Advertisements
 

HSBC’s £400m global review that never was

March 9, 2013

Chris Clark HSBCSo, what was all that about? HSBC’s group marketing director Chris Clark calls a review of the “£400m” (actually rather less these days) global account late last year. Well, not exactly a review. More a series of private meetings that happen to take in the incumbent agency’s rivals at Omnicom, IPG and Publicis – just in case they have any bright ideas. No fundamental discussions take place on either strategy or creativity, because none are called for, even from the incumbent JWT.

Sniffing a rat, McCann (IPG) and BBDO (Omnicom) pull out. Late yesterday (a good time to bury news) it trickles out that WPP has, er, retained the account. But there have been a few twists of the kaleidoscope. Most salient is that outsider Saatchi & Saatchi (Publicis) will now handle the small-spending (relatively speaking) retail banking and wealth business across Europe and in Latin America. JWT is still at the epicentre, with the global brand business, but will now share the rest of the account with its WPP sister agency, Grey London.

Is this a classic piece of agency punishment meted out by the client? We still like you, WPP: but you’ve gone a bit flabby. So, just to make sure you’re on your toes, we’ll keep you on tenterhooks for a few months and then award a chunk of business to one of your rivals – to see how hungry they are.

Was it simply an exercise in cheese-paring the fees, as JWT officially likes to see it, on the part of one of the world’s wealthiest institutions?

Or is this Chris Clark desperately trying to justify his job as CMO (in all but name)? A marking time exercise, while he and his boss, HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver, dream up a successor to the faded strap line, The World’s Local Bank?

Because, of course, it isn’t anymore. If you rolled the market capitalisation of Barclays, Lloyds Bank and RBS together, they wouldn’t add up to that of HSBC – which remains by far Britain’s largest bank. But internationally, Gulliver has been busy rolling back the borders, with the divestment of businesses from as far afield as Argentina, Russia and Singapore. The proceeds of which were one contributory reason for the humungous profits the bank was able to declare only last week.

In the recent past, Clark has talked up the need to spend more marketing pounds on the product side (i.e., the separate bank businesses) and less on the corporate brand. One reasonable interpretation of this stance is that banks, in these bonus-bashing times, would do well to get their heads down to providing some basic customer service, as opposed to extravagantly boasting about their global expanse.

Another (they are not mutually exclusive) is that Clark and his colleagues haven’t got a clue what they should do. “In the future” doesn’t quite do it, does it? And in any case, as Clark himself once quipped, it’s more of a start than an end line.

Advertisements

Barclays bully should do his homework on Stonewall’s Bigot of the Year award

November 1, 2012

Tonight’s the night. The night, that is, when we finally discover who has won the much-uncoveted title of Bigot of the Year at the Stonewall annual awards.

Stonewall being a charity dedicated to promoting the civil rights of gays, lesbians and bisexuals, it requires little to imagine what kind of bigot might qualify for this category. Take any ante-diluvian churchman or off-guard Tory politician and you’re practically there as far as the longlist goes.

So far, so dull. But wait. This year, sponsors have decided to spice up the awards – by threatening to pull out if Stonewall goes ahead and announces a Bigot of the Year winner.

Coutts (RBS-owned, but sshh, don’t mention that to any of its wealthy customers) – which is only a category sponsor (the anodyne Writer of the Year) has already pulled its delegation from tonight’s hoe-down. And Barclays – which, rather more challengingly appears to be a general sponsor – has threatened to terminate its financial commitment.

Mark McLane, managing director and head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays told The Telegraph: “I have recently been made aware of the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ category in the awards. Let me be absolutely clear that Barclays does not support that award category either financially, or in principle and have (sic) informed Stonewall that should they decide to continue with this category we will not support this event in the future. To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment, and detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event.”

So, righteous fulmination at the underhand introduction of a new category, eh, Mark? Well not quite. Some swift desk research, which even someone as grand as a managing director and head of Global Diversity and Inclusion might deign to do before opening his mouth, would reveal that Bigot of the Year has been a staple of the Stonewall awards since 2006. And, even more interestingly, Barclays itself seems to have supported the self-same awards since 2009. Now I know that there has been a lot of staff churn at Barclays recently and corporate memory tends to be – at the best of times – short. Even so, wakey, wakey, Mark. Or is Stonewall so low down the list of sponsorable causes that you simply haven’t noticed it before?

