One-on-One with Mark Wells, Publisher of the Insurance Journal
By Charles E. Boyle
Despite his still somewhat boyish appearance, Mark Wells has been the publisher of the Insurance Journal for 33 years, a long time in any industry. He took over when his dad, Mark Wells Sr., died suddenly in 1970, and over the years he’s not only managed to keep the magazine afloat during difficult times, but has also seen it grow into the foremost regional publication for the P/C industry.
It has not been easy. The life of many trade publications is often measured in months, not years. Competition can be ferocious, and maintaining high journalistic standards, while earning enough money to keep publishing, is frequently difficult.
Mark has also had to face personal tragedies. He recently lost his son Matt Wells, a fellow IJ employee and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Earlier in his life Mark had to face the death of his younger brother in a senseless traffic accident as well as the loss of his older sister. Despite these adversities he’s managed to reach an understanding with himself that is beyond the reach of most people. The Insurance Journal is very much his success, and he deserves it.
Now, as IJ‘s 80th birthday approaches, and the long-term goal of becoming a national magazine is close to fruition, we sat down with our publisher to discuss some of the things he’s learned over the years, what problems he sees facing the industry, and where IJ is going. Some of his answers may surprise you.
CB: Has the IJ really been around for 80 years?
MW: Well, it was started in 1923, so that makes it 80 this year. My dad bought it during the depression in 1936. He was the Southern California manager of the Underwriters Report and was with the L.A. Times before that. He saw an opportunity and took it.
CB: What was it like when you took over?
CB: What do you mean?
MW: There were at least seven other West Coast insurance magazines, and we were all competing for the same business. The Insurance Journal was essentially a Southern California publication; we didn’t have much circulation beyond our home market.
CB: It’s changed a lot in 30 years. What happened?
MW: To start with, we no longer have that competition. None of the other seven are still around; now we mainly compete against national magazines.
CB: Any explanation as to why IJ survived?
MW: I’d like to think it’s because we were the best, but that’s maybe only part of it. Insurance isn’t really a marketing directed industry like banking, beer and soda, etc. We’ve been maybe quicker to realize the need to change, and the need to appeal to our core market, the independent property/casualty agents—that’s who we write for.
CB: What about the companies and the agents? How do they relate to one another?
MW: It’s a ‘strained’ relationship. The corporate cultures are different in each case. The agents can’t rely on standard carriers to be consistent in the sense of providing a stable market. Carriers constantly change what they want from their agents. They reorganize regularly. They tell their agents to write a certain type of account—the agents do—and then, if the loss ratio on that business goes south, the carriers blame the agent.
CB: Well, why isn’t it the agents’ fault, after all they write the business?
MW: Look, if the carrier sets the price, the coverage, the type of account they want, then it’s not the agent’s fault if there’s a loss. True, some agents also take advantage of their carriers by withholding underwriting information. They understate the risk’s payroll or square footage, and this obviously taints the relationship for all the agents.
CB: How does the carriers’ position affect the agents?
MW: Standard carriers, who normally deal through independent agents, aren’t good at marketing. They can’t seem to create brands that are easily recognized by consumers. They also haven’t realized the advantages of communicating with their existing agents and prospective agents, and I would add that one good way to do this is through the trade press.
CB: Why is that so important?
MW: Mainly because good agents will do everything they can to protect a good market, and the carriers should be repeatedly reminding the agents why they are a good market.
CB: Could you be a little more specific?
MW: Yes. Agents and brokers aren’t static. They change over time, and any company that wants to stay ahead of the game should be thinking about selling itself to new agents, as the ones they have may retire, go out of business or be lured away by a competitor. They should be thinking of the constant need to replenish the supply. It’s cheaper, and maybe even more effective, to do this through an agent/broker magazine like the Insurance Journal, which is read by the people that the standard carriers want to reach.
CB: Should they be trying to reach anyone else?
MW: Sure—starting with risk managers and moving on to the financial community, investors and industry regulators. They need to attract talent into the industry at all levels; they need to establish their company image. You could say they need to sell themselves, as well as their products.
CB: Right now there doesn’t seem to be much need for that, as we’re in a hard market cycle. What are your views on how this affects the industry?
MW: It’s often said that the insurance industry can’t stand prosperity, and while I wouldn’t go that far, I’d say that it has a lot of trouble dealing with it.
