Posted on 18 Jan 10
In our ongoing effort to share with you how agencies and companies are using social media for advertising, marketing and communications, in this issue we are featuring our discussion with Cindy Donaldson, Marketing Director of Founders Insurance Group. Headquartered in Torrington, Connecticut with two other locations in the state (Lakeville and Orange), Founders is a conglomerate of several agencies purchased over the last 10 years. Some of the agencies date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today there are 32 employees that carry out the agency’s mission, based on achieving profitable growth through ethical behavior and high integrity combined with a professional, state-of-the-art service operation.
Cindy’s background is in advertising, having had her own agency whose clientele included several industries, including healthcare and non-profit. Cindy joined Founders in March of 2009 to help brand the name to the community, carriers, and clients.
“Although several of the insurance agencies that joined Founders have been around for more than a century, we needed to solidify the brand and establish name recognition,” says Cindy. “Through various social media platforms (blogging, e-newsletter, Twitter, Facebook) and other traditional efforts, we have accomplished this tenfold. People in the local arena now know who we are — they know who our principals and employees are and they understand what the Founders name means and what our mission is…all in the span of six months. Additionally, we have received national recognition through the industry trade, and our carriers have realized that we are ahead of most in terms of advertising and marketing, which has been huge for us.”
Through social media, Founders was not only able to promote its brand to both carriers and the public, but it was also able to attract younger people for employment. “They looked at us as technologically savvy, hip,” says Cindy. Additionally, cross-selling opportunities increased as Personal Lines clientele became aware of the agency’s Commercial Lines programs and business insureds became more aware of Founders’ Personal Lines services.
Cindy explains that one of the first things Founders did when undertaking a social media strategy was to produce and send out an e-newsletter on a monthly basis. “We use Constant Contact, which is very cost-effective,” says Cindy. “We do a general newsletter and then we have specific newsletters for different targets. For example, we sent out a newsletter to our database of 5,000 addresses promoting a Workers Comp seminar we were hosting with a bank. We also sent a targeted newsletter to Realtors about our Founders Platinum program, which provides cover for high-end products. We have many clients from Manhattan with second homes in this area.”
When setting up the blog, Cindy says that the four Founders principals originally did not know what blogging was, but came on board immediately when they realized the potential. “I write about half of the blogs,” says Cindy, “and one our principals and managing partners, Chris Garlasco, writes his own. The other three principals are guest writers and our salespeople also contribute to the blog. I will send [out] an outline and they will add to it.”
Cindy established a policy that includes posting one feature a week, although typically there are weeks in which there are more than one post. Additionally, Cindy monitors and manages all blogs, including comments made to the posts. “There are no blind comments allowed on our blog. I look at everything before it goes on-line.”
The blog works effectively because Cindy makes sure it’s consistent and markets it. “Like any other type of advertising or marketing that works well, you have to be consistent,” says Cindy. “You have to realize that it takes a long time for the viral effect to happen. And you have to let people know what you’re doing so that they access your blog, so that they come to you. I make sure there are links to our blogs everywhere, in our email signatures, in our press releases, e-newsletters, Facebook page, Twitter account, and printed material.”
Cindy also has a blog distribution list of carriers, media, and employees so that any time there is a new post, everyone is alerted. “The local media has picked up our articles, our announcements. Having been on the ad agency side, I have a lot of media contacts, and I make sure they receive all our press releases and posts. We have gotten a lot of traction from this, which helps with local brand awareness.” Cindy has also included an RSS Feed link on the blog so that people can sign up to receive e-mail alerts every time a blog is posted.
Another key in making the blog work is that Cindy ensures that there are posts that are fun and personal…not always about insurance. In fact, the owners now get a lot of recognition from business colleagues, telling them, “I see you everywhere now.”
Plans to redo the Founders website for 2010 are underway. “We are planning to launch a redesign of the site in the first quarter,” says Cindy. “We are optimizing the site for search effectiveness (SEO), and adding a News section as well as Testimonials. We are also going to streamline the site to be more social media-savvy, setting up the blog link differently so it appears as part of the site as well as implementing other key changes.
“Everyone has embraced our social media strategy…it’s part of our agency plan, our policy,” says Cindy. “It’s a powerful medium.”
Check out Founders Group website at www.foundersgrp.com and blog at www.foundersgrp.wordpress.com. You can follow the agency at www.twitter.com/FoundersGroup.