With 70 per cent of the current account market dominated by the so-called Big Four - Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds TSB and NatWest/RBS - Alliance & Leicester set out to launch a PR campaign to win customers. The challenge A&L faced was overcoming the public perception that switching accounts is complicated.
A&L hired Lansons Communications to develop the campaign. The agency brought in independent researchers BMRB International to analyse the likelihood of consumers switching everything from their jobs to their money habits and that identified a daunting consumer PR task. The 'national switchers' research found that consumers are less likely to switch current accounts than anything else - including their partners.
To highlight the benefits of A&L's Premier Current Account against the Big Four. To dispel the myth that switching bank accounts is complicated and to drive people to take up accounts with A&L.
Strategy and Plan
In the absence of significant advertising or marketing activity, the PR campaign was the sole marketing force. The majority of the campaign was to be focused in the first half of the year. A&L set Lansons quarterly minimum and optimum targets for activity levels, media coverage and messages conveyed.
The campaign targeted potential switchers, specifically in the 25 to 44 age group.
In the first stage of the PR push, Lansons set out to build a hard-hitting media campaign against the Big Four. This targeted personal finance sections of national and regional newspapers, including The Times, the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror.
The PR team highlighted issues that would provoke consumer concern, such as '30 million customers lose £123m a year in poor credit interest and high overdraft rates with the Big Four', 'Big Four customers in the dark over interest rates', and 'Big Four celebrate own jubilee of poor deals'. A&L communicated its message through 28 media briefings and 34 national and regional press releases.
The series of negative media stories about the Big Four was complemented by positive initiatives to encourage consumers to switch to A&L.
A 'spring clean your finances and switch to a better current account' branded postcard, along with an oversized Easter egg filled with goodies, was sent to targeted media to highlight the benefits of the Premier Current Account.
To create further news interest and emphasise consumer apathy, Lansons released the 'national switchers' research to personal finance news desks across the country.
Then, to capitalise on the timely World Cup frenzy, a handheld TV was sent to journalists, so they could watch the daytime matches at work.
On the screen, an A&L branded transparency read 'Switch to a better current account'.
Trivia linking A&L to football was sent along with the TVs, including a line stating that apathy to switching current accounts was so high, more Scots would be supporting their old adversary England in the World Cup than switching bank accounts.
A regional radio day was held to incorporate the broadcast media into the campaign. To generate more in-depth interviews, a leading psychologist was used to provide human interest angles on consumers' attitudes to switching.
To combat consumer apathy and ease customer's concern that switching accounts is complicated, Lansons commissioned a journalist to produce a step-by-step 'switching fact sheet', which was promoted through national, regional and online media.
Customer endorsement was instrumental in encouraging others to switch.
So, each month of the campaign, A&L released a case study to key media about customers that had significantly benefited from making the switch.
Measurement and Evaluation
According to an analysis by evaluation agency Media Measurement, A&L received 873 mentions in the core print media, four times as many as any of the Big Four banks in the sample. Eighty-six per cent of A&L's mentions were beneficial, 14 per cent were factual and none were negative. On the other hand, of the Big Four's mentions, only six per cent were beneficial, 26 per cent were factual and 68 per cent were negative.
The print campaign created 154 million opportunities for A&L to get its message out, and the broadcast campaign reached an additional 13 million people.
Following the campaign, A&L experienced a 30 per cent jump in new accounts.
The 'switching fact sheet' alone generated interest from 15,000 consumers, who called a freephone number or logged on to A&L's website to request a copy.
Daily Mail reporter Justin Harper said the campaign was well executed: 'You couldn't forget about it, there was always something there.'
He said it was newsworthy because it was the first time a bank came out and questioned the Big Four. 'They kicked off a banking war. They were challenging the Big Four banks and creating competition,' he added.
Paul Farrow, who covered the story for The Sunday Telegraph, agreed the campaign effectively raised awareness of the possible value in switching accounts. 'Two years ago, switching bank accounts wasn't a major issue, but they made a lot of noise about it and brought the issue to the fore,' he said.