Either way, Stonewall should sack Barclays before Barclays sacks Stonewall. With friends like that… Surely corporate bullying is just the sort of thing Stonewall is trying to stamp out?


Big is beastly, especially if we’re talking big banks like Barclays

August 28, 2012

Which brands make us most angry? Yes, you guessed correctly. The big ones that rip us off, starve us of mortgage funds, pilfer our savings and behave with amoral disregard for everyone’s interest but their own. Anything, in short, that ends with the word “Bank”.

But come, let’s be a bit more specific. How about some brand differentiation – which is the worst, and which the runner-up? Well, coming in at number 2 – just behind the winning “All banks” category – is Barclays. And next, in 7th position, is Royal Bank of Scotland.

I know all of this thanks to some research, just out, conducted by YouGov and commissioned by creative agency Johnny Fearless (of which more below).

Why don’t Lloyds, Santander and HSBC make it into the top 10? Surely not on account of the odour of sanctity. We can only speculate, but could it be that Barclays and RBS have the two biggest Swinging Dicks attached to their brand heritage, namely Bob Diamond and Fred the Shred? I doubt that most people know who Antonio Horta-Osario is, and would struggle to recall his name in sufficient detail if they did. Which is probably just as well for Horta-Osario and Lloyds Bank.

More interesting, if perplexing in some ways, is the identity of the other 7 members of this exclusive Top 10 club. Tenth equal with Coca-Cola is Nestlé – still regarded as a corporate pariah on account of its anti-social baby-milk marketing practices in developing countries. I’m sure that doesn’t depress sales of Kit-Kats and Yorkie bars one bit, though.

And what’s Coke doing in there? Sorry boys and girls, for all your tender investment in clean athleticism, those grubby practices in Third World countries have not gone unnoticed.

Next up, “All utilities companies” at number 8, on account of their high prices and perceived profiteering. But two deserving special mentions here are British Gas – with its conspicuously bad customer service; and BT – with its ineffectual overseas call centres.

Virgin Media is in there at number 8 as well, although I have yet to discover whether this is because we’re all being beastly to Beardie or on account of some graver underlying cause – such as woefully inadequate service.

That leaves us with McDonald’s at number 4 – poor quality food and an inappropriate Olympics sponsorship, apparently.

…And, weighing in at number 3, the nation’s unfavourite retailer – Tesco. Memo to Tesco CEO Phil Clarke: it’s because you’re too big for your boots, despoil our high streets and blackmail your suppliers. No other retailer can do this so successfully, it seems.

  1. Which companies or brands make you feel angry? 
  2. What is it they do to make you feel angry?
Rank Company or brand
1 All banks’, ‘Banks’
2 Barclays
3 Tesco
4 McDonald’s
5 BT
6 British Gas
7 Royal Bank of Scotland’, ‘RBS’
8= Virgin Media
8= Utilities’, ‘Energy companies’
10= Nestlé
10= Coca-Cola

The research was commissioned by Johnny Fearless and carried out by YouGov. Total sample size was 2077 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between August 3-6th 2012. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Johnny Fearless is a Soho start-up agency founded by Paul Domenet and Neil Hughston, whose stock in trade is creating “social crackle” around brand messages. Or so it says in their publicity blurb.


Poor old Diamond Bob – a martyr to Barclays’ brand values

June 28, 2012

BarclaysA lot of people are accusing Barclays Bank and its chief executive Bob Diamond of racketeering. Acting like white-collar gangsters, in other words. They say the bank and its principal directors colluded in serial distortion of the interbank rate, Libor. What this means in plain English is that they beggared us – the saps who are their customers – with artificially inflated interest rates on loans and mortgages  – in order to enrich first themselves, through bigger bonuses, and then their shareholders, through bigger dividends. Barclays has been fined a total of £290m by the regulatory authorities on both sides of the Atlantic. But it’s the thin edge of a very thick financial wedge. Once the lawyers get weaving on behalf of aggrieved customers, who knows where the liability will end up?

