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Catching Up With The Responsible Adult

Eve Hewitt, aka Mrs John Hindhaugh is known to millions by a totally different moniker.

She is ‘The Responsible Adult’ keeping the Radio Le Mans presenting team in order (including her hubby – In fact quite often especially her hubby!) and also making the channel’s thriving social media presence hum.

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But just who is the mysterious lady?

“I came to this through a pretty unconventional route via a role I loved at the Royal Albert Hall (where Eve was Sales and Marketing Director for 6 years).  I sat on a committee that was chaired by Peter Middleton then boss of Lloyds of London.  Later, after he had left Lloyds he went to work for Guy Hands’ Terra Firma venture capital group at around the time Guy had bought Rockingham. As Chairman, Peter asked me to go and work there as a marketing director.

“At that point the role he was offering wasn’t right for me so I stayed put but a little while later I moved on to work on sorting out  sports and entertainment events in Europe for the group that owned London Arena.   But a little later still, Peter called again and offered me a bigger role as Sales and Marketing Director and this time I was ready to make the jump..

“I certainly wouldn’t say I was any kind of motorsport fan back then. I’d watched touring cars with my Dad and the occasional Grand Prix but when I went up to University I lost interest. My interest when I joined Rockingham was purely business. I was really curious to learn a new marketplace after 8 years dealing with the occasionally Machiavellian world of entertainment.

“It should have been a fantastic time to join Rockingham, David Grace was the CEO and he had a clear vision and some very good plans to deliver on it.

“As many know though the fallout from the first CART race, bad weather, a ‘weeping’ track and the politics that surrounded it all made it absolute hell for David.  By the time I started  David was besieged with CART politics as the Series started its long, agonising implosion and he’d lost a lot of his energy.

“In the end the lack of clarity and lack of structure made me feel that we couldn’t get done what we needed to do without interference and I left.

“All in all that feels, even now, like a case of what could, and should have been, but my time there did have some upsides.  Early on in my time there I was at the Autosport exhibition, standing in the lobby of the Metropole Hotel with Amanda Stretton when John (Hindhaugh) walked in – “Oh you should meet John, he knows everyone!” said Amanda.

“We got on well, spent a fair bit of the exhibition talking shop and found that we had quite a bit in common.  John had worked at Haymarket, I’d been at EMAP and we both had a pretty similar outlook on business too.

“I liked him and suggested he come to work at Rockingham as Partnership Manager.  What I had inherited there was a bit of a mess – 4 separate agencies and 2 contractors all chasing sponsorship and tripping over each other. I remember one meeting which degenerated into a bunch of blokes sitting around arguing about who knew a particular contact best and should therefore be allowed to carry on dealing with them. In the end I pretty much had to say ‘Well unless one of you is his Dad, I’m going to be talking to him’.

I needed someone to let me know what we had, and more to the point what we didn’t!  John did that very quickly and did it very well.   But in the end fixing Rockingham was impossible without some senior management and shareholder stability and that took a very long time to materialise. Even now it’s only just getting sorted out and that’s after several years of good and stable management.

“After leaving Rockingham I was offered various bits of consultancy but I’d always been an employee so when I was setting myself up I needed a bit of guidance. I knew John’s father had been handling his financial and business matters for some time so I contacted John  with the intention of talking to Tony.

“It was around this time that we realised how well we got on and started seeing each other (Ed – for clarity Eve means John not Tony!)

I’d known when we worked at Rockingham that John was involved in Radio Le Mans. After we started dating I saw some of what was involved in getting it on the air each year (it was still a once a year only service in those days)

In 2003, after getting to know Jim Roller, I got a gig as a pitlane producer for Speed TV at Le Mans, this sounds grand but actually involved looking after a French cameraman, a French sound man and Brian Till in the pits.  Brian Till was great but the sound guy and the cameraman kept wandering off, failing to pay attention to the cars coming in. I do remember having to grab the cameraman and throw him into a garage to avoid an oncoming prototype.  I watched the whole race from the pitlane and got yet another perspective on this extraordinary event.  One of my other abiding memories was at 4am, exhausted, hot and with very sore feet suddenly realising that we were only halfway there!”

Fast forward to 2005 and it became apparent that Haymarket were in the process of deciding not to carry on with the Radio Le Mans service.

“By this point I was working as MD for Showplace, an outdoor events company which was doing quite a lot of motorsport stuff mostly in rallying and touring cars. When the ACO took Haymarket at their word and looked around for someone else to take on Radio Le Mans, John and I kicked the idea around for a long time. We did think we’d try and run it as a workers’ collective but no-one else wanted to take the risk and eventually I simply asked John one question: will you ever forgive yourself if we don’t do this and Radio Le Mans dies?

