Walk through any Altoona or Johnstown, Pa., shopping mall, grocery store or coffee shop over the next couple of months and you just might observe kids tugging at their mom’s purses and saying: “Look Mommy. See that lady? Look at all the bracelets she’s wearing!”
That lady with the bracelets is Kathleen Niedermayer, who just signed on as sales manager for Baltimore Life Insurance Co.’s Johnstown agency and has developed a reputation as “The Bracelet Lady.” This grows out of her passion for life insurance and her background in promotions.
“Part of my background is working for radio stations,” says Niedermayer, an Altoona Area AIFA member. “In my former life, before I became involved in the insurance industry, I was in marketing and promotions. ”
Last year, at the MDRT annual meeting in San Diego, Niedermayer stopped at the LIFE booth. While chatting with the LIFE staff, something caught her eye that rekindled the marketing fire inside her—two-tone gel bracelets with the slogan “Life Happens.” “I thought, ‘These are great,’” Niedermayer recalls, not just because they are bracelets, but also because of what they say. “That’s something I’ve always said: Life happens,” she notes. So she bought some on the spot because she knew how popular the gel bracelets were. “There are so many out there, in all different colors,” she explains. “Pink means one thing, yellow another. If you see somebody wearing one, you often ask what it represents.”
She wanted her bracelets to stand out because the message is very important. One bracelet wouldn’t necessarily do it, so she started wearing many to attract attention. It worked. Wearing more than one bracelet was an attention grabber. “I’d be standing in line at the bank or the grocery store, and people would ask why I’m wearing them,” she explains. “I’d tell them they’re an answer.” This, of course, raised the question, “Answer to what?”
Niedermayer was ready to answer that, too. She’d explain it answers the question, “What happens?” Then she’d tell them how the bracelet is a physical reminder that the quality of life for a family, a business or a charity after the death of an individual is often determined by the life insurance in place during that individual’s lifetime.
For each conversation, Niedermayer offers a bracelet and business card and tries to schedule an appointment with the prospect. “If they can’t commit, I’ll ask them to call when they’re interested in talking about what happens for them,” she says.
Blogging for LIAM
Halfway across the country, Patrick Bonnett, CSA, president and CEO of Encore Financial Services in Millard, Neb., is laying the groundwork for some grass-roots success of his own during LIAM.
“I’m a breakaway advisor and I operate on a shoestring budget,” says the NAIFA-Omaha member. “So I block a certain number of hours each month to work the media.” Bonnett’s media involvement comes, in part, through exposure he has received from posting blog entries as part of a local business-referrals group.
He started blogging after he observed how other professionals use it to drive leads. His blogs—informative and educational pieces on financial-related matters—are read regularly by business and community leaders. Bonnett has demonstrated his expertise by blogging and is a local go-to guy on financial security and insurance matters. The blog has also brought his firm business along the way.
While building his professional reputation by blogging, Bonnett has made a concerted effort to reach out to local media outlets. “Sometime ago I created a database of media professionals—our local publications, the newspapers, the magazines and the radio stations,” he explains. “When I’m hosting a seminar or when I come across an idea like Life Insurance Awareness Month, I blast-fax a little story or a press release to my list.”
Often, he receives calls from reporters or editors seeking more information. He follows up with a personal contact. “I usually start by commenting on something I’ve seen in the paper, perhaps a story I liked,” he says. “Then I’ll suggest a story idea and explain why it warrants a little extra attention.”
He’s ratcheting up his media thrust before and during LIAM this year. Already, he’s lined up prospects for different stories. “I’ve placed a few calls and talked to some of the freelance reporters I’ve gotten to know,” he explains. “They’re always looking for stories. Their pay is based on production, just like ours.”
Besides sharing story ideas and volunteering to talk about the issues, Bonnett generally offers the names of competitors the reporters can interview. For one recent article, he provided contact information for the local association leadership. “The reporters certainly appreciate the legwork you do for them,” he says.
After he’s quoted in the article, he extends each article’s value. “Ordering a lot of reprints when you’re an independent producer is expensive,” he explains. So he clips the articles and includes copies in his portfolio, which he then shares with clients during meetings. “It’s a way for my clients to get to know me a little better,” he says. It’s also free publicity and, because it’s written by a journalist, it carries more weight.
Cross-selling with LIFE
In Chattanooga, Tenn., Joanne Smith, CLTC, is excited about using LIAM to boost her business. Smith, an Allstate Financial Services personal financial representative and a NAIFA-Chattanooga member, got a taste of such success during LIAM 2006—and is all set for this year. Smith, a financial rep in a property and casualty world, plans to capitalize on LIAM again this year by pursuing her P/C agents’ clients. She is most excited about the “awareness” element.
“There are articles everywhere during Life Insurance Awareness Month, and people are reading them,” Smith says, referring to press coverage the campaign generates. Also, people are more aware of life insurance through print and electronic ads in local and national media.
Last year, to capitalize on this increased awareness, Smith went to the LIFE website (now at www.lifehappens.org), ordered postcards and sent them to people listed in the other agents’ book of business. This was a one-time mailing to 70 or so customers.
She concentrated on mailing promotional materials to prospects and contacting them. “I’d ask if they got my mailings and if they had seen the ads for Life Insurance Awareness Month,” she says. They responded positively. “What I liked was there was a reason for them to respond other than my simply trying to sell them something,” she adds.
