SPECIAL FEATURE: Protection must embrace multimedia PR
Consumers believe 30-40% of income protection claims are paid, he adds, yet the real figure stands above 90%.
“Coverage of the insurance industry was ultra-negative 20 years ago – every other episode of Watchdog was some story about how bad it was,” Edwards says.
“In those days the number of declined claims was genuinely 25-30% but now the industry has cleaned up its act.
“The attitude towards the industry is not in tune with how the industry has changed – there is a massive gap between the perception from the man on the street to the reality.”
He says digital technology is the best way to promote the positives of the market.
“My personal opinion is we are in a situation where the technology is available for small and medium-sized businesses to create marketing content in a way they have never been able to do before,” he declares.
“Twenty years ago there were three issues. People said we don’t need it, it’s too expensive and there won’t be a payout.
“To an extent nothing has changed.”
Kevin Carr, managing director of Carr Consulting and Communications, thinks that 90% of stories on the insurance sector are currently positive – “but we remember the bad ones”.
“It’s worst when celebrities get involved in social media,” he adds.
“The 10% probably does outweigh the 90%.”
The Seven Families initiative led by the Income Protection Task Force has already made heads turn as a positive piece of PR.
As part of the campaign the IPTF is providing seven people who are unable to work because of serious illness with tax-free income for one year.
Last year saw the creation and distribution of Boom!, a film about financial planning from Martin Bamford, managing director of independent financial planners Informed Choice.
Bamford successfully made the film for less than £10,000 after starting a Kickstarter project, from which he raised £3,200.
With phones displaying HD, and with the use of electronic distribution platforms like YouTube, creating films is now far cheaper and easier.
“This was the first financial planning documentary as far as we’re aware that’s ever been made,” Bamford says.
“I came up with the idea and theme for the movie and once I had it I had to find a way of getting it out there.
“I thought about writing a book but I wanted to create something new.”
Bamford wonders whether insurance companies could commission films like his to promote the insurance sector.
Such a strategy has already been employed by Wonga, which commissioned a 30 minute film called 12 Portraits released in November 2013, to promote the effects of payday loans on 12 users’ lives.
While Bamford doesn’t want insurance to be tarred with the same brush as the controversial payday lender, he adds: “It would be great if an insurance company found a concept and built a documentary around the positive aspects of what we do.”
He thinks his film could have been made for less than £10,000 with the knowhow. “Now I’ve learned about the processes I think I could do it with an even lower budget and at a higher standard,” he claims.
Keeping the industry’s PR output varied and fresh is important, as Roger Edwards says: “There was a clamour a few years ago for TV advertising – but then everyone got tired of it.”
Edwards himself runs a regular podcast he uses to chew over all things protection.
He urges insurers to focus on their target audience, which he views as the 30-45 year old demographic, as people tend to think about protection once they have children.
“The man on the street doesn’t understand why underwriting is important, or what underwriting even means,” he says.
“Train tickets cross people’s minds, sofas do, cars do.
“But life insurance premiums come down year after year and people still don’t buy them.”
And he adds: “The amount of money that’s been spent on Seven Families is a tiny drop in the ocean compared to the amount spent on IT.
“It’s not beyond the wit of man to say that if everyone tried to create that kind of story over time you’d build up more of a positive view of the industry.”
Edwards worries that the industry may never make the progress it needs due to a short-termism engrained in market.
He reckons companies are bound by their shareholders to keep doing things the same way which leads to a slashing of rates but a lack of real innovation.
“The levers that people pull at the moment are price, the number of conditions and definitions of critical illness and underwriting,” he says.
“We constantly cut rates that remain competitive but yet that doesn’t grow the market.”
Edwards reckons big companies like Legal & General are looking after their own interests by being conservative. “They may have more of an interest in playing that price game as they can win,” he adds.
“But not every company wants it to stay the same.”
Edwards wants to see an iPhone app where users can buy protection at the touch of button.
But more generally he wants technology to facilitate face-to-face meetings which he reckons will always be a core facet of the industry regardless of whether plans can be purchased electronically.
“We should be using digital technology to get people to see advisers,” he says.
“If somebody is in Salford and hears about insurance on the radio they might have a chat.
“It’s about using varied technology to funnel them to advisers.”
For the industry to change significantly Kevin Carr thinks it needs to get over being seen as boring.
“You say the word ‘health’ it’s interesting, if you add ‘insurance’ it becomes boring,” he says.
“Add ‘insurance’ to anything and it becomes boring.
“There is no mention of insurance in the Seven Families campaign.”
He also thinks creating positive press coverage is always a challenge due to the nature of news itself, which tends to be negative.
But Martin Bamford still thinks the industry can and should do more. “Stories like Seven Families are pressworthy,” he says.
“The barriers to entry when creating content have reduced.”