Q&A: Team Sky comms pair on the Tour de France

Chris Haynes, director of external affairs at Team Sky and Sky Sports, and Joel Keoghan, director of marketing at Team Sky, talk about managing Team Sky's communications around this year's Tour de France.

Geraint Thomas: The Team Sky rider's video blog features him talking to team principal Dave Brailsford (l)
Geraint Thomas: The Team Sky rider's video blog features him talking to team principal Dave Brailsford (l)

With the Grand Depart, UK interest in this year’s tour was massive. How did you manage the comms around that?

We knew that the week building up in Yorkshire and then down to London would have a very, very strong UK focus. We had different audience groups to look at: existing cycling fans but also huge growth among the wider public, many of whom have a real interest in knowing how the sport works. We have a duty to explain the sport. One good example is how we announced our tour team this year, which was different. We had Dave Brailsford [Team Sky principal] on Sky Sports News, announcing the team and explaining the individual roles of each of the riders around Chris Froome. This also created some digital content and we put out a press release simultaneously.

What sort of access do you give the press to riders during the tour?

It’s how you make sure you don’t just react to the volume but help get our message across and be as helpful as can be. We’re also very aware of supporting the riders and the staff as they are going into four very intense weeks. After they [the riders] have had their briefing on the bus in the morning, they will step off and talk to the media. We have a taped-off mixed zone around the bus and we have a press officer on the road, who is a former rider, who is managing these interactions [with the media]. If someone [in the media] has an interest in talking to a particular rider we’ll say "come to the bus in the morning and arrange some time". At the end of the stage, it’s much more reacting to what’s happened on the bike.

Cycling’s reputation has been tarnished by the use of drugs in recent years. Obviously this is something cycling wants to get away from, so does Team Sky’s PR department vet journalists' questions to its riders on whether they are clean?

Clearly you are going to get a lot of those questions. Chris Froome has said he understands why, given the history of the sport, people ask those questions. We are not telling the riders what to say. They all understand those questions will come. They also know that the more you can explain how the sports works – explaining how they train, showing where they go and train – the more the wider audience is going to understand and perhaps they will be less sceptical.

How did you manage the communications around Chris Froome’s crash and exit from the tour?

The main reaction was at the end of the race. Dave Brailsford was able to step off the bus and give a clear, concise explanation of what he knew and what he didn’t know. And to say "we will update you on the following facts later". And then we have an effective digital media presence through Twitter and Facebook and our own website, where we put a lot of updates. We had updates from Dave and the doctor and some quotes from Chris Froome.

Is there a danger that high-profile riders like Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins overshadow the Team Sky brand?

I would turn it around the other way. The fact that you have high-profile, well-known personalities and individuals can take the brand somewhere else. What has been interesting, since Chris has left the tour, is that straight away some of the other riders’ personalities are coming out more. Part of our job over the past six months has been to try to bring some of those other personalities [Team Sky riders Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas] out a little bit more. A team is made up of more than 25 riders and we want people to know more than just the Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froomes. So the tour in some respects has been good for us to bring those other personalities out.

Are these new names like Geraint Thomas good at PR and working with the media?

Geraint Thomas is someone who has a good feel for direct engagement through social media. He has been doing some interesting things with videos, interviewing people within the team, daily blogs, taking off his race number, signing it and giving it away through different routes. The goals for the team are not just winning races, it’s about wining fans and growing the sport. And I think throughout the team, people are aware it’s about explaining what’s going on.

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