Spring racing organisers inject new faces, features to capture selfie generation

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Fashion blogger Nadia Fairfax, David Jones

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If there is one thing Millennials are addicted to, it’s change.

So when it comes to organising some of Australia’s biggest racing gatherings, what was cutting edge last year won’t necessarily fly in 2017. And that extends to the faces paid to promote the events.

Fashion blogger Nadia Fairfax, David Jones’ 2017 face of racing, is one of the new breed of social media influencers hired to lure younger people to the races. Photo: Hannah Roche

So if you’ve never heard of Nadia Fairfax, don’t despair, chances are you’re not alone.

But David Jones and the Melbourne Racing Club are hoping to change that by the running of the Caulfield Cup on October 21, with the department store appointing the Instagram star as its “face” of racing for 2017.

Fairfax, 28, may not resonate with many people over 35 – they’re more likely to know her father, former Wallaby Russell Fairfax – but that’s exactly how racing organisers want it, as they chase the lucrative Millennial dollar.

The former elite gymnast turned fashion blogger lives in Sydney, but many of her 175,000 Instagram followers are based in Melbourne, a fact that helped seal the deal with David Jones, said its general manager of marketing and communications, Laura Cordero.

Traditional celebrities still have value ... Actress Rachael Taylor will be a special guest of the Melbourne Racing Club at the this year's Caulfield Cup.

Traditional celebrities still have value: Actress Rachael Taylor will be a special guest of the Melbourne Racing Club at the Caulfield Cup. Photo: Supplied

“Nadia is a vibrant, talented and intelligent businesswoman. Her playful take on fashion and natural charisma make her a fantastic choice,” Ms Cordero said.

“The impact on consumer behaviour that these influencers have is undeniable, and well recognised by international and Australian retailers.”

While David Jones hopes Fairfax’s involvement will sell more frocks, Peta Webster, chief commercial officer at the racing club, said the right social media posts caused an immediate spike in ticket sales, especially among younger racegoers.

“Research tells us Millennials prefer to spend money on going to events than purchasing retail items … we need to ensure we have our ‘share of wallet’ given the competition,” she said.

Young and influential ... model Rebecca Harding, partner of comedian Andy Lee, is the face of Myer Fashions on the Field.

Young and influential: Model Rebecca Harding, partner of comedian Andy Lee, is the face of Myer Fashions on the Field. Photo: Karon Photography

So when it comes to capturing the 18-35s, it’s not just other race days in the mix but also music festivals, noodle markets and travel, and racing organisers need to trump them all.

Which is partly why the traditional five to six-figure fee for a celebrity appearance at the races is making some way for a mix of stars and influencers, Ms Webster said.

“Three years ago, 95 per cent of money would go into one ambassador, now it’s 30 per cent [on celebrity ambassadors] and 70 per cent to social influencers,” she said.

Fairfax said she appreciates the cultural importance of keeping racing traditions alive, albeit using very 21st-century methods.

Blokes day ... The Tailored Man's Dalton Graham is Myer's first menswear ambassador for Fashions on the Field.

Blokes day: The Tailored Man’s Dalton Graham is Myer’s first menswear ambassador for Fashions on the Field. Photo: Karon Photography

“They [organisers] need a great Instagram strategy and an injection of ‘cultural people’ … if the younger audience are seeing these people at the races they won’t want to miss out,” Fairfax said.

Notice how Fairfax specifies Instagram when not even two years ago, Snapchat was all the rage. The lesson: organisers must move, and quickly, or be left behind.

But there’s no need to be right at the cutting edge as long as there is constant newness, said Caroline Ralphsmith​, executive general manager of customer engagement at the Victoria Racing Club.

In 2016, Flemington made its most visible play for young patrons in years by launching the Park, a precinct that fuses food, music and fashion that unashamedly targets 18-35s. In return, the VRC recorded a 13 per cent jump in 18-29-year-old general admissions to the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

The Park, a new precinct launched at Flemington last year, has attracted more young racegoers.

The Park, a new precinct launched at Flemington last year, has attracted more young racegoers. Photo: VRC

This year, the Park will expand its footprint and feature a new roster of food vendors, musicians and activities, reflecting the shifting trends among this fickle demographic.

Ms Ralphsmith said having several Millennial-aged staff on the VRC’s events and communications teams was like having a “live focus group” – a huge strategic advantage.

“It’s about having something new to look at, take photos and have something to share. Thats what the Park will always be,” she said.

Ultimately though, the aim is to convert casual racegoers to members who graduate to more premium products such as the new 1 Oliver Street, which offers a Birdcage marquee-style experience, complete with celebrity appearances, from $490 on Stakes Day up to $690 on Melbourne Cup Day.

Karl Stefanovic and his partner, Jasmine Yarbrough, are among the star attractions attending Caulfield Cup.

Karl Stefanovic and his partner, Jasmine Yarbrough, are among the star attractions slated to attend the Caulfield Cup. Photo: AAP 

Ms Ralphsmith hopes all the changes will help drive a 5000-person membership increase over the next 18 months, particularly among under 30s.

Caulfield, too, hopes its collaborations, particularly with LA hot spot E.P. & L.P., will draw the fashion-forward crowd, including more interstate visitors.

Ms Webster said capturing the youth market was all about taking risks, such as the MRC’s decision last year to switch to a social media-based fashions on the field competition.

“We took a risk and a fresh approach and went from 165 participants to more than 2000,” she said.

Who’s who at the races

These are the confirmed celebrities attending the spring carnival, with more names to be announced in coming weeks.

CAULFIELD CUP

Rachael Taylor, actress 

Karl Stefanovic, TV host, and Jasmine Yarbrough, shoe designer 

Jesinta Franklin, model 

Adam Goodes, AFL great

Rebecca Judd, TV presenter

DERBY DAY

Melissa George, actress (Kennedy)

Montana Cox, model (Mimco ambassador)

Em Rusciano, comedian (Mumm)

MELBOURNE CUP

Jane Seymour, actress(Sensis)

Jessica McNamee, actress (Kennedy)

OAKS DAY

Priscilla Presley, actress (Kennedy)

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