NatWest is banking on a significant return from its radical new
approach to marketing communications. Last year the bank moved all of
its above- and below-the-line business into TBWA GGT Simons Palmer. Six
months on, the first creative work developed under the new arrangement
is about to break.
When TBWA picked up the business last June, attention focused on two
things: the size of the account and the agency's planned approach.
At pounds 50 million for advertising alone, it was one of the largest
accounts ever to have moved in the UK. And TBWA's pledge to handle the
entire business from a unit called the 'NatWest Village' - a 'home from
home' for NatWest staff in the agency's West End premises - intrigued
The NatWest Village concept was developed jointly by GGT and GGT Direct.
Although GGT merged with TBWA during the pitch, it claims that the only
impact this had was to extend the resources from which the winning
account team could draw.
'The brief was certainly unusual - primarily it was about how we would
run the business in a way that would make it more likely NatWest could
build a single, unified brand,' says Peter Jones, one of four heads
(known as 'managing agents') running NatWest's business at TBWA.
NatWest's business is divided by product category into six core business
divisions, each with their own managing director, marketing director and
marketing team. For many years, the bank had worked with a number of
different agencies, each appointed by different product groups.
'Our brief was to set up the wherewithal to enable them, firstly, to
each focus on their own patch and, secondly, to all focus on a unified,
umbrella brand,' Jones explains. Fellow managing agent, Penny Reid,
adds: 'It's more than about integrating above- and below-the-line, it's
about integration across each of NatWest's different product
The NatWest Village is in a self-contained area within the old TBWA
International offices on Dean Street. There are 30 people working on the
account full-time and a further 50 involved on an ad hoc basis. None of
the senior staff directly involved in managing the business work on any
other TBWA accounts.
The Village comprises a suite of bleached wood and pastel shaded meeting
rooms and an open-plan area, known as 'the trading floor', that houses
all the account planners and handlers working on NatWest products.
Access is to authorised personnel only and enforced by an entry card
There were three reasons for this approach - to foster team spirit, to
create a single, branded environment and for security, Jones explains.
'It is, in fact, a very simple concept,' he claims, pointing to an
'organogram' charting the structure of the agency's NatWest team.
The Village team is divided into four core product groups to service
NatWest across its six business divisions and, of course, its umbrella
brand. One team focuses on overall branding, a second on cards and
mortgages, a third on retail banking (including current accounts and
small businesses) and a fourth on life, investments and insurance.
Strict timetabling of agency/agency and client/agency meetings is
essential to make the process work.
'For the pitch, we put together a complex meetings matrix - a formal set
of procedures and meetings for the exchange of information,' Jones
Integral to this are Friday morning status meetings where a briefing on
overall progress, attended by traffic and creative staff, is followed by
meetings between managing agents and group heads.
The idea is to ensure everyone knows what everyone else is doing and
that all staff understand current priorities and longer-term goals.
'There are no turf wars - you face enough barriers on a daily working
basis as it is,' Reid insists.
Also critical is the direct and regular involvement of NatWest's own
personnel, many of whom now use the Village for their meetings. This
brings the agency closer to its client and improves agency staff's
knowledge of NatWest products.
Setting up the right systems has also been important and, from February,
all Village personnel will be directly linked into NatWest via an
intranet, enabling all briefs and ideas to be exchanged
The Village's first ads - an extension of earlier campaigns focusing on
current accounts, investments and house buying - break on 1 February.
New creative work will coincide with the launch of NatWest's new
branding later this year.
'The deal always was that there would be no new creative executions
until early 1999,' Jones says.
Reid adds that strategic thinking has already been helped by the Village
approach. Different product divisions within the bank are sharing and
exchanging promotional ideas for the first time, she claims.
A combined travel and insurance products promotion is in
The spring home-buyers push will involve an integrated mortgages and
insurance products campaign.
'We are also building lots of customer information. To date, they
haven't had depth of planning. Now we are building information on how
customers use and see the bank,' Reid says.
'Under the old approach, brand agencies and those handling other aspects
of a client's business have rarely shown commitment to each other. If
both sides are set up to focus on the brand, it becomes a 1+1=3
situation,' Jones observes.
'NatWest is now taking the issue of branding to the heart of its
business - it is taking branding very seriously indeed.'