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1st Annual

Astonish Results e-marketing
agency of the year candidates

Each month since February 2010, a story at The Rough Notes Company Web site ( has profiled an agency utilizing the Astonish Results digital marketing system. These agencies, known as the “e-Marketing Agencies of the Month,” are reviewed on the following pages. One of these firms will be named as the “Astonish Results e-Marketing Agency of the Year.”

A story on that agency will appear in a future issue of Rough Notes.


Insurance Solutions
Mission Viejo, CAf


Insurance Solutions Technology Group consists of (from left) Bryan Kilduff; Tony Alessandra; Steve Aylor and Sonia Aguirre.


"You need to have a plan and then follow it. Everything in the plan should allow you to measure your return on investment."

—Tony Alessandra, President,
Insurance Solutions


For years, Insurance Solutions built a strong reputation around direct, personal service. On the surface, it might seem that such a focus conflicts with a high-tech marketing approach. Agency President Tony Allesandra doesn't believe that. In fact, his desire for personal connection with the agency's 11,000-plus clients drove him to technology.

"I needed a system to help me talk to my clients, because I couldn't personally talk to that many every single month," Allesandra says. He found help in Astonish Results' Virtual Profit Center customer relationship management system. "It lets us nurture and talk to clients, even cross-sell, touching every client as we—and they—want."

Business development was another goal. "We have much to formulate our brand and build our agency based on referrals," he explains, "but we needed to evolve. The next generation is moving online." So the agency revamped its site and readied itself to respond.

Staff involvement, training and communication around agency expectations were key. "We strive to do everything as a team," Allesandra notes. As management bolstered workflows to support change, it identified staff strengths and weaknesses and brought greater consistency to how the agency projects its brand.



William Penny Jr. is President of Penny Insurance Agency.


"We're growing significantly, almost methodically, and at a pretty fast pace since we implemented our e-marketing strategy."

—Will Penny Jr., President,
Penny Insurance Agency


Penny Insurance Agency
Hendersonville, NC

Penny Insurance Agency has gone from being a traditional, plain-vanilla agency with a conservative, small-town-bank attitude, to one that says, "Let's go do it. Let's have some fun. Let's rock and roll," according to Will Penny Jr., agency president.

As part of its transformation, the agency integrated fast, focused response with a new social networking presence. Using Facebook, the agency interacts with clients and prospects, offers risk management tips, and highlights friends and community partner organizations. It uses LinkedIn, Twitter and an agency blog in the same way. These efforts help the agency reach into the community and drive traffic to its Web site.

In addition, the agency is working with Astonish Results on an e-marketing strategy to reach more churches, a niche the agency serves. "We have an excellent market for churches, and it's important for us to stay in front of them," Penny notes. E-marketing allows the agency to communicate better and broaden its geographic reach.

A strong focus on prospects doesn't minimize agency attention to existing clients, though. In fact, Penny says excitement over growth actually translates into better customer service. "Employees are eager to get to work," he notes. "They view client issues as challenges and they know they have succeeded when they resolve the issues and the client walks away from the transaction happy."

E-marketing work is paying off. "We're growing significantly, almost methodically, and at a pretty fast pace," he adds. "When the economy turns around, we're going to be golden."


Prostar executives include (seated) Chris Kollar, Marketing Director; (standing from left) David Whitfield, Agent/Owner; and Tyler Kerlee, Agent/District Manager.


"Our closing ratio is through the roof."

—David Whitfield, Principal,
Prostar Insurance Agency



Prostar Insurance Agency
Bellevue, WA

To build its Pacific Northwest business, Prostar Insurance Agency combines a range of electronic and traditional tactics into a successful marketing strategy. The agency uses microsites and blogging to bolster name and brand recognition. It engages Facebook fans and Twitter followers in many ways. "We use social media to talk about contests we're having, share what's happening in the city, request referrals—anything relevant," says Principal David Whitfield.

