Money talks: Financial Marketing
A country stereotyped as being “prudent” with its cash, Scotland is perhaps quite rightly renowned for its financial services sector too. But has this specialism rubbed off on the nation’s marketing services industry?
The bespectacled visage of Howard Brown, the singing, dancing bank teller who fronted HBOS’s ‘Extra’ campaign, was an instant hit, whose success continues to be repeated in subseqent musical themed campaigns almost a decade after his first appearance. However, London creative agency DLKW, who were behind the campaign, didn’t anticipate that the Birmingham-based frontman would strike less of a chord with Scottish audiences, and Newhaven was quickly commissioned to give the campaign a profile and personality that was more identifiably Scottish. Newhaven would no doubt argue that they should have been asked to do the UK campaign first, and perhaps let DLKW pick up the southern tab.
A quick glance at the sheer number of Scottish agencies handling creative work for clients in the finacial sector makes it clear that the country is not short of expertise, and perhaps HBOS should have looked to the homefront in the first place before defaulting to London, as many of the largest among them do.
But in Scotland, aside from Newhaven, or Family, who handle the Dunfermline Building Society, there are also The Leith Agency, keeping Standard Life in the public eye, Story, Navigator, Feather Brooksbank, Third Eye and a dozen others who are experienced creating and handling campaigns for the financial sector. For decades, if you wanted a ship built, you came here. If semiconductors were your game, then Scotland was the place. With such a pool undertaking work in this niche area, can Scotland be considered an expert territory in financial marketing?
“The answer is obviously yes,” says Daniel Clare of Open, Glasgow.
Smoke and Mirrors
“That has driven the growth of the marketing services industry in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh. If you look at the top practitioners right across the board in Scotland, every one of them, without exception, has a lot of financial services experience.”
Despite this, as HBOS has shown, the smoke and mirrors mystique of London still lures UK scale – and perhaps more crucially, international – clients to trust their creative needs to London heads, even if their clients are Scottish or have a strong Scottish brand, such as RBS. Something clearly is getting in the way.
“There is still this view that the creativity isn’t good enough in Scotland,” says Clare.
“There is also a view about the depth of strategic planning in Scotland. It behoves agencies to really argue their case. There is a very strong strategic and planning skill base in Scotland, and financial services companies are particularly stretched and need to make every penny count.
“Agencies in Scotland are used to achieving very good measurable and accountable results. And Scottish agents are used to producing very good results with smaller budgets.”
There does appear to be a strong case to suggest that the Scottish financial marketing community is failing to properly market itself. The retention in Scotland of clients such as HBOS and Intelligent Finance – albeit not always on a lead-basis – also gives lie to the perception that the Scottish sector is losing financial services work on a large scale.
“It is a danger to think it has all gone south. There is a lot of work in Scotland. We shouldn’t forget the fact that there is quite a lot of business here, and we need to get more of it,” Clare argues.
“It is a case of agencies saying that they are producing good work, getting results; we are creative and we do have planning skills. We shouldn’t be frightened to get stuck in, although it is not something that is going to be turned round overnight.
“At the moment we are entering tougher times when financial services are going to need to make agencies work very hard. Scotland has a very strong argument to have a better share of the market. We are used to being accountable on tight budgets, and we can get stuck in there.”
Getting stuck in may not be just as easy as it sounds, as Avian, who handle a large chunk of Lloyds’ accounts, new business development manager Paul Sykes explains.
“Very often we just don’t get asked to pitch at these levels because major organisations like RBS are looking for a global supplier,” he says.
“There is no doubt we have the talent in Scotland to deliver, but in terms of delivery we are ignored because they are looking for a one-stop-shop that can execute an advert in the UK, and translate it to San Francisco or Hong Kong and all points in the European Union. Sometimes we are just not considered because there are no agencies in Scotland with that kind of global pulling power. That’s a challenge even London agencies are facing. If they don’t have an office abroad, they are equally challenged by the major networks.”
Geographic constraints have hardly seemed a credible justification for failing to pick up work for the better part of the last ten years, and they seem even less so now. Sykes agrees that this is little more than an excuse, masking the uncomfortable likelihood that Scotland as a creative community, somehow is not able to project its collective ability to financial players at the highest level.
“It is a perception issue. We need to do more to make marketers aware that there is a significant understanding of their issues within the Scottish agency framework,” he says.
“Agencies don’t make enough of their own expertise and creativity. There could be more done to demonstrate sector experience and general creative ability. Whether that is down to the IPA Scotland or down to individual agencies collectively, I don’t know. That would be the next step – to decide where responsibility of action lies, and take it from there.
“The issue that Scottish marketing agencies face is that for Scottish financial companies, their key market is not actually Scotland.
“If you are a major player like Standard Life or RBS, the big markets are the US and even down south or Europe. Once they start thinking like that, they immediately think of Scottish agencies as being parochial. Other arguments wash over them after that. They have already set their sights beyond home shores.”
Over at financial specialists Team Spirit, Kevin Scott argues that the financial marketing sector is still healthy, although he declined to estimate its overall per annum value. And despite some brands taking their budgets out of Scotland, he says there are still good clients who are happy to spend here.
“In the Scottish agencies we tend to service Scottish brands for the domestic market. I don’t think we’re attracting a lot of UK or international business. It is a perception thing which is not easy to break down, but that is not to say we shouldn’t try.”
Scott argues that organisations such as the Scottish Marketing Association or other collectives could improve success in this area by raising awareness of the talent in Scotland to international clients, and selling the expertise in the same way that has worked for tourism.
“There is some leverage here. We do have big financial services brands located in Scotland with international reach. They are working with Scottish agencies. Why are they working with Scottish agencies? I don’t think it is out of any misplaced sense of patriotism or geographical convenience. I believe it is in the quality of the work,” he says.
“Any allies we have in leveraging that and taking it out to the international market would be welcomed. If people like the IPA, the SMA or the DMA can help with that, it would all be to the good.”