The Spirit of Alexander Hamilton: Q&A With Aniko DeLaney, BNY Mellon

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BNY Mellon - Alexander Hamilton

BNY Mellon has the proud distinction of being not only the oldest American bank, but the only one founded by Alexander Hamilton, who couldn’t be more hip or cool these days thanks to the Pulitzer Prize-, Grammy- and Tony Award-winning hip hop biographical play by Lin-Manuel Miranda based on the acclaimed biography by Ron Chernow.

As part of its year-long celebration of its 232nd anniversary, BNY Mellon is sponsoring the debut of Hamilton’s America tonight on PBS (and also hosting a “tweet-off” between Hamilton and Burr on Twitter during the telecast).

Alexander Hamilton - PBS - Hamilton's America

Alexander HamiltonThe documentary, by filmmaker Alex Horwitz, gives a behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway production and also sheds light on its subject, the founder of The Bank of New York, now BNY Mellon, and the founding father of the US financial system.

For more insights on how Hamilton’s spirit is alive and well for the company, its employees and clients today, particularly in terms of innovation, Interbrand’s Global Chief Marketing Officer Andrea Sullivan spoke with Aniko DeLaney, BNY Mellon’s Global Head of Corporate Marketing.

Andrea Sullivan: Aniko, let’s start with some background so we can understand the history before we talk about the modern-day impact of your founder.

Aniko DeLaney - BNY MellonAniko DeLaney (right): We are really proud to be sponsor this documentary. Especially after having watched the documentary as a parent, I’m thrilled that it’s going to inspire students around the world to really learn more about Hamilton and about American history. It’s going to change the way teachers are able to connect with their students. It gets back to BNY Mellon’s vision of improving lives through investing.

I encourage everyone to watch the show and engage with the history. We are going to do something fun during the airing of the documentary. We are going to have a tweet-off between Hamilton and Burr on Twitter. It’s another way to take the story and make it relevant in the social media arena with a battle of words.

As you know, we’re a global investments company that’s really focused on helping our clients manage and service their financial assets throughout the investment life cycle. We service over one-fifth of the world’s assets and we’re really proud to include as our clients more than 80% of the Fortune 500.

We are very proud of the heritage that Hamilton, as our founder in 1784, started with this amazing vision of creating the U.S. financial system and of course founding our company that has endured for 232 years. So we are really embracing and building upon our very strong brand, our respected and trusted position in the financial arena, and emphasizing more and more the innovative spirit of Hamilton and how we are continually trying to pioneer and bring new solutions and value to our clients.

Sullivan: The PBS documentary that debuts tonight and which BNY Mellon is sponsoring may be the closest that many people get to “Hamilton” if they can’t get tickets. Why is it an important piece in the “Hamilton” story and must-viewing?

DeLaney: The documentary is an amazing opportunity to bring history to life for millions of people. And as a mother—I have two daughters—I am thrilled. They are being inspired to learn more about American history, but in a way that is culturally relevant for them, so that makes me very proud.

This show is helping to reinforce the fact that BNY Mellon was founded by Alexander Hamilton, who was one of the most innovative and creative minds in Western civilization. And we’re trying to do it in a way that’s relevant to people today, especially in the social media arena. Hamilton wasn’t just another founding father. He was a true visionary. He created our U.S. financial system, which has endured to this day. He also was one of the key founders of the U.S. Coast Guard, the New York Post, so many other institutions that continue to endure. He changed the way we do business.

The show itself, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, bring to life our founder in a way that we think Hamilton would have loved—showing him not as a dusty historical figure but as a vital, original thinker who was truly ahead of his time. It became a cultural phenomenon not only because of the story and Alexander Hamilton’s personal journey, but the way Lin is telling it, in such a unique and innovative way. It’s not just for history buffs; everybody is going to love the documentary.

There’s something in it for everyone, from footage of the show, visits to historical sites to interviews. It’s going to inspire a lot of people. And of course, we all know the history and the inspiration behind the show is Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton. So the documentary really brings it all together for so many people.

Sullivan: How does this sponsorship tie into BNY Mellon’s year-long celebration of its founder and the campaign with TBWA\Chiat\Day NY, and can you tell us more about what you’ve been doing for your 232nd anniversary?

DeLaney: We have always been very proud of our founder. For as long as I’ve been at the company, we have always talked about Alexander Hamilton and our legacy. But what is exciting about the campaign that we kicked off in June — and we’re calling it our “Invest In Our Legacy” campaign — is to really start evolving the message more into our current-day voice. We created a fully integrated multimedia campaign with TV ads, digital, social and content partnerships. We’re even exploring some VR and AR. And of course we have the sponsorship with PBS and WNET around the documentary. So it’s an unbelievable effort internally at BNY Mellon, with our marketing and communications teams, and also externally.

Sullivan: How are you engaging your leadership and employees in the campaign?

DeLaney: One of the key components to truly developing and bringing to life a brand is the employees themselves. Especially in a service industry, the brand is the experience. The key component—you have the technology, you have all the digital components—is the people who are driving the strategy, driving the experience, and ensuring that our clients are constantly engaged.

