okay, survived another one'.
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