‘The Engine Room’ aims to build the profile of Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) staff members and provide interesting insights into what it is like to be part of the team working on two iconic international events, the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in Phillip Island.
Megan Lieb - Partnerships Manager
1. You have had a long career history in the automotive sector, what initially attracted you to the industry and how did you get to where you are today at the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC)?
Believe it or not, it’s actually something that I just fell into. I’ve been extremely fortunate that each role that I have had has stemmed from a conversation, which has ultimately led me to where I am today.
It all started when I was at university, where one of my subjects involved work experience. My dad actually suggested that I have a conversation with the team at Mornington BMW about doing some work experience with them, which turned into a position at the Stillwell Motor Group, working alongside the Group Marketing Manager for the BMW brands. I was exposed to an incredible world of luxurious cars, amazing events and knew this is where I wanted to be.
Throughout my university work placement, I formed strong relationships with the Marketing Managers at each of the dealerships, and a short-term contract role became available at Mornington BMW in their Marketing team. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity, and I worked across various product launches, golf days and marketing activities, so it provided me with a great introduction into the industry.
As a dealership, we did a driver training day down at Phillip Island and I mentioned to the manager of this program that I was looking for a new challenge, and the stars aligned once again and I found myself in a 12-month contract role in the Sales and Marketing department at BMW Australia. While a large component of my role was quite admin-focused, I also worked across Partnerships, pitching for new business, as well as some of the national product launches, so it was a great launchpad into the world of sales and B2B.
Whilst at BMW Australia, the opportunity arose to do work experience at the Australian Formula 1® and Motorcycle Grands Prix media centres. I worked as a logistics coordinator chauffeuring drivers and riders to their various media commitments, as well as ensuring everything ran smoothly in the centre across the events.
This really gave me a glimpse into not only the major event industry and the global nature of the events, but I also discovered how much I loved working with people, seeing how passionate the drivers and riders are, as well as how we played a role in creating special moments for fans. Whist I hadn’t always been a MotoGP™ and Formula 1® fan, when a permanent Sponsorship Coordinator role at AGPC popped up in 2013, I immediately jumped at the opportunity.
While I may have transitioned into the world of major events, I certainly haven’t forgotten my roots in automotive, as over the years I have found myself managing most, if not all of our automotive partners over the long-term, including Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Aston Martin, Bentley, Renault, BMW, Maserati and McLaren to name a few. I believe my background in the automotive world from both a dealership and head office perspective has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation for our clients’ objectives and how to achieve them in the world of major events.
So much of my career has stemmed from a simple conversation and just talking to people – of course there’s also been an element of being in the right place at the right time, as well as a lot of hard work, however the importance of building and nurturing relationships has always been part of my DNA.
2. You studied Public Relations (PR) at University, what made you choose a career in partnerships? Do you use these tertiary skills in your current job?
I’ve always considered myself as a ‘people person’ and I think that’s what initially attracted me to PR. I was creative at school, I studied arts, drama, and photography so I guess quite ‘right-brained’ wired, but I wasn’t quite sure how these attributes would lead me into a career.
Studying PR without a doubt helped me build my communication skills. Whether it be verbal or written, I learned the value of tailoring your communication to different audiences, not to mention the art of nailing a pitch, and again, the importance of nurturing relationships. These skills have been paramount to carrying out my role effectively and I am confident these have contributed to my success throughout my career.
I also completed a Bachelor of Business at Swinburne University, which had several events, brand management and marketing modules, that have also helped me build a strong foundation across a range of fundamental areas of business.
On a more personal note, I believe that working alongside your peers allows so much opportunity to learn and grow. Throughout my time at AGPC, I’ve learned the importance of mentors, people that strive to make you better and challenge you. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful mentor in my previous manager Julia La Rosa, who has recently celebrated 15 years at AGPC. Without a doubt, my relationship building and customer-centric mindset stems from the attitude and standards that she sets for herself and the team.
3. 2020 has been a challenging year in the commercial sponsorship and partnerships landscape, how do you maintain and develop remote relationships?
I’ve just returned to work after 14 months of maternity leave, so coming back to a new way of working, let alone as a mum, during a global pandemic, has made this a very different experience for me.
While COVID-19 has absolutely changed the world we live in, these uncertain times have also paved the way for innovation and not only a shift in our mindset, but in the way we communicate. I think its also added a level of vulnerability for people, as many of us are now working from home, so we’re inviting people into our private world, and that’s a very personal thing.
More than ever, we now need to think even further outside of the box to ensure that we’re continuing to evolve the landscape in which we offer our partners opportunities to meet new objectives and align with their goals. It has been interesting to see how quickly brands have changed their mindsets too, and how they are now connecting with their audience through platforms that already exist but in new ways.
The concept of remote relationships is nothing new for me and the team as many of our clients have international head offices, so we’re very familiar with managing a partnership via online video calls. In fact, for my current clients, my communication is still very much the same, regardless of the fact I’m working remotely. In a normal year, I pride myself on regularly checking in with my clients, both their work and personal lives, building the relationships and trust, which ultimately, I believe leads to better business outcomes for everyone. Regular communication essentially allows me to put myself in the shoes of the client, better understand their objectives and how our events can add value, rather than the other way around.
Working remotely might add a layer of complexity for forming new partner relationships, however at the end of the day, a partnership isn’t just built on face-to-face rapport, it’s built on trust, respect and communication, all of which will still exist in a remote environment.