We knew we couldn’t NOT take it on so we set up RSL and signed up for 5 years with the ACO. That agreement has since been renewed and of course the business has changed beyond all recognition. For a start the audience has grown massively. There are several reasons for that, I think.

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“Apart from anything else we decided early on that we’d play out 24/7 and 365 days of the year so that anyone coming to find us online could get a flavour of what we do and how we work. It also makes us a fixture on people’s computers/laptops/radios/mobile devices. And then there’s the growth in the amount of live work we do. We already had the ALMS races streaming on the site both live and later as replays and after the first RSL Radio Le Mans we started adding new events every year.

And the other major factor has been the online interactivity with the fans – and these days with the teams, drivers and their families too.  There are more opportunities for this than ever before and, partly because we had such limited budgets when we started we had to be quite smart about social media very early on and then develop that savvy as we continued.  It’s helped us develop a growing core audience which seems to be prepared to follow us to whatever we do (in broadcasting terms)

“That’s been particularly useful as, despite the fact that we haven’t covered the ALMS since 2009, our audiences have grown and not decreased!”

But the ALMS was a big part of the story for you wasn’t it?

“It was, and they had been very much at the cutting edge of bringing the racing in an entertaining way to what turned out to be a global audience.  They were the pioneers in embedding an integrated media platform.  They had TV, radio, PA and live web radio. That gave them the ability to really control the standard of output, the brand and the message. It meant that the fans always knew they would get high quality coverage and so did the teams and sponsors.

“Initially of course the ALMS did it all in-house and had huge success, but what’s interesting to me is that the same organisation which was on the bleeding edge in terms of digital media at the start and which really understood the strength that came from that integration, was tripped up so dramatically later by exactly those issues.

“We had been streaming the broadcast worldwide for some time and then later, as budgets got tighter, we took on a production role too until the radio service fell victim to a new media strategy.

“So 2009 was our last year. That was rather sad as we had a funded solution that would have taken it forward but radio just didn’t fit their vision.  We tried hard to change minds but ultimately the plan they had for the future didn’t include web radio.

“What surprised us immensely though was that our audience followed us to what we did next!”

And by now that is quite an audience isn’t it?

“Well, we are entirely free to listen and download – we made that commitment very early on – and we know people listen in a variety of different ways. We try to make that as easy as possible and Tim Gray (our producer) works incredibly hard making sure the stream is as platform neutral as we can get it. So people can listen at the track on FM when we have access to a transmitter as we do at Dubai, Bathurst, Silverstone WEC, Le Mans and most recently at Spa; online via a laptop or PC; via mobile devices direct from the website or on Tunein; increasingly on web enabled radios both in the home and in cars; via Bluetooth in the car; on satellite radio and also by downloading us and listening whenever and wherever they like.

Add to that the fact that we provide our audio to WEC and ELMS for its live stream and TV output, to Wige and Creventic for the N24 and Dubai 24 live webstreams and to Yeehah for the Bathurst TV and live stream and their post event highlights show and DVD and it’s pretty clear that we cover an enormous number and range of listeners.

“Uniques don’t really work as a measure any more given the number of times people connect to sites during the day from different devices and IPs, the numbers are just unreliably high.  We find that visits to the website, sessions and downloads from the archive are the most reliable yardstick  – and I can say that last year, from January through to November, our most active period we had 7.5 million download requests via the web and I Tunes.”

So with ALMS not on the agenda how did you take things forward?

“Well we had had interest from a number of quarters and we were already working at other events.

“The Nurburgring 24 Hours has been a particular success, it was a race that had very little English language coverage and we immediately tapped into a latent market.  The numbers we get for that race now are phenomenal, and the level of interactivity with the audience is amazing.

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“It shows too just how differently many of our audience choose to use the service.  I know that a number of the listeners, instead of going to bed when there was the rain delay this year, instead downloaded podcasts of earlier track sessions, old races or Midweek Motorsport. One listener tells me that it has started him on a process of listening to every one of our race broadcasts from the Ring 24, from 2007 onwards!

Post ALMS we have been to ELMS, ILMC and now the WEC,  We’ve added the Dubai 24 hours with Creventic, the Daytona 24 Hours with Grand-Am and this year the Bathurst 12 Hours with Yeehah to a growing roster of events and the audience has come with us

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You mentioned Midweek Motorsport, that has a large and loyal following?

Yes, and again a very, very interactive one too.  It grew from the wish to provide a constant stream of content either live, pre-recorded or repeated and it’s become a staple part of what we do with the regular team filling two hours of live radio a week and covering as many of the motorsport bases as we can fit in.’’

