Leanne Cutts is Group Chief Marketing Officer at HSBC. She talks about the value of sports and cultural partnerships to the bank and the responsibilities that come with being a high-profile backer.
How does HSBC choose what to sponsor?
Sponsorship is a way of promoting our brand, engaging our existing and future customers, inspiring employees and connecting with the communities we serve.
We aim to support activities that reflect our values and business priorities and are a sound investment. As such, we support sports – rugby, golf, tennis and badminton, as well as cycling in the UK – that our customers are passionate about. We also look for opportunities where we can help the sports we sponsor to grow and become more popular, accessible and inclusive.
While the majority of our sponsorship is in sport, we also invest in arts and culture projects in specific places around the world. An example of this is our upcoming partnership with the Taste festival – a showcase of restaurants, chefs and food and drinks brands – in Hong Kong.
What do you see as a sponsor’s key responsibilities?
At HSBC, we believe that people can achieve more by working in partnership than they can on their own. That’s why our marketing campaigns are underpinned by the phrase ‘together we thrive’. The same idea applies to our approach to sponsorship, too.
Our involvement is not just about providing financial support but about being a genuine partner and an influencer of change. In practice this often means working with the sport’s governing bodies to help them achieve things they haven’t had the resources to do previously.
Rugby is one example. We have been championing the women’s game for several years, and became the first-ever title sponsor of the Women’s World Rugby Sevens Series in 2015. The women’s game is now one of the fastest growing sports in the world and that’s hugely exciting.
We also have a voice in important conversations about the future of the sports we sponsor. In golf, for example, we have made it clear we are committed to equal pay for women and men. Although there is some way to go, we are encouraged by the progress so far.
How do you balance grassroots and elite events?
For all the sports we sponsor, we allocate a proportion of our resources to supporting each level of the game – from the grassroots through to the highest tier. It’s important to give the players of the future the opportunity to develop and shine.
For example, in 2017 we introduced the Try Rugby programme in Hong Kong, where primary school teachers are taught how to coach the game. Rugby Sevens is now part of the school sports curriculum for both boys and girls. And in Canada we launched the highly successful Rookie Rugby programme, which introduces the sport to children in a safe, fun way.
People can achieve more by working in partnership
Supporting grassroots is also about helping lots of people take part in, rather than simply watch, the sports they love. That’s why, together with British Cycling, HSBC UK aims to get 2 million people on their bikes by 2020. This includes running 14 city rides across the UK, which allow families to cycle together on traffic-free roads.
Badminton is the latest addition to the bank’s sports sponsorship portfolio. Why badminton?
Badminton is played by more than 100 million people. It’s particularly popular in Asia, where HSBC has a strong presence, so is a natural fit for us. With us as a partner, the Badminton World Federation will be able to develop the sport and its events in a way they haven’t been able to previously. In turn, it allows us to engage with a whole new set of existing and potential customers.
How do you select your brand ambassadors in each sport?
Our ambassadors tend to be people who no longer play professionally and are now involved in the sport in a different way – as commentators or coaches, for example. Some of our relationships, such as with retired tennis player Tim Henman, date back many years. We don’t usually sponsor current players or individual clubs – we aim to support the growth of the game as a whole.
What sports do you enjoy in your spare time?
The sport I played growing up was squash, and nowadays I love running. As an Australian, I’m a huge fan of cricket and am a late convert to Australian Rules Football – it’s a real family game so I take my daughter to watch it when I can.