NCA and Lloyds Banking Group On Trust, Control And The Best Thing About Working Together
In a new series, we shine a light on enduring brand and agency relationships. First up is LBG's Richard Warren and New Commercial Arts' James Murphy
31 March 2022
Jaws dropped in 2020 when Lloyds Banking Group shifted its Halifax account out of adam&eveDDB and into New Commercial Arts - the then two-week old start-up led by founders of adam&eve - without a formal pitch. It was a sharp reminder that there’s no room for sentimentality in business.
But more importantly still, it showed the power of trusted and enduring relationships – based on mutual respect – between marketer and agency. Catherine Kehoe, the chief customer officer at LBG, had worked with NCA’s James Murphy and David Golding since they had handled the account at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. The duo then snared the business for their start-up Adam&Eve, which became a&eDDB. In short, Murphy and Golding are steeped in the business.
In fact, so strong is the bond of trust and respect that Kehoe and LBG's director of marketing Richard Warren were determined Halifax would be NCA’s founding client when Murphy and Golding broke away from a&eDDB to launch their new agency.
Kehoe rang Murphy at 7.30am on the morning that his non-compete ended. She gave him two weeks to respond to a brief for the brand, which he did so successfully. The business was now theirs.
Warren knows a thing or two about the account too. He worked on it at Delaney Lund Knox Warren (later DLKW Lowe, and now MullenLowe) over a decade ago, and went on to run WPP's dedicated LBG agency, Greenhouse.
Sitting here together in LBG’s headquarters in the City, Warren and Murphy appear to share a professional and respectful – rather than affectionate – relationship. The pair of course sparred in the past when Warren was an advertising rival, and it’s clear that now he's client-side Warren is unlikely to be susceptible to agency bullshit or schmoozing, even from NCA’s charmer-in-chief James Murphy.
Warren and Murphy on their working relationship
And Warren is clear that the agency switch was also driven by the fact that the Halifax brand needed to stand for something new. "I think the Halifax brand at the time wasn't in as strong state as Lloyds. We were very comfortable with a&eDDB on Lloyds but we thought Halifax needed something more wholesale," he explains. “The idea for NCA was about this fusion of comms and customer experience, and we thought 'that is what Halifax requires'.”
Customer experience is at the heart of NCA’s offering, as it seeks to break the traditional agency mould. Rob Curran, the former chief experience officer at Wunderman, is a co-founder at NCA and he had impressed Warren in a previous CRM pitch.
Talking of NCA's response to the brief, Murphy says: “The angle that we came out with was that the absolute key to the bank’s future health and prosperity was with deepening relationships with customers and very much putting existing customers first. We felt that we could come up with a solution that wasn't just a comms plan - it was actually about how the bank worked with customers in their everyday lives.”
He describes the solution as something that is both emotionally compelling and physically compelling, that stretches beyond a TV ad to encompass the website, the in-branch experience and all customer touchpoints. The agency describes it as a brand platform.
The result was “It’s a people thing”, an emotional proposition grounded in the fact that Halifax still has a sizeable footprint of branches when many of its rivals have been closing theirs; such banks are cornerstones of their local communities and not the low-interest category that you might otherwise think.
It seems to have paid off too - according to Warren the bank’s regular measurement of brand sentiment and customer experience levels have shot up since the “It’s a people thing” campaign launched.
So Halifax got a new approach that is paying, erm, dividends. But for NCA the win was undoubtedly significant too. “It's done two things - it's provided us with a really good bedrock in terms of having a large busy client where we can have a certain level of staffing and a certain security of income, which we don't take it for granted," Murphy is quick to point out. "But it proved we could come out of the starting gate and begin with a big blue chip client. And secondly, it's allowed us to exercise the business model from day one.”
From the brand's perspective, the change also made sense; with a portfolio of brands, LBG needs to ensure that they are all differentiated. So Lloyds, which remains at adam&eveDDB and is synonymous with the black horse brand icon, is not as “down to earth” as Halifax. Meanwhile Halifax talks to its customers as equals and tries to demystify banking by being rooted in what its staff think and feel about working for it.
Halifax has a long and distinguished history of homespun, big-hearted advertising, from the “A little extra help” in the 80s and 90s, to the DLKW-created “Who gives you extra” in the 2000s. Halifax jungles from the past are still so familiar.
In that way, the new work draws on the heritage of previous campaigns, even though a catchy jingle is (sadly) lacking.
In terms of Warren and Murphy’s professional relationship, Warren says that he was clear from day one that the reason NCA was appointed was because he would want to work on a daily basis with James and David Golding. “Obviously I've been around the block. I'm long in the tooth and still doing the work myself - and I wouldn't want to be in a situation where I wasn't doing the work. And I think James and David had come to the same conclusion themselves from adam&eve, which is why they wanted to go again.
“My experience both inside agencies and as a client is that talent is very unevenly distributed, even within great agencies. And so I think as a client you've got to be incredibly prescriptive as to who you want to work on the account. James and David are there in the contract with a particular percentage of their time, and you know that's incredibly important to us.”
In short, pick the people you know you can trust and work with them. A bit like choosing a bank I guess.