IMCA Blog

This article first appeared in Insurance Journal

By Leslie Lash

Marketing is inherently a competitive space. Our sole purpose is to drive revenue; some may disagree, but fundamentally, every activity a marketing department performs should be to support their firm’s business objectives (read: make money) through marketing strategies. Period.

Meeting this objective takes many forms. We use terms like brand equity, customer journey, omni-channel, earned media and so on, evoking the occasional eye-roll from our non-marketing peers who simply don’t speak our language.

Marketing is the closest role you can get to sales without actually being in sales (which is fantastic, because most of us don’t want to be). We’re creative and passionate, and we love seeing our visions come to life, like the inspiring video that drove social traffic through the roof or the big account we landed thanks to a killer presentation deck.

We like to win. We want to win.

The bitter truth is that most marketing departments don’t get the recognition they deserve because their work is usually anonymous. There are no closing credits at the end of a knock-your-socks-off explainer video or a wildly successful pay-per-click campaign.

One way that marketing teams can shift this reality is through entering and winning marketing and communications award competitions. Here’s why I’m a huge advocate for these programs.

1. It’s an amazing morale booster for your team.

Most marketing departments in the insurance industry have relatively few employees, and they don’t always scale alongside their company’s growth. They’re expected to do more with less, which can sometimes wear on teams that may not have a marketing agency to lean on for guidance or support.

So much of what marketing departments do is behind the scenes, and the employees don’t always have a sense for how their work fits into the broader marketing landscape. In my experience leading marketing teams, winning an awards competition can boost your employees’ morale tremendously. Knowing their work is top-tier provides a sense of pride and pep in their step that is tough to replicate.

2. It’s a great resume builder.

I encourage everyone, including those on my own team, to celebrate their award-winning status on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Unless you are truly a team of one, no single person contributes to the success of a project or campaign by themselves, and everyone should feel good about their role in winning the award. If you’re a confident leader, you won’t squash this public declaration of enthusiasm. Does it look intriguing to other employers scouring LinkedIn for recruits? Absolutely. If you’re taking care of your employees and keep pushing them to win – and celebrate those wins – they won’t want to leave you anyway.

3. It encourages more thorough project planning and performance analysis.

There are plenty of marketing professionals who will reluctantly admit that for some projects, creative takes priority over analytics. Sometimes making a big splash that wows audiences is what drives us, and we lose sight of the bigger picture.

When it comes to awards competitions, fancy creative without results doesn’t always cut it, especially on digital campaigns. Judges are looking for a combination of creativity, impact, relevance, and ROI. Earlier in my career, I’d scrounge up as many stats as I could to satisfy judges who wanted to understand how my entry performed. It’s always tough to get post-competition feedback from judges who remind you that marketing without substance is basically fluff.

We must measure. Not just to win awards, but to show value and see what’s working (and what’s not). As far as awards competitions go, if the results aren’t great, but the team worked like crazy on it, consider submitting it anyway. Remember, judges are looking for a combination of creativity, impact, relevance, and ROI. Sometimes the numbers just aren’t there, but a huge part of marketing is learning and adapting and getting better. That’s a result worth mentioning.

4. It helps build the legitimacy of marketing in your own organization.

Depending on the size of the company and management support of marketing operations, marketers can get lost in the mix. With hands in lots of different areas, marketing teams may get dubbed the “arts and crafts” or “party planning” department or some other subtle indication that marketing isn’t a real job. We laugh it off, but deep down, it bums us out because we know how hard we work hard to make everyone else look good.

When you win marketing award competitions, especially those specific to the insurance industry, opinions start to shift. You prove that you’re the real deal and others know it. You walk a little taller, and your peers take notice. Suddenly, they’re celebrating your success too and realizing how critical the marketing function is to the company.

5. It’s a cost-effective form of public relations, but beware of “pay-to-play” competitions.

There are countless marketing and communications awards competitions out there. Most are not specific to the insurance industry, so it’s important to consider the companies (and budgets) you may be up against if you choose to enter a competition with a broad scope.

