HSBC Reaches Out Beyond WPP After Eight-Year Relationship

Bank Begins Procurement-Driven Creative, Media Pitch

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Eight years ago, at the end of a long and much-watched process, one of the world's biggest banks, HSBC, consolidated creative advertising, media and direct marketing with a single holding company: WPP.

Now, it's looking elsewhere.

"HSBC has begun a review of its strategic advertising and media partners, which is expected to conclude at the end of the first quarter of 2013," a spokesman for the bank told Ad Age in a statement. "This closed review, in which participation is by invitation only, is not a creative 'beauty parade' and HSBC is not conducting any such pitch review."

The company declined to comment on which agencies are being invited to participate, but potential contenders' credentials will be reviewed ahead of time so presentations of work will not take place during the process. The bank's marketing and procurement departments are expected to be involved. Additionally, HSBC has called upon a management consultancy focused on procurement and cost reduction in the supply chain called Efficio.

Though it's been eight years since the last review, going forward, the bank will undertake this process more frequently. Noted the HSBC spokesman in his statement: "The review will be repeated quadrennially."

That approach could be part of a commitment that HSBC's CEO, Stuart Gulliver, has made to achieve massive cost-reduction targets by cutting jobs and retrenching from retail operations. He hopes to reduce costs by as much as $3.5 billion by the end of next year. As Europe's largest bank, it's also likely under pressure given Eurozone woes.

As HSBC pivoted focus to emerging markets rather than having a massive footprint across all markets, the company's advertising approach is also changing.

In an interview with Marketing Interactive earlier this year, the bank's group head of advertising, Andrea Newman, noted that the tagline "The World's Local Bank" was being dropped from marketing globally. In that interview, Ms. Newman was quoted as saying that HSBC wants to "have a new conversation with our customers and the markets we operate in about the future."

HSBC made the top 100 global marketers list, per the Ad Age DataCenter's most recent report. According to that data, worldwide measured-media spending is about $327 million. However, other spending in unmeasured media may add another $200 million to the account.

While different shops across WPP could potentially be affected by the review, among those that stand to suffer a potentially big loss are lead creative partner JWT, London, and lead media partner Group M.

When asked for comment, WPP referred calls to JWT in London. "We are prouder than ever of our relationship with HSBC," said a JWT London spokeswoman. "The primary objective of this process is to fulfill an audit and governance requirement, and we are confident that we will continue to deliver on this partnership for years to come." A Group M spokesman could not be immediately reached.

The 2004 review, one of the first at the global holding-company level, involved a marathon pitch process in which the three final holding-company contenders, WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom, had to do presentations in 12 cities, starting in Asia then moving to the U.S. and ending in Europe.

When WPP ultimately triumphed that May, the holding company established a team -- which has increasingly become its approach to servicing business -- that drew upon different resources from around the holding company. However, the lead agency appointed to oversee the creative globally was JWT. Other agencies that have contributed include Berlin Cameron and Bates Asia and Group M. Toby Hoare was appointed to have responsibility for all the marketing communications across WPP companies.

Since that time, more and more large global marketers have been consolidating their marketing with a single holding company or reducing partners to two or three key players. In fact, WPP currently has another large bank account in Bank of America, which it won earlier this year after a review and set up a team to serve. It's unknown whether that relationship affected the decision to conduct the HSBC pitch.

It will be interesting to watch if HSBC breaks from the pack and now feels comfortable dismantling its global structure. According to people familiar with the matter, the bank would be open to working with more than one shop for its global ad needs.

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