Martin Taylor, a former Barclays CEO himself, summed it up best on this morning’s Today Programme. He said that Barclays had engaged in “systematic dishonesty” between the years 2005 and 2009. While he didn’t explicitly link Diamond – who then happened to be head of BarCap, the division most closely tied to the scandal – with the gigantic swindle, he did say that chief executives set the cultural tone of the businesses they run. Implication: Diamond should retire to the discreetest room in his penthouse suite and make good use of a service revolver. Diamond – Taylor implied – may, or may not, have colluded in such corrupt dealing practices; but because they happened on his watch, he was at very least grossly negligent.

Now I know what I’m about to say isn’t going to be popular, but I’ll say it all the same. Was Bob so very wrong in what he did – or rather, for the sake of any legal eagles looking in – er, what he didn’t do? I mean, at least Barclays Bank co-operated with the investigative authorities, whereas other banks did not. Barclays is paying the price of being first to fess up: a media Exocet amidships.

Then again, the bank took not a penny of public money in the wake of the Lehman Bros collapse. All right, it was pretty stupid to allow such an unredacted and inculpatory email trail to get into the hands of the regulators. But at least you won’t hear any trading floor intercepts along the following lines: “Dude, thanks a billion in Treasury credits. I owe you big time. But not as much as I owe the taxpayer. Come over after work and let’s break open the Bollie.”

I’m not sure the same will be said of RBS and Lloyds. Both were big recipients of taxpayers’ bail-outs, and both – along with HSBC, Citigroup, JP Morgan, UBS, Deutsche Bank and others I probably don’t even know of yet – are, so it seems, up to their gills in interest-rate-rigging mire too. Poor old RBS. Talk about reputational damage: it’s not only guilty of systemic incompetence with customers’ direct debits, but of “systematic dishonesty” in charging them higher interest rates as well. Will this publicly-owned company owned by the public ever recover?

But I digress. Bob’s is the head that everyone wants to stick on a pike over Tower Gate. That’s because everything about Bob is Big and Boastful. Biggest salary, biggest bonus, biggest ego. He is, in short, the archetypal arrogant, swaggering, fat cat.

And as such, he has been entirely consistent with Barclays brand values over the years. Do you not remember Barclays brand ambassador Anthony Hopkins telling us how, if you weren’t big, you were nothing in banking circles? You don’t, do you? So, here as an aide-memoire is a superbly-crafted ad by Leagas Delaney, dating from 2000:

Sometimes, you see, advertising really can convey complex, uncomfortable, inner truths – without the client even noticing. Bob did, of course. He’s been a part of Barclays’ cultural furniture since 1996. He took the message very seriously indeed and acted out the part. What a brand martyr the man is!


Sir Shred’s threadbare win in the courts

March 13, 2011

On what spurious legal grounds has Sir Fred Goodwin persuaded some mentally bewildered British judge that he may no longer be referred to as a banker? We may not know, we may not even discuss: such is the all-encompassing gagging power of the superinjunction.

Some say that The News of the World was about to blow the gaffe on his private life. If so, I am greatly surprised that the former financial shredder has a private life worth dissecting, given his celebrated 24/7 dedication to work. I can only imagine that mere sight of the word “banker” attached to his name in the newspapers is enough to provoke a trauma so profound and inconsolable among other members of his family that it may be deemed an invasion of their privacy.

However, I digress. Little remarked so far is Sir Fred’s stupendous contribution to legal history. He is the first non-celebrity (excluding Trafigura, a corporate entity – albeit one of surprising sentience) to be granted such an injunction, which opens the floodgates to all sorts of hitherto unexplored avenues of advantage – some conceivably relevant to the marketing community.

Typically, a superinjunction comes about when a celeb of apparently unimpeachable public deportment (such as Tiger Woods) finds his or her reputation is about to be besmirched by irresponsible journalistic muckracking. The potentially ruinous effect of publication upon sponsorship earnings, combined with the anticipated hurt felt by the celeb’s family on reading the exposé, is often enough to persuade tender-minded judges – Mr Justice Eady prime among them – that the celeb’s inalienable Human Right to privacy is indeed being infringed.

Thanks to Sir Fred, the superinjunction contagion may now spread to all sorts of other commercial activity. Max Mosley could perhaps insist that the word “debauchery” be expunged from any description of his private activities over the past few years, for fear of damaging the reputation of Formula One. Likewise, F1 ringmaster Bernie Ecclestone might exercise a veto over the word “Hitler”.

But these are mere legal foothills, considering the potential for indemnifying careers against all-time marketing disasters.

