Honesty, transparency and the CEO wearing brand colours – we speak to the teams at ClearBank and Output about building a dream team partnership
Over the last 12 years we’ve helped almost 1,000 clients find their ideal agency partner. Together, teams have tackled everything from major rebrands and marketing campaigns to digital transformation and packaging design, but regardless of the brief, the most important factor is always the client-agency relationship.
As part of an ongoing AUFI editorial series, we’re quizzing our client and agency dream teams on how they made it work – from the very first meeting to final delivery, and all of the ups and downs in between.
In this episode, we meet ClearBank – the first clearing bank to enter the UK market in more than 250 years – and London design agency Output, who created an energetic new brand for the fast-growing business. ClearBank Head of Marketing Aimee Cole, and Marketing Manager Kristen Lilly, chatted with Output Managing Director and Partner Gemma Ballinger, and Creative Director and Partner Johanna Drewe, about being “in the trenches” together, managing some big deadlines and choosing an agency without previous fintech experience.
“Sometimes pitches can be: ‘This is what we’ve done, this is your budget, and this is what we can do’. Output put a lot of effort into thinking differently.”Kristen Lilly - Marketing Manager, ClearBank
- Emma TuckerWhen you met each other, was there an instinctive feeling that it was the right fit?
Aimee Cole, Head of Marketing, ClearBankFrom the get-go the vibe was right. The way they approached their pitch made it feel like they just got us, had really read the brief and were prepared. They had a lot of energy and excitement, they obviously knew their stuff, and they gave the impression that they would be really easy to work with, and an extension of our team. In the pitch meeting we had our CEO, who hadn’t been closely involved in brand projects before, and he was blown away by the possibility of what could actually be. And Output was able to make that possibility seem achievable within our budget and time constraints.
Kristen Lilly, Marketing Manager, ClearBankWe just clicked with them from the very beginning. They brought a lot of creativity into the pitch and you could tell the wheels were turning, they had a lot of ideas and were just getting started. Sometimes pitches can be: ‘This is what we’ve done, this is your budget, and this is what we can do’. Output put a lot of effort into thinking differently, and that’s what we wanted – an agency with a different perspective.
Gemma Ballinger, Managing Director and Partner, OutputClearBank really helped us understand what everyone in the team wanted and needed to see. So even when we were pitching they gave us lots of useful insight, such as, ‘Ok, maybe you can focus on this’ or, ‘This person might ask that question’. In terms of them helping us navigate stakeholders, it felt like a real partnership rather than us being in the dark and trying to second guess, or us against them.
“What we got with Output was them pushing us out of our comfort zone and showing us the art of the possible.”Aimee Cole - Head of Marketing, ClearBank
- ETAimee and Kristen, did you know from the outset that you wanted an agency that would push and challenge you?
ACOur old brand was very traditionally corporate - 50 shades of blue. It was saying, we are a bank in London, here’s a drawing of the London skyline to prove we’re a bank in London. But when we started working with Output we were pretty big, had a lot of success, had received additional investment and were well on track for profitability – which only 5% of new banks ever actually achieve. So, we were willing to scrap what we had, and we knew we needed to do something bold. What we got with Output was them pushing us out of our comfort zone and showing us the art of the possible. We didn’t necessarily know exactly what we wanted, and they took us through a series of workshops to really drill into it and get into the detail and under the skin of what our brand actually means.
KLThroughout the whole process we had a really open, honest and transparent relationship. We saw them as experts in their field and vice versa. We had a great relationship that wasn’t only with the account manager – it was company-wide and agency-wide. Everyone who was part of the project felt like we were building something great, and we were really in it together through the whole process.
- ETI know you had a few punchy deadlines. How did you handle those together?
KLWe ended up having to go live in a couple of different phases, with our initial launch ahead of Money20/20 Europe in 2022. The weeks leading up to it were crunch time, and it felt like we were one big team working together to achieve our goal.
ACWe felt like we were all in the trenches together. When you get to deadlines, it’s very easy for things to get tense with everybody pushing each other and waiting on things from each other. Sometimes that can sour a relationship because everybody’s under pressure, and there are conflicting priorities. Output is a small but mighty agency, but everybody we worked with was seen as a true extension of our ClearBank team. There was no ego, and even when there were things we were going back and forth with, or that didn’t pass muster with our regulatory requirements, there was a level of understanding and flexibility to help us achieve the end goal. It really did feel like we were one big project team on it, rather than a client and agency.
“Having a lot of decision-makers in the room that are unified on the vision of where they want to get to worked really well.”Johanna Drewe - Creative Director and Partner, Output
- ETHow did you create that feeling of being on the same team and really collaborating closely?