A cult following?

“I think that underplays it, it’s getting a bigger audience all the time, it seems that once people find it they stick with it, and then many, having listened for a while will lurk on the website chat group for a bit and then interact with it too.”

“Again that’s part of my role, not just the commercial and business side but at the race meetings and at home keeping an eye on Facebook, the forum on our website and Twitter too – One interesting aspect that I have noticed is that now they continue to interact with each other even when we aren’t there! So even though we are not covering, say, F1, they will be there having a chat with each other about it. They make me laugh out loud at least once every day and they are incredibly thoughtful and incisive as well as, for the most part, kind to each other and especially kind to newbies.’’

Why is that important?

‘’Well, I think if you are growing an audience you have to understand that from the outside it can be pretty intimidating. So if someone who knows nothing about it sticks their head around the virtual door and asks a question you want the audience to welcome them in, not burn them and make them feel small. And bear in mind, our commentary and some of the stories we cover can be very complex so there will be listeners who have come to it without all the knowledge they might need and in that instance the audience acts as a coach. It means we don’t have to keep backtracking and explaining which leaves the team free to talk to the audience from that position of knowledge.

We see, hear and read a lot about Social media strategy, what’s yours?

“It needs to be truly a part of the overall product, not formulaic but real – in short you have to be prepared to interact with the audience if you are going to make that commitment – It’s the difference between posting a press release and starting, or responding to, a discussion. And you have to be authentic, present and brave. I say brave because you have to be prepared to deal with comments coming at you that might be tough to handle. You can’t on the one hand be saying to people ‘Hey, come and be part of our tribe’ and then, when the tribe’s unhappy about something, just fail to turn up and engage. You have to be there and you have to treat them with respect and ask them to do the same with one another.

“As far as our company is concerned it has been a revelation, and a godsend!  We didn’t have a large budget to promote ourselves and the effective use of social media has helped us to build not just an audience but a community.  That we managed to do so is a testament not only to the talent of the presenters, but also to the strength and quality of the audience themselves.

“How powerful is that momentum? Well take a look at what happened around Daytona this year after we covered the 24 Hours in 2012.  Purely by dint of Radio Le Mans not being mentioned in a press release the race organisers got the shock of their lives when they were besieged by questions from fans asking why not.”

So what are the prospects for a Radio Le Mans comeback to North America with the USCR?

“We’ve been talking to Grand-Am for over three years and the Daytona coverage was meant to be the start of showing what we could do for them with a large, and for them new, international audience.

“It worked, the 2012 race got a very big international audience and a very massive US audience too.

“There are very considerable difficulties going forward though.  MRN are historically the exclusive broadcasters in the USA of race radio for the NASCAR owned series, including Grand – Am.

“There was a thought that this might change with the arrival of the USCR but apparently those exclusive rights will be carried over into the new series. The fact is that we would not only have to geo block any live broadcast for the events, but we would have to find  way to geoblock downloads too – In effect that counts out podcasting programme content.

“That presents us with two issues – Firstly both John and I have a philosophy that internet radio should be as widely available as humanly possible.  We have never geoblocked audio content, it’s part of the democracy of radio. It’s free and anyone can listen, anywhere.

“Secondly, If we can’t make it available in North America how do we fund it?

“With all of that said our relationship with Grand-Am is strong enough that we can shake hands and still leave the door open for them to come back to us if anything changes

So what next?  There are clearly races and Series that must be on your radar?

“Yes of course, but in some areas it’s a process of education I suppose.  What I mean by that is that we can provide much, much more than just a radio service.

Creventic really get it and at Dubai they can have PA commentary, TV commentary with a proper pitlane crew, commentary on a video stream and, of course, radio both on local FM and online all at a fraction of the cost of providing all of that as standalone services.

“The WEC and ELMS get it too, though we are still working with them on embedding the service.

“SRO remain a target market for us with British GT, the Blancpain Endurance Series and, of course the Spa 24 Hours all having real potential.  We did the Rockingham Bitish GT race as a bit of a shop window and we are always happy to talk but the reality is that to do something on that kind of scale you need to make it pay.

“I’d still like to think that as we move forward we might find a way back into North America but for now we’re happy to consolidate the events that we do cover, more than ever before in fact and with more events asking us to come to them all of the time.

“There are times, of course where the challenges are high but first and foremost I love it, I love the events and the team and, I LOVE our listeners, they are the most amazingly constructive, knowledgeable and interactive group, a real testimony to the power of 21st century social media.”

GG