Imagine how useful a bit of UK juridical tourism might have been to the Ford family if the superinjunction had existed back in 1958, as the Edsel disaster began to shape up.

Robert Goizueta, former chief executive officer of Coca-Cola, could have discovered in the superinjunction a helpful antidote to being hurtfully described as “the author of New Coke.”

And Niall Fitzgerald might have been counting his superinjunction blessings in 1995, when he presided over the introduction of Persil Power. Instead of which, he had to engage in a long and painful public relations battle to rescue his company’s reputation (and his own).

Absurd extrapolation? Well, no more than not being able to call the architect of the RBS/ABN Amro deal a banker.

PS. Are we still allowed to refer to Fred as “Sir”? I understand he was knighted in 2004 for “services to banking”.


Ask not what I can do for my company, ask what my company can do for me

May 13, 2010

Let’s face it, no one ever went into advertising to remain poor: the extravagant severance payments awarded to top executives by compliant remuneration committees in London, Paris and New York are the stuff of legend. But, as RBS’ Fred the Shred discovered, being filthy rich isn’t much fun if you end up a pariah. The context of gain matters.

John Dooner, latterly chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, recently retired from Interpublic Group with a pension of $37.7m. This extraordinarily generous provision was bolstered by payments made during his years as IPG group ceo – a position from which he stepped down in 2003. Had he actually done a good job in either of these roles, no one would have batted an eyelid. As it is, the IPG years were mired in scandal and the normally reliable McCann has been haemorrhaging major accounts. By any standards,  $37.7bn is a handsome reward for failure.

Unlike Dooner, Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Lévy deserves well of his company. He has made it a global force to be reckoned with, while Dooner has presided over decline. And he will duly be compensated  – with a financial package worth, perhaps, £30m when he retires. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that the calculation of this generous severance payment involves factoring in, at the full measure, a phantom bonus payment he never awarded himself last year; in the midst of recession, he had made great play of sacrificing this self-same bonus as a token of socialist “solidarity” with the many staff whom he had had to make redundant or, at least, whose salaries he had slashed.

However, that is no more than a faux pas compared with the predicament John Wren, group ceo of Omnicom, is in. Wren stands accused of profiteering from cheap stock options while, all around him, his agencies withered on the vine and staff were put out on the street to help make corporate ends meet. The accusation comes from a maddened activist shareholder – investment manager David Poppe, of Ruane Cunniff & Goldfarb’s Sequoia Fund, a 1% owner of Omnicom stock. Poppe has sent a circular to other shareholders which alleges that a massive grant of 22 million stock options on March 31 2009, plus another 3.5 million awarded on the last day of 2008, enabled Wren and his senior management team to acquire 8% of the company at bargain basement prices. And there’s more. Poppe reckons it’s part of a pattern of behaviour stretching back a decade. He just stops short of accusing Wren of backdating these options, in order to achieve a favourably low exercise price; which is actually illegal.

The thing about options, of course, is that they are a gamble which can end up being worthless. But Wren, a former accountant, is a wily operator. With the stock market rallying, what was virtually valueless in 2008 has turned into pure gold. The result being that his 2009 annual “compensation”  shot up to $7.9m – compared with $2.9m the year before – according to SEC filings.

Wren should watch out. Fund manager activists have had surprising success in toppling the mighty. Remember David Herro, who was responsible for the nemesis of the Saatchi brothers back in the nineties?


Banking on marketers

November 2, 2009

Neelie KroesThis week, EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes has set in motion profound changes to the UK banking system. As a result of her decree, the big boys – Lloyds Banking Group and RBS – which have been in receipt of so much of our money will be broken up. For much the same reason, the more specialised Northern Rock is being split into a “good” and “bad” bank, with the good part being speedily returned to the private sector.

The net result will be transformation of our high street banks. Three new banks will come on the scene, accounting for about 15% of the market, and they will not be owned by any of the Big Five that currently dominate our system.

That means more competition. But there are other reasons for predicting a better deal for consumers – and better career opportunities for marketers – over the next five years. Shorn of the cartel power that goes with being a part of a global bancassurance operation, retail banks will have to fight harder for their funds. And there’s only one place they’re going to be getting them: from you and me. That means more customer focus, and more scope for marketing ingenuity.

More in my column this week.


%d bloggers like this: