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June 30, 2008updated 04 Apr 2017 1:14pm

The man to beat

Royal Bank of Scotlands global banking ambitions are mirrored in its roster of sponsorship deals, backing some of the sports worlds biggest events Douglas Blakey talks to RBS head of group sponsorship David Webb about the banks sponsorship strategy and its latest ad campaign fronted by golf star Jack Nicklaus Few banks have thrown themselves into sports sponsorship with quite the vigour as the worlds largest bank by assets, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)

By Douglas Blakey

Royal Bank of Scotland’s global banking ambitions are mirrored in its roster of sponsorship deals, backing some of the sports world’s biggest events. Douglas Blakey talks to RBS head of group sponsorship David Webb about the bank’s sponsorship strategy and its latest ad campaign fronted by golf star Jack Nicklaus.

Few banks have thrown themselves into sports sponsorship with quite the vigour as the world’s largest bank by assets, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). With a multi-million pound budget promoting its multi-brand strategy and backed by an impressive stable of brand ambassadors, the RBS sports portfolio includes rugby, cricket, baseball, tennis, Formula 1 and equestrian events.

But the bank’s oldest sports deal, as well as its most recent sports agreement, centres on golf. RBS can claim one of the longest-running sponsorship deals in sports history via its partnership with golf’s governing body, The Royal and Ancient, which dates back over a century; in May, RBS agreed a four-year agreement with the United States Golf Association (USGA), the national governing body of golf in the US.

The bank’s tie-up with the USGA will involve RBS contributing to US golf’s ‘For the Good of the Game’ initiative, with a focus on introducing the game to junior golfers, providing brand awareness opportunities for its US brands Citizens and Charter One.

RBS will also help develop new media content for the USGA, including the websites USGA.org and USOpen.com.

And the most successful golfer of all time, Jack Nicklaus, RBS brand ambassador since 2003 and winner of a record 18 majors, takes pride of place in the bank’s current global ad campaign, with ads developed by the bank’s media partner M&C Saatchi running in US golfing and business publications.

“He’s still the man to beat,” said the bank’s head of group sponsorship, David Webb, in an interview with RBI.

While conceding that golf is a crowded market with a dozen or more banking groups, including UK-based rivals HSBC and Barclays, sponsoring golf tournaments on the US and European tours, Webb argues RBS has “carved out a niche area and associated ourselves with just the major championships – The Open [in the UK], the US Open and also the USPGA.”

At The Open, RBS benefits from Official Bank status as well as extensive advertising and branding rights.

“We have been involved in golf for more than 100 years,” Webb says. “Golf delivers the target audience we are looking to communicate with, which we call C-suite executives such as chief executive officers, chief marketing officers and chief financial officers… The research we have says the majority of this audience plays golf and is interested in the sport.”

At grassroots level, the bank supports The Daily Telegraph Junior Golf Championship, the world’s largest junior competition with entries from more than 1,000 clubs and 45,000 golfers.

Global strategy

In respect of the bank’s global strategy, Webb says: “If you flatten the world out, essentially we split the world into three: the US, UK and Asia-Pacific. Golf primarily looks after the US market. Two of our three majors’ sponsorships take place over there and we also have sports ambassadors, Paula Creamer [a leading player on the ladies tour], Jack Nicklaus and Luke Donald, who plays on the US tour.”

The main focus of RBS sponsorship activity in the UK is the bank’s title sponsorship of the annual Six Nations rugby tournament, which it has supported since 2003.

“It is primarily there to service retail within the UK and parts of Europe as well, and for Asia we have our sponsorship of the Williams Formula 1 team.”

RBS has sponsored Williams since 2005 and, in 2007, agreed a three-year extension of the agreement, with estimates in the sporting press suggesting the deal would cost RBS in the region of $14 million a year. “Commercially sensitive,” says Webb.

The deal was renewed despite the Williams team failing to challenge for either the driver’s or constructor’s championships, having failed to win any of the last 60 Grand Prix, with its most recent win dating back to 2004.

“Sport being sport there will be winners and there will be teams doing not quite so well. It makes life a lot easier if you are winning within sport to market it and it makes our jobs a lot harder if we are with a team that is probably not at the front of the grid.

