PR Team: In-house with consultancy support on broadcasting from Bulletin
Campaign: Prudential’s launch into banking
Timescale: 25 September, 1996 to 1 October and ongoing
Cost: pounds 25,000 plus pounds 1.5m poster campaign
With banks eroding the life insurance market, it made sense for the
Prudential, the UK’s largest life insurer, to fight back, offering
mortgages and deposit accounts so it could hang on to some of the pounds
1.4 billion which matures in its insurance policies each year. The new
bank opened on 1 October and will operate over the telephone and through
the Prudential’s 6,000-strong direct sales force.
The Prudential wanted to tell its 6 million customers, mostly working
class Cs and Ds, that it was going into banking. This information was
not new, since the intention had been announced last year, but the
details and launch required publicity.
The Pru wanted to emphasise its consumer friendliness, pointing out that
there were no hidden charges, no jargon and guaranteed competitive
interest rates. To the consumer press they wanted to stress choice and
service, to the City, the soundness of the business venture.
As a conservative organisation, the Pru wanted to avoid Branson-style
razzmatazz and promote its combination of dynamism and traditionalism.
‘We didn’t want to distract from the important issue with a circus,’
says senior press officer Kevin Russell.
Instead he opted for a no-frills press conference led by Michael Harris,
head of the Pru’s banking operation and chief executive of Prudential
UK, Jim Sutcliffe. A photo call with the executives beside the Pru’s
bank vault at its imposing Gothic headquarters in Holborn provided
images which emphasised the Pru’s longevity and solidity.
The team gave phone briefings to personal finance journalists on every
national newspaper and targeted broadcasts, including Today, Newsnight
and consumer programmes across the networks. Stories were planted the
day before the 25 September press conference in papers aimed at its core
market, such as the Daily Mail and Evening Standard. A launch for local
press and dignitaries was held on 26 September in the West Midlands to
highlight local employment prospects (about 700 jobs) provided by the
new service centre in Dudley.
With 40 journalists plus half a dozen broadcasters attending the press
conference, there was blanket coverage of the event, proving that you
don’t have to be gimmicky to run a successful launch.
Broadcast news carriers from Reuters, Bloomberg and BBC Economics, to
the Today programme and the Big Breakfast ran interviews, notching up a
total of 52 minutes of air time in 37 national and regional radio
broadcasts, and one hour, 21 minutes of television.
A conservative launch in terms of cost which made the most of in-house
resources. As intended, the team avoided over-hyping the service and
flooding the newly opened service centre.
Most coverage reflected the Pru’s bullish tone, but the more analytical
Sunday papers were not so flattering. The Independent on Sunday
criticised unimpressive interest rates, while the Express said the Pru
claimed to have declared all-out war on the banks, but came out fighting
with a water pistol.