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2001 Marketers of the Year: Cathy Bessant

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When Bank of America Corp. Chairman-CEO Ken Lewis began seeking a new top marketer earlier this year, he shunned the route taken by many of his financial colleagues—choosing an ad agency veteran—and instead tapped a rising general business star from within the bank, Cathy Bessant.

What remains to be seen is whether Bessant, who has excelled in joba ranging from corporate and investment banking in the company’s London office to small business banking in the U.S., can maintain the company’s b-to-b momentum as she handles BofA’s $145 million advertising budget.

Bessant, who assumed the corporate marketing executive title last month after a stint as president of Bank of America Florida, is confident that her diverse background will serve her well. "There isn’t an element of our customer base that I haven’t experienced at some point in my career," Bessant said. "I’m looking forward to bringing a diversified perspective to the importance of brand."

One of Bessant’s greatest challenges—and one she is well suited to tackle—is building a brand that resonates not only with consumers, but also with BofA’s commercial, corporate and investment banking clients.

"Brand positioning has to work for all of our audiences," said Bessant, who recently moved from Tampa to near the bank’s Charlotte, N.C., headquarters. "Our investment banking clients want ingenuity brought to them."

That said, it’s no surprise that "Embracing ingenuity" is the theme of the bank’s latest marketing campaign, which is meant to dovetail with the 2002 Olympic games in Salt Lake City, for which BofA is a major corporate sponsor.

Bessant is also planning on extending BofA’s marketing message to the company’s 142,000-strong employee base, perhaps her most difficult—and potentially rewarding—opportunity.

"The biggest component of our brand is what happens when we face clients every day," Bessant said. "We have 116 client contacts going on every second. One of the things I hope to do is extend our notion of brand in each of those moments."

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