“We find ways to get around that and provide awareness of the brand in other areas. We do a lot of research that gives us areas where people are interested, we have experiential programmes running and a huge trackside programme at seven or eight races a year giving us the TV visibility we are after globally.”

According to Webb, the mere association with Williams brings its own benefits.

“Winning is not the be-all and end-all of being involved in the sport. Williams has a fantastic pedigree.

“That partnership enables us to spin off wonderful activation programmes and Williams themselves have a very comprehensive marketing team which helps us to ally ourselves with the target audience we want to communicate with.”

RBS has used F1 to highlight its close co-operation with Bank of China, in which it has a 10 percent stake, with the Williams F1 cars at the Chinese Grand Prix bearing both RBS and Bank of China logos.

The bank’s F1 interests also benefit from the significant presence of three-time world champion Sir Jackie Stewart as an RBS ambassador, with tennis and equestrian events supported by the bank’s sponsorship of Andy Murray and Zara Phillips.

While Murray, who sports the RBS logo on his right sleeve during tournaments, is now a rising star in world tennis with a top 10 ranking, RBS has supported him since he began to play junior tennis in 2004.

As well as being an early advocate of using ‘brand ambassadors’ to convey its marketing message, RBS was one of the first European banks to agree a significant US naming rights deal. Since 2004, Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies have played their home games at Citizens Bank Park, having signed a $57.5 million, 25-year deal with RBS’s US subsidiary Citizens. In addition, the bank invested a further $37.5 million to become the sole financial services advertiser on Phillies’s television and radio.

“We are committed to the deal for a number of years,” Webb explains. “It was a fantastic means of communicating the brand within that region. There was no other way that we could have done it so quickly and the feedback we have from the Citizens team is that it has been a huge success.”

Sponsorship in the UK

The bank’s English retail subsidiary, NatWest, has also been a prominent sponsor of UK sport, having been associated with cricket’s principal limited overs cricket competition, The NatWest Trophy, from 1981 to 2000.

Since that long-running deal ended, NatWest has supported international cricket with the annual NatWest series followed by sponsorship of the NatWest Challenge, the NatWest Women’s Series and, more recently, the NatWest Twenty20 internationals and the NatWest Pro40 domestic cricket league.

Webb says he does not envisage RBS changing tack and adopting the single sport strategy of some banks which have made a conscious decision to stick to one sport and aim for recognition as the leading sponsor of that single sport (such as BNP Paribas’s support of tennis – see RBI 592). “We find that different sports work differently in different markets, so that is why we have gone down that route.”

But the RBS sports programme is, says Webb, unlikely to feature football – by far the most popular sport in its Scottish home market and a sport targeted in the past year by fellow F1 sponsor Santander.

When its main Scottish retail rival Bank of Scotland ended its sponsorship of the country’s Premier League competition (SPL) in 2007, the country’s fourth-largest bank, Clydesdale snapped up the SPL deal without any apparent interest being shown in the event by RBS.

“We are a global company and we sponsor global sports. We have not gone down that [football] road purely because our target audience is more interested in the sports we are already involved in,” Webb says. “We are happy with the assortment we have at the moment.”

Measuring success

For all of the bank’s sponsorship activity around the world, RBS undertakes an internal evaluation process to determine if the objectives of the deal have been met.

“We align it with our objectives and that is to communicate with our target audience. In some countries RBS will be known very well and in some markets it will not be known at all. So we measure the success of our sponsorships in line with what we do in our advertising and that is through an awareness study.

“Dependent on how successful the advertising has been will depend on how high our awareness levels have risen or dropped.”

One RBS marketing initiative which certainly caught the public imagination was RBS’s decision to issue a limited edition £5 ($10) note in 2005, bearing an image of Jack Nicklaus.

“It was very successful. It celebrated Jack’s final round at his last Open and it was a lovely way to do it and Jack thought of it as a very sentimental activity and really enjoyed it. It was great for the Open, great for Jack and very good PR for us.”

As for other firms admired for the way in which they market themselves, Webb gives two examples. “I am impressed with how Rolex carry out their sponsorships and do it in a very targeted high-end way, and Accenture use Tiger Woods incredibly well.”

2007-2006 operating profit by region

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