Good Pitch Week: HSBC Global Creative Sharing

Good Pitch Week kicked off yesterday (4th November 2013) with a bang as Andrea Newman, Global Head of Advertising and Marketing Communications at HSBC took to the stage and talked us through her learnings from the bank’s recent global advertising review. Joining her to lead the session and share the agency viewpoint were Magnus Djaba, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and Joe Petyan, Executive Partner of JWT.

The review was driven by HSBC having all their eggs in one very large basket, with JWT. Despite the fact that the review was an exercise in minimising risk and run as a ‘side project’, it is heralded as great example of a ‘best practice’ pitch. After hearing these guys recall their experiences, it’s easy to see why.

Knowledge is Power

To get the best from the review, Andrea felt it was crucial the agencies understand exactly what HSBC stands for as a business so she and two of the global marketing team created a comprehensive briefing document that included details on the company, its values, principles and history. The actual strategic and operational challenges didn’t feature until the 20th page.

Working in Partnership

When it comes to pitching, an agency’s biggest bugbear can be the amount of time and money put into creative work that never sees the light of day. HSBC recognised that truly great creative work can only come from agency and client working together and duly ran the review as ‘no creative’.

Respect, compassion and understanding (features often missing from the pitch process) were key elements of the review. Each agency had regular face time, monthly Q&A sessions, an enforced shutdown over Christmas and plentiful development time. Andrea deliberately subverted the usual master/servant relationship to create a feeling of partnership between agency and client, and such was the focus on working as partners (in a pretty much unheard of move) HSBC invited the shortlisted agencies to choose their own media partners rather than enforcing their own preferences.

Open Relationships

Andrea quickly won over the audience with her openness and candour, sharing the emotional impact of the review:

‘If you have worked with people for a long time, those relationships have to be able to stand up to what you are putting them through - you have a huge responsibility to the team.’

When Saatchi & Saatchi were invited to take part, experience told Magnus that the review could fall into one of two categories. On one hand (and sadly something that happens far too often), the review could have been treated as a transaction, in which case he could expect minimal decision-maker involvement and for his services to be viewed as a commodity. He was pleased to find that the review fell very firmly into the second category and felt like the start of a beautiful relationship.

In establishing effective business relationships, we couldn’t agree more with Magnus’s sentiment that agencies just need to be themselves rather than trying to be ‘perfect’. Both Magnus and Joe found that Andrea’s transparent approach gave them the confidence to be true to themselves and present their agencies ‘warts and all’.

Joe’s presentation highlighted the ‘epic’ nature of the review. Not only did the process last for 5 ½ months but from JWT’s point of view, as the incumbent agency, they stood to lose some or all of an enormous account. Happily they were retained as a lead agency and it’s testament to Andrea’s leadership that the relationships remains strong.

7 Key Insights from the HSBC Review

  1. Focusing on the relationship rather than the work is the best way to select an agency
  2. Openness, honesty and understanding are key to good agency/client relationships
  3. Strong relationships with both sides acting as equal partners deliver the best creative work
  4. Clients warm more quickly to agencies that are true to themselves
  5. Respect and compassion get a better outcome
  6. A ‘no creative’ review doesn’t mean the pitch will be any less expensive, but the work done in its place (research and strategy planning) is likely to be more valuable
  7. The review process can be emotionally taxing for the client, especially if they have a good relationship with a long-term incumbent

Stefan Bradley, Research, Insight and Operations Director at The Art of New Business talks about the first in the series of events happening during The Good Pitch Week.

Further best practice advice and guidance on pitching, and highlights from the Good Pitch Week, is available at

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