CB: What leads you to believe that?
MW: Since I’ve been publishing the IJ, I’ve seen seven hard markets and their opposite—long soft markets. Underwriting cyclicality is the biggest problem the industry faces. Again, it happens because the standard carriers’ marketing strategy is based on price. If they want to write more business, they lower the price; if they want to reduce their writings, they raise the price. Agents are complicit in this by selling on price as well. It’s easier for any salesman to sell on price rather than benefits.
CB: How does this affect the industry?
MW: It prevents the standard carriers from making an underwriting profit, which in turn prevents them from attracting capital. The price fluctuations drive good risks to the alternative market.
CB: Is this inevitable, then?
MW: Common sense tells me it probably is, mainly because I’ve never seen anything else, but I think there may be some hope, yes, even a real possibility that it could change. Not every company abandons its underwriting principles to chase market share. Look at AIG, by any measures a very successful company. They’re willing to lose market share in order to avoid writing business they consider too risky, or under-priced. I think they’re the best marketing company in the P/C arena. They advertise in Fortune, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and Business Week. They’re even on television. What do you think an agent will do when his account asks, “Have you checked with AIG?”
CB: You just mentioned the “Alternative Market.” How does the cycle affect it?
MW: In my opinion it’s the driving force behind the growth of the alternative market. Good accounts that manage their risks well object to paying higher premiums to cover the losses of those who don’t, so they move from classic insurance to some form of alternative risk management—self insurance, risk retention groups, captives, etc. That leaves the classic insurance market with an increasingly larger share of poorer risks and a decreasing share of good ones. I could put it more bluntly, but I won’t. Let’s just say it’s not a healthy situation.
CB: One of the hottest topics in recent years has been the revolution caused by technology. What affects have you seen on the industry?
MW: Every business has three areas of activity or focus: people, process and products. Technology offers the promise of increased productivity in the process area. Most carriers and agencies have focused the use of technology on reducing the time and cost of the insurance process. Very little attention has been focused on people and products. The most important part of the process for agents, SEMCI, gets minimal attention.
CB: What’s SEMCI, and why is it important?
MW: It stands for ‘Single Entry Multiple Company Interface.’ The goal is to create a system that would allow an agent or a broker to use one interface to contact as many companies as they want with a given risk; compare the coverage offered and the premium, and select the best option for the client all in one package.
CB: Sounds like a great idea. I know Lloyd’s is working on something similar, called Kinnect for its syndicates, and six major U.K. carriers are on the point of adopting a system called “imarket,” which does the same thing. Why isn’t SEMCI being pushed harder in the U.S.?
MW: Basically because the carriers don’t want it. They aren’t interested in giving the agents the ability to compare price and form across all the agents’ markets.
CB: Couldn’t it be that in a huge market like the U.S., it’s simply too complex to work?
MW: No, the technology has been available for years. It’s being done in Canada right now. The standard carriers are afraid they will be forced to become the low cost provider. In a soft market, however, that’s what they are anyway, as they can’t say ‘no’ to an under-priced account.
CB: Lets talk about some specific industry problems. Apart from the cycle and the other things we’ve discussed, what other problems is the industry facing?
MW: I’d have to say that after the cycle comes tort reform. I know I’m not alone. Lord Levene has called for it, Hank Greenberg has called for it, so have a lot of other people, and they’re right. The industry desperately needs to control the amounts being awarded by the courts. It isn’t just asbestos, it’s the whole underlying culture that needs to be reformed, and the only way to do it is through legislation.
CB: What do you think the chances are of that happening?
MW: Slim and none.
CB: Why’s that?
MW: First off, a majority of the American people seem to think the right to sue is part of the Constitution; for another, lawyers form a majority in many legislatures as well as the U.S. Congress, and they write the laws. I’m not just talking about plaintiff’s lawyers either. Did you know that the Defense Research Institute has more than 5,000 members? I’ve heard more than once that some insurance companies spend more money paying their defense lawyers than they do in paying agency commissions. The legal profession has a strong vested interest in maintaining the present system. The P/C insurance industry is a lawyer’s dream come true.
CB: How about med mal?
