Interview with Rebecca Symmons, Head of Digital at Swansea City A.F.C

We interviewed Rebecca ahead of our sports seminar to find out about her journey to Swansea A.F.C., plus clues on what her talk will cover.

Tell me about yourself.

I’m currently living back in my
hometown of Swansea. I started out doing a degree in dance and fine art with a
view to becoming a professional dancer. But at 18 years old my career would
take a different path: I slipped my disc and could no longer dance.   

My father worked in the media, so I eventually got a job in advertising. Luckily the internet was emerging at the same time so there was a lot of opportunity. I worked myself up the ladder extremely quickly, moving from The South Wales Evening Post in Swansea to the Western Mail in Cardiff. This was the point of when the business started to acknowledge that the internet was making an impact. The digital transformation journey started back then, and I was lucky enough to be part of it.

Is it weird to say I’ve never really had to apply for a job? I’ve always been approached by someone else, other than my first role with Swansea City. When the job was advertised on the club website, I turned up at the stadium reception asking to see the head of media for a chat as it was my dream job. He still claims I stalked him!

Before the Swans, Yell.com (Yellow Pages) came knocking at my door when I was established at the Western Mail and that’s where my digital journey really went to the next level, as the big yellow book evolved its business into yell.com. My career in digital had taken off.

One of my counterparts started to
work at Amazon, so this was when I was asked to pop to London for a chat.
Amazon was a phenomenal experience and the brand was just a pleasure to work
for. While I was at Amazon we launched three different businesses and tested
them in the UK marketplace to see if they could work alongside the US. We
launched Amazon Tickets to rival Ticketmaster, which made so much sense when
Amazon had such a mass loyal audience. Why wouldn’t Adele want to sell directly
to Prime customers if she was launching her album in the same way?  

Anyway, I then found my dream role at my home club of Swansea City in November 2016 and have enjoyed a few promotions in my first few years. I held a season ticket at the club as a fan for 19 years, so that’s why I still see it as a dream job.

What was your first job?

I was a dancer at Butlins, Bognor Regis. (Honest!) 

What did you learn working at Amazon?

Amazon’s work ethic and leadership principles are what the whole brand stands for. You’ll notice that the arrow on Amazon’s logo points from A to Z. That means that there’s a reason for every decision, which comes down to either the data or customer. What I loved about Amazon was its data-based reasoning. It’s a business that can’t be replicated elsewhere, and its customer service is impeccable.

What is it like working for Swansea City A.F.C.?

It’s an emotional rollercoaster. The ups and downs are determined by 11 players on a pitch with a ball. Regardless of what you do on the front end, the majority of fans only care about the game. There’s a lot of pressure.

Today you might have the best players in the world and tomorrow you might lose them. The highs are so high, and the lows are really low. But I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I’ve held a season ticket now for 22 years. Now I’m on the senior management team heading up digital. We have produced several firsts in football, such as in-app ticketing through the Swans app that we developed with our digital partner, Other Media. To have headed up such a fantastic project has been special.

Do you like football?

Love it. I went to my first game when I was a few years old. I love football – it’s on the TV in my house every day of the week. My daughter went to her first game when she was two weeks old and I got her a season ticket when she was one. 

What are your career goals?

I’m different to other digital professionals in football. Many tend to move from club to club in order to progress. That doesn’t inspire me at all. I don’t want to follow that route. But although I’m at the club I love, I am still extremely driven to progress as high as I can.

What are the three things to get right when marketing to Swansea fans?

The right content to the right people at the right time. Those are the three elements for effective fan marketing. So many marketers still get this wrong. Personalized content nurtures fans and drives word of mouth.

The right platform matters too. Some people don’t open emails and prefer Twitter or Facebook. Why would you serve someone Instagram adverts when they only ever watch YouTube? Otherwise, marketing is pointless. It’s not organic and won’t feel right to the end customer. 

Marketing shouldn’t be forced.
For instance, we don’t send ticket promotions to a season ticket holder.
Instead we ask them to recommend a friend; they get something back and their
friend gets a special deal. It’s a win-win. 

Can you give me a clue about what you’ll be speaking about at our event?

Aside from personalized content, I’ll be talking about the evolvement of our fantastic app. It was one of the first apps in Premier League football. I’ve been told that it’s been used as a guide for other Premier League clubs. Even though we don’t compete at this level anymore, and as a result have far less staff and financial resources than before, I believe we are still competing at the top of the digital league. The work we are doing with Other Media is keeping us at the forefront of fan engagement.

We opened up a whole demographic we weren’t capturing before. The revenue we’ve generated from tickets and retail through the app, even after being relegated, was astonishing. This sexy stuff can make you much more revenue.

Random quick-fire round: I’m going to say two words and you have to pick one without hesitation. If you think of an alternative, you can use that one.

Chinese bun or Indian samosa?

  • Chinese
    bun.

Hobnob or chocolate digestive?

  • Hobnob.

Cat or dog?  

  • Dog.

Spain or France?

  • Italy.

City or countryside?

  • City by
    the sea.

Salt and vinegar or cheese and onion?

  • Ready
    salted.

Beach or history museum/art gallery?

  • Beach.

Netflix night-in or outdoor cinema?

  • Netflix
    night-in.

Extra avocado or halloumi on everything?

  • Halloumi
    on everything.

Hot summer’s day or snow day?

  • Snow day.

Don’t miss Rebecca’s talk on personalization and app engagement! Join us at Lord’s Cricket Ground on Wednesday 7th August for an inspiring event followed by an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the grounds and the ashes.

We have a great line-up of speakers from Southampton Football ClubScience in Sport, Swansea City AFC, Movable Ink, and Othermedia.

There’s a hot breakfast and lunch provided for all delegates,
too!

Get
your fans closer to the action, and register here!

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