We turned HSBC from sponsors to storytellers to reach fans and non-fans alike. We researched, scripted, produced and published an ambitious two-part feature length documentary, The Pioneers, about the USA Sevens rugby team. It was broadcast in primetime by NBC at no cost to HSBC and has achieved more than 1.8M views on social media, helping HSBC reach new Sevens fans worldwide and growing the sport in the US.

We asked James Fenn, the creative lead, a few questions about The Pioneers…

What makes The Pioneers stand out?
For me it’s two things: the ambition of the project and the purpose behind it.

Researching the right story, following a rugby sevens team for an entire season, creating a beautiful 55-minute documentary and then having that broadcast for free on NBC, a huge US network, really was an incredible achievement. It represented multiple firsts for the team and it’s the type of project I’m not sure anyone would have envisioned us doing even three or four years ago.

Beyond that though what stands out is that this is work that had a real purpose behind it. It wasn’t just creativity for creativity’s sake. We built outwards from HSBC’s ambition to grow the sport of rugby sevens and produced a piece of content that also could make a real difference to the future of the sport in the States. The results of which are already being felt.

What about The Pioneers makes you the most proud?
It was a H+K project from ideation through production and publishing, so to have made something of such quality that had such success makes me incredibly proud. As well as showing off our creative capabilities, any project that stretches across almost a year, with shoots on four continents, takes a huge amount of work to get over the line. It took a massive effort from all of our HSBC team at all stages of the process, with lots of long nights and tough moments. But to see what the film became certainly makes it all worth it so I am incredibly proud to be part of such a brilliant team.

What’s one lesson from this campaign that you’ll carry with you?
If you don’t ask you don’t get. It would be easy to have thought that a Financial Institution client would never be willing to commission work like this. Or that a team would never open up their doors to our shoot. Or that a major US broadcaster would never show a piece of branded content for free. But as part of this project we successfully pitched all of these things. A lot of the time I think we end up instinctively not pursuing work we think will never get off the ground – but this project shows that it never hurts to be ambitious.

What exactly does HSBC Sport do?
We look to use HSBC’s sponsorships (rugby sevens, golf, tennis, etc.) to communicate the brand’s promise of ‘Together we thrive’ and increase positive sentiment around the brand.

What was the issue HSBC was tackling?
HSBC wants to help support the development of rugby sevens, as a representation of its belief that Together we Thrive. The sport is growing but still has a very low profile in countries all over the world. We wanted to create content that could address that challenge.

What was the most challenging part of your work with HSBC and how did your team work through it?
Creating a film for use by a broadcaster was a really interesting learning curve. The US networks are incredibly exacting in the specifications for any content that goes on the airwaves, which added a level of complexity beyond anything you’d see in creating a piece for YouTube, for example. Navigating pages of technical specifications while working with a production team on the other side of the world represented a real challenge.

The overall results of the campaign
The campaign has been incredibly successful. On top of the broadcast by NBC it has been viewed 1.8 million times. We also used it as a powerful tool to drive editorial coverage, appearing in 78 articles all over the world.

Watch HSBC “The Pioneers”