Smith saw increased interest in life insurance among the P/C customers she targeted. “I had more people respond positively to my cards than normal,” she says. Last year, her production credits spiked because of this push, and she’s expecting similar results this year.
Besides noticing more interest in life insurance, Smith was able to use the momentum created by LIAM to springboard into discussions about other products and services, which has enabled her to help P/C clients better manage and protect their retirement and savings.
This year, Smith plans to augment her direct-mail efforts. She plans to use the Life Happens bracelets and put LIAM posters around her P/C agents’ offices to remind them and their clients about the importance of life insurance.
Banking on direct mail
For Thomas Currey, CLU, ChFC, and NAIFA trustee, LIAM presents an opportunity to keep his hand in life insurance production. Currey is owner of TDC Financial Services in Mansfield, Texas, and a PPGA with Ohio National.
The first stop in Currey’s quest for more sales was the LIFE website. He plans to do two mailings to existing clients, many of whom he serves through a sister business that focuses on securities.
His staff will do one client mailing this month to get people to think about life insurance before the official campaign kicks off in September, when he will conduct a round of follow-up calls. The second mailing should go out in early September, right around the time he is heading to Washington, D.C., for the NAIFA Convention and Career Conference. Currey is confident the push will work well. As he says, “I’m expecting a good response. What I like best about it is it’s not a mailing that pushes a specific product or carrier.”
A little help from your carrier
Advisors who wish to capitalize on LIAM won’t be lacking support from their carriers, many of whom will be offering promotional materials and ideas. Charles McAleer, III, CLU, ChFC, LLIF, RHU, CRPS, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Oak Brook, Illinois-based Mutual Trust Financial Group, says his company has been supporting LIFE and LIAM since the beginning of the program. Each year, the company spreads the word about the campaign and outlines the activities it undertakes and what financial advisors can do to help boost awareness.
“We include articles in the August issue of our field force magazine, Vanguard,” McAleer says. “This year’s edition will highlight a feature article promoting the campaign, as well as a section describing a variety of tools agents can use to get the word out to clients and prospects. We also mention Life Insurance Awareness Month in our September advertisements in industry publications.”
Last September, to keep home-office staff informed, the company distributed a flier to each employee’s desk, along with a Life Happens bracelet. “We encourage staff to mention life insurance and the campaign to producers, policyholders and general agents when they call,” McAleer says.
Throughout the year, the company also displays LIFE posters in its home office and encourages producers to submit their own true stories to LIFE’s annual realLIFEstories contest. “Last year, one of these stories was featured in Advisor Today,” McAleer says.
Advisors can do nearly everything a company does. For instance, Allstate’s Smith is putting up posters throughout her office. Bonnett is going a step further. He’s gotten permission from a local mortgage company—one that has a fantastic building with great visibility—to place vinyl signs about life insurance along the street near the company. “Since they do about 50 to 60 mortgage closings a month, I’m likely to get quite a few mortgage life referrals,” he says.
Last year, he used LIFE’s printed materials for a mail and phone campaign. “I actually came a little late to the table last year, so I downloaded some of the postcards and brochures,” Bonnett says. He sent information to his top clients and then got on the phone. “I used the language they had in the material and asked to do an annual survivorship review. I couldn’t believe the response. People were very positively responding to life insurance like they had never done for me before.”
He closed eight cases based on his LIAM activities last year, up from four the year before. “My target premium increased year over year, from $4,200 in September 2005 to $15,700 in September 2006,” he explains. “This made a significant impact in my sole-proprietor practice. I basically gained a month’s worth of income.” In addition, the number of referrals he was able to gather during the presentations jumped more than 400 percent—from four in 2005 to 21 in 2006.
E-cards to the rescue
For financial advisors who are too late to organize a full direct-mail program for this year’s campaign, LIFE has an easy and fast alternative—e-cards, which you can access at www.lifehappens.org.
With a few clicks of the mouse, advisors can choose from a variety of cards built around life events such as a birthday, a marriage, a new baby or retirement.
According to Jon Dressner, LIFE’s senior vice president, “This is a great tool for agents to use to touch clients and prospects during September. Go to the LIFE site, send an e-card and then follow up with a phone call.”
Presenting your case
Public presentations are another option. Niedermayer, The Bracelet Lady, has taken her Life Happens message to the masses—well, a mass of fellow advisors, anyway. She got a last-minute chance to speak at her local association meeting and delivered a presentation around the question, “What happens?”
“We know pretty much what happens when people pass away if they have life insurance,” she explains. “But what happens when they don’t have it?” She incorporated two personal stories about women she knew who didn’t have life insurance, as a way to help challenge fellow advisors.
Tell your story
As an advisor, you can do the same with your prospects, employees or other professionals. Ask the question, offer the answer and share examples of how life insurance can make the difference for those left behind. Of course, you can discuss much more during the presentation—and a Life Happens bracelet is a good way to remind people why they need life insurance. Wearing bracelets—or wristbands, gentlemen—may be a great jumping off point if you want to do something different this year. But if you can’t bring yourself to wear those bracelets, a Life Happens T-shirt may be a better fit.
But whatever you choose to do, do it now because it is almost LIAM—and the best time to let everyone know about the miracle of life insurance.
Dave Willis is a New Hampshire-based writer and regular contributor to Advisor Today.