Jess Shanahan is a Norwich-based automotive journalist, speaker and entrepreneur. Here, the YouTuber talks electric cars – and explains why there’s legroom for ‘an alternative, tattooed, neuro spicy woman in motorsport’
Who are you and what do you do?
I am a Norwich-based journalist, speaker, and entrepreneur. My work revolves around the stories and issues surrounding modern technology and sustainable transport. I often talk about electric vehicles on BBC Radio Norfolk and also make car videos on YouTube. Alongside my journalism, I run the content agency Jet Social and the motorsport business Racing Mentor.
What is it about the automotive industry that appeals to you and when did that interest start?
I’ve always loved cars and I would absolutely consider myself a petrolhead. My career has always been about following the things that really speak to me. When I first started Jet Social in 2012, I did a lot in fashion and beauty because that was what interested me at the time. As I started to get more into Formula One, it made sense to me to pursue that, and things just snowballed from there!
I started going to a lot of races and was totally sucked into the excitement of it all. There was no real conscious shift to start doing more in automotive, it just happened.
In 2016, though, I did a 2500-mile road trip in an electric car as a press stunt for a hotel chain and suddenly I was becoming known as the person who did electric car stuff. I ran with it and it turned out to be a great niche. I love doing something where I’m working with the latest technology and innovations. It’s exciting to think about what comes next and what that means for how we get around.
What can you tell us about both Jet Social and Racing Mentor?
Jet Social is a content marketing agency focusing on impactful thought leadership for people and brands at the forefront of e-mobility and automotive tech. We’re a team of four working with global clients from our office in Norwich. Perhaps most importantly, we have an office chihuahua called Osborn.
Racing Mentor is a passion project that came from my time working as a Porsche race team boss. I realised that many talented racers were struggling with sponsorship. With my background in sales and marketing, I wanted to help guide those drivers. It started with blog posts and videos but really grew when I released the book Get Paid to Race at the end of 2018.
Now, we’ve travelled all over Europe teaching sponsorship skills to drivers and have sold books on every continent except Antarctica! I’m also releasing a revised version of Get Paid to Race that’s currently available to pre-order ready for launch later this year.
The last few years have been challenging for everyone – how have they been for you?
We’ve managed. It’s been quite up and down from a motorsport point of view but Jet Social was going from strength to strength even during the pandemic. It’s only since the cost-of-living crisis has hit that we’ve seen things slow down.
I won’t lie, this has been tough! But it’s forced us to rethink what we’re doing in a way that focuses on services that others can’t provide. We’re looking more closely at where our experience lies so we’re not just offering content marketing.
Now, for example, we might be offering speech writing that positions a CEO as the expert in their sector; we’re creating detailed reports from raw data to bring in new leads for a tech company; or we’re stepping into a client’s team to add more marketing resource during a product launch.
How did you, ‘an alternative, tattooed, neuro spicy woman in motorsport’, make it when you don’t fit the mould? What advice would you have to anyone else starting out in the industry?
It took me some time to really work out who I was and what my strengths were. I always seemed to get by, but it was only when I made the leap to take on an employee that it really unlocked things for me. Suddenly, I was able to pass some of the work my brain just wouldn’t let me do onto someone else who could also keep me accountable during large projects.
Everything really started to make sense when I was diagnosed with ADHD. It helped me understand why some tasks were harder than others but also where my strengths lay. I’d figured a lot of stuff out on my own before the diagnosis, but it really helped validate some of my odd ways of working and allowed me to work with myself rather than against.
For anyone looking to get into automotive, motorsport, or freelancing, the biggest thing you can do is find what sets you apart from others. A lot of people try and copy what seems to make others successful and while this can work, you’re never going to carve your own path. What makes you stand out might be a skill, experience from another industry, an element of your personality, or all of the above.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I do a lot of talks to motorsport and automotive audiences but recently at spoke at the Hot Source event in Norwich where I got to talk about my career. It was an incredible experience that allowed me to share more of how I got to where I am today. I’d planned for the talk to be inspirational and a little funny but had no idea it would get the kind of reaction it did. I’d love to do more talks like that. The real dream is a TED talk!
All images supplied by Jess Shanahan