Fidelity’s Solid Investment

Faced this spring with the impending loss of Fidelity Investments’ $120 million mutual funds account, top managers at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos were looking for a miracle.

Financial guru Peter Lynch, longtime commercial pitchman for the Boston-based client and star of last year’s “We help you invest responsibly” campaign, enjoyed high recognition among consumers.

The Lynch ads even won an Effie for marketing effectiveness. Yet, heightened competition from Charles Schwab, Janus and T. Rowe Price made Fidelity decision makers anxious for new advertising.

While Hill, Holliday executives publicly deny Fidelity was on the verge of leaving the agency (the client declined comment), sources close to the situation insist the client had all but decided to dismiss the Boston shop and launch a review.

A trio of Fidelity executives were the prime movers behind the change in the company’s ad direction. Gail McGovern, promoted to president of retail and corporate marketing at Fidelity as the year began; Neal Litvack, president of customer marketing and development; and Beth Pasciucco, svp/marketing, apparently believed that ad efforts with Lynch had failed to forge an emotional connection between prospective customers and the brand.

Initial creative approaches by various teams at Hill, Holliday, presented to Fidelity this spring, failed to impress the client; the mix of emotional and financial messages simply weren’t right, sources say. That dynamic, combined with stresses accumulated during an often contentious five-year relationship, nearly resulted in the agency put on notice. At the 11th hour, however, financial advertising ace Bill Heater was brought back and teamed with elder statesman Dick Pantano to develop the latest Fidelity campaign.

“I’ve worked with very talented people” in an ad career spanning some 35 years, says Jack Connors, chairman and CEO of Hill, Holliday. “None more talented than the two of them.”

Heater, a 45-year-old copywriter who left Hill, Holliday nearly a decade ago, was one of the agency’s brightest creative stars in the ’80s and early ’90s. He had been running his own Boston shop since 1993. Heater’s return to the agency began with a series of conversations in the spring. Connors “asked if I’d like to help out on Fidelity and new business,” Heater recalls. “What Fidelity was asking for was some kind of realistic portrayal of the service experience.”

That challenge, and the chance to work with his former boss, Pantano, 60, the agency’s vice chairman, an award-winning art director and a fixture in its creative department for 30 years, proved too good to pass up. “Working with [Pantano] was a big factor,” Heater says.

“In [this] category, you have to have a certain amount of experience with mortgages, investing … to be credible,” Heater says. “You can’t put kids on Fidelity. Younger teams are too trendy. It takes a little slogging through the mud before you can work from the heart.”

The pair brainstormed, Pantano says, trying to find ways to “milk emotions.”

“I think if you can lift people up, make them feel good about the steps they take to organize their financial life, that’s a good thing,” adds Heater. An early line they considered was, “All the tools, all the people, all the help you need.”

The team asked themselves why people contact Fidelity advisors about investments. The answer? They need help to invest wisely and succeed in their goals. Thus, the line “See yourself succeeding” was born. However, “what effective advertising needs in addition to a good line is a look that brands the company,” says Heater. “We made the commercials a visual logo.”

The cinematic campaign broke last month. Jeff Preiss directed most of the dozen 30- and 60-second spots, though Heater himself got behind the lens for at least three executions. The campaign employs split screens and arty camera work to portray “real people” with investment needs.

One ad shows a hip young woman and businessman fighting for, then agreeing to share, a rush-hour cab. It turns out he’s a Fidelity advisor, who explains how she can roll over her 401k account. In another, an older couple discusses their retirement plans, set into motion 30 years ago by a Fidelity advisor who still works for the firm and helps them to this day.

“We’re trying to establish a brand new space called ‘personal investments,’ ” said Fidelity spokeswoman Anne Crowley when the ads broke in November. “You are living the actual experiences our reps have had with our customers.”

Now that the Fidelity campaign is on air, Heater and Pantano will take advisory roles, guiding other teams as the agency puts together new executions for next year.

Heater calls the new Fidelity campaign “a bold experiment for [a company seen as] a staid Boston investment firm—very different, very far out.” Adds Pantano: “Hill, Holliday always did its best taking risks. It’s part of the culture.”

Risk taking is nothing new for the two native New Englanders. Pantano, who began his career as a junior executive at BBDO in Boston in the 1960s with Connors, has worked on hundreds of Hill, Holliday assignments over the years. His category experience includes hospitality (Hyatt Hotels), high-tech (Wang Laboratories), alcoholic beverages (Rolling Rock) and retail (Marshalls).

One of his most memorable efforts is a 1997 spot for Advanced Micro Devices titled “Truck.” In the spot, a beleaguered white-collar type prepares a presentation for his boss as a giant fuel truck careens out of control outside his window.

Thanks to the super-fast AMD processor, he finishes the project just before the tanker crashes into the building in flames. Those who know him say the spot—full of sound and fury and rather broad black-humor—succinctly captures Pantano’s quirky personality.

Heater, on the other hand, is most often described by friends and colleagues as an “intellectual,” “reserved” sort or person who appears to be perpetually lost in thought. “At a dinner,” offers Connors, “Dick would say the most. Bill would say the least, just a sentence or two, but it’d be powerful.”

Heater first joined Hill, Holliday in 1984 from HBM Creamer, an Arnold Worldwide precursor, and almost immediately was paired with art director Don Easdon for three notable, trend-setting TV campaigns.

As the personal computer revolution exploded, Hill, Holliday’s ads for Wang Laboratories introduced many Americans to the casual cyberspeak we now take for granted. The ads showed businesspeople discussing MIS departments, nodes and networks as casually as they might order a cup of coffee. The pair’s “Real life. Real answers” campaign for John Hancock Financial Services—with its inventive use of on-screen text, cinema verité camera work and understated dialogue—became a bellwether for the agency, winning the Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival in 1986.

Three years later, Heater-Easdon’s Zen-influenced spots introduced Nissan’s Infiniti with executions depicting natural beauty rather than the actual autos for sale.

In 1993, Heater and Easdon formed a creative boutique in Boston, but Heater/Easdon never really caught fire, and Easdon split three years later. The shop carried on as Heater Advertising until Heater rejoined Hill, Holliday. The 12 remaining Heater employees were recast as the East Coast satellite of Red, the San Francisco shop co-owned by Easdon.

Heater and Pantano may work together in the future for other agency clients, but nothing has been decided so far.

“I’m in it for the long haul,” says Pantano. Heater, who harbors dreams of directing Hollywood films, says, “You want to keep growing creatively [and take on] new challenges.” But for now, “it’s Fidelity, Fidelity and Fidelity.”