By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

February 25, 2019 | 7 min read

TSB launched an in-house content studio with the help of Oliver Agency. The Drum catches up Keith Gulliver, head of marketing transformation, social media and content, to find out how it's performing six-months in.

Less than six-months after launching its own content agency, TSB is enjoying the fruits of its experiment in the way of multimillion-pound savings and a revived marketing team with a ‘publisher’ mindset. The question it’s now asking – what else can we do ourselves?

TSB launched Studio 1810 (a homage to the year the Trustee Savings Bank was founded) shortly after the arrival of Keith Gulliver in October 2018. Gulliver was hired by chief marketing officer Pete Markey – a long-time colleague having also worked at car insurer RSA and the Post Office together – as head of marketing transformation, social media and content with the specific remit of internalising its content production.

“When I joined, I had a bigger, strategical, question around how we structure the team as we're shifting budgets and strategies into slightly different areas,” recalls Gulliver.

“That opened up the conversation about what we do with agencies if we want to be more efficient, faster, and get into the world of content more seriously.”

Enter Oliver Agency. The group has made a name for itself as the agency that will help advertisers set up and then run an internal shop; be it advertising, media, production or, in TSB's case, content and social. It serves up a team of its own staffers to sit alongside the client’s and help with briefs that would historically have been syphoned to a third-party.

Opening Studio 1810

In the case of TSB, Studio 1810 is made up for 12 people split evenly between Oliver and TSB’s own staffers. When bringing in new faces, Oliver assesses the talent that TSB already has and then draws up a shortlist of people it could introduce into the team before Gulliver then “interviews” to check they’ll be a good fit.

What Oliver quickly delivered was a roster of talent that TSB might never have been exposed to through its normal HR-led recruitment processes, says Gulliver. It’s attracted everyone from a former South American news correspondent to people that have spent their careers avoiding big banks in the fintech sector. They are now working on everything from internal assets to campaigns for its Pride of Britain sponsorship.

It is currently based in a WeWork in East London to “give it time to breath” though the plan is for it to soon move back into the bank’s St Paul’s headquarters.

The combined unit has quickly made an impact, with Gulliver revealing that multimillion-pound savings have now been factored into its marketing budgets for the coming year.

It has been so successful, he claims, the business is now looking at what else it can in-house, saying taking planning’ out of its media agency (leaving it only to manage buying) might be a logical next step.

Gulliver came from Specsavers, a brand which does the vast majority of its advertising itself. “I was managing a media pitch for them and I looked at having media people, the strategists, sit with creatives. So, in-housing the strategy but leaving the actual buying outside,” he explains.

This model might be the future of Studio1810. “That’s something we’ll look at in the future - more connection between creative and media has got to be the good thing for big ideas and delivery. That's something I wouldn't shy away from and we're talking to our current media agencies about it. I want their views and input.”

Gulliver’s curiosity about where to go next comes in tandem with Oliver’s acquisition by You & Mr Jones – the holding group owned David Jones. Jones has already met with the brand’s marketing team for some early discussions about how TSB might tap into everything from content platform MoFilm to influencer agency Amplify.

“I come at this with a genuine open-mindedness to get to the right marketing operating model for TSB. I don't close my mind on anything. The news on You & Mr Jones was brilliant because, out of everyone that could have had a stake, it is forward thinking and disruptive,” says Gulliver.

“I’m fascinated to see what that pipeline creates for us. I don't see any limitations.”

The Challenges

The transition, though, has not been without some issues. Most were expected; Gulliver knows – having worked with Oliver previously – that it’s not a plug-in and play model so the client must be committed and be prepared for “bit of internal disruption".

For TSB, there have been three pain points that it’s worked through. Firstly, setting clear boundaries for the agency and the people within it.

“Unless you are clear on peoples’ roles, and the way in which we work - and how that works within the broader marketing team - you get people treading on toes,” he says.

There was also the tendency for the agency to act both as client and supplier, causing confusion and outputs that weren’t necessarily agreed at a higher level. It’s had to be clear with the Studio 1810 team that TSB has a marketing function and that acts the client and works with other internal stakeholders. The agency’s job is to respond to the needs of that and not do everything itself.

This is also true of the hierarchy when it comes to its external creative agency, Joint. When it’s a big brand campaign, Joint takes the lead and the studio is subservient to that.

“Where [Studio 1810] brings value is the efficiencies and the cost of production, speed of production, and some stuff our lead agency just shouldn't be doing anyway,” says Gulliver.

“But equally, to flip that round. when it's a content-driven campaign, it starts with the Studio and the other agencies are subservient to that. It’s about being clear and transparent.”

Finally, Gulliver says, the big risk of in-housing is that “suddenly all of the quality control processes that you have with an agency go out the door.”

“By the nature of the success of the work we created there's this massive appetite in the business - success breeds demand for more – so we need to have the processes and rigour to keep the work good. That's the bit we're managing but the demand will be a challenge”

What this means for the agencies It still works with is evolving. Alongside Joint as its lead creative shop is Dentsu Aegis Network which handles media.

“I'd be lying to say that when a client starts on this journey there wouldn't be concerns with the agency roster. We're very open and transparent with all of our suppliers and they are well aware this is going on,” he adds.

“Ultimately – the client is the customer and [agencies] have to adapt to meet the customers' needs. It's interesting that it's not done more. Though a holding groups say they have a hyper-bundled offering and can create a customised team, in reality they have different P&Ls and it causes conflict and it's not as slick as it should be.

“If I was sitting in a traditional agency looking at Oliver I would think about how to better adapt to the needs to clients. We're under pressure in terms of the changing landscape and requirement to produce stuff that's faster and cheaper - agencies need to embrace that, better understand it and find solutions against it.”

Oliver's UK chief executive Sharon Whale will be speaking at The Drum's Agency Acceleration conference in March. You can find out more about it here.

Marketing TSB

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