Johanna Drewe, Creative Director and Partner, OutputWe work in iterative sprints, so we do one sprint on then one sprint off, and in that time the client can play, test, explore and make sure what we’re creating is everything they need from their side. It means the client is coming along on that journey with us, and we all understand what’s working, and we’re taking feedback and evolving and iterating each sprint rather than disappearing off and coming back with more of a curtain reveal.
The trust element was also a major factor. Through each of the feedback rounds we had the leadership team in the meetings, so you’ve got senior voices in the room contributing to the conversation and giving us really good insight we could unpack and fulfil in the next sprints. Having a lot of decision-makers in the room that are unified on the vision of where they want to get to worked really well.
- ETHow did you maintain that good relationship between some of the ups and downs, and those tough deadlines?
ACIt was the level of communication we got from them throughout the project. We would have formal project meetings, but there was constant conversation – whether that was through Figma boards, or via task lists and Monday.com. There was fairly constant communication and collaboration, and they were always on top of flagging where something was going to be delayed, because the scope had changed, or cost more, because we’d gone with a more expensive asset.
KLWe had to get creative in terms of the tools we could communicate on. We’re a Microsoft organisation so we work on Teams and can’t access G Docs, which were the tools they’d naturally work on. So we collaborated on tools like Miro and Figma where we could easily communicate, almost in real-time. And Gemma, who wasn’t necessarily in the weeds of the project, would check in once in a while with us and make sure everything was going smoothly, which was a nice touch.
GBI think it’s useful to be away from it, and then checking in to ask questions. Sometimes people can be more honest, and don’t feel as bad saying something to me, than to someone they’re sitting and working with everyday. We try and do that for all projects, on a regular basis, because there’s no point just asking for feedback at the very end when you can’t then improve the experience.
ACIt was a nice feedback loop as well. It wasn’t like one of those bait and switch pitches. With some bigger agencies, you meet people who you never see or hear from again after the pitch, and actually it’s a junior account executive putting it all together and you were sold a dream. It’s an important point, because for a lot of businesses there’s huge appeal to working with a big name agency. I think it’s important for clients to know beforehand if they want a slightly hands-off approach from senior people at an agency like that, or prefer to be working with a smaller studio that can give them a lot more personal time and direct attention.
“Our social followers have increased at least 15k since we launched it. Our CEO, who’s from a traditional banking background, was wearing ties and shirts in our brand colours.”Aimee Cole - Head of Marketing, ClearBank
- ETYou also selected Output based on a portfolio that, at the time, didn’t include much prior experience in the world of finance.
ACOutput hadn’t worked with a bank before, so that was a potential risk for us because there’s a heavy regulatory burden, and certain things that are non-negotiables. It was the biggest spend we invested in our brand and it would have been very easy to go with an agency that had just done banks – it would have made everyone feel really comfortable.
But we felt that we could trust they’d partner with us in a way that would enable us to deliver on all of our regulatory and governance requirements, and in a new and fresh way. Our CEO sat in every single pitch, and at the end of it he felt they were different, they hadn’t done a bank before, but what we got from them and their personalities and approach was very us. It came back to a culture fit more than portfolio examples.
And the reception of our brand was amazing. Our social followers have increased at least 15k since we launched it. Our CEO, who’s from a traditional banking background, was wearing ties and shirts in our brand colours. It went down a storm, and it breathed new life into the business. We’ve been able to build behind that brand, and we’re moving into Europe this year so it’s going to continue to grow internationally.
- ETAny other advice for clients and agencies building great teams, and great work, together?
ACI think it’s about keeping an open mind at the beginning of the process. Yes, you have a brief and you know what you want to achieve as an end goal, but keep an open mind around how you get there. Be open to different agency processes, because I think every agency we met had a different methodology - some were very specific, others were much looser. And don’t get swept away in lovely credentials if the gut feeling isn’t right. Because when you’re in the trenches, and everything’s getting tense around timing, deadlines, and cash, you need to be able to rely on the people who are there with you. Having that camaraderie and feeling of being an extended team is so important.
“Trust in your agency, trust in the process, and trust that they’re going to get to a point that is game-changing for you.”Johanna Drewe - Creative Director and Partner, Output
JDWe did a retrospective after we finished the ClearBank project, and one of the things we discussed was that they were a dream client. They put so much trust in us, and you often find clients want to second guess the process, or need a bit more shepherding throughout. ClearBank really trusted our judgement and the process, and gave us that creative freedom.
That trust is a big one. Trust in your agency, trust in the process, and trust that they’re going to get to a point that is game-changing for you. And trust the fact that it might scare you at points, and there might be that moment where I need to hold your hand, or someone needs to have a word and say, ‘This is what you asked for, that is the brief, and you did want to be scared!’ Then having transparency throughout that process of what a client is going to see, and where it’s going to take them, means we get to an endpoint we’re all super happy with.