Every year I look forward to Wimbledon. For the matches, yes, but also for the show their digital team puts on. Wimbledon serves up a strong dose of inspiration for anyone in the industry, from stunning creative to brand consistency. They set an example of what digital and creative excellence looks like for those of us in sports and beyond.
I’m really excited about this blog post because Wimbledon’s Head of Communications, Content and Digital — Alex Willis — gives insight into Wimbledon’s digital strategy in a Q&A below (jump to it here). Before we dive in though, here are a few things that stand out about Wimbledon’s approach:
First, they are thoughtful about their brand.
From Wimbledon’s visual identity to their voice/tone, it’s clear they take pride in their brand. Their creative is instantly recognizable year after year. And, it’s held to a standard one would expect from Wimbledon. Strong visuals and voice are the foundation of a great presence. Wimbledon delivers on it.
Second, they disrupt through creative executions.
Original content is a great lever trying to capture attention. Whether you vary your executions or leverage design in unexpected and fresh ways, strong creative can disrupt in so many instances. Wimbledon understands this. They offer a wide range of content series and creative executions throughout the tournament (and also get bonus points because content varies on platforms). Take a look at the wide range of content they produce.
You've seen the illustration build. Now watch it come to life.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 2, 2018
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2018
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 8, 2018
Too often voice and tone is the tool teams leverage to disrupt and get attention. The problem is it often ends up being snarky, troll-ish or over-the-top. The lines blur between what is right for the brand and what the social media manager prefers. It’s a slippery slope.
Wimbledon has a knack for capturing attention, without taking away from the brand. They prove that when you have a purpose, know your why and focus on strong creative, everything is elevated. You will tell a better brand story, engage your fans and make your social feeds stand out.
And finally, they celebrate everything Wimbledon offers.
In sports, it’s easy to get caught up in the scores. Butm it’s our job to bring to life much more than that. From the history of our organizations, to fans and everything behind-the-scenes, sports has so much more to it than the scores alone. And, fans crave the “other” things.
Wimbledon does a fantastic job celebrating all that the tournament has to offer. It’s clear the digital team has a content strategy a and clear focus. Their thoughtful approach to go beyond the court provides a unique glimpse into what Wimbledon is all about. From its history to small moments we don’t see on TV, they truly bring to life everything Wimbledon has to offer. Below are a few examples of what you might see.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2018
Unsung heroes of #Wimbledon
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2018
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 7, 2018
Our jobs are to be the eyes and ears of the fans and bring them inside our world. When you open up your content strategy well beyond the scores, it add depths to your content and presence. Don’t forget about the “other” stuff. As Wimbledon proves, it matters too.
Enough on my perspective though. Alex Willis, Head of Communications, Content & Digital at Wimbledon, has an immense amount of knowledge that I’m eager to share. Below she gives insight into everything from their overall strategy to how they make the magic happen during the tournament. She’s someone I admire in the space for not only doing strong and consistent work, but for always raising the bar. I hope you all enjoy!
What’s the overall digital strategy surrounding Wimbledon? What role does digital play in the event?
Digital… or content, delivered through a variety of platforms, is absolutely fundamental to our goal of keeping Wimbledon relevant, both in the present, and in the future, making sure that for all those who love Wimbledon because they grew up watching it on TV, in 10 or 20 years time there will be those who love Wimbledon because they grew up following it via mobile and social. It is our mouthpiece to the outside world, the thing we use to make a traditional institution human. It is the engine that drives our marketing, the principle that Wimbledon is always trying to be better – in pursuit of greatness – but it is also our way to give anyone, anywhere, a Wimbledon experience, whether they are a Federer or Serena fanatic, or they just like videos of tweeners. It also, naturally, represents a critical part of our commercial product for our official partners and broadcasters.
It appears you all have a really thoughtful content strategy, ensuring you not only cover the live event but also tap into the brand’s DNA. Can you talk about your content strategy and the key areas of storytelling you are focused on?
One of the things that helps us so much is that Wimbledon as a place, brand and event has such a strong purpose. Having that purpose, and identity, helps us challenge everything we create – does this feel Wimbledon to you? – while also in turn challenging what that means. So rather than compromising the brand or the live, we think the ability to put a Wimbledon spin on the live is what helps us differentiate it – whether it’s through beautiful imagery of flowers and grass and whites, whether it’s through a little idiosyncrasy and humour, whether it’s just through a certain standard of execution, taking the time and attention to make it just that little bit more special.
In terms of storytelling areas, we try to focus it roughly as follows: celebrate the sense of place, the traditions, the atmosphere, the fans; celebrate the excellence of the players, their stats, their celebrity; celebrate the sport, the history, the rivalries, the nationalities.
Speaking of content strategy, you all had a beautiful campaign called #TakeOnHistory that celebrates the history and evolution of Wimbledon. Can you give some insight into the campaign (what you all were trying to achieve and the creative direction)? And, what did you learn are the keys to success for launching a brand campaign?
2018 is an important year in terms of milestones – it’s the 150th anniversary of the founding of the All England Club, it’s the 50th anniversary of Open tennis, it’s the 125th anniversary of having a women’s tournament… so we wanted to settle on a way to celebrate this history, but not in an old fashioned way, and importantly in a way that our broadcasters would embrace. They are all about reaching younger audiences and so black and white footage, the traditional archive montage, wouldn’t cut it. So we settled on an animated approach, with the animation style evolving through the decades as we picked out certain players and certain evolutions of the Club, such as colour TV, electronic scoreboards, roofs and all, to try and bring this history to life in a modern way. The idea being that history is our constant inspiration to be better than we were the year before.
