THURSDAY 26 SEP 2019 3:05 PM


Ten years on from the financial crisis, RBS required a deft hand at storytelling and a brave strategic approach to internal communications. Synergy Creative took up the challenge with a multichannel programme that reached employees across RBS’ operations

Trust in the financial services sector was eviscerated by the 2008 financial crisis. Companies suffered a loss of faith on the part of their customers, but also their employees. Now, 10 years later, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has taken steps to ensure that its employees understand the business’ past while also preparing them for its future. 

To tackle this challenging objective, RBS partnered with Synergy Creative on an internal communications programme that would both address the difficulties of the past, while remaining positive on the company’s outlook for the future. The programme would speak to both employees who had been with the business in 2008 and those who have joined more recently. 

But, with a massive workforce of around 70,000, a one-dimensional approach would never achieve success on a company-wide level. And, in light of the challenging situation, getting the narrative right was of crucial importance. “I think the challenge that we were set was around communicating the narrative in a way that’s authentic and real,” says Chris Giddings, head of marketing at Synergy Creative. RBS didn’t want to celebrate its recent history, but had to demonstrate how far the bank had moved on from 2008.

This tonal tightrope act was difficult, but for Synergy, it offered an opportunity. “We had to be quite humble in our tone, but also positive. It was a fine line to tread,” says account director at Synergy Creative, Asha Constanza. 

Synergy took a three pronged approach. The first was an internal campaign called #Thisisus with the strapline, ‘Ten years on, it’s time to hear our stories.’ This gave RBS the opportunity to highlight employees’ proudest moments from the past 10 years, lending a sense of emotion and pride to the reflective campaign. The second was a documentary film featuring business leaders offering uplifting and thought-provoking messages for the coming years. Last, Synergy developed an interactive online timeline that recognised the key milestones the bank had seen since 2008.

The timeline offered up its challenges though. As many current employees had been working for RBS in 2008 or earlier, it had to recognise the difficult period that they might have gone through during the financial crisis and give them back the confidence to talk about those events and their roles at the bank. It was this element that most impressed judges at the Internal Communications and Engagement Awards. One called it “a very brave, honest and transparent approach to the huge change they've been going through for the last 10 years. Would have been very easy to brush it under the carpet, but to stand and up and talk about it should hopefully inspire colleagues.”

The multichannel approach helped RBS reach its different audiences and cater to each employee’s needs. The film was targeted at the 40% of people still working for the bank 10 years on from 2008. The interactive timeline offered newcomers to RBS an insight into what happened during the financial crisis as well as what the bank had achieved in the years since. It helped invest them in the history of their company. The timeline itself avoided overconfidence and celebration, allowing RBS to communicate acknowledgement and confidence in a way that would inspire employees to adopt the same type of attitude. 

The approach and the authentic, brave tone of voice paid off. Employees were given the space for reflection while also being engaged in the company’s history, its current outlook and its key objectives. And it earned RBS and Synergy gold awards in the ‘Best communication of change or business transformation,’ ‘Best internal communications during a crisis’ and ‘Best use of storytelling’ categories at the awards. But that was only the opening act. RBS and Synergy Creative took home the Grand Prix award recognising the best in internal communications. 

“It was massively overwhelming,” Constanza says. RBS itself hadn’t expected its story to ring true with judges, let alone take home the biggest prize of the night. But, with a sound strategy
and a commitment to honesty with its employees, success was
on the books. 

Judges were amazed at this approach and were unanimously positive about the programme. One said, “The honesty of the campaign tapped into how their employees were feeling towards the bank, acknowledging the difficult times but promoting what lay ahead. [It was] brave to be this open with staff and trust them with the reality of the situation, and it paid off in an uplifting campaign that captured staff sentiment.” Another put it succinctly, “Impressive and strategically critical to engage staff with the right tone and build them into the next stage of the journey.”

What the next 10 years will hold is anyone’s guess. But RBS is well-equipped with the tools required to ensure its internal audience is prepared for the future and engaged with the organisation’s strategy.


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