The Shiny New Object Podcast: five things I learned from Wimbledon's Alexandra Willis

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The Shiny New Object Podcast: five things I learned from Wimbledon's Alexandra Willis

Interviewed in the latest installment of the Shiny New Object Podcast by Automated Creative’s Tom Ollerton is Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital at The All England Lawn Tennis Club (Wimbledon). Here are five things Ollerton found out as a result of the conversation.

Machines are here to help

Alex’s shiny new object is AI, which she thinks of as not just artificial, but augmented intelligence. Machines aren’t here to replace what people are doing, but rather make us more efficient. She cites a fascinating example looking at how the Wimbledon team compiles match highlights. What used to be a process that took around an hour and involved a lot of subjectivity has now been transformed through a data-focused partnership with IBM. Now, multiple factors are analysed to provide an objective ranking of the best clips for the team to choose from, allowing them to turn around content in minutes (this description doesn't really do it justice - listen to the podcast to fully appreciate it!) It allows Wimbledon to go further and faster with its content - something that’s increasingly important amongst today's tech and social-savvy global audience.

It’s OK if progress takes time

In a world where we’re used to everything happening instantaneously, it’s sometimes hard to accept that it can take a bit of time to get things right. This is particularly true of Wimbledon - after all, the event only happens once a year, so as Alex points out, they have to test, learn and get it right, all at the same time. A combination of intense pressure followed by a lot of patience. For example, Alex says that the partnership with IBM took three years to get to the smooth running system it is now. Similarly, she admits she always wants Wimbledon to be the first in its industry to use something, such as brand new tech. However, she’s come to understand that it’s not always the right choice to pursue everything all at once, for the sake of the team’s wellbeing as much as anything else.

Own your mistakes

Wimbledon is known for its excellence and perfection, which makes it even harder when things go wrong. But of course, no-one is infallible and as Alex rightly says, if you’re afraid to fail you’ll never challenge yourself. She highlights one example where the team posted a tweet that attracted a lot of negativity on social media, so much so that they decided to delete it. This, she says, is where they went wrong. The deletion of the tweet became a mainstream news story - much more so than if they’d acknowledged and responded to the feedback they'd received. The lesson here? Be forthright in your convictions and have the courage to own your mistakes. After all, everyone makes them.

Spend time on your team

Alex readily admits that her biggest challenge is to recognise the limits on her own time, and how taking on too much can impact on her and others. So what is always worth spending time on? She says the best use of her energy has been developing a team. It’s not always easy to find the right people - for her, it’s those who embrace a small business mentality and are willing to be a jack of all trades in a world that’s probably less glamorous in reality than it appears to be from the outside. But there’s no substitute for building the right team around you - if you invest anything, Alex says, make it people.

Never stop innovating

This point isn’t something Alex said to me as such, but it’s what I took away from speaking to her about the future possibilities for Wimbledon. She’s so passionate about the future of the tournament and how a tech and data-led approach can benefit Wimbledon’s communications that she easily reels off multiple ideas that she’d love to implement in the future. Whether it’s enabling broadcasters - and even people - to use the vast library of assets that Wimbledon holds to become content creators in their own right, to expanding the technology they currently have on the show courts to all 18. I’m sure she would have easily spoken on it for another hour or more. To succeed and stay ahead of the game, this kind of passion and enthusiasm for what you’re doing is crucial.

Alexandra Willis was also recently voted one of The Drum's 25 From 25 - an award featuring 25 of the most influential women in the digital industry, who have helped to shape the digital industry over the last 25 years. The overall winner is currently being decided here.

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