4. What aspects of your role do you find the most rewarding?
I am so passionate about relationship building, I honestly think I could talk about it for hours – that’s what I enjoy the most. It’s also about bringing ideas to life and being part of that full lifecycle from ideation to how it is executed at our events. While our clients’ objectives might remain similar year-on-year, each of our events are so different so I really enjoy seeing those objectives coming to life in a different way and creating those memorable experiences for fans.
My role sees me working closely with every single department at AGPC and I really enjoy being able to see what areas of focus they have and how we can tie in, and at the end of the day that makes for great collaboration, which is such a win for us, our partners and our customers. Whilst our partners have a strategic objective, they’re also giving something back to the fans, and I really believe in being able to create memories and being able to walk away with feel good moments.
I will always go above and beyond at event in my role to give back where I can to help create those ‘feel good’ moments. A particular memory that stands out for me involves one of our Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix partners, TAC, who facilitate the Spokes Lounge. They had told me about a man from the UK, named Douglas, who had a very emotional journey in getting to our event. The team at TAC and I wanted to make the event as memorable as possible, so we arranged a course car lap, a Paddock Tour, Pit Lane Walk (among other things) to help make his event weekend special. On the Sunday, I met Douglas and he gave me a great big hug. He was so grateful for everything that we did for him and the memories we had created. Douglas and I still email every now and then to this day.
5. Your role sees you manage the full lifecycle of a partnership from activation ideation to implementation on the ground, how do you ensure they meet their brand objectives?
Understanding the objectives of the client is our number one priority, otherwise we run the risk of thinking an idea is great for a client, without understanding what success looks like for them. From that point, the creativity and the ideation process are much more effective.
I’m lucky that within my role I get the opportunity to work with every department at AGPC, as well as our partner agencies. This allows for wonderful brainstorming and creative sessions on how we bring ideas to life. Heineken is a great example of collaboration. Regular WIPs would include representatives from Marketing, PR, Entertainment and Catering all coming together with the client and their agency to brainstorm ideas.
Establishing a world-class event requires a great investment in time, collaboration, planning and implementation. Throughout the year, ideas with our partners are generated, nurtured and shaped to maximise the end result. I find it funny when people ask how I have a full-time job, when we only have two events per year. The answer is simple – what makes our partnerships so successful is that a relationship is a constant work in progress. Year round, we are continually working on bespoke ideas with our clients and making sure that we work collaboratively to ensure our collective goals and objectives are met.
It’s also important to create value in partnerships outside of the event, how do we help them achieve their goals year-round. This is where the digital space comes in to play so well. Recently, we launched AGPC’s podcast series In The Fast Lane, which has not only been great for our fans to get an insight into the thoughts of some very well-known motorsport personalities, but it’s also created another level of opportunities for our partners to be involved. The TAC, whom have been a partner for over 21 years now, have recently become the presenting partner to all of the upcoming MotoGP™ podcasts, allowing another layer of telling their story to a captive audience. These opportunities that we can offer our partners really helps to promote the value of long-term relationships with AGPC, not purely in peak event time.
Whether it’s a client that we’ve been working with for years, or it’s a new partnership, the priority is always to listen, build trust, and let them take you on their brand journey. We also take our partners on our brand journey too, which allows for both parties to identify key points of strategic alignment. When you build a good relationship with your client, they put their trust in you and the knowledge you have in event consumer behaviour and brand activation, marry that with great collaboration and ideas and you’ve got a successful partnership with outstanding results. It is our responsibility as a partnerships team to think outside the box and evolve with how that partnership activates at our events to build sustainable and outcome focused long-term partnerships.
6. What is your favourite corporate partner activation you’ve seen recently and why?
From a Formula 1® and MotoGP™ event perspective, the experience that our partners provide to our fans is second to none. I always say that the most successful activation is one that either tells a story, provides our fans with a tangible product, as we know that they love to feel part of something, or one that provides you with a unique experience.
I’ve seen many partner activations over the years at our events that continue to engage and excite our fans, so it’s hard to really pinpoint one exact activation. One that I particularly loved was from a few years ago when Coates Hire ran a competition around the idea of ‘best seats in the house’ and the winner was a given an exclusive, money can’t buy experience of watching the main race from a cherry picker overlooking the start/finish line on Walker Straight.
I enjoy how the automotive brands sell their story – it’s the fun, interactive and innovative ideas that play to your emotion and excite the senses to evoke the brand connection that I think are so clever. Long gone are the days of a static display, it’s about inviting customers in to feel, live and breathe the brand in order to tell a story. This has been demonstrated so well in recent times by the likes of brands such as Renault, BMW, Porsche, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. One of my favourite journeys from ideation to delivery was the Bentley Manor, a customised corporate facility and vehicle display. The Bentley brand is one of ultimate luxury, there is such precision and perfection in all the details, even the finer ones. The Bentley Manor delivered on this and told the story of every aspect of Bentley perfectly to the guests hosted over the event providing that all important opportunity for connection through storytelling and brand immersion.
One of my favourite brand activations outside of our events that I’ve seen over the years was the Samsung Slideliner activation, which was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Australian Rugby fans. Fans love the ‘behind-the-scenes’ aspects of the sports they love, and the chance to be part of the action. This activation stood out to me as it was all about creating memories and giving fans the opportunity to be part of the sport, in an exhilarating way.
Ultimately, a successful partnership is just like a relationship, it takes time to build the trust and getting to know one another. It should be a constant two-way conversation between yourself and your client with multiple touch points throughout the year. It’s also important to take other departments on the journey so that we really maximise the opportunities we have to deliver on our partner objectives. I really value the relationships that I’ve built with the partners that I have managed over the years, and I’m proud of what we have achieved together. The hard work certainly pays off at event time when you see an activation come to life.