Small Business Support at the EBRD

In one of our first meetings with the Small Business Support team at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in late 2012 we were told that a campaign was needed to ‘promote SBSs BAS and EGP (formerly TAM) to MSMEs (AKA beneficiaries) across Europe, SEMED and other transition areas’. Our response? ‘WTF?’ Ok, not quite, but it’s fair to say we were confused.

The EBRD is owned by 64 countries, as well as the European Union and the European Investment Bank. Its purpose is to help countries around southern and eastern Europe, central Asia and the southern and eastern Mediterranean to become open market economies and to help their economies grow in a democratic and fair way.

For the most part this means financing large projects and companies. Several years ago the bank realised that, with the right help and advice, small and medium-sized businesses can become large and successful, and worthy of investment, and the Small Business Support team was created. After identifying what help a business might need, from developing a marketing strategy, brand or website to larger more complex restructuring or management consultancy, the team matches one of their local or international experts to the businesses and helps them to grow.

The Small Business Support team approached us to create a campaign to help them communicate better with small businesses across more than 25 countries, from Albania to Mongolia. The EBRD’s communications are generally aimed at bankers and large institutions, and that institutional style of communication had percolated down to materials aimed at small businesses. It was clear that what works for an economist in Zurich would not work for a poultry farmer in Jordan, yet they were being presented with the same materials.

It took months of research and meetings to understand what they do, and to summarise all their different activities in a way that could be understood in at least 18 different languages. Not easy. We realised that at the core of what they offer is deep knowledge and experience – what we termed their ‘know-how’ –  and it was around this idea that we centred the campaign.

A simple phrase, translatable into most languages and otherwise well understood, know-how can be used to talk about the EBRD’s own know-how as well as in campaign phrases to promote their specific services. Rather than reflect the EBRD’s internal departmental structure on promotional materials we instead focus on what they offer: ‘Advice for Small Businesses’.

Many of their existing materials talked about the process in the abstract, but after digging further we found real stories of real people they’ve assisted, from helping a furniture maker in Bosnia & Herzegovinia expand abroad, to helping a female hotelier grow her business in Armenia, through their ‘Women in Business’ programme.

The team had grown rapidly, opening offices all over Eastern Europe and beyond within just a few years. Every team developed its own promotional materials, each describing what they did and who they worked for differently, leading to a lack of both verbal and visual consistency.

Through workshops with the core team, we developed a core narrative, which included agreed descriptors for the different aspects of their work, and a set of values around which their work should be centred. Then we developed an extensive tone of voice guide for the core team, and a reduced guide for their colleagues in the field.

With projects geographically scattered and no budget to commission photography on an on-going basis, the campaign uses a set of bespoke icons to illustrate real stories, services offered, sectors and themes, as well as a general set focussing on the idea of ‘growth’.

Initially headings were set in the bank’s preferred typefaces, but we realised that if we wanted to introduce consistency across all regional offices this wasn’t workable. As many of the countries still use Corel Draw, or create materials themselves in MS Office programmes, the solution was to use Times New Roman, which is available everywhere (well, except in Georgia).

As well as developing a core set of materials that are, importantly, targeted at different audiences and can be customised by the EBRD’s in-house design team, we also created a suite of Microsoft templates so staff with no design experience can produce materials that look professional and on-brand.

Following a pilot in Serbia and soft-launch in Kiev, the new campaign officially launched in London in April 2014 at a two-day event for all 200 of their staff from across all of their regional offices. Understanding the importance of the new campaign the team dedicated one of the two days entirely to explaining how to use the new campaign materials.

To launch the new campaign, both to staff, to the rest of the bank and to small businesses, we created a short film that serves as a simple overview of what they do and why businesses should apply for their help.

It was the first time most of their 200 staff had met so we designed a large interactive wall hanging in the central area of the venue onto which delegates were encouraged to pin their selfie to show where they came from.

As well as designing all the décor for the event and dinner that followed, we planned and ran workshops for all 200 staff over most of the day where we creating role-playing games for staff to practice using the toolkit of materials produced and feedback their thoughts on the new campaign.

Through grounding the team’s work in real life stories, targeting their messages and creating a clearer verbal and visual style we hope we’ve helped to make their work more widely known, and ultimately to improve the lives of people in many countries.