Martine Ainsworth-Wells: Tower of strength

The comms boss of London's promotional agency tells Matt Cartmell about the opportunities to promote the capital ahead of the Olympics.

Martine Ainsworth-Wells: tower of strength
Martine Ainsworth-Wells: tower of strength

As the morning sun breaks over Tower Bridge and streams into London & Partners' offices high above the Thames, Martine Ainsworth-Wells says with an infectious grin: 'That's the view that gets me going every morning.'

London & Partners was launched in April as a merged quango to handle the work of three London-based agencies - Visit, Think and Study London.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said the aim was to make the capital city 'an even stronger magnet for tourists, students and investors' while the global spotlight shines on the city ahead of next year's Olympic Games.

Ainsworth-Wells, who was heading comms at Visit London at the time of Johnson's announcement, remembers the day well: 'When the mayor said he was going to create a single agency, I put my hand up and said I'm in. That sounds great. Let's now look at the whole picture for London - how we can maximise the benefits of tourism and business?'

Her enthusiasm is boundless, whether it is applied to overcoming the scars that the recent riots left on London or her own life. Having injured her back when falling from her loft two years ago, Ainsworth-Wells is currently forced to make daily trips to the gym for punishing physio before work.

'I've been forced to become an early bird,' she smiles.

Russell Hopson, now MD at WPP agency Team Red, worked with Ainsworth-Wells extensively when he headed the Visit London account during his time working at creative agency RKCR Y+R.

'Martine is a bit of a force of nature, to be honest,' says Hopson. 'She is highly energetic and incredibly well-versed in the organisation's wider pressures and goals. If you think about it, Visit London is one big marketing department, so if you are the marketing director, you have to do everything.'

Hopson adds: 'Martine's taken on the PR role very well - the reactiveness required to do that is extraordinary. It's indicative of her ability to be right across the organisation.'

The creation of the new agency has seen 39-year-old Ainsworth-Wells' team grow to 24 people, absorbing the comms for Think London and Study London. She is also supported globally by Edelman, to handle specific projects.

From Ainsworth-Wells' perspective, the Olympic Games and the world's media descending on London represent a major opportunity, but also a niggling fear.

She needs to ensure that the media have a comprehensive and diverse schedule to keep them excited and interested during their stay. 'Our job is to find things that are interesting in the city,' says Ainsworth-Wells. 'We have got thousands of opportunities that we are mapping. The big opportunity is media exposure - that's the number one opportunity. The spotlight is on London.'

The plans for the globe's media during their stay seem almost bewilderingly diverse: an installation in Trafalgar Square inspired by Samuel Pepys; decadent afternoon tea at The Langham featuring murder mystery-themed cakes; a diamond display at Buckingham Palace; and even 40s-themed jive nights at the Churchill War Rooms are among an array of unique events being carefully planned.

Ainsworth-Wells says that having spoken to her counterparts in Sydney and other previous Olympic host cities, their biggest regret was their lack of ability to convert interest into tangible results.

'From a promotional perspective, how do we convert all of that potential? How do we have the mechanisms in place? There's no point in all this promotion if people can't do anything about it,' says Ainsworth-Wells.

She talks much of the resilience of Londoners during a crisis. 'We perform so well - the recent riots, the tragic events of 7 July 2005, the volcanic ash clouds. I love the fact that London is resilient, and I love playing a role in London's resilience.'

When asked whether the riots created a challenge in communicating the positive side of the city to foreigners, she dismisses the idea. 'Civil disturbance is not unique to London,' she says. 'It's putting it in context. The dialogue will be, we hope, "didn't London recover quickly".'

Pivotal to her role is experience of other cultures, with travel one of her particular passions. Having travelled during the summer along Route 66, Ainsworth-Wells was reminded of how conservative some parts of the US can be. This is just one example of the differing cultures of which her organisation must be aware when communicating the benefits of London.

'In China, their perception of London can be based on books they have read. They have a perception based on Dickens and Shakespeare. So we have an opportunity to bring people up to date. We hope to surprise the Chinese market and say "did you know ...?"'

Ainsworth-Wells recognises there is a danger that London could be overwhelmed and become a 'rabbit in the headlights', something she is combating with systematic organisation.

She adds that she would like her team to regard her as being patient and supportive, but that she also sets a high bar: 'I'm trying to take them over the bar with me,' she says, suggesting that of all the Olympics events, her role is most akin to the high jump.

'I have already done that once,' she says, thinking back to her fateful loft-fall, 'so I'm not scared any more.'

2011 Marketing and comms director, London & Partners
2004 Marketing and comms director, Visit London
2002 Client services director, USP Group
2001 Promotions manager, Evening Standard
1995 Head of sponsorships and promotions, Heart FM
1991 Promotions and sponsorship executive,Radio Aire and Magic 828


What was your biggest career break?

Joining Visit London. I was working in radio and I could have applied for other jobs in that area. What I did was to completely move out of my comfort zone and into a political environment. That was a huge opportunity for me.

Have you had a notable mentor?

David Campbell, who offered me the job at Visit London. He is now busy running Formula 1, but his ability was getting the best out of people without asking. He would allow me to be as creative as possible.

What advice would you give someone climbing the career ladder?

Never be afraid to get blown off course - you never know where you might end up. It happened to me and I was delighted about the direction in which it sent me.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Being competent, but having passion and commitment.

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