McKinney Takes Gold for First Citizens Bank Entry

A screenplay by:
Dan Carlton
Jen Fieldman


There are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.


Whereas most banks speak paternalistically about the expertise they bring to the banking relationship, credit customers for the potential they bring.

This idea repositioned a 100-year-old bank, increasing consideration among prospects by 46% and checking accounts by 44%.

Cast of Characters

Client: First Citizens Bank

Agency: Mckinney + Silver


Our story begins in North Carolina, where a regional bank is having a bad case of “middle-child syndrome.” Their older siblings are the growing number of national banks with expansive product offerings. Younger siblings are the thousands of community banks offering hometown service.

First Citizens, like many regional banks, struggles to survive in the middle.
In the summer of 2001, things intensified when they found themselves in the crossfire of a turf war between Bank of America and the newly merged First Union/Wachovia.

They were about to enter one of the toughest battles of their 100-year history.
Here is their story…


First Citizens boardroom. Agency and clients sit around a wooden table.

CEO: We’ve never had to talk about building our brand, let alone retaining an agency. Why now? Business is fine.

MKTG DIR: Customers love us. Our Gallup study said that we outperform most banks in customer service.

PLANNER, earnestly: But beyond your current customers, no one knows anything about you. With more conviction. We did some preliminary research. Even though First Citizens is third in market share, that’s not necessarily how consumers see you. We conducted some focus groups, and when asked which banks are in the area, you were the eleventh to come to mind.

MGMT SUP: One of the banks listed before you, is outta business.

PLANNER, gaining momentum: We also dug through your database and discovered your average customer only has 12 years left to live.

MGMT SUP: And dead people don’t do much banking.

The CEO nods his head, and sighs deeply.

CEO: Point taken.

The MGMT SUP smiles smugly.

Over the next few months, mckinney had to reintroduce First Citizens in a way that would not only preserve their current customer base, but would also woo customers from the 140 other bank brands in North Carolina. This all had to be done with a marketing budget one quarter the size of its biggest competitors and an apathetic audience. Actually, to say people are apathetic about banks is probably being too kind.


Eighty consumer diaries, twelve focus groups, hours of Simmons and MRI runs, a tour of every two-stoplight town in North Carolina, and five weeks have passed.
In the seventh floor open area at mckinney, the agency team reconvenes.

PLANNER: Here’s what we found. People feel that banks have systematically dehumanized themselves. They deter customers from talking to real bankers. They see customers in terms of risk, and discriminate based on account balance.

COPYWRITER, snidely: So? I’d rather do everything online anyway.

JUNIOR, under her breath: Then go to Bank of America, jackass.

The PLANNER continues to persevere and make his argument clear.

PLANNER, holding up a consumer diary: But we are targeting younger families who don’t. What’s most interesting is that for these people, success is about having a personal impact on the lives of others, not building up a bank balance.

JUNIOR, speaks up, glad to finally have something worthwhile to contribute: One woman told us she “wants to make a difference with her money. She wants to be a hero.”

PLANNER, pounding the table to emphasize the point: Exactly! These people aren’t famous and powerful. But they still want to have their money make an impact on their lives and the lives of those around them. God,
I sound like a planner, don’t I?

MGMT SUP, nodding: First Citizens gets this. Corporate management is decentralized to give local bankers the authority to service customers as they see fit. There’s no answering to “higher powers” in Charlotte. Raising her hands to make air quotes in a thinly veiled slam on the two largest competitors.
This makes every customer feel that their business is valued – regardless of their bank balance.

PLANNER: It’s a very “of the people, for the people” type of bank.

ART DIRECTOR, looks up from the sketchbook he’s been doodling in, wipes away fake tears: Stop, you’re killing me.

The meeting breaks up a few minutes later when it’s discovered that coffee refills are needed.

Late that evening, the PLANNER sits in his office poring over Simmons runs. In the hallway, the COPYWRITER and ART DIRECTOR are overheard.

COPYWRITER, as he passes by the PLANNER’s office, oblivious that his voice is carrying: Okay, here’s a question. Isn’t this all a little too apple pie, Americana, Jimmy Stewart-esque?

The ART DIRECTOR snickers.

Meanwhile, inside his office, inspiration is hitting the PLANNER.

PLANNER, crosses to the window and says to himself: Too Jimmy Stewart? Hmm, maybe a little Jimmy Stewart is just what we need.

He looks back in the direction of his door.

PLANNER, calling out: JUNIOR PLANNER, run to Blockbuster. See if they have any Jimmy Stewart movies. And pick up my dry cleaning while you’re at it.

In the hallway, JUNIOR sits at a desk shoved against the wall, too low on the totem pole to warrant a cube, let alone an office. After hearing her supervisor’s request, she glances at her watch, 10:15. She sighs, gathers her things, and trudges off to the video store.


After pitching the “of the people, for the people” strategy to the CREATIVES only to have it publicly panned, the PLANNER pores through Jimmy Stewart movies grasping for inspiration. His spirit is renewed when he finds one of the movies to be a two-hour exhibition of the ideals he discussed with the CREATIVES. He calls an impromptu meeting.

PLANNER: Have you ever seen “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”?

He hands out copies of the movie to the CREATIVES.

PLANNER, continuing: Jimmy Stewart’s character epitomizes the spirit we want to communicate. In the bureaucratic, power-hungry world of politics, he was the one person who still felt his success was determined by his ability to improve the lives of everyday people.

COPYWRITER, with a glimmer of hope in his eyes: So we want First Citizens to be seen as a perpetuator of this ideal?

PLANNER, calling out: Exactly! We want to show that First Citizens believes there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people.

The CREATIVES consider the idea.

ART DIRECTOR: God, who’s getting the good projects in this agency? Will I ever get a job I can put on my reel?

PLANNER, understanding the questioning of whether good work could be done for a bank, especially a conservative one in North Carolina, responded: Let me play this tape for you.

He pops into the VCR a clutter reel of banking commercials to illustrate the five biggest conventions of bank advertising.

COPYWRITER, getting the point: These banks are all so fucking condescending and self-reverential.

PLANNER: What should we do about it?

ART DIRECTOR: Instead of talking about the expertise First Citizens brings to the banking relationship, let’s credit the customers with the potential they bring to the relationship.

PLANNER: Just make sure you avoid clich