MW: California’s payment limits have worked well in my opinion—cutting off excessive awards for pain and suffering, while still letting injured people collect. The doctors still seem to be making a good living, as it has curtailed premium increases, which are out of hand in many other states.
CB: What about the current crisis in workers’ compensation?
MW: That’s related to the tort problem. When it was first introduced back in the ’20s the goal was to help people injured on the job to recover and get back to work, or pay their families if they died on the job. It was a sort of early ‘no fault.’ Now, however, it’s become another component in litigation. The special interest groups that benefit from it—mainly lawyers and doctors—have blocked any attempt to reform it.
CB: After 9/11, do you see any future for terrorist coverage?
MW: I do, but for the private sector, it has to be a limited one, as the maximum probable loss from an event like 9/11 is tremendous; the insurance industry alone can’t cover; it needs government help. It’s in the same category as major earthquakes, nuclear disasters and the like, and the risk needs to be spread accordingly.
CB: We’ve talked about technology’s affect on the insurance industry; what’s been the effect on publishing?
MW: The biggest change has been the speed with which information is transferred. News will migrate to the Internet. Even the fastest daily newspaper can’t come close to matching it. As a result it’s become the primary news source for everyone in the industry. I’ll give you an example that’s very close to home. Our Web site had two million page views last month and 112,000 unique visitors. That’s an audience that is 150 percent bigger than the circulation of our national print magazine, which is the largest circulation of any retail agent publication in the country.
CB: So what’s the future for print media? Is there one?
MW: Of course, or I wouldn’t be talking to you. Just because news can be transmitted more rapidly doesn’t mean that information necessarily is. In fact the Internet produces information overload. People need to have it sorted, described, digested and commented on, which means they need to read feature articles, compendiums and commentaries to obtain maximum input. Print media is still the best place to deliver that, because it’s all in one place. You don’t have to look all over the Internet to find it; it’s focused.
CB: Does that factor have anything to do with making the IJ a national publication?
MW: In a sense it does, but the more important factor in the decision was our realization that we could offer the industry a unique type of coverage.
CB: How’s that? Aren’t there already a number of national insurance magazines?
MW: There are, but their content isn’t regional. Remember that we started as a journal for property casualty agents in Southern California. We still are, as well as for agents up and down the Pacific Coast, and in Texas and the South Central U.S. Insurance is basically a regional product that is regulated at the state level.
CB: That still sounds like somewhat of a contradiction in terms? How can you be national and local at the same time?
MW: There will always be national issues, but risks, coverages, rates, premiums, claims, etc. differ from state to state. Florida agents care about hurricanes, but not earthquakes, if you will. Therefore we’ve established five regions—the East, the West, the Midwest, South Central and Southeast. Each edition will feature both national articles and coverage particular to the region in which it’s circulated; that way agents can learn not just what’s going on across the country, but about what’s happening in their specific area.
CB: What about your advertisers? Are they going to have to buy five different ads?
MW: No, they can buy one ad that will appear in all five editions. They can even run in all five editions for the same price. We can offer an advertiser a single region, if that’s the audience they want to reach, or all five, or for that matter anywhere in between. It will be up to them to choose. Markets and programs differ by state and are not always available in all states.
CB: So, when’s all this going to happen?
MW: As of the first issue in January we will be publishing five regional editions 24 times a year—you heard it here first.
CB: Anything else you’d like to tell us?
MW: Yes, lots, but I’ve got a magazine to run.
Decades of Change: From Fire Insurance to Risk Management
By Kevin B. O’Reilly
When the first issue of Insurance Journal was published in 1923, it covered an industry that was in fundamental respects the same as it is today, but in many other ways less complex and comprehensive.
In the 1920s, the typical agent sold fire insurance, not homeowners insurance, and customers were still getting used to the idea that the new Model Ts they had purchased so cheaply from Henry Ford’s assembly line factory should be insured.
“There was much less risk to be concerned with in 1925,” said John A. Bogardus, former chairman and CEO of the brokerage firm Alexander & Alexander. “You saw the start of aviation insurance in the 1920s, and for the insurance agent their problem remained one of as industry expanded as an outcome of the industrial revolution, risks became greater and greater.
Bogardus, author of “Spreading the Risks: Insuring the American Experience,” a history of the U.S. industry, added: “A lot of people didn’t insure their cars. Agents were still mostly concerned with fire insurance, casualty insurance, inland marine.”