Integration makes managing these efforts much easier. For instance, every time the agency updates its Web site, it updates Facebook. Blogs and e-mail campaigns are integrated. Plus, the agency leverages digital marketing with traditional approaches. "We still send out letters and postcards," Whitfield says. "You never know what will generate a response. Sometimes it's an e-mail, sometimes a Google search, sometimes a letter. We don't put all our eggs in one basket."
Social media initiatives, coupled with enhanced Web structure, produce top search engine rankings. More important, Whitfield says, "Our closing ratio is through the roof." Growth for most companies the agency represents was in the triple digits last year. E-mail marketing and organic searches generate 15 to 20 new leads each week; the agency closes more than 70% of these.

Whitfield freely shares credit for the success. "Once you partner with Astonish Results, you start dealing with minds that are in the field all the time," he says. "It keeps us thinking. That's one of the things that I really love about this."



Members of the Encharter team.


"Most of the tools we use—Facebook, Twitter, Animoto videos, blogging—are very low-cost ways of branding ourselves, getting our name out and driving new business."

—Ken Petersen, CPCU, AIM, Principal,
Encharter Insurance


Encharter Insurance
Amherst, Reading and Lexington, MA, and Watertown, CT

While Encharter Insurance is using social media to grow its business, it also uses digital tools to help clients grow their businesses. "We have always placed a priority on 'giving back' to clients," says agency Principal Ken Petersen, CPCU, AIM. "But we struggled with finding the most effective way to do so."

Enter Encharter's Partners Program, a free service for commercial clients. "When we talk to businesses about working together, we also talk about helping them grow by advertising them on our Web site to our 15,000 or so personal lines customers," Petersen explains. The effort helps with retaining and attracting business clients.

To meet aggressive growth targets—doubling agency size in a few years—staff members make use of popular online tools. "Most of the tools we use—Facebook, Twitter, Animoto videos, blogging—are very low-cost ways of branding ourselves, getting our name out and driving new business," Petersen explains. "Expense-wise, it's an investment of time."

The agency's online presence complements the agency's inherent strength: localness—hometown independent agents serving clients in their own communities. "We're doing what independent agents have always been good at: being in their communities, having a local presence, driving local sales and building lasting relationships," he explains. "We're just tapping the power of the Internet to do it."

Encharter's approach—and its partnership with Astonish Results—paid off. In just a matter of months, Encharter realized a 35% increase in the number of deals closed each month.



The H.G. Holdam Insurance Team


"For years, I did all of the old-fashioned type of marketing activities. But things change. If you don't adapt, you're not going to be doing business much longer."

—Heidi Holdam, Principal,
H.G. Holdam Insurance & Tax Accounting


H.G. Holdam Insurance & Tax Accounting
Lake Worth, FL

When Heidi Holdam started her agency 20 years ago, it was a personal lines-only operation—almost exclusively auto. Before long, the agency added residential and business insurance to the mix. As the commercial segment grew, Holdam saw opportunities to serve more than just their business concerns. "Once you write a commercial policy and you build a relationship, you can find ways to address their personal insurance needs, as well," she explains.

Recently, the agency redirected its $70,000-per-year Yellow Pages ad spend into digital marketing initiatives, including an aggressive e-mail marketing program driven by the Astonish Results Virtual Profit Center (VPC)—a customer relationship management tool. "We do monthly—sometimes even more frequent—e-mails, depending on the status of the client and what they have bought from us," Holdam explains. A key element of the campaign is cross-selling.

The overhaul of the agency marketing approach affected staff. "It's human nature to resist change," Holdam explains. Those who did make the shift, she says, "are excited about the direction and things have really turned around."

Holdam actually experienced an evolution of her own. "For years, I did all of the old-fashioned type of marketing activities—postcards, newspaper, radio, television—all of the conventional ways of advertising," she says. "And I considered myself pretty good at it. But things change. If you don't change, if you don't adapt to how people want to do business, you're not going to be doing business much longer."


