If you like mountain biking (or even if you don’t) the chances are the name Rachel Atherton will be familiar to you. Part of the GT Factory Racing team alongside brother Gee and Dan, she’s won numerous races and mainstream plaudits.
And part of the reason you know about her? Gill Harris. Gill is the marketing and PR guru on the GT Factory Racing Team whose role includes everything from liaising with sponsors and arranging photo-shoots to making sure those awesome video edits get great coverage in the press.
We chatted with her to get the lowdown on her work, the highlights, the low points and how she got started.
Describe in your own words what your job is.
I’m the team PA and the Marketing and PR person for the GT Factory Racing Team.
It’s a job that can involve ANYTHING, and usually does. I could be talking to the press, or fixing up a photo-shoot with Men’s Fitness or another mainstream magazine. I help book events like Fort William, making sure that everyone who needs a pass has one. I keep track of what media coverage the team have got. I even do really mundane stuff like find someone to take in the team kit to make sure it fits, or helping Dan, Gee and Rach with their everyday admin.
We’ve got loads of specialists for everything, from mechanics to chefs, physios to injury management specialists, and of course Dan Brown the Team Director. I try and pull everything together, make sure the pieces of the jigsaw fit, and keep track of everyone.
I keep the pressure off the riders so they can concentrate on the racing, and try and make sure everyone is happy and having a nice time.
You sound busy! How did you get into this role?
I started in November 2011, so I've been doing it for a few years now. My background is in advertising and marketing, and I worked in London for a long time on brands like Mercedes Benz, Ducat and Proctor and Gamble, with the big 1990’s ad agencies.
Then I had some kids, moved to Malawi for a while, then came back to the UK and moved to North Wales, which was quite a change!
I decided I was only going to do something that was really interesting and fun. This job, when it came up, was only advertised in our local newspaper, and it wasn’t at all what I’d been doing before. I’d been working at a really high level, in very glossy ad agencies, at director level. When I started this job, it was two days a week, and a real admin role barely above office junior position.
But I was really interested in it, so I took it on a trial basis, and it went from there!
What are the similarities and differences with what you were doing before?
There are some similar elements. For example, I look after quite a few of the sponsor relationships and media relationships, which is very similar to what I’ve done before.
But the PA part, where I’m helping Dan Brown, is different because that’s all about personalities and being a real team player. There are some elements I’ve got experience of and learned about in the corporate world that are still applicable, even though it’s a much smaller team.
When I started there were just 6 of us; 3 riders, Dan Brown, Pete the Mechanic and me – it’s really exploded from there though!
What are the highlights of the job for you?
Race days are a definite highlight – it seems ludicrous sometimes that I get paid for being there! There’s always such a buzz and such energy, you’re in a beautiful place, working with people who are really passionate about what they do. Everyone is putting 110% in and lets face it, we’re winners!
I had no idea I was going to get so hooked!
Everyone here is so professional. Dan Brown has said we’ve got to aim to be like Formula One, so everything is done right, nobody cuts corners or slacks, everyone is doing their job absolutely the best they can, and that rocks! To work with people like that is amazing.
There must be some downsides or more challenging elements, though?
I guess it’s more challenging when things don’t go well, because the team is so small and tightknit. You become really fond of the guys as people, so it’s hard when things aren’t going well for them. Like when Rachel was really struggling with her post-viral thing, or when Dan broke his leg just before the start of the season, or even when they’ve come off the bike on a practice or race run and they’re really disappointed. You can see the frustration in their faces. That’s hard because you do get so involved.
Rachel has been getting a lot of mainstream attention, like winning the BT Action Woman of the Year Award last year. That must be job satisfaction for you?
It’s really exciting, because all of us are passionate about getting women into riding bikes. The most bike riding I’d done before I started here was riding to work through London on my little commuter bike. Now I have a mountain bike – though I won’t be racing any time soon! But I ride with my kids at home and I really enjoy it. That’s one of Rachel’s big aims, and you can see it in the confidence of being that brave, that strong, conquering that mountain and coming down that hill. She says there’s no amount of shopping can buy you that, and I buy into that. The more I can do to raise her profile, the better I like it.
What advice would you give anyone who was interested in working a similar role to you?
As I said, when the job was advertised it was only really two days a week, and an admin role, but because I was interested I took it and the job grew. So that’s what I’d say: don’t be precious about it, just have a go.
I also think starting on a trial basis is a good idea. It might be that you’d find a team and you wouldn’t gel with them in the same way, so if you are on a trail basis that’s better for both of you.
I say have a crack at it, and you’ll be hooked. I had no idea I was going to get so hooked!
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