Agents in the 1920s found personal lines insurance to be a tough sell.
“Personal insurance grew quite slowly because the buying public had to be convinced that they needed personal insurance,” Bogardus said. “There was an aversion to personal insurance on the part of the buyer. Agents had to work very, very hard on that. My company, A&A, found that was true when they started in Clarksburg, W.Va. When cars first came out, they couldn’t sell car insurance. They had to work hard to convince people to buy basic insurances. By the 1920s that started to change. That’s what agents thrived on. Without that they couldn’t survive.”
As commercial risks became more complicated and moved beyond simple fire insurance the big brokerages became a stronger force in the distribution of insurance products, Bogardus said.
“Smaller agents were unable to provide the coverage,” he said. “That’s what promoted the broker and increased the size of the big brokerage houses. Many companies began switching to brokers as agents were unable to handle that.”
Many of the techniques employed by agents today played a much greater part of making sales in the early part of the 20th century, according to Bogardus. “It’s a fair statement that there’s a lot less of what I call cold canvassing today, where you went up and down loft buildings ringing doorbells,” he said. “It’s nowhere near what it was. Today there’s a more sophisticated approach and better means of communicating. There’s a lot less pounding the pavement. It still exists, but not to the same extent at all.
Another major difference is that in spite of the recent collapses of major companies like Reliance, Legion, Kemper and others, insurers are much more financially stable today than they used to be. “In the old days, the companies would bankrupt with great frequency,” Bogardus said. “As they understood more about the role of geography in how they acquired their business, they became much more stable.”
Battling the cartels
In the 1920s and well into World War II, independent agents faced great difficulties in dealing with the monopolistic insurer cartels that constituted a semi-private form of regulation, according to insurance historian and columnist Kevin P. Hennosy, who also founded Spread the Risk Inc.
The infamous “in-and-out” rule prohibited agents from selling policies that the cartel did not approve of, usually those of mutual insurers, Hennosy said. The cartels set rates and created policy forms, leaving little to the competitive forces. The result was that mutuals tended to use the exclusive-agent model to distribute their products.
“The mutuals tended to be a result of the affordability and availability problem in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s,” Hennosy said. “The New York-based insurers had no interest in going out there [outside urban commercial areas]. They operated on the belief that wooden houses would burn down and they redlined large portions of the country.”
Therefore, “agencies felt very cut off and alone. At the time, companies were not beyond sending central-office agents out to compete [with local agents], more on the life side but also property/casualty,” Hennosy said. “They’d sell the [heck] out of all the major risks and cherry pick like all get-out. Then they would leave the local agent cleaning up the mess afterwards.” In addition, “there was a lot of bad will out there because people didn’t trust these super agents who came from the outside.”
The forerunner to what is today the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA)—the National Association of Local Fire Insurance Agents, which was formed in the late 19th century—was a real reform movement, according to Hennosy, as it worked to professionalize the insurance agent trade, institute state licensure requirements and represent agent interests, such as in the battle over the in-and-out rule.
New era of regulation
When the Supreme Court ruled the private cartels illegal under federal law in 1944 (on the same day Allied soldiers landed on Normandy), it ushered in a new era in which states played a preeminent role in regulating insurance, as set out in the McCarran-Ferguson Act.
By 1970 the insurance marketplace had changed significantly and would get more sophisticated in the decades to come. Over the course of the 1960s, all of the major brokerage houses went public and began a wave of mergers and acquisitions that has scarcely slowed since.
A major change, according to Bogardus, was in the “sophistication of buyers of insurance, especially among corporations. Before the ’60s we’re really talking about insurance buyers. They were hired to buy insurance on the corporation’s behalf. In the early ’60s started to see shift to risk management and we started to see an emphasis on managing risk, with insurance being one way to do it.”
This change in emphasis was reflected in the name change of what is now the Risk and Insurance Management Society (RIMS), which used to be known as the American Society of Insurance Buyers and then 1965 became the American Society of Insurance Managers.
“Things started to get extremely complicated in the ’70s,” according to Len Strazewski, who has been writing and reporting on the insurance and risk management industry for more than 25 years and serves as a consultant, advisor and contributor to several industry publications. “The insurance contract began to evolve into various other arrangements, including higher retentions and big deductibles.
