How times have changed. Here’s a peep into the olden days of the interweb, a time when online banking was in its infancy and I was rash enough to accept crazy direct marketing contracts in The City. Now I know better!
Old-school marketing nightmares from the year 2000
In the year 2000, I was working as a direct marketing consultant on a contract basis. And it was a killer. Take Evolve, the online bank that never evolved, and the budget-busting NUIF print project that almost drove me to the edge of madness.
I was involved with the Centrica-Lloyds TSB Evolvebank project, a new online banking facility designed to provide financial services over the phone and internet, with plans to reach two million customers by 2005. At the time the value of online commerce wasn’t fully appreciated. In fact it was still mostly virgin territory.
It was a rocky time for internet-based financial services. The Prudential-owned online bank Egg lost £115m in the first nine months of the same year despite having 1.2 million customers, and experimentation was still very much the name of the game. Against this volatile new electronic banking landscape, the battle lines were drawn. Lloyds TSB employed a bunch of high-flying consultants across all sorts of disciplines, from IT to web design, PR and DM. And the ensuing chaos was quite something to see.
I was initially tasked with getting a suitable creative agency on board, so I drew up a shortlist, briefed them and oversaw the pitches. Nightmare. As an insider I knew fine well Evolvebank wasn’t going anywhere. Nobody seemed to be in charge. The bank’s City offices were thick with marketers of every description, everyone battling for supremacy. There was no focus, no time to think things through, no solid plans, at least not as far as I could see. Just one big, blurry rush job.
Ultimately one of the senior consultants asked me to take over the PR side of things, at which point I bailed. I was a Direct Marketing person, not a PR person. They are completely different animals. It was offensive on so many levels to assume they were interchangeable.
As I expected, and as far as I can tell, Evolvebank never came to fruition. I still feel guilty about wasting those agencies’ time. Please accept my apologies, Drayton Bird et al!
Norwich Union Investment Fund nightmares
My next direct marketing contract was with the investment arm of insurer Norwich Union, now Aviva. It was chaos too. They wanted to launch freshly-branded marketing collateral, including a rather gorgeous yet stupidly expensive-to-print brochure with a die-cut of the City skyline. Simple, right? Sadly not.
I’d send the brochure copy off to multiple different individuals and departments, including individual fund managers, actuaries, compliance people and legal departments. It would come back transformed into gobbledegook, legalese on speed. I’d get the amends done and send it off for another round of approvals, only to get another tranche of amends. And so on, ad nauseum.
Once the copy was set the whole process started again. Yet more changes to artwork that should have been signed off weeks beforehand at copy stage. It was soul destroying, and it had very little to do with marketing. Again, I bailed in a state of exhaustion, exasperated beyond all reason. I believe they eventually got the dratted thing printed but people were still making changes off the proof, a cardinal marketing sin. And I bet it ended up complete nonsense, a prime piece of non-communication.
They were miserable times, and I rarely work with financial services clients to this day. Twice bitten, three times shy! Fortunately non-financial clients couldn’t be more different. Which is why I’m still at it, still in direct marketing, working as a content creator.