Tom Halls is Head of Digital at Formula E. We caught up with him to find out what it's like to combine the sexy worlds of motor sport and digital marketing.
Please describe your job, Tom!
I lead the development of all our consumer-facing digital products and innovations; from the more traditional website and app channels to the world-first FanBoost activation and our virtual reality and eSports trials.
Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?
Currently I sit within the Media team, reporting into our Director of Media.
I work closely with our Marketing and Communications team to ensure the platforms and products are fit for purpose and built based on fan feedback.
What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Project management skills are important, but equally the ability to manage multiple agencies to deliver on a unified vision is key.
You have to be able to articulate complex digital projects in layman’s terms, whether you're presenting to our board or sponsors, through to the smallest details required at an executional level with our agencies.
Effective delegation and the ability to prioritise is essential, but a passion and deep understanding of the existing and upcoming digital landscape goes a long way in ensuring that every experience is best in class, or heading in that direction.
We sometimes forget we’re only two years old as an organisation and won’t get everything right first time, so the ability to learn from mistakes and evolve from there is critical.
Tell us about a typical working day…
I’m not sure a typical working day exists; there’s an element of routine to my working life, but with a full race calendar throughout the year and our ambition to drive innovation, every day feels different!
I tend to start my mornings on my commute around 6:30am, running through my daily to-do list and ignoring emails until 8am. I then tend to have stand-up calls with some of our agencies in Australia before they head to sleep and the rest of our office arrives.
From there onwards it’s a blend of project stand-ups, agency meetings and pitches, and at the moment, strategic planning for Season 3. From 4:30pm it tends to be a mixture of stand-up calls with our West Coast US agencies and planning for the next day.
I keep a methodical checklist of critical tasks throughout the day and review on my commute home whilst covering emails; I find preparing and planning for the next day allows me to attack it far more effectively than coming into it ‘cold’.
Generally I’m home by around 7pm, when it’s a few more emails and sometimes calls with the US – the beauty and challenge of being a global organisation and working in digital is that I rarely turn off, but I always prioritise spending time with my son and making sure I’m there to put him to bed whenever possible!
What do you love about your job? What sucks?
The rate at which we innovate excites me on a daily basis.
We have access to some of the latest and upcoming technology and I love that we’re constantly approached by technology and software startups to trial and work with them on iterating their product offerings.
I’ve been fortunate to experience some really revolutionary products (often that I can’t talk about in public!) months before most people see them; and my desk is a treasure trove of technology – I always have colleagues coming up to play with all the gadgets and toys I get to test out.
What sucks? We still have gaps between some races that are a bit too long – that gives us a fairly unique challenge of driving constant engagement over a prolonged period where we don’t always have a story to tell.
We get around that by careful planning of our content, and we see digital as being a gateway for stimulating further engagement – 'gamifying' the everyday digital experience for our fans through interactive competitions, voting and content activations will allow us to create more artificial peaks that keep fans hooked between races.
What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?
Our ambition is to create a seamless experience across all our digital platforms, so we measure all the various touchpoints, whether that’s driving traffic (marketing) or converting first-time viewers to fans (content and product).
I’m a big fan of measurable KPIs that provide you with actionable insight, not the vanity metrics you sometimes find in organisations.
Social followers, traffic etc are all good to understand, but none of those mean anything if you’re not converting them effectively.
Conversion could be getting someone to follow us and engage with our content on social, or registering as a member on our website or logging in to watch qualifying on our app.
We monitor all these on a regular basis and measure their performance in relation to the common journeys our fans experience – this is the most effective way of understanding where we are succeeding and failing on that experience and allows us to address challenges quickly.
For instance, we might find we’re doing a fantastic job of driving traffic to our channels through a targeted Facebook campaign, but these visitors aren’t converting and buying a ticket because of a non-optimised ticketing journey – we can identify the challenge and work with our ticketing partner to address that, using the original baseline metric to highlight improvements in conversion and fan experience.
The Formula E iOS app
What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?
With multiple complex projects and ongoing product development to manage, being organised is critical.
I use Evernote to catalog all product roadmaps and feature requests, as well as meeting notes, Trello to keep tabs on upcoming innovations and potential partners and Slack to communicate with our agencies and internal teams.
In terms of project management I’ve recently migrated from Basecamp to Omniplan; super simple interface and ability to create simplistic or complex roadmaps for our board really helps articulate our digital strategy.
Which brands do you think are doing digital well?
I’m a huge fan of what the US sports leagues do; I think their approach to social is far more innovative than most other brands, both on a retail and sporting perspective.
NASCAR and the MLS are fantastic on Snapchat for instance and well worth a follow, even if you’re not a fan of the sports.
Specifically, I’m a massive advocate of what Major League Baseball and their Advanced Media arm are doing. The end to end experience, from buying a ticket to getting to the ground and ordering food, all through one app is fantastic, and creates real advocates of what is quite a traditional sport compared to our own.
I think their expertise is evidenced by the fact the Advanced Media arm has now been tasked with completing digital projects for other sports – they’ve essentially developed a technology company out of a traditional sporting league – an amazing and fascinating achievement.
From a brand perspective, I really admire what the industry leaders like Amazon and Apple do.
Both have great customer experiences and make products and services that just work seamlessly. That’s often taken for granted in the digital experience, but thinking back to 10yrs ago I do wonder how we ever managed without some of their services in this day and age.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in digital?
Be passionate about digital; it’s such a persistent part of our lives that you really need to appreciate the value it can bring to consumers and equally the negative effect it can have on your day (remember all those horrendous ticketing experiences when you want gig tickets?).
In digital, acceptance of change is key, working in an industry that can pivot around one product phenomenon (Pokemon Go anyone?) means you need to be super flexible.
Wide-eyed curiosity and a desire to create great products that you’d use day in, day out goes a long way.