Writing the Skandia Team GBR headlines...! 

Lindsey Bell more features

Whenever you see a Skandia Team GBR sailor being interviewed at the world’s top regattas, the likelihood is that standing just out of shot will be Lindsey Bell.

You very rarely hear or see her but as the Skandia Team GBR Communications Manager, Lindsey’s role in elevating the public profile of the team is arguably as important as the sailors winning medals on the water.

Since joining the RYA in 2005, Lindsey has not only helped Britain’s sailors secure unprecedented levels of media coverage for what has traditionally been a more under the radar sport, but, through this, she has also helped attract, and maintain, the crucial sponsor and commercial partner support that continues to underpin the team’s success.  

Later this month Lindsey, who previously headed up communications for the International Badminton Federation (now the Badminton World Federation) and will be involved in her fourth Olympics at London 2012, will once again join the sailors overseas, ahead of December’s ISAF World Championships in Perth, Australia.  

But anyone who thinks she will be simply sitting in a press office twiddling her thumbs waiting for a medal to be won, should probably read on.  

“It’s a standing joke in the team that I’m always the last one to dinner!” she laughs. “You have to be on top of everything that is going on, from the first team meeting in the morning, to finally hitting ‘send’ on your daily press release often hours after racing has finished.

“There are many different elements to look after from sending out information as and when needed, answering media questions, setting up interviews, making sure the right messages are communicated to manage performance expectations, and trying to ensure everything that is published and broadcast brings maximum benefit to our sponsors and partners.  

“It is often a fine line between trying to gain maximum exposure for the team and the sport and it not having an adverse impact on performances. But I’m pretty lucky that Sparky (team manager) completely understands the balance between exposure and performance and so my role is embraced as a core function of the team, which certainly makes life easier.  

“The sailors are pretty used to me being around now and the trust element between us is probably the most decisive part of my job. They have to be confident that I’m looking out for their interests and won’t push them into stuff that could be detrimental to performance. But conversely you hope when it is possible they may be willing to do things that they may not want to do much because they can see, and understand, the wider value to the sport.”  

Lindsey’s typical day at an event varies depending on where the regatta is being held.  

With the ISAF Worlds in Australia, for example, there will be a marginal British media presence making her role much more about ensuring the media back home receive suitable video highlights packages, images and sailor quotes to meet their deadlines. This event will be much less about arranging sailor interviews for journalists and on-site media management whereas at Skandia Sail for Gold for example, the emphasis is switched.  

Her day starts at the morning team meeting where she absorbs what the weather is supposed to do for the day and how much racing there is expected to be, catches up with the coaches and team managers about whether there is anything going on with any of the sailors she needs to be aware of, for example injuries or illness, and liaising with the sailors on any potential, anticipated media requests they may face when they come off the water.  

The bulk of her day is determined by what is happening out on the racecourses and that is something that has escalated wildly with the boom in social media post-Beijing 2008.  

“It’s hard to remember that no-one really utilised Twitter or Facebook even as recently as the last Olympics,” she continues.

“Now keeping an eye on what is going on on the water, and keeping in touch with the coaches on coach boats when permitted, to get snippets of information on initial results, mark roundings, penalties, etc, is a massive part of what I do.  

“For a sport like sailing, which is still perceived as being hard to follow or too expensive for TV to cover extensively, the immediacy and colour social media brings has been invaluable. People can follow, and fully engage with, what is unfolding as it happens wherever they are in the world, and that has certainly brought an exciting new dimension to Olympic sailing.  

“Many of the sailors and coaches also have their own accounts that they update regularly which is great as it helps people become even more familiar with the sport’s personalities.”  

In September, Lindsey played a key role, with the British Olympic Association (BOA), in Britain’s sailors receiving massive global attention by being named as TeamGB’s first athletes for London 2012.  

For 24 hours the face of Ben Ainslie, going for his fourth Olympic gold next year, and his selected teammates were everywhere as every major national media outlet – broadcast, print and online – got their five minutes with next year’s national heroes.  

Lindsey admits she was proud at the level of coverage the sailors received, and delighted that despite the media’s obvious interest in Ainslie, the other sailors received more than their fair share of exposure. She also believes the experience will stand all of them in good stead for what to expect as the Games get ever closer.  

“It took a lot of organising with the BOA, and we know we are lucky that as a sport, we are able to select athletes earlier than many sports. But it is very unlikely that sailing would have received that level of media interest if it hadn’t been the first to have athletes officially selected for TeamGB, and it was great that all the sailors were able to tell their own stories.  

“Having Ben helps inevitably, and although he is not naturally someone who is that keen on the spotlight he recognises he is a window into the sport of sailing and through his fantastic achievements, people take an interest in the sport and the other people involved in it.  

“That press day was the first time many of the sailors would have been involved in a media event of that scale, where they were literally answering the same questions in interview after interview after interview. From my point of view that gave them a fantastic taste of what it is going to be like next year, and how we can best help them prepare for that.”  

But before the Olympics there is the small matter of the first combined Worlds for four years to address. And that, as Lindsey concludes, will bring its own unique challenges.  

“Managing expectations is going to be the biggest thing in Perth. It’s natural that people will be interested in the 2012-selected sailors, but for many of them trying to win the Worlds may no longer be a priority. Some maybe more focussed on testing new bits of equipment or techniques heading into next year and we have to make sure that results are not seen as a direct reflection of performance if the context isn’t appropriate.  

“However, for the younger sailors or those who have missed out on selection this time, these Championships are a great chance for them to write their own headlines. We have to remember there will be 40-odd squad sailors in Perth, all with their own goals to achieve. It is my responsibility to make sure that every achievement gets the recognition it deserves.”  

And she may even make dinnertime on the occasional day!