By Caroline Ayling
Marketing Director at John Ayling & Associates. Director at Insight Medical Consultancy. Trustee Duchenne UK.
I’ve always wanted to work in sport. I was sporty, good enough at netball to represent county and development squads for country, but was I really ever going to give my whole life to it? I went to an academic school; people went on to become doctors, management consultants, lawyers – not netballers. In fact professional netball wasn’t really an option. I’m so glad that women’s sport has evolved for the next generation to have real aspirations to make careers from their passions – even if we are only on the start of that journey.
At uni I told my tutor I wanted to work in sports marketing, and he said, “What like Mr Brittas from the Brittas Empire?” I think he thought I wanted to manage a leisure centre?! I didn’t! I worked every summer holidays in the press office at Wimbledon, and realised that there was a whole world behind the scenes of sporting events. Then we won the Olympic bid for 2012. I knew I had to find a way to get into the industry.
I did some work experience at an agency, and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I just had to find the right place for me. I’d heard of Karen Earl, a pioneering woman in the sports marketing industry, and I wrote to her. In fact I wrote to her 3 times before I eventually got a foot through the door and was offered an interview. Karen Earl Sponsorship (KES) had won a new piece of business with Aviva on a sailing project and they needed a JAE to join the team. I knew nothing about sailing, but I could not have been more excited about the opportunity to join a London agency doing what I wanted to. Little did I know how much I was going to learn and love what was to come… I went on to work with Aviva on the Aviva Challenge, Dee Caffari’s first of many non-stop solo circumnavigations of the globe. I worked with Dee and Aviva for years and saw her sail around the world twice, plus many more transatlantic crossings. We recently celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Aviva Challenge and I looked back on the day on LinkedIn: “Lucinda Soper and I waiting for the call that she’d crossed the “finish line” in the English Channel. Sarah Loughran, Georgina Spring and Alex Brown somewhere near the Lizard orchestrating a helicopter in hideous conditions. Adam Birley and Dan Towers hanging out of the helicopter capturing the footage to feature on ITV news at Ten and front page of the Times. Harry Spedding waiting to see Dee after 6 hairy months at sea.”
Whilst at KES I had the pleasure of working with so many great clients, great brands, great people – British Airways, Guinness, RBS, Standard Life Investments, BMW, Betfair… the list was amazing! I even realised my dream of working on the Olympics. I tracked the Torch Relay day by day with a fleet of cars and inspirational torchbearers. I had a pass into the Olympic Park – I was living my dream. Could you top it off? I’m not sure I could.
There followed an amazing trip to Vienna involving a passing moment between Bill Clinton, Jose Maria Olazabal, the Ryder Cup and me. I have to pinch myself when I look back at that one. I made the call to switch things up, and left agency life to become a https://esportif.com/rugby agent. It was a change and, whilst still working in the sporting world, I learnt so much about sales, prospecting and negotiation. An opportunity arose to then take on a new line of work as MD of a luxury holiday and events company owned by Will Greenwood and Austin Healy. My learning continued. Again I was living a dream life, holidays with rugby, netball and cricket superstars – my friends couldn’t believe it existed!
I want to add a caveat at this point. Whilst this all sounds like I was constantly happy, I have never been so stressed and anxious as I was as a 20 something working in the high pressure world of sports
marketing. Perhaps I was a perfectionist, or wanted to be a perfectionist, but my mental health had some challenging times throughout this period. It would be remiss of me not to mention it.
Then, like many women, I decided to start a family. I knew I wanted time and space to do this my way, so I went freelance and became a consultant. I was never without work, my network was so supportive and, through two babies, I was privileged to work with Accenture, Diageo and on a home Cricket World Cup – again the dream was still coming true! The thing is that the sports industry just keeps giving. If we have learnt one thing this last 15 months, it the power and importance of sport in our lives. In bringing us joy, in bringing us suspense, in bringing us drama – emotions you cannot get from watching or experiencing anything else.
The pandemic was hard. Sport sort of died away; the big summer of 2020 was deferred. I was lucky to have an opportunity to take all the skills and experience I had built up over the last two decades and apply them in a new role, as Marketing Director of media agency John Ayling & Associates. It was a new industry sector for me, but another opportunity to realise a dream, one I didn’t consciously know I wanted. To be part of and build your family business is special, and now I am living a new dream as part of the JAA team.