Italy’s biggest bank is using content to strengthen its global profile

Intesa Sanpaolo has ambitious plans to transform the future of banking and is using top-class English journalism to tell its story to a global audience

“Times have certainly changed,” says Danilo Guenza (above), who works on international marketing initiatives for Italy’s largest bank, reflecting on the 11-plus years he has worked at Intesa Sanpaolo.

“Once upon a time,” he says, “communications involved contact with a group of established journalists – the vast majority of them in Italy – who would produce articles and broadcasts about the bank in traditional media.

“Nowadays, in the wake of the digital revolution, the need is evident for additional communication channels and styles that are aligned to the new tools and media. Communicating with actual and potential clients on the platforms where they spend most of their time is just as important as being present in the traditional media. Also, we as a corporation are able to generate a large volume of content of our own, like any other media company.”

After numerous conversations, Intesa Sanpaolo came to realise that it has stories about itself to tell – and turned to FirstWord to spread the news.

Talking to the world in English

In 2015, Intesa Sanpaolo began ramping up its international profile with sponsorship of the Milan Expo, featuring exhibitors from more than 100 different countries. The same year, it started working with FirstWord – a partnership that continues to this day. As well as directing editorial strategy, the London agency creates top-class content written by elite business journalists for World, the bank’s English-language editorial website. Once published, articles are trailed on the bank’s social-media channels, including LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The bank aims to post at least one new piece of content each week and Guenza insists these are always pieces of journalism rather than advertising.

“As a bank with a 400-year history, Intesa Sanpaolo is deeply rooted in Italian society. This is highlighted by numerous programmes targeting Italian businesses and families to support their projects, but also by developing initiatives aimed at transforming banking as we know it through practices such as circular economy and impact investment. At the same time, Intesa Sanpaolo is dedicated to preserving historical and artistic heritage. It holds an extensive art collection numbering around 20,000 masterpieces – covering a period from the ancient to the present – which can be seen on display in its three museums in Italy or on loan to other museums worldwide.”

Guenza, who is head of international communication within the Chief Institutional Affairs and External Communication Officer Governance Area, continues: “Just imagine the traces of human, societal and cultural evolution that can be read from the Magna Grecian pottery made in the 4th century BC in Ruvo di Puglia or the works of important Italian post-war artists like Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana or Piero Manzoni. The wealth of stories that a bank like this has to tell is fascinating – and it’s my job to help tell them.”

Key content areas on the World website include stories about how Intesa Sanpaolo is growing businesses around the world, fosters innovation, nurtures talent or aims to become a world-class model for what is called impact banking.

“Recently published pieces of content showcase Intesa Sanpaolo enabling Italian start-ups to grow internationally and enter fast-changing markets like Dubai, New York, London and Hong Kong, along with the bank’s collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation to promote a worldwide “circular economic” business model. The concept of impact banking that Intesa Sanpaolo pioneered with its not-for-profit bank – Banca Prossima – is another argument we approached not so long ago, just like stories of people working for the bank in Egypt, Croatia or UK,” adds Guenza.

Telling the story of Intesa Sanpaolo

All of these served to underline the point that Intesa Sanpaolo is a bank with goals far beyond financial gain: its aim is also to improve the planet and the quality of people’s lives.

Guenza says he and his team liaise regularly with employees throughout Intesa Sanpaolo to come up with new story ideas.

“The idea is that after a range of stories, what one might call the bank’s DNA or core values reveal themselves,” he says. “We feel that storytelling is the most effective – and engaging – way to communicate that DNA to the wider world. And it really is a ‘world’, because the internet allows instant, borderless communication in a way that would have been unimaginable before.”

Intesa Sanpaolo introduced video to its website only relatively recently, with a series of interviews with important figures from the digital sector, including Gary Shapiro, president of the US Consumer Technology Association, Yossi Vardi, the Israeli tech entrepreneur, Christine Loh, Adjunct Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and many more.

Brand awareness, then, is the thing. By most metrics it seems to be moving in the right direction. “The work done in 2018, most of all implementation of the video format, shows significant growth in terms of website traffic: twice as many unique users, around 80 per cent more sessions and 181 per cent more pages viewed compared to 2017,” explains Guenza.

Working with partners to amplify success

Some of this success is down to a content promotion campaign set on the Financial Times website, LinkedIn, Facebook and the digital platforms of relevant business media worldwide via Outbrain. “Collaboration with these media is giving us the right visibility among target audiences and I can say it delivered fairly positive results,” says Guenza.

But, in terms of the bigger picture, what plan does Guenza have to ensure continued success over the coming months and years?

“Long term, it is difficult to predict the media landscape so quickly is it changing,” he says. “In the shorter term, we’re looking to greatly increase the amount of video, which we realise has become the killer application for online, and possibly introduce podcasts.”

Ultimately, Guenza says, Intesa Sanpaolo must be ready to use whatever new communication tools present themselves in a bid to continue building the bank’s brand internationally. “It is well known that content is king, in fact, the king of kings,” he observes, “but we must not ignore distribution. It is the power behind the throne.”