Citizens Bank Interviews Thousands of New Yorkers to Build a ‘Living Portrait of NYC’

Citizens_LivingPortraitNYC_2022_Communal Portrait

At the close of the experience, visitors themselves become part of The Living Portrait of NYC.

Authentically embedding oneself in a community requires understanding the people that comprise it. It’s a notion Citizens Bank is taking to heart this year amid its expansion into the New York metropolitan area, where it aims to support the economic health of residents. Following the acquisition of Investors Bank and HSBC’s East Coast branches in February, the brand has been intentional about getting to know the neighborhoods it now operates in. Case in point: Citizens spent 400-plus hours interviewing more than 5,000 New Yorkers from all five boroughs about the city’s resiliency, diversity and idiosyncrasies—then turned the content into a free 10,000-square-foot “Living Portrait” multimedia showcase celebrating everything that makes the Big Apple tick.

The Living Portrait of NYC, open Sept. 18-27 in New York’s Flatiron District, was first promoted through a handful of events hosted within the activation footprint for a selection of Citizens’ business and consumer clients. Then the brand opened the experience to the public, offering four rooms that broadcast content from its interviews in various formats, and peppered with surprise live performances by more than a dozen artists from across the city. Among them: dancers, subway artists, puppeteers, balloon performers, jazz musicians and even a rapper/singer/storyteller/poet, all offering their own interpretations of life in New York.

ally-totally-covered-nyc-2021-teaserSee How Other Banks Activate:

“What’s critical about Citizens is we’re big enough as a super-regional bank that we have great digital tools, that we’re thinking in a modern, analytic-driven way about how we help our customers,” says Beth Johnson, chief experience officer at Citizens. “But we pair that with the community to have impact. So the [Living Portrait] itself is a celebration of that ability to use modern tools, but still bring people in from the community in person, to show that we can work across those two areas to offer the best value for our customers.”


Citizens intentionally balanced digital tools and engagements with intimate artistic performances.

The first room of The Living Portrait was evocative of the New York Stock Exchange with tickers displaying digital stats in all directions about New York’s various neighborhoods. Like the fact that there are 145 pizza restaurants in the borough of Queens, alone. Or that New York City has the lowest divorce rate of any major U.S. market (say what?).

In the second room, attendees experienced audioscapes in a dark environment where spotlights shone down from the ceiling. By standing under each of the light beams, participants triggered an audio story from one of Citizens’ interviewees, from artists to small-business owners, explaining their journey to and through New York City.

The third room encompassed an emotionally driven multimedia experience that captured the synchronicity and diversity of 24 hours of life in the city. The majority of attendees sat down to watch the entirety of the nine-minute video loop, demonstrating just how impactful the footage was, Johnson says.

And finally, in the fourth room, attendees got a chance to become a part of The Living Portrait of NYC themselves. After answering a few questions and having their photo snapped, participants were incorporated into the moving portraiture displayed on the walls. Before leaving, they could scan QR codes that linked to their digital assets, and more information about the bank’s services.


The brand recruited local musicians, storytellers, dancers and other artists from across NYC for live performances.

For Johnson, The Living Portrait was a key part of the brand’s broader strategy for connecting with and supporting New Yorkers and their unique financial needs. In the months leading up to the showcase, Citizens partnered with local organizations like Ukrainian National Women’s League of America, Think!Chinatown and Rockaway Development & Revitalization Corporation to boost neighborhood revitalization, small-business support and economic development around the city.

“We got involved in New York and our communities with this crescendo event, and we’re so proud of The Living Portrait, but we’re going to continue to stay involved,” says Johnson. “You’ll start to see us popping up sustained in other brand messaging in New York and continue to have community involvement. So [the showcase] was a piece of the puzzle—an important one—but not the full puzzle.” Agencies: Ogilvy; RadicalMedia.

Spin Through The Living Portrait:

Photo credit: Katie Thompson

Kait Shea
Posted by Kait Shea

Kait joined EM in 2015 and today enjoys her role as senior editor, digital content. When she’s not in reporter mode, rocking mermaid pants at Comic-Con or running laps at MWC Barcelona, you can find her at home listening to music.
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