In terms of keys to success – we have a very simple message – sometimes we can get so into the detail of a particular campaign that you forget what you are trying to achieve. We spent time selling it in to our broadcast partners in advance, so that they would play it out, not just in the broadcast but on social too. We got player support – Federer, Serena and Nadal cross posted it. And we created additional pieces of content to support it – an illustration of moments from the open era, which built over time, a montage of all 100 Championship points of the open era, individual player story features. All of that has helped convey an integrated message.
I’m always impressed with the diverse portfolio and quality of content from Wimbledon. From your experience, what are the keys to strong social content?
Be very clear with what you are trying to achieve. Make sure each piece of content has its place in your overall ecosystem – and we really recognise that we have very different audiences out there. Don’t rush to push something out that you aren’t happy with – take the extra time to make it right and sometimes don’t even do it at all.
With Wimbledon happening once a year, how do you keep fans engaged?
A big challenge for us. We have our particular place in the season and we want to respect that, and to support the other Grand Slams rather than try and steal their share of voice. We have found that there is an appetite for Wimbledon content during the year though, and our social audiences do tend to grow year on year, and that broadly fits into: commentary on the tour, reflecting whats happening; archive footage and re-living famous moments; and what’s happening at Wimbledon itself – the renovation process, the building works, but also the work of the other bits of our business – the Museum, the Foundation.
Switching gears a bit. You all have been declared a “digital media brand” by media publications. How do you balance the traditional history of Wimbledon while still be forward thinking? And, why is the technology piece so important?
We’re privileged to be thought of that way and it hasn’t always been the case. We’ve tried to focus on sticking true to our traditions, celebrating them, but also not being afraid to push the way we convey them, even stretch them. So we try to think about using innovation to preserve those traditions, rather than it being a trade off. The digital platforms are a good example of that – they are pretty complex from a tech standpoint, but we try to bury all that under the surface so you just have a beautiful experience. So the technology is the enabler rather than the driver. It’s so important because not only does it enable us to push things forwards, we can’t stand still, we’re also still changing the perceptions of our brand, and being able to demonstrate a role for AI, AR, etc at Wimbledon is still surprising to people. But it has to be meaningful. It can’t be hype. Because that wouldn’t be very Wimbledon.
What’s new for digital at Wimbledon this year (or the ones you’re most excited about)? And, why did you take on the new initiatives?
We’re very excited about our new platforms – we hope we’ve built beautiful experiences on web and mobile that have a very clear roadmap to become even better, fully personalised and much more fluid than we’ve had in the past. Why? Because we needed to overhaul them to truly put them at the centre of the business, join them up with our CRM, and develop that vision of a personalised experience for anyone.
Very excited about our Facebook Messenger App – you can subscribe to any player in the draw and receive alerts on their progress, live scores, video content. Being able to give a new audience access to deeper, richer info and of their choice has been fascinating.
And the Take On History campaign – I think it’s the first time we’ve truly managed to create something that hangs together across multiple platforms, that has a life beyond the high spec ad.
Can you tell us about the “day in the life” of running digital for Wimbledon? How many make the magic happen (if you can give insight into how many content creators, that would be awesome)?
We have a team of around 30 people in the digital team for the tournament – and this year we tried something new. Rather than separating out people by platform – ie we had a video team, a social team, a photo team, a web team, etc… we separated them by the behaviour of what they are creating / what the fan will be consuming.
So the live team has the creators managing twitter, the website homepage, live clips, live blog, live streams, all sitting together. And the features team has the creators managing long form video, long form stories, photo galleries, all sitting together. Both supported by a production team in the middle who are editing and uploading for both teams to tap into. We’ll see how it turns out by the end of the event, but so far it is working out well.
We also have a dedicated team on foreign language content for China, Japan, India, Korea and South America.
In terms of my day during the tournament – it’s mostly spent planning each evening and reacting all day to what’s going on. Trying to pick out the stories we think will differentiate us, deciding how we cover them and then changing tack when the story changes. And importantly making sure the team has what they need – being a bridge between the other bits of the organisation – the schedulers, the CEO, the comms team, to ensure that the flow of information is there to enable them to be best equipped. And make sure everyone has enough to eat and goes home eventually!
During the rest of the year, we’re down to a very small few, and we are planning, assessing, learning from others, and generally trying to move Wimbledon forward every day.
Working a live event is fast-paced. What three tips do you have for social media managers in sport?
1 – Make sure you know where you fit in the overall strategy. Own your place.
2- Tone of voice or character or purpose is everything.
3- Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they don’t work. Everything’s a learning experience.
It’s clear your leadership has invested in digital and content. For those trying to get buy-in in their organizations, what advice do you have?
Start small, take leadership with you and build trust. We are so privileged to be trusted to do what we do at Wimbledon, but that’s because it’s been a gradual shift rather than a rapid climb. We are lucky that the Wimbledon philosophy of taking a long-term view supports that – as opposed to short-term immediate gain, but getting upward management right regardless makes such a difference.
Finally, when does planning for 2019 begin?
It has already started! We have a list of things on the truck that we are already working on to roll out the day this tournament finishes, and we will spend much of the second week thinking about things we could do differently, better…it’s so much easier when the event is going on around you. But we also have to balance that against the fact that we have no idea what will be possible in the platform space this time next year. So we have to be structured, but flexible at the same time.
A big thanks to Alex Willis of Wimbledon for taking the time to answer questions. Please, give her a follow here (along with the Wimbledon accounts): @alex_willis0