Citi: Ready to Start Marketing in California

Article excerpt

Eighteen months after making a major retail purchase in California, Citigroup Inc. is preparing a marketing and advertising campaign to let consumers know it has arrived.

Marjorie Magner, the chairman and chief executive of Citi's global consumer group, said the New York company plans to kick up its profile in the state this year -- and she does not rule out further deals.

Citi, which had a small branch network in the state, bought Golden State Bancorp, the holding company for California Federal Bank, for $5.2 billion in late 2002. At the time Citi's chairman, Sanford I. Weill, lauded the deal as advancing a plan to expand in the U.S. Hispanic consumer market and in Mexico. Golden State delivered 352 branches -- most of them in California -- and 1.5 million new customers.

"During the first year of an acquisition you spend a lot of time making things work," Ms. Magner said in an interview Friday before an appearance here to help promote Citi's Women & Co. business line. "But now we're ready to take a step out and bring more" to consumers and talk "about who we are and what we can do to help them with their financial needs."

Ms. Magner stressed that growing in California -- alone or through acquisitions -- was important to Citi.

Its interest in the state may have helped put a fire under the competition. On Thursday, Wells Fargo & Co. announced its "most aggressive" hiring effort in several years, saying that it would add 400 bankers and financial consultants and open 25 branches in the Los Angeles area this year. Wells also cited the success of its efforts to reach Hispanic and other ethnic consumers through the consular ID program.

Ms. Magner did not offer specifics of Citi's ad campaign but said it would be introduced this year.

Hayes Roth, the vice president of worldwide marketing and business development for Landor Associates, a San Francisco branding and design consulting firm, said that even though branding in a new market is never easy, Citi's global reach and existing profile give it a powerful edge. At the same time, California has a unique character that must be considered as Citi develops its message, he said.

"California, as we all know, is a very special market," Mr. …