Photographer's Blog: Interview with Milena Koerner, Tech 3 Communication and Media Officer
At the 2012 Misano round, Scott caught up with Milena Koerner, Communication and Press Officer at Tech 3 Yamaha. We spoke over lunch in the team's hospitality, and as if to illustrate exactly how vital Milena is to this team's efforts, members of the Tech 3 staff stopped by to ask her questions every few minutes. They promptly received answers, or Milena got up to solve the problem quickly herself before returning to our interview. Milena does the work of several people, as you'll see when reading about her past experience and her current role at Tech 3.
Scott Jones: Please describe you role at Tech 3. Obviously you do more than get one rider to his media debriefs.
Milena Koerner: Yes, for sure it's more than that, first because I've got four of them ( Ed., Crutchlow and Dovizioso in MotoGP, Simeon and Smith in Moto2), not just one. Besides that, though my official title is Press Officer, I'm doing as well some marketing and communications activities, projects for sponsors, I coordinate the team's guests all season, scheduling as well their activities on and off track. I take care of them once they arrived at the track, doing for example pit or paddock tours and explaining the “behind the scenes” of our MotoGP paddock. I coordinate photo shoots, exhibitions, and events with our sponsors. It's more activities than just taking care of the rider interviews. It's quite tricky because doing so many things, there is sometimes little time for fitting everything in.
For example, having two riders who are very competitive this year (fortunately), when one of them finishes on the podium I have to stay with him, which means I can't stay with the other one who also has to give interviews. Sometimes even the riders have to understand that they need to help me and do some things on their own.
It's even harder having two riders from Moto2 because of course the sessions [on Sunday] are tight. So I have to get the quotes from the Moto2 guys and then head back to the pit box to get the grid girls to the starting grid. This makes Sunday really interesting. You have to be fast. It's not just a race for the riders, sometimes it's a race for me as well.
But I like it. Probably I'd be upset if I had to take care of only one rider. I wouldn't know what to do with my free time! (laughs)
SJ: You handle all of this very efficiently. But let's go back to the beginning. How did you get involved in MotoGP?
MK: I started in 1998 when I was 13. I come from a small town near the Sachsenring. In 1998 was the first race there and I went with my grandparents. While they were in the grandstand I went to the paddock entrance and watched the security guy for a while and then I went up to him and asked, "Excuse me, but do you think I'm dangerous? I just want to see in person what I normally only see on television." And after I waited there for something like an hour, he said "Ok, come on in. Go look around. You have to be back in two hours, otherwise I'll come looking for you." This was actually how everything started. But that was a different time, much easier to move around.
SJ: They didn't scan your pass every five minutes?
MK: No, and of course, if you're a small girl...
SJ: You said you wanted to see what you saw on TV. Have you always liked motorcycle racing?
MK: When I was very young, my dad asked me to watch the races and tell him who won, because he had no time to watch them. This is how I started, and at a certain point I watched them because I liked them. When there was a race just 20 kilometers from home, it was normal to go there to see it.
In my family, nobody else is into racing, but my brother has a motorbike, my father had one, my uncle, my grandmother had one! And I got a license as soon as I could. It was also the area I grew up in, because there's a great passion for motorcycling there.
But as I was very young, I couldn't start working there right away. In my last year of high school I had some umbrella girl jobs. Then I started to work in a hospitality for Team Scot.
SJ: How did you get that job?
MK: After some years of being around the paddock, of course you get to know some people on the inside. I think I went to Jerez as a guest, and [Scot] were looking for someone to work in the hospitality and there I was. So I came to the race as a tourist and went home with a job. I think I was 18 then.
SJ: So did you go to university?
MK: Yes, but I was always working in MotoGP, too. I did Business Administration and Intercultural Communication in Germany. Then I did Erasmus in Italy, so I went to live in Modena for 9 months.
SJ: What were your early years with Team Scot like?
MK: We had 125cc riders and 250cc riders (Andrea Dovizioso was one of them). It was basically two different teams that worked together and at the end of 2005 I stayed with the 125 guys. It was Valsir Seedorf Honda in 2006, Valsir Seedorf Derbi in 2007, and then Ispa KTM Aran in 2008. But it was always the same boss, Stefano Bedon, we just changed bikes.
Stefano was a really good boss because he taught me a lot of things and had a lot of faith in me. Each year he gave me more responsibility. I started to look after guests, each year I did more things in the office. The first year I was only working in the hospitality, but later I started doing other things, too, making sure supplies were delivered, then I started helping guests, doing paddock tours, pit tours and I ended up being responsible for our guests and the whole organization of the hospitality.
