THE BIG INTERVIEW: Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Content & Digital, The AELTC
In this latest interview, we hear insights from Alexandra Willis, Head of Communications, Content & Digital at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and The Championships, Wimbledon.
Alexandra, can you start off by telling us a little about yourself, your career path, your role at the AELTC and your career highlights to date?
I was lucky enough to start my career in journalism at around the time that multimedia storytelling became a reality. Working for a tennis magazine, I was responsible for putting together the editorial structure, but also thinking about how we embellished the magazine through social media, through email, and through online offerings. I then worked for the Telegraph newspaper on the sports desk across the paper and online, helping to launch their iPad app, while also freelancing for a variety of other tennis content offerings.
I was subsequently offered the opportunity to join the AELTC to develop their digital and content strategy, helping Wimbledon to tell its own story directly to its fanbase, to complement the role of its broadcasters and sponsorship partners. During that time, we have transformed the perception of Wimbledon from a traditional British brand to one that uses innovation to keep those traditions relevant, that has become respected in the industry as authentic to its heritage yet progressive in the context of changing consumer expectation.
As Head of Communications, Content & Digital at the AELTC, can you tell us about some of the main challenges?
The first challenge is one of time – the time we have to develop things may be long compared to other events, we have a year to plan and deliver for the following year’s event, but at the same time, we have just two weeks to do everything we want to do, before we have to wait another year to have another go. If you then add onto that the rate at which the world around us is changing, it presents quite an interesting dilemma – figuring out what changes and innovations to focus on and integrate into our planning cycle, and which will have already passed their sell-by date by the time Wimbledon comes around.
The second challenge is getting that balance right between effecting change, but not doing it for the sake of it, and making sure we build trust as we do so. Wimbledon has been around for over 140 years and as the current guardians of it, our role is to ensure it is in a good place for the next 140.
What are your key objectives for the next 12-48 months?
To continue to deliver on the promise we have given our fans – that we will keep Wimbledon moving forwards, ensuring it continues to be the most magical of experiences for those who attend, but equally for those who will never get the chance to. That involves being on more, more content, more platforms, but maintaining our quality at the same time. It involves partnerships – with our broadcasters, with media publishers, with our partners, with the tennis family, with the sports industry. That also means promoting our reputation in order to protect it, which can be a mindset shift.
The AELTC has delivered substantial top line growth in recent years, which it expects to continue in conjunction with an ambitious investment programme in the years ahead that includes construction of a retractable roof over No.1 Court, as well as new hospitality and support facilities designed by Sports Venue Business VIP Sponsor, KSS. Can you tell us more about the AELTC’s ambitious plans?
The AELTC’s strategic vision is straightforward – to maintain its position as the pinnacle of the sport, but while respecting the traditions and values of the Club. We recognise that to be the pinnacle, we need to invest for the future, and that means investing in the infrastructure and facilities of the event for all stakeholders, not just players, but spectators, media, staff, contractors, members.
The Wimbledon Master Plan sets out that timeline of development – the No.1 Court Project will conclude next year, to be followed by a large development at Somerset Road for players and members, followed by the Millennium Building for players, members and media.
The AELTC also owns the lease to Wimbledon Park Golf Club, which will return to the AELTC in 2041, at which point the Grounds can be further enhanced with the addition of more courts in order to stage qualifying.
How important was it to ensure the contemporary façade properly respects Wimbledon’s unique heritage, and that the new facilities will further enhance the quality of the spectator experience, thereby supporting the AELTC’s aim of maintaining Wimbledon’s status as the premier Grand Slam event in world tennis?
It’s absolutely critical. A former colleague once commented that the best embodiment of Wimbledon is “always changing, always staying the same”. Making our spectators feel like they are still in the same place, even if the facilities are enhanced or slightly tweaked.
When it comes to spectator experience, technology has a really important role to play in all of this, but it has to support the story, rather than be the story. And it has to work! Our facilities and their design need to do the same.
As methods of communication and technology evolve, how does the AELTC plan on remaining ahead of the curve and ensuring optimised fan engagement, especially in terms of the growing millennials market?
Our point of difference is the feeling of our event. It is a tennis event set in green surroundings full of flowers. It isn’t a conference hall or an industrial village, and so we need to make sure that we maintain that sense of place, while also acknowledging that the expectations of our fanbase will change, and how we plan for and manage that change is critical, so we aren’t ambushed by it and feel pressured into it because we have been left behind.
So we are fortunate enough to make sure we look out as well as in – we know what the industry is doing, we know what is expected, and then we try to adapt accordingly to what would make sense at Wimbledon – be best adopter rather than first adopter.
Huge thanks to the AELTC’s Alexandra Willis for taking the time to do this interview with us.
Main image (top), courtesy: KSS.
Sheffield-based engineering group, SCX, has completed the first year of a three-year project to construct a retractable roof for the new No.1 Court at The All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC).
For further information on Sports Venue Business VIP Sponsor, KSS, and their work not only at Wimbledon for the AELTC, but also at Wembley Stadium, Twickenham Stadium, Leicester City FC and Liverpool FC, either visit their Industry Directory listing or click on the below…
Andy Simons, Director, KSS, is one of the 40+ industry expert speakers taking part in Europe’s first Premium Seat event, ALSD International, coming to London this October, 10-12. Attendees will be treated not only to a comprehensive conference program, but also to an exhibition hall showcasing the latest revenue-optimising products and solutions, as well as two very special networking events and behind-the-scenes tours of The SSE Arena Wembley, Club Wembley and Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage.
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