Progressive Minds Apply: Q&A With HSBC’s Nicola Sayers

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HSBC Progressive Minds Apple 2016 careers film

Marketers — and parents — will attest that it’s hard to attract the attention of youths. With so much vying for their attention, including potential employers eager to attract young talent to join their ranks, what’s a traditional employer like one of the world’s biggest banks to do? Young graduates looking for their first job after university may be surprised to see one new recruitment pitch — a spoken word rap video by HSBC.

As part of its “Progressive Minds Apply” recruiting campaign for its global graduate careers program, HSBC is speaking to a younger generation in language you might not expected from a bank. The video features a young woman’s rhyming spoken word rap, narrating a visually compelling video montage (that underlines themes such as sustainability and globalism), with lyrics including:

“When it comes to one on one / I get the job done / I’ll find solutions to the problems everyone else is runnin’ from.”
“Late night negotiator / Ambition accelerator / You can call me the tailor.”
“I find opportunities in unknown places/ I connect people to opportunities across six continents and rolling seas.”
“I make dreams come true.”

Its unassuming title (“Graduate Careers”) belies the stature of the employer reaching out to millennials and new graduates: HSBC Holdings PLC, the UK-headquartered multinational banking and financial services company headquartered in London that is the world’s fourth largest bank by total assets, with total assets of $2.67 trillion.

The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was founded in Hong Kong in 1865. Today, with close to 4,500 offices in 71 countries and territories across Africa, Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America and South America, and nearly 46 million customers worldwide, HSBC operates four business groups: Commercial Banking; Global Banking and Markets (investment banking); Retail Banking and Wealth Management; and Global Private Banking.

HSBC Progressive Minds Apply careers campaign

HSBC Progressive Minds Apply - graduate careers programme

The wealth of opportunities to launch and grow a career, as HSBC has been promoting in a print campaign (above) as well, are vast indeed, including the need for tech-savvy, digital natives who have grown up in a world with mobile phones to help advance growing areas such as fintech.

In its search for future executives, HSBC recently hired recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to assess the strength of its most promising managers and benchmark them against its competitive set, as noted by the FT (and also by Bloomberg).

The graduate recruitment campaign, launched on Sept. 22, was released in the wake of HSBC’s UK consumer campaign in August to promote digital banking tools such as Fast Balance and Touch ID.

For more on the “Progressive Minds Apply” employer branding campaign and strategy to attract today’s talent and skills for tomorrow’s needs, we spoke with Nicola Sayers, Global Head of Brand Activation and Strategic Projects for HSBC Holdings PLC.

brandchannel: Nicola, this is such a fresh and unexpected campaign. How did you land on this creative approach?

Nicola Sayers HSBC Global Head of Brand ActivationNicola Sayers (right): We wanted to create a highly visible innovative campaign to bring our Global Graduate proposition to life and ultimately attract highly engaged individuals / talent into our organisation.

The challenge we often find is that graduates are unaware of what HSBC really does. Our desire was to create stand out in an increasing challenging marketplace with a big idea that serves as a call to action.

To get graduates to apply and take up roles within Commercial Banking (captains), Global Banking & Markets (explorers), Private Banking (tailors) and Retail Banking & Wealth Management (navigators) divisions at HSBC.

brandchannel: What has the response been like so far?

Sayers: The feedback from students and graduates attending our campus events has been very positive and they comment on feeling inspired by the campaign. The graduates that we have already hired said that they felt “proud to work at HSBC” having seen the film.

For the second year running, HSBC has been named graduate employer of choice in the Finance category at the Times Graduate Recruitment Awards 2016 (based on research with 18,353 final year students at UK universities conducted by High Fliers Research.) In addition, we moved upwards from 18th to 16th position within the Top 100 companies.

HSBC Progressive Minds Apply graduate careers campaign 2016

brandchannel: The video makes a pitch for “progressive minds” —can you elaborate on the kind of mind-set that HSBC is seeking, and what kind of person will thrive and rise at HSBC?

Sayers: The common characteristics amongst graduates that we tend to attract are driven, optimistic, internationally-minded, confident, self-assured, techno-savvy and open to new opportunities.

We look for responsible people with ambition, drive, with a curious mind who are inspired to join a working environment that is globally connected, values orientated, innovative and promotes a strong network and teamwork culture. Those looking for personal development, who have integrity values, good ethics and are ready to take challenges and progress.

The individuals that thrive at HSBC are driven, perceptive and forward-thinking (drivers, coaches, builders) and demonstrate the skill sets needed across our global businesses. We want to help students and graduates to find the role that is right for them as they start on their career journey with us.

HSBC Progressive Minds Apple 2016 graduate careers campaign film

brandchannel: The hero film is visually stunning, playing up the global scope of HSBC and the range of career opportunities to make an impact and challenge yourself and grow at the same time. Talk about how you crafted the pitch and message to graduates in this campaign?

Sayers: Working with our creative agency J. Walter Thompson, we carried out research amongst millennials of the platform ‘progressive minds apply’ idea and the job metaphors to ensure that the campaign positively stood out in the marketplace. We tested it amongst our recent graduates to ensure that it would resonate with new graduates and make them want to find out more about us.

One of the key messages that we wanted to land throughout the campaign are the opportunities that our global graduates have, to thrive in an organisation that supports its customers and their ambitions.

Throughout the development of the campaign, we were keen to not only inspire and attract students and graduates but also educate them about the bank – making it easier for them to self-select the scheme that is right for them.

brandchannel: With so much emphasis on growth areas like mobile banking and technology — let alone bitcoin, blockchain, biometrics and fintech — what kinds of new skill sets are you seeking and developing?

Sayers: We recruit school-leavers, university students and graduates in many areas of our organisation. As well as commercial, retail and investment banking, we offer opportunities in areas such as IT, finance and risk management so we are seeking a broad range of skills.

Our main aim is to attract, develop and retain future leaders for our global businesses. Our industry is constantly involving and as such we are looking for candidates that can demonstrate agility and a flexible approach. Those individuals that have a future focused mindset, embrace technology and share the same values as us and who want to be part of our culture.

brandchannel: New graduates are demanding about what they want to do in their careers, and demanding of employers. Is it harder to attract and retain graduates these days (who may feel the lure of startups, for example) — and how is HSBC evolving to attract and retain them and meet their quest for meaning and impact?

Sayers: We are operating in a “buyer’s market” with competitors approaching graduates through new channels and banks in general suffering from negative sentiment, which can make it more challenging to attract new candidates. However, graduates associate HSBC as a recognised global brand, having an international network and see us as a solid and stable bank.

Our Global Graduate Programmes are rotational which differentiates us from many of our competitors. In addition, there are opportunities for an international rotations on some of our programmes.

Increasingly, graduates want more from their employers and we want to stand out in the market place for offering graduates what they seek — international development, network and mentoring opportunities. To work in an environment that respects diversity, nurtures and values people for their contribution and supports communities and the environment.

brandchannel: Are you supporting this campaign in any other way, i.e. through TV/cinema, social, local activations, outreach to colleges and universities, etc.? And do you plan to follow up or is this a one-off?

Sayers: Our global graduate campaign is currently running on our hsbc.com website, via social media channels and on campus in colleges and universities. We softly launched the campaign at the end of last year and the intention is to continue to evolve ‘progressive minds apply’ over the next few years.


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