MRM has just won one of the coveted Chartered Institute of Public Relations Excellence Awards for 2012 – for ‘financial and investor relations’.
We were recognised for our campaign to launch the John Lewis Partnership retail bond. Obviously, we are thrilled to be recognised in one of the most prestigious awards ceremonies on the calendar – particularly as there was only one category that was specifically for financial services communications. We are also proud to be so positively associated with one of the country’s best-loved brands. So we thought we’d help share our-winning formula by producing a case study.
So, let’s begin with the campaign brief…
In March 2011, the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) issued its first retail loan note – or bond – in a bid to source a new channel of fundraising and build customer relationships. This was unchartered territory – JLP had never raised funds directly from customers – and the initiative was the closest the public had come to owning shares in the business. The bond issue sought to raise £50m and faced some communications challenges.
Firstly, it came at a time when some savers had lost confidence and trust in the financial sector. Second, the personal finance (PF) media had limited exposure to retail loan notes and had focused previously on a number of negatives, deeming them to be ‘risky’ products with ‘unfair’ returns. Finally, the bond was only available to staff members and holders of the company’s Partnership credit card – and it would only be offered until supply ran out. To limit costs, JLP’s marketing strategy hinged on awareness-raising with low-cost online and offline PR.
There was to be no advertising or in-store promotion and only low level direct marketing. MRM’s brief was to run a PR campaign to promote the product and manage customer relations through traditional and digital media, while mitigating against the highlighted challenges and managing potential communications crises as they arose.
- To drive bond sales
- To disseminate key messages related to JLP’s financial credibility and strength
- To seek the support of Independent Financial Advisers (IFAs)
- To manage expectations by ensuring potential applicants knew when the bond was closed
- To minimise the effect of reputational issues and crises.
Strategy and tactics…
Phase One – preparation – was about scenario planning. Messaging about the restrictions was planned for all key media initiatives. A second message was around reassurance in the business’s financial stability. To ensure potential applicants had as much good information as possible, including these messages, a dedicated website was set up – http://www.partnershipbond.com – containing a blog platform so that negative commentary could be tackled instantaneously. A media FAQs sheet was agreed, covering the key messages above. This phase also included media training for JLP’s key spokespeople.
Phase Two – setting the tone – centred on brokering a Mail on Sunday exclusive, enabling significant control over that all-important breaking news piece. In the hours preceding publication, MRM briefed 20 media spokespeople and social media influencers in the national IFA community under embargo.
During Phase Three – launch – on Monday morning, MRM offered the story to national newspaper business sections, many of which published a story the following day. It was also published on news wires, guaranteeing wide regional coverage. MRM also acted as the bond’s press office handling media enquiries. On the digital side, MRM crafted messaging for social networks with links back to the website. A potential crisis was sparked when several commentators took to Twitter to accuse JLP incorrectly of referring to the product as a ‘savings bond’, which would have enjoyed protection under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. This was quickly extinguished with a debunking blog post addressing this low-scale confusion. Over the next six working days an ‘invitation to apply’was emailed to 120,000 staff and Partnership Card holders. An announcement about the bond sale was also included with Partnership Card statements.
Phase Four – follow-up – required a change of focus in the narrative from the business case to the PF product-based story in the midweek and following weekend media. MRM issued a JLP statement on March 18th which was covered widely in the national press when the bond closed and placed stories containing key messaging about its success in the national newspaper business sections.
What were the outputs?
- 240 episodes of media coverage in March 2011, the vast majority of it factual/neutral – simply raising product awareness. This included:
– 23 national newspaper articles
– two national radio broadcasts (both BBC Radio 5 Live business bulletins)
– one national television mention (Sky News’s Jeff Randall Live)
- % of media episodes carrying one or more of the key messages: 94
- % of media carrying two or more of the key messages: 65
- 650 bond mentions, mostly on Twitter, on the sale’s first day.
And the all-important outcomes?
- Target of £50 million sales was reached by March 18th, well ahead of the April 11th planned closing date (spread over 8,628 successful applications)
- 61,966 unique visits to the dedicated bond website between March 6th and April 11th
- More than two-thirds – 44,881 – of the unique visits took place during the 14 days of media activity
- Some positive commentary from our target 20 IFA influencers
- Initiative lauded by commentariat after applications closed.