Specialty insurance provider's ad campaign drives awareness

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Burns & Wilcox is in the business of providing insurance agents with specialty lines of insurance, specifically excess and surplus lines that usually are not written by the standard insurance carriers. "We help agents cover hard-to-place risks ranging from earthquake coverage to product liability," said Steven Kaufman, Burns & Wilcox's director of marketing.

The company is a major national player in this arena; however, recent third-party focus groups showed that its existing customers didn't know of Burns & Wilcox's stature or its variety of products. "Few agents were aware that we had 36 offices in 28 states, or that we are approaching $1 billion in annual written premium revenue," Kaufman said. "Many thought we were merely the one office they were accustomed to dealing with."

The industry is made up of thousands of smaller regional companies serving only a fraction of the market. Burns & Wilcox wanted to change the perceptions that it was just another one of those smaller players and increase its footprint in the national arena, Kaufman said.

The company embarked on the development of a campaign—using both in-house staff and outside ad agency Solomon Friedman, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.—that educated agents about what Burns & Wilcox was and the wide range of specialty insurance products it offered. Strategy and media planning were managed in-house, while creative was overseen by the agency.

In narrowing the focus for the campaign's messaging, the marketing team felt there was a real need to provide the agent community with an answer box?somewhere to turn when it seemed as though insurance coverage was nonexistent or price-prohibitive, Kaufman said. "We felt we were the answer, but we needed to communicate how," he said.

Together, the company and its agency came up with the straightforward tagline: "The answer is Burns & Wilcox." This tagline was used for both broad corporate branding ads as well as those touting specific products. For example, one ad asked, "Which specialty insurance wholesaler keeps recording double-digit increases (1,000 employees, 300 products, 36 offices, $1 billion total premiums)?"

Of course, the answer was Burns & Wilcox, Kaufman said. "In addition to our branding efforts, we also focused on our surplus and excess lines, and asked such questions as, `Who can offer your clients a complete menu of restaurant and deli coverage?' "

The campaign debuted in early September at the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices Convention in Las Vegas. "Convention attendees, many of them key players in the industry, were exposed to the new campaign via a four-page insert in the convention literature," Kaufman said. "It had an immediate impact as indicated by the very high number of unsolicited comments made to Burns & Wilcox management personnel attending the meeting."

The company then rolled out four-page ads in several insurance trade publications, focusing on the ads that spoke to Burns & Wilcox's size and breadth. "Over time, we have scaled these branding efforts back to one [page] and two-page spreads, and have begun to incorporate the product-focused ads bit by bit," Kaufman said. "Our goals are to continue both while maintaining the theme of `The answer is Burns & Wilcox."

In total, the advertising campaign is a more than $500,000 buy, with the placements in major trade magazines read by agents accompanied by direct mail, e-mails and broadcast faxes that mirror the theme and messaging, Kaufman said.

At this point, campaign results are largely anecdotal. "Response from the agents we have surveyed has been very strong," Kaufman said. "Many say, `We had no idea you guys were so big,' or `I didn't know you offered that coverage.' We have grown faster than our industry as a whole has, but as is the case with most advertising, it is difficult to ascertain how much of that growth is attributable to the advertising and how much is due to strong sales efforts. Our campaign is not a specific call to action, so that makes it difficult to quantify in terms of real dollars."

As the campaign continues, its ultimate success will be determined by analyzing a combination of feedback, overall sales, new-business growth, recruitment and solicitations by competitors seeking to be purchased, Kaufman said.

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