Profile: Jace Tyrell, director of comms, New West End Company

The director of comms for the West End's prime shopping area has prepared long and hard for the Christmas rush. Kate Magee reports.

Jace Tyrell
Jace Tyrell

Christmas may have sneaked up on most of us again, but not the retailers in London's prime shopping area - Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street. In the next few weeks, the area is expecting 40 million visitors and £1bn in the tills. And it is New West End Company director of comms Jace Tyrell's job to help make this a reality.

For 31-year-old Tyrell and his team, work on the festive campaign started six months ago, with media briefings and feature articles about the area. Plans also began for last weekend's traffic-free day on Oxford and Regent Street, the area's biggest shopping day of the year.

Luring consumers during a major recession and confidence crisis, as well as seeing off the threat of new rivals Westfield and One New Change, is no mean feat. Tyrell admits the recession has led to a drop in visitor numbers over the past two years, but says that sales are up eight and a half per cent year on year. He says this paradox exists because those who continue to visit the area are spending more.

The area's unique characteristics are what helps Tyrell fend of the competition.

Internationally, he believes it is about getting the right message to the right audience. 'US visitors are most interested in tradition, such as tea at Claridges.

To Europeans, the draw is edgy fashion, whereas the Chinese are all about luxury brands,' he says.

Throughout our interview, it is clear that Tyrell knows his facts and figures. He also makes no secret of the fact he enjoys being in the spotlight, saying he loves doing broadcast interviews. 'I probably had the gift of the gab quite early on,' he admits.

One of his most memorable career moments was following the 7/7 bombings, when he presented his comms strategy to M&S' chairman Stuart Rose and Arcadia Group owner Philip Green. 'We wanted to hold a massive street party to show London was not beaten by the bombers. Images were far more important than what actually happened on the day in sales,' he says.

'Adrenalin was pumping through my veins, but I'm quite good at dealing with situations such as that. I don't let my nerves get the better of me.'

This ability to remain focused must help when dealing with some of the New West End Company's high-profile stakeholders.

The company is funded by the major retailers and property owners in the three main streets, and board members include the chairman of Fenwick, Mark Fenwick, M&S' director of retail Steve Rowe, and House of Fraser CEO John King.

Tyrell's biggest challenge is keeping the many stakeholders, including Westminster City Council, happy.

Director of comms and strategy at the council Alex Aiken says: 'Jace has developed into a highly effective advocate for the West End. He is working in the most demanding business environment in the UK and has learned a lot along the way.

'This had led to a series of successful campaigns that have delivered for West End businesses and made the area a more exciting place.'

John Lewis head of press and PR Helen Dickinson adds: 'Jace is always positive and confident, and gives out an aura of being "on top of things", which I believe he is.

He has exceptional people skills and does a great job in knitting together West End retailers into a cohesive voice.'

It may seem a bit strange for an Australian to be in charge of promoting London's West End to the world, but Tyrell says he has always had a passion for the UK.

He was born here and moved to Australia's Gold Coast when he was two years old, but says his grandmother was 'very English and very Tory. She gave me a rose-tinted view of London'.

Tyrell is also a royalist and travelled to Canberra to fight to keep the monarchy in Australia when he was younger.

Once the Christmas flurry is over, Tyrell will be focusing on the 2012 London Olympics, when more than 15,000 media representatives will be descending on London: 'We want to show London is at the cutting edge. We are not all wearing bowler hats, having tea and wearing dowdy fashion.'

Success, says Tyrell, is when comms directors at large retail brands want to be associated with his PR work. It is also having the best shops and traffic-free streets, one of the company's long-term aims.

When asked why he wanted to be in PR, he explains that he was born three months premature, with only a 20 per cent change of survival: 'The day after I was born, I made it into the local paper. I soon realised I must have a career in media or PR.'

CV

- 2009 Director of comms, New West End Company

- 2005 Head of comms, New West End Company

- 2003 PR and marketing manager, New West End Company

- 2002 PR consultant (freelance), Harrods

- 2001 PR executive, South Bank Corporation, Brisbane, Australia; Speakers' programme co-ordinator (freelance), 2001 Goodwill Games Brisbane; PR consultant (freelance), Brisbane Marketing

- 2000 Media relations executive (freelance), Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games

- 1998 PR consultant, Kath Rose & Associates

 

Jace Tyrell's tunring points

- What was your biggest career break?

Pitching a consumer confidence PR campaign to a panel including Sir Stuart Rose and Sir Philip Green after the 7/7 bombings. I had six weeks to plan and deliver the UK's biggest shopping event to successfully drive back sales and footfall into London's West End.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Several - Jane Johnson, my professor at university, who steered me into PR, Kath Rose who gave me my first job and Helen Robinson former editor of Vogue and my first CEO in the UK. Today, Dame Judith Mayhew Jonas, chairman, for her strategic guidance, Alex Aiken for his tenacity and David Shaw who has always supported me.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

You have to be results driven, tenacious and hungry - it is a really competitive industry, so you have to have a spark that comes across straight away.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Someone who is intuitive, quick-minded and knows how to have fun. Someone polished and confident. You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

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