CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/IAN SCHOOLAR - NatWest's brand supremo takes on the taxman. Ian Schoolar is switching his attention to the Inland Revenue

For most sane people, the chance of striking up a closer acquaintance with the taxman is something to be feared. For a man with a history of sharp, innovative dealings in the banking world, how much the more so.

For most sane people, the chance of striking up a closer acquaintance with the taxman is something to be feared. For a man with a history of sharp, innovative dealings in the banking world, how much the more so.

Yet this is precisely the move that Ian Schoolar, the head of brand communications at NatWest Bank over a tumultuous last decade, is now proposing.

He is set to take on the new role of director of marketing and communications at the Inland Revenue at the beginning of next year, and so end an association with NatWest that began in earnest back in 1991, but was first fostered four years before that when he worked on the account at the bank's then branding agency FCB.

His departure coincides with the appearance of cracks in the carefully planned centralised advertising policy that he introduced two years ago.

In 1998, he appointed TBWA/London to handle a centralised pounds 50 million through-the-line account that historically had been split between at least five agencies.

He spoke then of the need for consistency in the marketing proposition.

Indeed, one of his first acts at the bank was to replace the 80 different pieces of corporate literature on display in the branches to just 12.

But much has changed in the intervening period. Since the Royal Bank of Scotland acquired NatWest in March this year (amid its fierce protestations that it was determined to maintain two separate banking brands), Schoolar's fiercely centralised ad approach has been somewhat diluted with the appearance of M&C Saatchi on NatWest's advertising roster.

So, does M&C Saatchi's 'another way' TV campaign signal at least the beginning of the end of Schoolar's drive to centralisation?

'I remain convinced that from the customer's point of view, a consistency of brand message is desirable,' he says. 'But when we brought in M&C Saatchi, there was a strong rationale behind it.

'RBS wanted to demonstrate that it was taking steps to revitalise NatWest. It was stopping branch closures, it was keeping branch managers in place for four years and so on. It was making real counter-intuitive changes to banking practices. So we went outside the centralised agency to mark, if you like, the cataclysmic nature of the change caused by this extraordinary event. I still believe in convergence, though, and I still think that in all probability we at NatWest will return to one agency.'

Certainly, Schoolar has had more than enough experience on both the client and agency side to have developed strong views on the best way of arranging the client/agency dynamic.

His adherence to systems and templates might mark him out as the typical client control freak, were it not for the fact that those he has worked with all agree that it is really fostering creativity which makes him tick.

He might have put in place computer systems at NatWest that govern everything from colours and typefaces to logo size and paper, but he also served at CDP in its glory years of the 70s, oversaw the finest creative years at Saatchi & Saatchi's then Scottish offshoot Hall's and persuaded David Hockney to do his first advertising work in an ad for Volvo at TBWA. And, after all, his first job in advertising was working at J. Walter Thompson on Guinness.

'He's a very quiet man and can seem very self-effacing, but he genuinely believes that creativity is a collaborative process between agency and client. Between one agency and one client ideally, so that the message is consistent. He knows what he wants and cares deeply about quality advertising,' TBWA's creative director, Trevor Beattie, says.

'But because he is so quiet and pleasant, it always seems like a surprise to people that he gets such radical and creative work.'

Radical and creative are not words that are generally applied to the Inland Revenue, but, in fact, there are some similarities. What Schoolar's prospective employers share with NatWest's new bosses is a genuine desire to overhaul the relationship that the company has with its customers.

For the Inland Revenue, the principal challenge is in turning a bureaucratic monster into a service brand, while its chief opportunities lie, as in banking, with the electronic media.

Beyond reiterating a predilection for a consistent centralised brand message and pointing to the opportunities offered by types of community sponsorship, Schoolar says that he will start at the Inland Revenue with a blank canvas. It won't, in fact, even be his first experience of the public sector - he helped steer National Power towards privatisation and was unapologetically responsible for the ubiquitous Peter Purvis 'let me enlighten you' break bumpers that ran throughout the coverage of the Italia 90 World Cup.

'Yes,' Schoolar laughs, 'and despite those, I do still claim to value creativity very highly. They might have annoyed some people but they were important brand-building tools and left a strong brand legacy for the privatised group.'

What sort of legacy Schoolar's decade at NatWest will produce is less certain. Beattie admits he was 'surprised' by news of Schoolar's imminent departure before stressing TBWA's closeness to the marketing team at the bank.

'Of course, people start speculating if a client moves,' Beattie says.

'But for me, Ian has shown with his integrity and patience how a client can be such an important part of the creative process. It's a really healthy attitude that I think has brought NatWest some great work over the years, and I think is going to completely overhaul the way the Inland Revenue goes about its marketing.'

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