Sullivan: Talk about the innovation piece of the “Invested In” campaign, which reaches back to the bank’s founding and then touches on areas that people might not know about the bank, such as the Silicon Valley innovation center and the explorations in transformative technology.

DeLaney: We’re proud to be part of how people are relating to Alexander Hamilton in a whole new way. Our people are so proud to be part of a company with a founder who’s as inspiring as Hamilton. His pioneering and innovative spirit continues to drive us today. We remind everybody that you’re not 232 years old by thinking in the past. We are constantly evolving to find solutions.

The velocity of change these days is incredible, so it is why our people are working to find new ideas and bring new solutions to the company. Some of the key components (of the campaign) kicked off on June 9th when we celebrated BNY Mellon’s anniversary at the New York Stock Exchange. We were the first ever stock to be traded on the NYSE. That’s why our ticker symbol is BK, because we were “the bank.”

So we have had some really fun opportunities to collaborate with our agencies to create micro moments that use Hamilton’s voice to create a celebration of his work history at 232 years old. For example, we celebrated Father’s Day with our founding father and were tweeting during the Tony Awards.

We’re finding these moments to enter conversations that we normally wouldn’t have in the past. It’s been a wonderful journey, one that leverages all our social channels—Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook—and it’s allowing us to have a relevant voice and content.

Sullivan: How are you involving your own people in the campaign?

DeLaney: Employees really got involved around the anniversary, coming up with poems about Alexander Hamilton and there was so much engagement. What has been really wonderful is how people have really personalized it – with stories, even poems. Hamilton’s spirit is embodied in employees today.

They’re able to come forward and share their own examples, and how they’re impacting the company and continuing that legacy. We actually have Alexander Hamilton pop-ups and cutouts. And people are taking fun selfies. They’re telling stories how they are inspired and coming up with great innovative ideas to make their jobs better.

Sullivan: As an example of the spirt of innovation, tell us more about how you’re exploring VR and augmented reality. You’re really unlocking a spirit and a vitality and bringing that combination of the 232-year history into this modernity in how you’re embracing social and technology.

DeLaney: Hamilton was really innovative and always pushing the boundaries. We are inspired by him and will keep expanding our horizons, really be forward-thinking, in business, in marketing and all we do.

Our company is proud of its series of firsts. We were the first company on the New York Stock Exchange. We have handwritten ledgers, over 200 years old, and many of our clients are memorialized on street signs all over Manhattan today. But today, we are exploring innovations like blockchain, a type of distributed ledger in some of our Innovation Centers.

Another area we’re exploring is robotics. Alex, our robotics program, pays tribute to Hamilton in name and avatar. It helps with repetitive tasks so our employees can focus on bringing solutions to our clients in higher value ways. From a marketing perspective, we are exploring virtual and augmented reality initiatives.

We are launching our next Innovation Center in Singapore in November and we’re hoping to bring Hamilton to life in a VR experience. Singapore will be our eighth innovation center after Jersey City, Silicon Valley, Pune India, Chennai India, Pittsburgh, Central New York and London.

What is so exciting about the Innovation Centers is that we are driving culture change, and this is what Hamilton really did. He did not accept the status quo. He did not want to sit and enjoy the fruits of his success. He was always looking for the next idea and trying to help people. Each Innovation Center has an area of focus. However they also collaborate.

It’s really a wonderful way to create a new experience, and they are overseen by Lucille Mayer, our Chief Information Officer of Client Experience Delivery. They look and feel different; they are a fintech environment. They are driving an agile and innovative approach to the way we deliver excellence to our clients.

Sullivan: What qualities did Hamilton embody that you feel are still integral to the BNY brand today?

Hamilton: He was obviously a wonderful, insightful, innovative person, but I love the fact that he was about hard work. Hamilton said, “People sometimes attribute my success to my genius. All the genius I know anything about is hard work.” So you can have brilliant ideas, but it all comes down to how you implement them. Otherwise it’s just a good idea. What’s so amazing is that he put in the work.

Sullivan: You also wrote an essay on LinkedIn talking about how Hamilton has inspired your philosophy and approach to your role — can you tell us more about that?

DeLaney: One of the questions I like to ask myself is what is my personal brand? We can all challenge ourselves. What do you want to be known for? What is your story? What do you really want your legacy to be? It’s very humbling and inspiring to think about things that way. Our CEO, Gerald Hassell, also wrote an essay on LinkedIn on that theme, and he challenges our employees to stretch themselves.

When you watch the documentary, Lin-Manuel really brings that point across. You leave it thinking, what can I do better, what can I do more, what do I want to leave, how can I make the world a better place?

For BNY Mellon, it just fits our spirit and our vision to improve lives through investing. Whether it’s investing in our clients, investing in our businesses, investing in our communities, investing in innovation, we really improve lives through investing. Many people who see this documentary will no doubt question themselves and wonder what they can do to improve themselves and the world.


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