But when you start off in the hospitality, even though later on that work was not my job anymore, if there was something there that needed to be done, of course you did it. It was a small team so you cannot say, ok, that's not my responsibility anymore, I won't do it. And maybe this was one of the reasons why I changed positions. I got more and more things to do, but if people know you can do your previous job, you will never really stop doing that as well.
SJ: And how did these years lead to Forward Racing?
MK: I did one season for a communications agency that helped manage guests in MotoGP, WSBK and the Italian championship as well. I did over 20 races that season between all championships. One of the guys from Forward, actually from the marketing agency that used to serve Forward, also went to many races and saw me everywhere. At one point in the year he said, "I think we need to talk because you're as crazy as I am and we need someone like you. We're starting this new team, would you be interested?" I said "Definitely," so I started with Forward. The first year we had Jules Cluzel and Claudio Corti, then Jules and Alex Baldolini.
SJ: Was working at Forward Racing a similar experience to Tech 3, or was that completely different?
MK: Forward helped me grow up a lot. I was there from the start up of the team and I did 2 seasons with them, but I was not just covering the role of the press officer. I was Team Coordinator as well, so I did everything from logistics to press stuff (which of course is less with a Moto2 team), all the graphics, the marketing proposals for sponsors, invitations for guests, even the invoicing. It was too much, and this is one of the reasons why I looked for a new opportunity that might be better. I felt a little bit overwhelmed by all the responsibility. It was a really good experience, but it was just too much. Forward now has four people doing what I did.
SJ: You seem to be quite close with several of the other women who work in the paddock. What is it like being a woman in this male-centric environment?
MK: It's a very tricky world for women. Especially if you are young, if you're nice looking, because people see you doing a certain job, and it can be difficult to show them that it's just a job and not who you are. And if you start by working in a hospitality… Even though it's quite hard work; you're the first to arrive and the last to leave. Gradually you gain some respect, but there will always be people who just see what they want to see. But if you continue to work hard and show initiative things get a bit easier and it’s a bigger satisfaction to do a good job in this men’s world.
On the other hand this micro environment has the same characteristics like a small village where everybody is very interested in the lives of the others. There are always a lot of gossips, especially about girls, and sometimes it might be difficult to see what’s true but for sure it’s the same in other work situations as well.
But luckily there are also a few girls who are really good friends and it's nice to spend some time together, for example going shopping in Malaysia or spending some time at the pool. It's a man's world and all the conversation is just about men stuff. So it's really relaxing to have a break from that. We're away from home approximately 150 days a year. So these guys are like your family. If we're on the road for three weeks, and you're the only woman in the team, it's quite nice to have girl friends to see.
SJ: You seem close to Niki, and when she won the Bridgestone Photo Contest, you were clearly very moved by that. (Ed. note: At Misano, Bridgestone celebrated its 100th MotoGP victory in part with a photo contest which was won by Hungarian photographer, Niki Kovacs)
MK: This is a world where there are two ways to get in, two reasons why you might be here. One is because you have a friend or know someone in the paddock, or you're in the right family or something. The other is if you're very patient and you have a lot of passion and [motorcycling] is really something you love.
Niki is a person who has a very interesting life. She came here as a guest, then she came here as a rider. She was a wildcard and motorcycling is her life.
Now as a journalist she invests, I think, all the money she can to be here and to get experience. So for her to win the competition against the agencies and well-known photographers was something really, really emotional because her picture really deserved it. If you look at the 20 finalist pictures, the others are really nice pictures. But most of them are just race situations. From her picture you get emotion. You see the joy of Jorge winning the world championship. It makes you smile because it makes you live the moment. It's not just a bike in a corner.
She always tries to capture the emotion of the moment. She made a very nice picture of me and Cal's girlfriend at Brno, waiting for him in parc fermé. And when you look at her pictures you feel it. You feel something.
This world has changed so much in the past few years. There used to be more people here for passion and less for money. Now there are more people here for money and less for passion.
SJ: I've heard others who have been her longer say similar things, but you also notice that just since you've been here?
MK: Well everything has changed. Before we had tents. Riders were staying together, having barbecues. Now the hospitality is a big palace nobody can enter. This is not how it's done.
Have a look at Loris. Have a look at Colin. They are different riders. When they started there were no big TV rights. They are human and they are still human. But some of these guys from Moto2, from Moto3… They do their first championship and they already think they are MotoGP world champion.
So it has changed a lot and people who do it because it is really part of their lives are fewer.
So to have someone like Niki win that contest… For her motorcycling is everything. To see her winning is one of the best things that can happen.
At this point I had taken up as much of Milena's valuable time as possible. Our sincerest thanks to her for sharing her story with us.