Welcome to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. We’re venturing into a new sport as we sit down with the Head of Communications for Extreme E, Julia Fry!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
Hi, I’m Julia Fry, Head of Communications for Extreme E, the new electric off-road motor racing series, which I’ve worked on since it launched over two years ago.
Before this my career has always been sports focused. I used to run communications for the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race and also worked for a couple of sports PR agencies, which included living over in Toronto, Canada for a number of years. As well as traditional communications roles, I had various Press Operations delivery roles with the IOC, Wimbledon, Olympics (London 2012 and Vancouver 2010), and London and New York Marathons.
What do you do in your current role?
My role at Extreme E is essentially to build fame, awareness and credibility for the series. As a brand-new sport, created two years ago in response to the climate emergency, we firstly had to build it all from a totally blank slate – create our identity and our format, attract teams and drivers, and a fan base. It was an exciting and fast-moving couple of years’ and we’ve now had our first two events.
My role covers everything from planning our news announcement schedules and overseeing content creation, to proactive and responsive interaction with our international media, managing our on-site press operations systems, and working closely with our ecosystem of teams, drivers, partners, scientists, host countries and content agencies to maximise their participation and our overall storytelling potential.
What does a normal week look like for you?
Every day starts with an 0900 internal staff meeting where we all highlight our priorities for the day and discuss key decisions. We are still a fairly small team and we started these when lockdown began as a way for us to stay connected because launching a new series from our individual living rooms would have been impossible without proper daily communication.
Extreme E is a motorsport series with a focus on gender equal racing, but off the race course, our purpose is to raise awareness about the climate emergency and promote sustainable mobility solutions for the future health of the planet. This can create some really varied meetings. One morning I might be meeting with our Chief Championship Officer about updates to our sporting format, and my next meetings may be with one of our Scientific Committee on the situation regarding the melting of the Greenland icecap, or a brainstorm on how we can further support the development of female racers in the top levels of motorsport.
Our next event is in Greenland at the end of August so there are also a lot of operational planning meetings, content brainstorms and journalist meetings going on as we prepare for that. It will be the first time an international motorsport event has been held in Greenland so a lot to plan!
I feel privileged to be part of such an ambitious and big thinking team and I get to have truly inspiring conversations involving incredible minds. It’s up to me to work with our PR agency, marketing, social and broadcast team to best communicate everything through our platform and via our ecosystem of teams and partners. The opportunities for storytelling are endless and I love the potential of this project.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I did my degree in Public Relations and always knew I wanted to work in sports as it was my passion growing up, I played football, cricket, basketball, anything I could really, always team sports though.
I was fortunate enough to get a Season long internship at Arsenal FC as part of my degree course. I didn’t know anyone there but my University (Bournemouth) had good links, and that was it, I was absolutely hooked. It was Arsenal’s Invincible Season at Highbury back in 2003/04 and I was the Press Office intern. I loved playing sport but I get just as big a buzz being on the inside and seeing how it all happened. It felt like I’d won the lottery. It all grew from there and I continue to count myself as very lucky in my career ever since.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
I’m loving seeing more and more gender diversity in the entire sports industry, not just athletes, but also in the presenter, commentators, journalists, management roles. As a female growing up, I didn’t notice a huge amount of female athlete role models in mainstream sport outside of athletics and tennis, but that is changing greatly.
I was particularly proud when our Extreme E senior management team introduced a ruling to ensure all our teams were fully gender equal. That was the first time that a motorsport sporting format had males and females racing equally together. Our female drivers are incredible role models for the sport, and I can see how inspiring they are already being to future generations. Sometimes it takes a newcomer to the sport to break down historic norms. Some people asked why. We said why not?
Growing up I was always one of the only girls playing football or cricket and I aspired to be next Eric Cantona, or David Beckham. Now our girls can name many of their own female role models, on and off the field in other roles too, and I think that’s really powerful for the future of female sport participation.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
In three words it would be, growth, impact and credibility.
Extreme E is still very young. My focus is on growing our media figures and fanbase as we can’t have the positive impact we want if no one follows, read or watches what we do.
We have made a strong start but with just five events in our Season compared to fourteen to twenty plus fixtures for F1 and football, we need to work hard to keep newsworthy.
On the impact side, this is also about raising awareness which inspires people to take action. That is a key part of our series purpose. Sport is a super powerful channel for reaching huge, mainstream audiences who may not usually seek out climate focused content.
Finally, as the newcomer in sport, I want us to be taken seriously, not just to be recognized for fast growth and impact, but to have a positive reputation for our credibility in the way that we do it and what we stand for.
In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about or focus on enough?
I think we are going to see more of a focus on climate related metrics in reporting and new business pitching. At the moment the industry still focuses on traditional media, social, AVE and sales figures, but in the not-so-distant future I think all businesses will all need to be fully transparent about things like company and event carbon footprints, and their supply chains.
Extreme E is calculating its carbon footprint and will release it when we reach the end of our first Season, but when you are first to do it, it is hard to compare this data to. I think it will become regulation to do this, and even if it isn’t regulation, potential sponsors’ requests for this sort of data is becoming more widespread when deciding who to partner with. I think it would be great to see more corporations taking greater responsibility in this way.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Be focused, create a shortlist of companies and roles you want to achieve, and then be creative, but also patient about how you go about getting them. Do your research on people to connect with on LinkedIn, but rather than go straight in and ask for jobs, follow people, engage with them and build relationships, ask to meet for a coffee and ask them some questions and advice about how they got where they are for example.
Be prepared to take long routes to where you want to get to. If your goal is to work in F1, start by gaining some experience in any other form of motorsport first. Volunteer, write your own content on a blogsite, start a podcast if its media and comms you are looking to get into. Do anything which gains you experience which you can then draw on when it comes to interviews.
Proactivity, and passion for what you want to do is key. Sports is hardly ever as glamorous as it seems. Long, unsociable hours, travel is involved – having a passion and being able to prove you are a strong team player are all important!
How to follow Julia Fry and Extreme E…
Also feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with Julia Fry! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.