CSM Communications Director Lizzie Isherwood: “It’s a lot of behind the scenes leg work”
Lizzie Isherwood has always adored motorsport. From watching Formula 1 races from a very young age to spending the weekend attending hill climbs. Now, Lizzie is the Communications Director at CSM Sport & Entertainment – an integrated marketing agency specialising in communications, sponsorship and events.
When she first joined the company, it was called JMI and only focused on motorsport. Now, however, whilst her main account is UPS’ partnership with Scuderia Ferrari, she gets to cover a wide range of other sports including rowing and football.
“You take UPS’ partnership with Ferrari and that opens up a completely new audience that UPS can target on their own,” she says. “We look at it from a business perspective - it gives partners visibility and customer engagement opportunities.”
Lizzie will explore the brand objectives and apply a Formula 1 lens to it in order to make it relevant to the market.
“As an agency, we’re the go-between,” she says.
“A lot of brands don’t have the resource to man sponsorship. Some brands struggle to do everything in house - it can mean they’re limited as one person cannot maximise all assets. Our role is to find those opportunities and push each party to find the right solution. It’s a lot of behind-the-scenes leg work to get to the final objective.”
Since Liberty Media took over Formula 1 in 2017, Lizzie has noticed a number of changes and the most significant have perhaps been the shift in audience demographics.
“There’s definitely been more interest in the sport, especially that younger audience,” she says. “For each of our clients, we still have to have that filter of ‘is that relevant’. It might not be for our partner but for someone else who’s looking to break in - esports for a tech company, for example.
“It has definitely opened different opportunities, but it’s just a case of us still being that reality check in terms of great that sounds great but it’s not for you! We’ve seen the likes of Drive To Survive but what it’s meant is we push for more; people want more so we’re pushing the rights holders more. What’s now the balance is what the rights holders keep for themselves for their story vs what they’ll let you tell as their story and that’s probably still being ironed out.”
Lizzie studied French and German at the University of Warwick and now lives in Modena, Italy.
“I work from home, but I would traditionally spend at least a week per month in the UK to still have that connection with the rest of the team,” she says. “You can’t do a tonne of activity at the [race] track because unless you’re a global partner, you’re very restricted on what you can do.
“Travel that we would do, for at least communications perspective, would be more likely to be a film set or a team HQ, where you would be doing that filming.”
However, Lizzie has delivered over a dozen hospitality events in her role, showing that you need to be flexible to switch mindsets and be thrown into the deep end of working a Formula 1 race weekend.
“One partner would do pretty much every race, and I know some teams almost have two account teams because it’s just relentless - you can’t do back-to-back hospitality delivery because you need four or five days in the lead up to a race,’ she says. “Those that manage hospitality tend to do a lot more travel. We will often support them, as it’s the delivery execution where they need more feet on the ground. Even though my day-to-day is comms, I’ve delivered 10-15 hospitality events with other people because you just get parachuted into delivering that; and that’s just how it works.”
After graduating from university, Lizzie’s first role in motorsport was working with a team called Fortec as a PR, Marketing and Press Officer. As a life-long Formula 1 fan, she was drawn to working in the sport on the media side, knowing that the skills she gained from her degree would be transferable to this industry.
“I wanted to get some work experience with some junior teams as that felt the most realistic way in,” she says. “I’d emailed a couple of people and Fortec replied; I basically said can I shadow your PR person and they said we don’t have one, do you want to be that person. So that’s what I did!”
After gaining initial skills and travelling across various motorsport paddocks with the team, Lizzie went to work for an agency called Performance Communications where she had done work experience before.
“I moved into that space and still stayed in motorsport across British F3 and GT championships so kept that even when I left Fortec,” she says.
After two years at that agency, Lizzie made to move to CSM and has worked her way up from Communications Manager to Director since joining in 2014.
“You have to be very solutions-focused and that’s a skill you learn - that’s not something you would expect at an executive level but always being able to anticipate a challenge and find a solution,” she says. “You never go to a client with a problem; you have to go with a solution as that’s your job.”
In addition, Lizzie raises the point that communications isn’t a 9 to 5 role. Instead, it’s a lifestyle and not a career because you live and breathe it.
“You do it because you love it; you wouldn’t make the sacrifices otherwise,” she says. “Always look at what everyone else is doing, be aware of what other brands are doing. If you see a brand that has done it really well, think about how your client in that space. Being commercially aware is always helpful because being interested in motorsport is fantastic but it’s not the most important thing for us as an agency.
“We must be able to deliver first and foremost and we also can’t get trapped in the madness of it all; we have to be focused on the business element as well.”