Under The Spotlight With Chris Pitt Review

Charlie Crawford, Managing Director, Frame Media

Under The Spotlight is a brand new series of events where industry peers get to hear about the experiences and approaches of leaders of the marketing world.  The atmosphere was relaxed and informal which was just as well as there were some weighty topics explored including diversity, bullying in the workplace and empowerment.

The theme of the day was Bravery and under the spotlight was Chris Pitt, Chief Marketing Officer of HSBC UK. A man who was keen to stress was “average in every way” but his achievements and character were anything but “average”.

So, how do you stand out in a low-interest market competing against advertisers with very deep pockets where “beige” advertising is the default product of a risk-averse culture? Chris talked with sincere candour and humility about how he managed to take HSBC’s marketing efforts from the land of the beige to a much braver place.

He took us through his journey to delivering the multi-award winning “We Are Not An Island” campaign. That journey was filled with brave decisions (although Chris was far too humble to label it bravery) with some of the highlights being: instructing his creative agency to create a campaign that would get him fired; putting the UK’s multi-cultural heritage at the heart of HSBC UK’s message during the “Brexit” years; taking TFL to court for banning their ads as “political” for showing the numbers of homeless currently in London Boroughs; but it all started by standing up to an abusive boss.

It was fascinating, humorous and inspiring.


So what were my key takeouts from Chris’s story?

  • A positive culture is not just a nice thing to encourage, it can have tangible business benefits –staff churn at HSBC has dropped to next to nothing and the creativity of his team has sky-rocketed.
  • Anchoring your brand message to authenticity is the only way to successfully deliver a purpose focussed campaign – and this too can have business benefits. HSBC’s acquisition costs halved in year 2 of their “We Are Not An Island” campaign and they moved to #2 Banking Brand despite only ranking 7th in spend.
  • Pick your battles carefully. If you can’t win a battle, pick one that you can – Chris lobbied the CEO for sign off on the campaign.
  • Talk to stakeholders in a language they understand – talk numbers to commercial people, not brand.
  • Don’t overstate your function until you have built the credibility to push your agenda – “We Are Not An Island” delivered the numbers which paved the way for bolder choices.
  • But most importantly be brave and have the courage of your convictions – without being an asshole!

Right, I’m off sky-diving….