Most legitimate award competitions require a fee to enter; a reasonable expectation is $125 to $300 per entry. For some competitions, costs start to rise once you win. You might be required to pay for promotional tools, such as an award logo for your website. It is reasonable to receive an invitation to an event (for additional cost) during which you receive a physical award and recognition. However, attendance at this event should not be required to win the award. In short, unless you feel strongly about participating, you should avoid any competition that feels like a “pay-to-play” situation.

Since entering competitions can be time-consuming and costly, the key is to be selective. Look for organizations that will provide you with tools and resources to promote your win without additional expense. If you win, the result is an inexpensive form of PR and great content for social media and your website’s news section.

I am a long-time supporter of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA) annual showcase awards program because not only is it specific to the insurance industry, but entries are 100% peer-judged. That means other insurance marketers and communicators are giving their seal of approval.

Winning awards competitions is not only gratifying for your marketing team and company, but it is also an excellent opportunity to develop emotional connections between your audience and your brand. When customers see your employees caring about the quality of their work and celebrating success, it reinforces the positive impression those customers have about working with your company.

Leslie Lash is the Senior Vice President, Director of Marketing for The American Equity Underwriters, Inc., the leading provider of longshore workers’ compensation to waterfront employers. She has 14 years of strategic marketing, communications, advertising and brand management experience in the specialty insurance industry. She serves on the board of directors for the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA). 

This article first appeared in Insurance Business America


By Emily Hathcoat

Any relationship takes work. Your marketing department’s relationship with its advertising agency or design firm is no exception.

In a good relationship, your agency responds to campaign requests with several creative options, helps solve business challenges and produces projects on time and on budget. A great relationship is one where the agency — with your help — develops a working understanding of your business and understands its corporate culture. They become an integral part of your marketing team. Not only do they help you solve business challenges, they anticipate them.

So what does it take to turn a good working relationship into a great one? In conversations I’ve had with my insurance marketing and agency colleagues, two of the themes that came through were trust and collaboration.

“When there is mutual trust between an agency and the customer, then you know the agency is recommending two or three great options to meet business needs and goals,” says Paula Negro, director of advertising, communications and media relations at Starr Insurance Companies, as well as a board member of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA). “They’re realistic in their guidance and aren’t creative for creativity’s sake but rather because it makes business sense.”

Your agency partners value trust in a working relationship as much as you do. It’s what makes them feel comfortable in bringing you their best ideas.

Beth Roth, owner of design firm Thrive Creative, believes that trust allows clients to take that leap of faith that can lead to something great. “Everyone is afraid of change so you can’t try something new unless you trust the person who is trying to lead you down that path.”  

Anna Hargis, director of advertising at Shelter Insurance, agrees that trust leads to better marketing ideas.

“My agencies are valued partners so I want to hear what they have to say,” says Hargis, who also serves on the IMCA board. “We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas so it’s important to get feedback and share ideas.”

Collaboration also makes the difference between a good and great relationship. In a good relationship, an agency works for you. In a great one, your agency collaborates with your marketing team. But collaboration doesn’t always mean agreement.

“Often the best projects result from situations where my client and I challenge each other,” explains Roth. “You need a certain type of relationship to do that on either side.”

In a professional relationship built on trust and collaboration, as you work together over the long-term, your department and your agency care equally about the company. Hargis wants her agencies to have long-term teams in place because, “Those individuals go from knowing our brand to caring about our brand.”

Negro agrees, recalling a 75th anniversary program at a company she worked at several years ago. The company’s agency responded to what she needed, and offered additional on-target program ideas, because, “They took as much pride in our 75 years as we did.”

If you’re ready to go from good to great, approach your agency about a relationship relaunch. Be candid about what’s working and what’s not. Be open to their feedback and be willing to let down your guard. It takes many hands to move the needle and your marketing team can’t do it alone.

Emily Hathcoat has worked in insurance marketing for more than 15 years. She is currently vice president, marketing, at Risk Placement Services and chair of the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association (IMCA).

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