Laurentian Bank of Canada puts high touch back into banking

In an age when most people view banks as gigantic faceless institutions, the commercial and corporate banking division of Laurentian Bank of Canada has spent more than five years putting not only a face, but also a name, to the bank....

In an age when most people view banks as gigantic faceless institutions, the commercial and corporate banking division of Laurentian Bank of Canada has spent more than five years putting not only a face, but also a name, to the bank.

During that time, its print advertising has put the emphasis on its bankers – not the bank – with a call-to-action message and the direct business phone numbers of the bankers appearing the ads.

Laurentian’s most recent magazine ad campaign brought back the two real VPs featured in the bank’s 1998 first round of advertising on this strategy. In the 2001 effort, John L. Smith in the English execution and Richard Guay in the French-language version reach out from the page with their business cards and an invitation to call them. The added twist is that attached to the page is an actual business card bearing the banker’s direct business phone number and, in Smith’s case, also his email address.

The headline reads, ‘Make your first call to the guy who makes the final call!’

Robert Turgeon, Laurentian’s assistant VP of sales and marketing commercial and corporate banking, says banking – particularly the type of business banking handled in his division – is all about building relationships. Something, he says, many financial institutions have forgotten. Others seem to put the emphasis on high tech, while Laurentian’s tack has been high touch and staying focused on what clients really want: a relationship and partnership with their banker.

‘This is an approach that is really in line with our niche. We’re not dealing with small businesses. We’re going after a really narrow niche, which is around a prospect base of 25,000 companies throughout the country.

‘In each of our regional markets we know exactly who our prospects are and we want to give them the ability to know the bank’s executives. John Smith and Richard Guay should by now be much more known than the bank.’

The 1998 campaign used the theme line, ‘Don’t call the bank! Call the banker!’ Considered a big success by Laurentian, it generated 100 phone calls, meetings with one-third of the respondents and five deals.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, says Turgeon, but with the target being companies with sales from $5 million to $100 million, that means an average $3-million commercial loan for each deal.

Laurentian continued the theme in the intervening years on a more regional basis, featuring regional banking teams in their ads with phone numbers included.

For 2001, Turgeon challenged his agency, DKY Integrated Communications of Montreal, to take the ‘Don’t call the bank!’ concept.

Turgeon says DKY came through with flying colors.

‘It’s like meeting that executive on the street and he hands you his card, saying if you’ve got important projects that need $1 million to $15 million in loans, call me. It’s really a three-dimensional, tangible piece of communications handed out to the prospect.’

The goal going into this campaign was to double the number of phone calls received in 1998. At time of writing, Smith and Guay had received more than 300 calls. Neither executive had any qualms about being front and center in the ads, although the great response to the campaign keeps them in their offices after hours answering each call and email.

This year, Turgeon says he is also having before-and-after awareness testing done around the campaign, with results expected at the end of this month.

Surprisingly, while the perception of Laurentian is that of a bank with a heavy Quebec base, Turgeon says 60% of his business is in Ontario. He says the expansion of Laurentian’s commercial business is pushing that ratio even higher in favor of Ontario, central and western Canada.

The media buy reflects that strength, with 60% of the budget allotted to Ontario, with a small amount in Vancouver, and the remaining 40% supporting the business in Montreal and the province of Quebec.

The primary buy included magazines Report on Business, Canadian Business, both French and English versions of CMA and Quebec’s Revue Commerce.

Secondary media used were tabloid newspapers Business in Vancouver and Les Affaires.

While it’s quite common today for consumer magazines to glue samples of cosmetics and fragrances to their pages, Turgeon says the request to attach a business card was a new one and a bit of challenge for business publications.

That technology was not available to the newspapers, so those ads ran without the attached business cards.

More than one million business cards were printed for this campaign, which ran February though April.