Deuce! the art of balancing tradition and innovation at wimbledon

Every fortnight, we hand over the blog to one of the London Shapers, to give you a flavour of what they do, how they think and what's really going on in our hearts and minds. Today's piece comes from Alexandra Willis, Head of Digital, Comms & Content for Wimbledon.


When I tell people that I work at Wimbledon, they usually say one of two things:


"Is that really a full -time job? Surely it's just two weeks?"


Followed by...


"Can I have tickets?"


Sometimes they even think I mean the town council, and look a bit blankly, which usually prompts a bit of hand swishing as if I was wielding a racket, and that clears things up.


But, the most incredible thing is that by and large, they know what it is. One of the most recognisable brands in sport, synonymous with British culture, tradition, grass courts, players wearing white, spectators eating strawberries and the odd glass of Pimm's.



It is an immense privilege to work somewhere that has such a strong heritage, not just because people know it, and recognise it, but because it has such a strong sense of purpose. Every member of staff knows what the All England Club is, why it was founded, and what we are all here to do.


Which makes my life, as the current custodian of how we communicate, market and innovate Wimbledon's traditions, so much easier.


My role is to manage Wimbledon's communications offerings across content, platforms, and activation, how we manage and develop our website, apps and social media offerings, how we communicate with our audiences, and what positioning we want to establish with the industry, the media, and government - both in a proactive and reactive manner.


It's a role of phenomenal breadth - which reflects the breadth of our organisation - everyone from engineers to painters to accountants to court coverers to dressing room attendants to IT specialists - you name it, we've got it.


And that's what makes it such an exciting challenge. To preserve and protect a 150-year-old organisation, but also keep it current. Ensure that the Snapchat and Love Island generation grow up with Wimbledon, just as the age of the BBC and Spitting Image did.


We talk a lot about balancing tradition and innovation - much like the world talks about work/life balance - but the truth is we challenge ourselves to integrate them, not balance them.


We try to innovate to preserve our traditions - find new ways to demonstrate why grass court tennis is different, find different techniques to show off strawberries and picnics and Pimm's, adapt our behaviours to those of what our spectators expect.


And that is a tremendous privilege and one that makes every day of the job unique. For this year's Championships, for example, we are doing a lot with AI. That may sound very un-Wimbledon - robots running around taking over the tennis.


We try and put technology in the background, the event in the foreground, using it to enable what we want to do, rather than take over it. For example, this year's official Wimbledon poster is a beautiful mosaic of the front of the Clubhouse. If you look closer, you can see that each bit of the image is made up of different photos - 8,400 to be precise - which were assembled together from our archive of 300,000 images. AI did that.


We are using AI to create our highlights packages, so we can deliver content quickly and efficiently to our platforms, and to our broadcast partners. That also means we can open up new channels, such as Facebook Messenger - and deliver personalised alerts to fans on Facebook depending on which players they are interested in.


And there's much more that I won’t bore you with!


It's a challenge to make sure we maximise what is available to us, pay attention to what others are doing, and get it all right for just two weeks a year. We recognise that we’re judged on what our fans have seen the week or day or even hour before, not last year. And we know that if we miss an opportunity, we have to wait a whole year to do it all over again! So we try to be flexible – as flexible as possible while ensuring things work as they should do. Because protecting the brand, delivering excellence, is more important than fads and gimmicks.


We also try not to put ourselves on an island, but work with other sports, other brands in the entertainment industry, to make sure Wimbledon can stick its head above the parapet. We’re collaborating with FIFA around the World Cup for example, and we’ve long had an aspiration to have a garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.


I’ll finish with a few principles we stick to which have helped, which we think are relevant to any entity that has a story to tell, not just sport:


- Be very clear about what you’re trying to achieve

- Take the time to consider and articulate who you are and how you want to come across

- Don’t be afraid of trying something – if you fail, fail in a way you can learn from

- Get the right team around you – it’s the people who make the difference between good and bad output


So that’s a little insight into working at Wimbledon. If you want to find out more – take a look at wimbledon.com, download our apps on iOS or Android, and follow us on social! You can also read this article published by London Business School on our approach.

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