From left: Ryan McEachron President/CFO; Tami Pickens, Chief Performance Officer; Krystle McEachron, CIC, CORS, CEO; Barbara McEachron, Chief Accounting Officer; and Ross McEachron, CIC, CRIS, Chairman


"Our online leads have gone from zero to up to 200 a month."

—Krystle McEachron, CIC, CORS, CEO, ISU Insurance Services-ARMAC Agency



ISU Insurance Services—ARMAC Agency
Alhambra, CA

Not long ago, ISU-ARMAC did no e-marketing. "Zilch," says company CEO, Krystle McEachron, CIC, CORS. That's all changed. "We're on Facebook every day," she explains. She even supports employee use of Facebook at work, something many agencies don't do. By analyzing traffic data, McEachron knows that most Facebook-generated agency Web site visits come from individual agency employee pages after employees comment on or share agency postings.

The agency also maximizes its LinkedIn presence. "I'm trying to get more involved in groups of industries we target in our commercial and benefits divisions—monitoring discussions and weighing in where appropriate," McEachron adds. The agency also uses Twitter to drive people to the agency Web site.

To build search engine referrals, McEachron claimed agency pages on search engines and directories maintained by outside organizations. "I updated all the information, so it would be correct and include direct links and contact info," she explains. "If you're listed somewhere, it's important for the information to be accurate."

The agency maintains a special partner focus, using a dedicated page on its site that links to commercial clients. "We blog about them and create YouTube videos," McEachron says. E-mail campaigns complement this work.

In less than a year, the agency realized tremendous results from its e-marketing initiatives. "It went from zero to up to 200 leads a month—either online or from people calling after finding us online," she explains. "A year ago, anything we got as a result of the Web was by chance."


From left: Peter Diamantides, Account Executive; Stephen E. Duffy, CISR, Commercial Vice President; Paul Duffy, President; and Marc Duffy, Marketing Vice President.


"Using e-mail marketing, blogging, Facebook and traditional networking together is much more powerful in leveraging relationships than just the traditional route."

—Marc Duffy, Marketing Vice President,
Duffy Insurance Agency, Inc.



Duffy Insurance
Lynn, MA

As Duffy Insurance began its digital marketing journey, an Astonish Results trainer asked employees, "Who thinks Duffy Insurance is the best agency to work with?" Marc Duffy, marketing vice president, says everybody raised their hands. The trainer's response: "Then every single one of you should try to get as many customers through these doors as you can." This exchange laid the foundation for a culture shift built around electronic marketing.

"Before, if a customer called in and we noticed that they had only an auto or only a home policy, we might casually mention possible discounts or other products," Duffy recalls. Today, agency staff diligently seek e-mail addresses and use Astonish Results' automation to segment customers and prospects for targeted follow-up communication.

Other digital initiatives support the focus. "Through Facebook, we communicate with customers and prospects and build relationships," Duffy notes. Earlier this year, the agency used social media to raise funds for a Boston-based charity that fights childhood and adult cancer. The agency featured the charity on its Web site and used the effort to strengthen agency-customer relationships.

"One great thing about the insurance business is you can stay in touch with many people," Duffy says. Facebook parallels that. "As you meet people throughout your life, you add them as Facebook friends, and you have a ready-built way to stay in touch. They're your target market. Using e-mail marketing, blogging, Facebook and traditional networking together is much more powerful in leveraging relationships than just the traditional route."


The Purves & Associates Team.


"Getting excited about the new ideas in digital marketing helped us sharpen our focus on what a true sales process should look like."

—Scott Purves, CIC, President,
Purves & Associates Insurance



Purves & Associates Insurance Agency
Davis, CA

Instead of worrying how his agency can match direct writer advertising budgets, Scott Purves, CIC, president of Purves & Associates, leverages them. "Consumers are bombarded with insurance marketing messages every day on TV, radio, the Internet," he observes, with many ads claiming the Internet's the place to shop.

