CAMPAIGNS: HSBC runs cabbie contest to hail its knowledge of NYC

PR Team: HSBC Bank USA (New York), Renegade Marketing Group (New York), and M. Booth & Associates (New York) Campaign: Search for New York's Most Knowledgeable Cabbie Time Frame: February to April 2003 Budget: $65,000

PR Team: HSBC Bank USA (New York), Renegade Marketing Group (New York), and M. Booth & Associates (New York) Campaign: Search for New York's Most Knowledgeable Cabbie Time Frame: February to April 2003 Budget: $65,000

With several newcomers, New York's retail banking market has become crowded. HSBC Bank USA had research showing New Yorkers viewed it as an international bank. That wasn't good, especially because its slogan is "the world's local bank." HSBC had to show New Yorkers - always a tough audience - that it knows them and their city. "We pride ourselves on our local knowledge," says Pamela Plehn, group public affairs VP. "We wanted to speak to that." Strategy The bank came up with a quintessential New York symbol: the checker cab. The plan was to create the HSBC BankCab, a mint-condition, vintage vehicle that would offer New Yorkers something they insist you can't get: a free ride. Renegade Marketing Group hired PR firm M. Booth & Associates to promote the project. They decided a human element would help draw the media. Tactics The team recommended conducting a citywide search for New York's most knowledgeable cabbie. "We thought it would be a great New York media story," explains Julie Masow, VP at M. Booth. To announce the search, M. Booth placed ads in Backstage and Variety, and plastered cabbie hangouts such as diners with flyers, in addition to putting out a press release. More than 200 cabbies applied for the job. After screening them based on personality and knowledge of New York, the field was narrowed down to six finalists to compete in a game-show-like contest. The showdown was held May 14 at Ellen's Stardust Diner, whose retro, neon facade went well with the checker cab. For star power, Karen Duffy, Revlon model and actress, emceed. The six finalists were tested on their knowledge of New York City traffic regulations, food, tourist destinations, activities, movies, sports teams, and other trivia. Sample question: "What is the name of the stretch of Broadway where New York hosts its ticker-tape parades?" Answer: Canyon of Heroes. The winner was Johnnie Morello, Queens resident (but non-native New Yorker) and a part-time actor, who has driven a taxi off and on for over 20 years. "He knew everything there was to know about New York, and he has an infectious, fun personality," says Masow. Now Morello has a new job: The HSBC BankCabbie cruises Manhattan giving free rides to anywhere in the borough to anyone who can show an HSBC ATM card, check book, or bank statement. He also drives non-customers to any HSBC branch. "This is the best job," Morello says. "Everybody should have it. A lot of the talk [with passengers] is about what a great idea this is, and it's not prompted by me. It just elicits so many smiles and so many thumbs-up." The HSBC BankCab, painted red and white, is heavily branded (its website is, and bank branches gave out key chains with details about it. HSBC and Renegade are also developing four neighborhood guides to restaurants and stores. Results The release announcing the contest got 3.67 million impressions, including stories on WNWY-TV Fox News at Ten and 1010 WINS, as well as in Crain's New York Business and Taxi Insider. AP ran a piece that was picked up by almost 40 websites. The contest drew 13 media outlets to cover the event. News segments appeared on Fox 5, NY1, 1010 WINS, WCBS-AM, and WWOR-AM. Morello conducted a live, in-studio interview on WNBC's Weekend Today in New York. The story also generated two New York Daily News articles, including a half-page piece with a photo of Morello driving the HSBC BankCab. Future Morello will drive through December. Meanwhile, Plehn says HSBC is looking at programs it can do in other cities to demonstrate its local knowledge.

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