PROFILE: Comic touch - Amanda Horton-Mastin, Marketing director, Comic Relief

Amanda Horton-Mastin is going to collapse on Saturday. After partying all night, she will probably get up late and need a strong coffee to take it all in. That's if her two-and-a-half-year-old son Sam doesn't wake her up first.

Amanda Horton-Mastin is going to collapse on Saturday. After partying all night, she will probably get up late and need a strong coffee to take it all in. That's if her two-and-a-half-year-old son Sam doesn't wake her up first.

Sam loves the Comic Relief red nose and is already bubbling over with excitement about Friday. But unfortunately mummy won't be at home to see his enthusiasm. Horton-Mastin, marketing director of Comic Relief, will be in the BT Tower, or the 'nerve centre' of Comic Relief, evaluating the TV show and co-ordinating totals from 99 call centres. That's more than 7000 lines manned by 15,000 volunteers. 'It's exhausting,' she says. 'But it's so exciting. Most of us are running purely on adrenaline.'

Horton-Mastin is full of energy. As soon as I've introduced myself she's talking about the Celebrity Big Brother web site that's due to go live in two minutes' time. I soon realise that my notes are just a jumbled mess of superlatives. There are even more 'wonderfuls', 'fantastics' and 'brilliants' as she hits me with tales about this year's Comic Relief: Celebrity Big Brother, her trip to Ethiopia, Harry Potter author JK Rowling's tie-up with the Comic Relief site, the Posh 'n' Becks interview and the 'galaxy of stars', where every person who donates money is given a mention.

But as well as a ridiculous amount of energy, which she appeases through sport - waterskiing and tennis - she also has an inherent commitment to fighting social injustice. Jenny Meadows, director of fundraising at Sight Savers, who worked closely with Horton-Mastin at Save the Children, says her former colleague is the perfect choice for Comic Relief. 'She's 100% committed but not overly earnest. She retains that lightness of touch and is also incredibly modest and matter-of-fact.'

For Horton-Mastin there was never really any choice. 'The reason we do it is because the money we make goes to help people. That's an unbelievably motivating factor. It's sometimes easy to forget you're working for a charity, then you go home and see something on the TV that cuts you to the core.'

This year, Horton-Mastin hopes to take more money than any other charity campaign. Comic Relief has launched a web site that can take 200 transactions a second. When I ask about targets she laughs and simply says: 'More than last time.' Comic Relief raised pounds 400,000 online in 1999 and a total of pounds 35m overall.

Horton-Mastin started her career at Procter & Gamble as a brand manager almost by accident. After a PhD in chemistry at Nottingham University, she applied to what she thought was a research job.

'It wasn't until the interview that I found out it was a marketing position,' she laughs. 'You can't imagine what it was like having spent your entire life in a laboratory dealing with computers, and then suddenly you're in an office talking to people. It was the most glamorous thing.'

Even at P&G, Horton-Mastin was involved in charity work. She set up the Ealing branch of War on Want and 'instinctively' started using her marketing techniques, persuading comedians such as Jo Brand and Jack Dee to take part for nothing. 'We raised more in the first six months than any other branch did in a whole year.'

She then became corporate fundraiser at Save the Children, where one of her fondest memories is its 'biggest-ever birthday' party at Alton Towers. She also helped to develop a relationship with Cadbury. 'She put a lot of creative energy into the pitch,' says Meadows. 'Corporate is one of the areas she made a huge impact on. She's a high achiever, one of those truly inspiring women who juggle their personal and private lives and give 100%, but you don't feel anything is being compromised.'

When she joined Comic Relief as fundraising director, Horton-Mastin had one assistant. Now there are 25 in the core marketing team, which swells to about 50 for the six-month period leading up to the televised event.

'We have tiny marketing budgets,' she says. 'But there is a lot of goodwill from advertising agencies and media partners. Corporates realise that Comic Relief can give value to their brand.'

Horton-Mastin puts Comic Relief's success down to three key factors - the support of the BBC, artists such as Lenny Henry that come back year after year, and the team's energy creating the campaign. She also stresses that Comic Relief is about more than Red Nose Day. 'We have a frenetic phase after Christmas until after Red Nose day. We also have to plan events into corporate calendars to fit in with marketing schedules. We need to approach people in autumn this year for 2003.'

So what's the best part about her job? ''The moment I really enjoy is when I sign the grant cheques - when you're giving it back to organisations.' She pauses, adding: 'And the moment I sign cheques to Save the Children is very poignant.'

She tells me about a project Lenny Henry did in Scotland about a young family, where the mother has premature dementia. 'I watched the rough cut of that for half an hour and had to stay in the office because it affected me so much.'

But however tough it gets, Horton-Mastin is in it for the long haul. When I ask her where she'll be in ten years she pauses. 'All I can say is it's an incredibly hard place to leave. I can't imagine what I'd go on to.'


1986-1989: Brand manager, Procter & Gamble

1989-1994: Corporate fundraising manager, Save the Children

1994-present: Fundraising manager then marketing director, Comic Relief.


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