"We have to be out there in front of them," Purves notes. To capture online buyers and researchers, the agency implemented an electronic marketing strategy that takes a global approach—the Web—to reach a local audience.

"I don't have a million dollars to advertise on Google like some direct writers," Purves admits, "but we can certainly be in the same arena if shoppers are using Google. I tell people the more involved we get with digital marketing and the Web, the more local we get."
The agency has realized a number of benefits since teaming up with Astonish Results and deploying electronic marketing tactics, such as Facebook, online video, targeted e-mail campaigns and more. But Purves views integration of digital marketing with the agency's sales process as a top benefit.

"You could certainly have a clear sales process without any digital marketing," he explains. "For us, the two go together. Getting excited about the new ideas in digital marketing helped us sharpen our focus on what a true sales process should look like. Diving headfirst into digital marketing was the catalyst for returning to a sales culture and firming up our sales process."


Nathan Dagely is President of Dagley Insurance.


"To have an impact with digital marketing, you really have to commit. You need to go all in."

—Nathan Dagley, Principal, Dagley Insurance & Financial Services



Dagley Insurance & Financial Services, Inc.
Katy, TX

Dagley Insurance's three-pronged marketing approach incorporates client referrals, centers of influence and digital marketing as relatively equal sources of leads. Digital is the newest element, and required total staff buy-in. "Our people know we'll put something in front of them only if we truly believe it will make them better," says Nathan Dagley, principal. "They know we won't put them in a position to fail."

While agency employees had fun learning about and using digital marketing tools, the initiatives required hard work. "It takes time and effort to be successful in the social media arena," Dagley says. "That's true in any endeavor, but to have an impact with digital marketing, you really have to commit. You need to go all in."

Through social media, the agency maintains client contact. "When a storm is in the Gulf, we can alert people daily of what is going on" via Facebook and Twitter, he explains. The agency drives sales and builds relationships with businesses through its Partners Page, which highlights local businesses in more than a dozen categories.

The agency also shares information—and drives Web traffic and search engine results—through its blog. "I didn't realize how successful blogging could be," Dagley says. "Judging by comments, leads and how search engines respond, it has been quite valuable."
On target to hit initial digital marketing goals, Dagley is quite optimistic about the future. "When I look down the road, I just think, 'Holy Toledo, it's going to be unbelievable,'" he says.


Caton-Hosey executives are (from left) CEO Rex F. Caton, CPCU, CLU; and President, John H. Hosey.


"Because we're a little more technologically minded, Web-savvy, sophisticated buyers recognize us as an agency that's easy to do business with."

—Rex F. Caton, CPCU, CLU, Principal,
Caton-Hosey Insurance



Caton-Hosey Insurance
Port Orange, FL

"Given the power of the Internet and the future role it will play in our business, as an agency, we needed to learn how to maximize it if we're to be in business tomorrow," says Rex Caton, CPCU, CLU, principal of Caton-Hosey Insurance. Agency use of automation ranges from online conferencing to mind-mapping software to a range of digital marketing tools.

The agency partnered with Astonish Results to build a better Web presence and capture more online consumers. "Astonish had the same vision we did—that people were going online to find goods and services," Caton explains. "To be in the game, we needed a good digital marketing approach."

The agency uses highly targeted e-mail campaigns to bring people to its interactive Web site. A second traffic driver is search engine optimization, combining pay-per-click ads and staff-led efforts to improve organic search results. Such activities include blogging, frequent content updates on social networking sites, and a Partner program featuring links to and from local businesses.

The agency also uses social networking and social media to drive referrals. Caton sees a side benefit to this social networking. "We get Web-savvy, sophisticated buyers—an important demographic for us—to recognize us as an agency that's easy to do business with, because we're a little more technologically minded," he says. "They see that because we're at the forefront of technology use, we can move data more rapidly and respond more quickly—and moving data is a big part of what insurance is all about."









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