Under the Spotlight Lunch with Chris Pitt, CMO at HSBC

Earlier this month, Livingston James had the pleasure of sponsoring The Marketing Society Scotland’s first Under the Spotlight lunch of 2020, with guest speaker Chris Pitt, CMO of HSBC.

The concept of the Under the Spotlight format is to bring together brave leaders for an insightful and honest conversation where they bring their ‘true selves’; are provocative (where necessary) and share insights that marketing leaders can actively take back to the office to implement.  It’s aimed at being a ‘no holds barred’ discussion, so it was clear from the get-go it would make for an interesting lunch.

Chris Pitt is the man behind the highly successful HSBC ‘We are Not an Island’ campaign – fronted by the comedian Richard Ayoade. Chris’s commitment to creating a campaign that would result in a seismic shift in metrics meant the agency brief for the campaign was, quite simply, to ‘get him sacked’. For a marketing campaign in any regulated industry, not least banking, that’s quite the challenge.

Fortunately it proved so phenomenally successful that not only did Chris keep his job, Ayoade himself was even critiqued by Paul Fleckney, Culture Editor of The Guardian, as “a man with such comic gift he can make an HSBC advert watchable”. Most banks would be extremely flattered if their usually conservative advertising was considered ‘watchable’; the beauty is in its simplicity.

The underlying theme of the day was ‘being brave’ so we kicked off with an ice-breaker where each person recounted their bravest move in 2020 so far. No one could perhaps really have foreseen that the bravest thing we might all be doing on that sunny Monday lunchtime would potentially be sitting together sharing lunch amid the unfolding coronavirus crisis.

The ice-breaker alone facilitated considerable insight into the challenges – and indeed opportunities – faced around the table. With guests from Banking & Finance, FMCG, Education and Agency there was a broad range of commercial perspective, and unsurprisingly,  a common focus on moving beyond the Brexit doldrums and having the ‘bravery’ to be bold in decision making for 2020. The overriding feeling from the confessional was of focus and drive – mitigated by consideration of risk and a weariness of being curtailed by risk. Emboldened, we pushed on to hear Chris chat about his career journey, his challenges and his most controversial decisions… and his own ‘lack of bravery’ (his words) certainly not reflected by those of us listening to his achievements around the table.

Chris primarily discussed the role of marketing in reflecting and influencing society and culture. The ‘We are not an island’ campaign was a superb example of repositioning to truly speak to and reflect the target audience. The main challenge being to see significant change in brand perception and recognition, and not simply accepting incremental movements in metrics, doing ‘more of the same’ or playing it safe.  Naturally the conversation weaved around a variety of side-topics but what remained clear was Chris’s absolute commitment to fairness, authenticity and trust. Not many leaders can boast a 0% attrition rate in their team, but that is indeed his own quite incredible feat. And aside from the roaring success of the campaign itself, what galvanises a team to such a degree? It would seem genuine accountability, a supportive and collaborative culture, and a leader who is perhaps in equal parts a pragmatist and backer of his own people.

The key take-away for me – and this applies as seamlessly to everyone’s individual career journey as it does to the process of recruitment itself – is understanding our true values and drivers. Being able to articulate them meaningfully and by staying true to them in all delivery is how to make the most appreciable impact. Never compromising through a ‘lack of bravery’; always being bold enough to put yourself on the line to make a seismic change; and do not settle for a minor metric move.


As sponsor, the Under the Spotlight theme affords Livingston James a unique insight into the reality of marketing delivery at a senior level – the frustrations, the successes and the aspirations which are more often than not obscured by the end result; the seemingly effortless delivery.


Stephanie Halliday leads the Marketing, Communications and Digital delivery for Livingston James Executive Search, supporting clients and candidates on senior level appointments. If you are looking to augment your team or are ready to make a ‘seismic shift’ in your own career journey we would be delighted to offer our industry insight and assistance. Contact [email protected]  or 0131 220 2209

Can we help?

If you are looking for leadership advisory or recruitment support, please get in touch with our team of experts.

More Articles...