FINANCE: VILLAGE LIFE - TBWA's 'Village' concept won NatWest's pounds 50m account last year. Meg Carter reports on a unique work environment

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.

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.'

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