Clark-Theders is Agency of the Year
It's more than just insurance for them
By Dennis H. Pillsbury
There was no doubt of the pride felt by father and son as they both stood to accept the Agency of the Year Award from Rough Notes Editor-in-Chief Tom McCoy. Chairman Rick Theders, CIC, who founded Clark-Theders Insurance Agency (CTIA) in 1977 when he purchased the Jim Clark Agency, talked about his dream of creating a place where people could help others by providing clients not just with the insurance they needed, but with service that went beyond what is normally expected. He added that he was very gratified by the recognition from Rough Notes, not just because it validated the agency's efforts to be remarkable, but because it allowed them to share their efforts with others, particularly their service to the community. With that special kind of atmosphere permeating the West Chester, Ohio-based firm, it was hardly a surprise that Rick's son, Jonathan, wanted to work with his dad from the time he was three years old.
Today, President Jonathan, CRA, CPIA, CHSP, leads the agency in the tradition of honesty, integrity, care and professionalism that was established by his father. "This is absolutely amazing," he said about the award. "We are completely inspired by it," he added as he turned to members of the agency team who accompanied the Theders to the award dinner. "I am very appreciative of the ability to have members of our team here so they can share in this honor for which they deserve so much of the credit."
As one of the past cover agents who voted for Clark-Theders commented: "They are true servant leaders whose selfless approach to leadership places serving others as priority number one. Although it was a difficult choice, since all the agencies were outstanding, Clark-Theders' passion for excellence made them my choice for Marketing Agency of the Year."
Spreading the word
This year, Clark-Theders has adopted a new tag line—"It's More Than Insurance to Us"—that pretty much sums up the agency's attitude toward each of its clients and to its community. Chief Marketing Officer Amanda Schults notes that the publicity surrounding their being named Marketing Agency of the Month last December and the subsequent honor of being named Marketing Agency of the Year has really helped to spread the word about the agency's way of doing business. "There's been a lot of interest in our CTIA Cares program," she says. "In the past six months, other agents and insurance company people as well as clients have come to us asking about the Cares program because they are interested in starting something similar." When I spoke to her at the end of March, she pointed out that the agency had three appointments in April to discuss the Cares program.
As Jonathan commented in the December article, "Just imagine what a difference we could make if all businesses marshaled their resources." Well, maybe not all businesses are getting involved, but it certainly appears that more and more are, thanks to the "selfless approach to leadership" displayed by the Clark-Theders people. As one of the agencies voting for Clark-Theders put it: "Thanks for inspiring me."
CTIA Cares quarterly themes
This year, the CTIA Cares Committee decided on a themed approach toward giving. Each quarter features a different theme for giving. In the first quarter, the theme was clothing and featured a Sock Hop as its main fundraiser. This resulted in some 450 pairs of socks being donated, with the agency contributing money to purchase additional clothing that was sent to Faces Without Places.
Although the second quarter had not even started when we spoke to Clark-Theders, the theme of personal hygiene products (recommended by the charity) had already resulted in significant activity. "We have two customers who have contacted us about donating already," Amanda points out. Among other things, the quarter will feature Easter baskets for kids or teens in group homes that contain items like toothbrushes, soap, lotions and so on. The third quarter will focus on education, with both monetary support for educational organizations as well as a lot of volunteering at schools and Junior Achievement. The fourth quarter theme is hunger.
Amanda says the themed approach has "created a lot of excitement and ideas about interesting fundraisers and ways to bring others into the fun."
Expanding the RiskSOURCE™ approach
The agency created a risk management and risk mitigation program that continues to be wildly successful. The closing rate for prospects that go through the RiskSOURCE process continues to be 100%. The process looks at Strength, Opportunities and Understanding Risk Critical Exposures (SOURCE) for commercial clients and develops both insurance and non-insurance solutions. Most important, each risk management decision is examined in light of its impact on the client's bottom line.
From its inception, that program has grown and changed to reflect clients' needs. One of the additions was the creation of the RiskSOURCE Academy, which offers monthly lunch and learn sessions on a variety of topics designed to help a company's bottom line. Topics for earlier this year included accident investigations, the impact of different generations in the workplace, and in April and May, social media will be the topic of discussion. "The topics are educational and rarely insurance focused," Jonathan points out, "in keeping with our philosophy of being a trusted advisor to our clients."
This year, the agency will be meeting with its commercial clients to discuss emergency preparedness, making certain they have a plan in place and have photos of all areas of their business to help recover with alacrity in the event of a disaster. "At the same time, we're looking at ways to create a similar risk process for personal lines," Amanda says. "It will start with simple stuff, like showing a home owner where the water shut-off valve is located, getting them to mark the circuit breakers on the electric panel, and so on. We'll provide them with brightly colored tags that will have our information on them."
In closing, Jonathan proudly reports that the agency had net growth of 5% in 2011 and that they are significantly ahead of their new business goal for the first quarter of 2012. "We were just about double our goal for that period."
THE 2012 EDITORIAL BOARD MEETING
The day after the Marketing Agency of the Year banquet, the Rough Notes Editorial Board assembled for its annual meeting with members of the magazine's editorial staff. Composed of former cover agents, the Editorial Board shares insights into the key issues that are affecting independent agencies' bottom line.
Not surprisingly, there was a discussion of the current state of the market and whether the extended soft market might finally be coming to an end. Most of the agents in attendance reported hopeful signs of hardening, although these were often dashed when a company with extra capacity came in with competitive rates. Still, the consensus was that there were fewer competitors in many lines and that the fits and starts that characterize the beginning of a hard market were beginning to grow in number. Most felt that 2012 would be a transition year with modest increases that could be accelerated if there were significant catastrophe losses.
Another topic that engendered much discussion was social media. While agencies have always had to be agile and able to deal with moving targets, everyone was in agreement that the social media environment was probably the fastest moving target they've ever had to deal with. The once simple task of communicating with clients now involved incorporating a host of communications options, particularly if an agency wanted to reach the next generation of entrepreneurs. (And who doesn't?)
That topic spilled over into a discussion of independent agency system efforts to recapture the personal lines market. A number of participants noted that social media allowed them to compete on an almost equal footing with the large advertisers. Effective use of various media allows independent agents to reach those people who are looking for a trusted advisor relationship that provides real solutions to their personal insurance needs rather than simply the lowest price for what often is inadequate coverage.
Nearly all of the agencies represented on the Editorial Board have seen significant growth of their employee benefits offerings. And while many expressed concern about what will happen because of health care reform, they also noted that in the group health environment, commissions already had been cut to the bare bones. Many believed that fee for service would prove to be the most effective way to deal with this market and noted that knowledge, education and expert advice in this market will be extremely important as changes continue to come, particularly for the small and mid-sized businesses that don't have full-time professional risk managers and human resources people. "This is the area where the pain is and the area where trusted advisors are most sought after," one participant commented.
Other topics of concern
In addition to the topics cited above, other areas mentioned by the agents were:
—Niche development. How to build credibility and expand the market. What to look for in determining whether to start a new niche product. How to deal with the insurance companies to develop a "customized" product.
—Filling the pipeline. How to motivate producers and service people to bring in new business and cross-sell current business.
—Providing risk management services. How to determine how much to invest. How to evaluate the effectiveness of the services in terms of retention, reputation and referrals.
—And of course, the ever-present concerns about perpetuation. How do you bring along the next generation of owners? Are the Gen Xers and Yers really that different or is it just that they're young and we can't remember what that's like, but when the time comes they really will prove to be fine owners of an insurance agency?
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