“There was a movement toward self-insurance or coinsurance. There were new ways of manipulating cash flow involved in insurance,” including retrospective rating.
“What used to be a rather simple transaction all of a sudden becomes a cash flow device, linked to loss control,” Strazewski said. “And then the idea of self-insurance also took hold. Large corporations began using their resources to fund their own claims through some advanced vehicle like a captive.”
“Particularly in the ’70s the corporate responsibility for not just insurance, but risk, took a quantum leap,” Strazewski said. “When I started, about half of the corporations had insurance managers, guys who literally kept the file of insurance policy. We pay the premium and we got a policy in a folder somewhere. They were not heavily engaged in risk management, managing cash flow, or loss control.”
The increasing sophistication of corporate risk managers “created incredible pressure on insurance companies to understand all this—especially on agents and brokers,” he concluded.
Persons of Influence and Independence
By Stephanie K. Jones
The years 1923, 1936 and 1970 were important ones for the Insurance Journal. The publication got its start in 1923, was purchased by Mark Wells Sr. in 1936 and in 1970 Mark Wells Jr. took over publisher’s duties.
In planning for this 80th birthday party in print, the question arose: Who were the movers and shakers of the insurance world, particularly in regards to independent agents, during those time periods? Good question, but not one easily answered.
The fact is there were many, many people who could be counted as “persons of influence” in insurance circles during the 1920s, ’30s and ’70s. What follows is a glimpse at only a few of the people who worked diligently to refine and perpetuate the independent agency system during those decades.
The Roaring ’20s
Today one hears rumblings of efforts to federalize insurance regulation, but things were no different in that respect at the close of World War I, as the feds were even then making noises about increasing federal oversight of the industry. The National Association of Insurance Agents (NAIA), which eventually became the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America (IIABA) or the Big “I,” was at the forefront of the battle to keep insurance under state regulation.
By 1920 four agents—E.M. Allen of Helena, Ark., Fred J. Cox of Perth Amboy, N.J., Thomas C. Moffat of Newark, N.J., and James L. Case of Norwich, Mass.—dubbed the “four horsemen”—had gained control of the NAIA. All were eventually to become presidents of the organization, beginning with Allen, who took office in 1917. Moffat, the last of the four horsemen to assume the position, held the post in 1924.
The top association staff position at the time was that of secretary. In 1920, Walter H. Bennett, a former fire marshal for the state of Illinois, was recruited by Case to take over the job of secretary. Bennett, who eventually wrote “The History of the National Association of Insurance Agents,”—published after his death in 1954—took the helm of an organization beset with financial difficulties. He helped implement a new dues structure, similar to the one currently in effect, in which each state organization pledged a financial contribution based on the numbers of its individual members. In an effort to move the association to even firmer financial ground, Bennett also initiated a drive to increase membership in the NAIA. In addition to his fiscal endeavors, Bennett, a lawyer, aggressively defended the rights of independent agents in the courts. In 1942, Bennett moved from the secretary position to that of general counsel for the NAIA, a post he was to keep until his retirement in 1952.
The Great Depression
During the difficult years of the 1930s, independent agents suffered economically along with the rest of the country. They watched their books of business dry up as struggling businesses and individuals cut costs by letting insurance coverages drop. However, collectively agents learned valuable lessons in the power of political organization in their attempts to both support and thwart New Deal policies championed by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt, a former vice president of Fidelity & Deposit Insurance Company, was elected into office in 1932. Concerned about unfair business practices that hindered competition, he proposed the National Industrial Recovery Act (NRA), legislation that would have established guidelines for fair competition. The Act was supported by independent agents and although the measure passed, it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1934, a group of agents that included W. Owen Wilson of Richmond, Va. and Sidney O. Smith of Gainesville, Ga., as well as the NAIA’s Bennett, committed themselves to combating the policies of the federal Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), which proposed to limit agents’ access to certain markets, notably homeowners and crop coverages. Walter T Reed, Jr., who opened the association’s first Washington, D.C. office in 1934, was also a member of that committee.
