PIA National's branding campaign gains momentum
Agents customize ads to fit their audience
By Phil Zinkewicz
In November 2006, the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents (PIA National) rolled out a new “branding” campaign—“Local Agents Serving Main Street America”—for its agent members and the companies they represent.
At the time, Len Brevik, PIA Executive Vice President and CEO, said the first major component of the campaign would consist of a series of more than 200 print advertisements that PIA members could run in local publications. These ads could be customized with their agency logo and contact information and, optionally, a company logo.
PIA members could use the ads to reinforce their position in the local insurance marketplace as local agents offering personal support and service, as well as a choice of companies’ policies to better fit their customer needs, he said.
“The PIA branding program does not attempt to create a new identity for PIA members,” explains Brevik. “Our agents have never needed a new identity. They already have one that is clear and positive with consumers—they are professional insurance agents. Their customers know who they are. They’re local and they care. Our branding program, ‘Local Agents Serving Main Street America,’ simply extends the reach of that already-established identity with a coordinated, high-quality advertising and promotional campaign that highlights what professional insurance agents bring to the table.
“We think the cost for participating in the campaign is favorable. It’s free,” Brevik continues. “PIA would never restrict our members’ access to such a program by attempting to charge extra for it. All PIA members are truly equal. Participation in the PIA branding program is just another advantage of PIA membership,” says Brevik.
That’s not all. Brevik explains that there is also no fee for carriers to participate in the PIA branding program. “We’d prefer that carriers hold on to their money and use it to support the advertising initiatives of their PIA member-appointed agents with cooperative advertising dollars,” Brevik says. “By signing on as sponsors of the branding program, companies will help ensure that their sales channel of choice prospers now and in the future.”
As of press time, 50 companies have joined the branding program. “By signing on as sponsors, carriers have demonstrated their commitment to the success of the independent agency distribution system and the continuing prosperity of their professional agent sales force,” says Brevik.
One aspect that makes the PIA ads different is that they cross gender and ethnic boundary lines, according to the PIA. For example, not long after PIA announced its branding program, the association introduced two new “Local Agents Serving Main Street America” advertisements, both concentrating on commercial lines insurance and featuring female business owners.
“Designed specifically to attract women business owners, these ads recognize one of the fastest growing market segments for insurance products,” says PIA National President Donna L. Pile. “Women who already own a business or who are starting a new business deserve the best choices and service when it comes to commercial insurance. They need a professional insurance agent.”
In the short time since the program’s inception, the branding program has won four prestigious awards. In July 2007, the PIA branding program was named a Gold Award recipient of the Hermes Creative Awards 2007 competition, which is administered and judged by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.
The awards program is an international competition for creative professionalism involved in the conception, writing and design of traditional materials and programs, and emerging technologies. Entries come from corporate marketing and communication departments, advertising agencies, public relations firms, design shops, production companies, Web-based innovators and freelancers.
Within two weeks of winning that award, the PIA branding program was named an APEX Awards for Publication Excellence award winner. The APEX Awards for Publication Excellence is an annual competition for writers, editors, publications staff and business and nonprofit communicators. APEX awards are based on excellence in graphic design, editorial content and the ability to achieve overall communications excellence. The PIA branding program received the APEX award in the marketing and public relations category.
Then last August, the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals (AMCP) selected the PIA branding program as a recipient of two awards in its annual MarCom awards competition: the Platinum Award in the Corporate Branding category, and the Gold Award in the Advertising Campaign category. The MarCom Awards is an international, creative competition that recognizes outstanding creative achievement by marketing and communication professionals. There were more than 5,000 entries from throughout the United States and several foreign countries in the 2007 competition, perhaps the largest and most respected of its type in the world.
Agents give thumbs up
Rough Notes contacted several PIA member agents to obtain their views on the branding program. Lorrie Palmer of Holman & Holman Agency, Inc., in Springfield, Tennessee, described her agency as a “big supporter” of PIA programs and activities. “Our agency is literally on ‘Main Street’ in the downtown area,” she says.
“We applaud the PIA for constructing a branding program that will make the local insurance-buying public more aware of what the professional insurance agent has to offer,” Palmer continues. “We are seeing a great many ads on television promoting direct writing insurance companies. We are happy to see the PIA’s series of print ads that give the local agent more recognition.”
Cindy Steinbach, of the Mayville Insurance Agency, Inc., in Mayville, Wisconsin, says that the PIA branding program is the first independent ad program that “has any meat.” She says: “The ads are all about the independent agent and what he or she offers to the Main Street public versus what direct writers offer. This is important.
“It is also important that the ads are geared to all ethnic groups and to women as well as men. Every PIA member should be able to choose something that works for his or her agency from this ad series,” she continues. “The fact that the program is free is also enticing.
“There are some Wisconsin carriers that just don’t have the money to help agents with their advertising,” Steinbach explains. “I have four people in my Mayville office, with no huge advertising budget. I am passionate about this program. It is a way for the local agents to distinguish themselves in the marketplace.”
Chester A. Butler, president of The Butler Company, Inc., in Brentwood, Tennessee, describes the program: “The ads are straight-forward. I’ve seen ads with various kinds of gimmicks and they leave me cold. These ads offer me some versatility because they are ethnically diversified.
“Plus, they’re easy to use. I just took an ad to my printer, inserted my logo and was ready to go,” he continues. “I have also made them into flyers, which I used in a mailing to 1,300 members of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce. Before this, I designed my own ads, which could take as long as a day if I had a good idea and as long as a week if I had a bad idea. Or I could have gone to a professional ad designer, which could cost into the thousands of dollars. This program is free. So it’s a savings in time and money.”
“I like the PIA branding program because it demonstrates how the local agent is really a part of the community that he or she serves,” says Ron Bixby of the Ludlow Insurance Agency in Ludlow, Vermont. “Local agents don’t just sell insurance; they are volunteers at the local church, the Rotary and other civic activities. We’re located on Main Street in a ski resort area, and our customers are our neighbors. I think the PIA branding program is extremely well done, and it is a perfect way for independent agents to promote ourselves.”
R.E. Shane Ragan II, of the Ragan Insurance Agency, Inc., in Columbus, Georgia, says the PIA program “hits home” for the local agent. “The PIA ads have helped me out as far as print advertising is concerned. The ads communicate to consumers that they can depend on their local agents for insurance protection.
“We are like them,” Ragan continues. “We are small business entrepreneurs just as they are. We can understand their needs easier than direct writers. Now, I would like to see the PIA go farther and try to penetrate cable television. We’ve got to let people know who we are.”
Brevik sums up the program: “The PIA Branding Program was designed in such a way that everybody wins. PIA members win by having a high-quality branding program they can use to market their agencies. Carriers win by being able to support the advertising initiatives of their PIA-appointed agents. And, everybody wins because nobody has to pay anything extra to use the program.”
For more information:
National Association of Professional Insurance Agents
Web site: www.pianet.org