Chatter about HSBC's global account has dominated adland this week. This is partly because it's big, although no-one seems to know how big. In the past, the bank has spent more than $1 billion a year on advertising. Today, the figure is more likely to be $650 million - still one of the biggest global pitches of the past decade.
The result of the six-month process – which split the account between the incumbent, JWT, Grey and Saatchi & Saatchi – also raised eyebrows. Each of the three networks is claiming victory. JWT says it has retained 70 per cent of the business, including the lead creative. Grey has been named a co-lead agency by HSBC, with extremely lucrative global B2B work. And Saatchis landed some juicy wealth management and sponsorship stuff, as well as a prestigious place on the bank’s roster.
So everyone’s a winner, apparently. But what about HSBC? It is intriguing that Chris Clark, the group head of marketing, has adopted this approach. With the eight-year incumbent JWT owned by WPP, many expected its uber-connected boss Sir Martin Sorrell to "stitch up" a deal with the bank’s leadership.
Many expected WPP's uber-connected boss Sir Martin Sorrell to 'stitch-up' a deal wiht HSBC's leadership
There has also been a trend in recent years for the marketing group to create dedicated "teams" for such clients. And with HSBC seeking consistent global messaging, there would have been logic for the bank to deal with one agency team.
But Clark has taken the opposite approach. Insiders say that, although HSBC was happy with JWT’s "the world’s local bank" positioning and recent TV executions, Clark was "keen to shake things up". While running a relatively small global roster, he is patently seeking to create more competition among HSBC’s creative partners. Certainly, Grey and Saatchis will be plotting a crack at the bank’s lead creative within a couple of years.
Even more intriguingly, HSBC – under fire for ethical transgressions around the world – is taking a values-based approach to advertising, with "courageous integrity" at the heart of its business. Being a bank, it’s easy to be sceptical, but Clark is asking for honest and transparent relationships with his agencies – a positive move. Indeed, looking beyond the post-pitch chatter, we should laud a global brand that invests in strong creative. Moreover, one that awards welcome chunks of business to some great London-based agencies.
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