UK banks change tactics after collective PR drive fails to boost lending

Britain's biggest banks are set for a change of tactics to target small businesses after efforts to collectively woo the sector have struggled to increase lending volumes.

Santander: has called in Eulogy to launch its SME programme
Santander: has called in Eulogy to launch its SME programme

The British Bankers’ Association co-ordinated the launch of the Business Finance Taskforce a year ago on behalf of the UK’s six largest banks to improve relationships with the UK’s SME sector.

Despite a concerted outreach campaign, supported by Portland, the BBA announced last week that lending volumes continued downwards during the third quarter, with 74 per cent of the sector declining to seek a loan or overdraft during the previous 12 months.

It is understood now that the UK banks are likely to position themselves away from the collective drive to grow SME lending to concentrate on their own tailored offerings and individual campaigns.

Santander, a participant in the taskforce, has this week appointed an external PR agency on a new brief to launch its SME programme and support it for the next two years.

Eulogy will handle a national and media relations campaign to grow awareness of Santander’s Breakthrough SME investment fund, designed to plough £200m into growing UK businesses.

The agency, which picked up the work following a competitive pitch, will also handle publicity around Santander’s new Social Enterprise Development Awards, which reward firms that regenerate their local communities.

It is understood that Barclays also has a business banking brief out to pitch, as the six UK banks all look to increase their lending to UK business as part of the commitment they made by signing up to the Government’s Project Merlin scheme.

Meanwhile, it is understood the banks are to meet in the coming weeks to discuss the future plans and PR requirements of the collective Business Finance Taskforce.

Portland picked up a £200,000 six-month contract via the BBA in February, funded by the banks. That contract was subsequently extended and Portland remains engaged on work for the Taskforce, but the final event of the Better Business Finance roadshow campaign was in Norwich on Tuesday.

A Portland source said: ‘We continue to enjoy working with the BBA and the Taskforce banks in promoting their support for SMEs. We are currently working with them to develop their plans for 2012.’

It is believed that any PR or public affairs support the Taskforce requires in 2012 would be on a significantly reduced budget. It is also thought that a requirement for further agency support would result in a likely pitch process, given the significantly different nature of the brief.

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