ANALYSIS: Crunch time for Midland? - This week sees Midland’s pounds 1m gamble on face-to-face marketing become a reality at the Battersea Power Station. But is it the right route for a bank? Bhavna Mistry reports

There was a time when we wanted our banks to be trustworthy, solid and definitely into risk aversion. But according to Midland Bank, expectations are changing: we still want them to be reliable, but the name of the game now - in the financial sector as in any other - is creativity and innovation to court the consumer.

There was a time when we wanted our banks to be trustworthy, solid

and definitely into risk aversion. But according to Midland Bank,

expectations are changing: we still want them to be reliable, but the

name of the game now - in the financial sector as in any other - is

creativity and innovation to court the consumer.



The bank is putting its money where its mouth is, with a pounds 1m music

festival at Battersea Power Station, from December 5 to 21.



A lot rides on the event. It has been billed as a main sponsorship

activity to carry Midland Bank’s image into the new millennium.



The bank knows MiDLAND ’97 has its detractors, who have slammed its

decision to divert money to the event from its traditional cultural

sponsorship activity, such as its 25-year backing of the Royal Opera

House.



On top of this, the bank will have to live up to its claim to be

creating ’something that is modern culture - a new form of entertainment

designed to bring the Midland brand to life’.



Midland has committed its entire budget for popular culture sponsorship

to the project, but the bank may find it takes more than an

entertainment event to change its image. As one of the old guard of the

UK’s high-street banks, it shares a reputation for poor service and

excessive charges with the rest of the sector.



Revolutionary movement



Belinda Furneaux-Harris, head of advertising and promotions at Midland,

is emphatic that the bank’s approach is revolutionary enough to make a

difference.



MiDLAND ’97’s main strategic aim is to reach every part of the bank’s

two core markets - 15- to 24-year-olds and 25- to 50-year-olds - at one

venue, with something for everybody, says Furneaux-Harris.



’It costs the same as having a week’s worth of full-colour press

advertising, but we’re getting 19 days of back-to-back entertainment and

involving around 170,000 people in our brand,’ she says.



’An enormous amount of research has gone into this. When we were

reviewing sponsorship strategy, we looked for something that would build

the Midland brand for the future. We wanted something that was exciting

and would involve people in the Midland world.’



The need to differentiate the Midland’s image from competitors was also

a factor. Furneaux-Harris points to recent research that shows all banks

are perceived by consumers in the same way.



The idea of creating and owning its own event was born from observations

of activity by global brands such as Nike and Cadbury, and fuelled by

suggestions from KLP which is now running MiDLAND ’97, and which was

behind Virgin’s V97.



Strategically, the event was also driven by a need to face the new

’competitive set of the future, namely the supermarket banks like Tesco,

and Virgin’, says KLP’s chief executive, Iain Ferguson.



’The old standards, both in terms of competition and consumer

expectations, are less relevant. It’s important that banks, along with

every other sector, change with their customers, and the Midland is

realising that nothing stands still.



’MiDLAND ’97 is evidence that the bank is moving in step with change.

Anything its rivals come up with after this will be just a case of

me-too.’



NatWest, Lloyds TSB and Barclays have no plans to stage or sponsor

similar events.



Lloyds TSB last week announced its pounds 12m, three-year sponsorship of

international rugby. Its other sponsorships, involving an annual spend

of around pounds 5m, include the BBC Young Musician of the Year Awards

and the British Fashion Awards.



Barclays has no overall figure for its sponsorship, since activity is

generated independently from its various sectors, but the bank’s

mortgage arm sponsors the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition.



NatWest’s main sponsorship activity is cricket, with the NatWest

Trophy.



It has invested over pounds 20m in the sport since 1981.



Predictably, all three are tight-lipped about Midland’s initiative,

although Lloyds TSB admits to keeping an eye on developments and ’will

rule nothing out’.



World first



For the present, Furneaux-Harris claims the event is mould-breaking in

that ’no other financial group anywhere else in world has staged

something like MiDLAND ’97’.



This isn’t an empty boast. The event will take place in the world’s

largest temporary structure - a glass-fronted exhibition-cum-arena,

weighing 700 tons and the size of six five-a-side football pitches. The

building will be split into two halves: a state-of-the-art ’village’ and

a 6000-seat auditorium.



The village will house different ’life zones’ visited each day by

various celebrities. The agenda includes daytime activity zones backed

by major brands, including Sega, BT, Thomas Cook, Nestle and The

Carphone Warehouse.



Evening concerts will cater for a range of tastes, from pop to

classical.



While Furneaux-Harris admits to having a ’crisis management plan in

place’ if the event flops, the bank is already talking of taking the

show to other venues and has carried out feasibility studies at 15 other

sites across the UK.



Major sponsor deals

Midland Bank:- pounds 1m sponsorship of Battersea Power Station music

festival

Lloyds TSB:- international rugby union for three years for pounds 2m

Nationwide:- Football League, three-year deal for pounds 5.25m

Green Flag:- England World Cup training kit, backed by pounds 4m for

three years

Royal & Sun Alliance:- pounds 3m yachting sponsorship

Cornhill Insurance:- England and Wales Cricket Board sponsor for three

years with pounds 9m



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