By the mid ’30s millions of homeowners’ mortgages were in default and cotton farmers were severely distressed. Through two subsidiaries, the RFC: 1) contracted with the Hartford Fire Insurance Company to insure the home mortgages that had been rescued by the RFC subsidiary, and 2) deprived agents in the South and Southwest of income from farmers’ crop insurance policies by agreeing to provide that insurance to farmers through three national brokers. Eventually the agents’ group succeeded in convincing the RFC agencies to reopen those markets to independent agents.
The 1930s also saw a burgeoning interest in education as integral to the success of the independent agency system. In 1936, L. P. McCord, an independent agent from Jacksonville, Fla., implemented the first “short course” school in Florida, subsequently expanding that program into other states. He was instrumental in establishing education as priority for the NAIA and was named a member of the group’s Publicity and Education Committee in 1937. He became chairman in 1938 and served in that position for some 15 years. In 1961 the Florida association initiated the L.P. McCord Education Trophy, given each year to the state association that during the previous year provided its members with the most extensive educational opportunities.
A Political Decade
A look a the world of independent agents in the 1970s would be incomplete without the inclusion of Bernard J. “Barney” Burns, who has been described as “inimitable,” and whose contributions to the cause of the independent agency system are legendary. Burns, an agent from Milford, Conn., was a driving force in the development of the first political action committee dedicated to working on behalf of independent agents on Capitol Hill. In the early ’70s he was chairman of the NAIA’s first Producer’s Action Fund—the establishment of which was proposed by California’s Lyle Huggins—and served as the association’s president in 1973. Burns tirelessly traveled the country personally raising funds for the political action committee, developing relationships with state leaders and recruiting people who, like him, were gifted in the art of securing contributions.
Along with increased political awareness, the ’70s also saw increasing emphasis on educational programs, such as Insurance Vocational Education Student Training or InVEST, which was adopted on a national level by the NAIA in 1973. InVEST aims to both teach insurance and promote the industry to the public through high school and college courses. A teacher at Evergreen Community College in Washington state, Beverly Funk, developed the concept with the help of SAFECO, but Los Angeles, Calif. agent Steven R. Dach and National Association of Insurance Women (NAIW) representative Carolyn Furlong are credited nurturing the idea and growing it into a national program. Dach, along with the Independent Insurance Agents of Los Angeles, first established an InVEST course in 1969 at Hollywood High School.
Today the program, which is almost fully funded from sources outside of the association, enjoys much success. By 1991 at least 75 percent of InVest graduates were entering the insurance industry.
Author’s Note: The information contained in this article was almost entirely derived from “Soaring with Eagles: The Rise of Independent Insurance Agents in America,” edited by Ronald W. Vinson and Jack Payan, CPCU, and published in 1993 by the Independent Insurance Agents of America. Many thanks to the IIABA’s Kevin Callahan for sharing this book with me.
Insurance Journal Prints Web of Success
By Dave Thomas
When Insurance Journal got its start back in 1923 as an industry publication, the thoughts of one day being able to provide news through an electronic medium to the independent agent probably seemed as realistic as one day setting a man on Mars. If it was going to happen, no one could have foreseen it.
Some 80 years later, Insurance Journal‘s daily e-mail newsletter and Web site have taken the company to new heights, and all at the click of a mouse. Add in a planned January expansion of the print publication, and you have a company embarking on a new frontier.
Sitting down recently with Insurance Journal‘s chief operating officer, Mitch Dunford, one can see that the company has stayed one step ahead of the competition, first just as a print publication in California, expanding to Texas/South Central states, moving to daily news coverage on the Internet, and now in 2004, going national with its print publication.
“In 1970, Mark Wells Jr. took over the publication for his dad after he passed away and at that time, it was basically a California publication,” Dunford said. “In 1995, we took what we were doing in the West and expanded out into the Texas/South Central region and it has worked very well. Now (2004) what we’re doing is basically copying what we’ve done in these two regions and expanding it into three additional regions. I think what we’re doing is a little bit different from the competitors. Our competitors’magazines are basically national magazines with regional inserts. We’re a stand-alone regional magazine in each region that are separate, distinct editions for the five regions of the country.”
Helping Insurance Journal to go national has been the explosion of the company’s Web site, which features worldwide industry news.
“It (Web site) has taken our regional magazine and really branded it nationally,” Dunford continued. “A large number of our subscribers to the publications in our three new regions have come from the Web site. When we started off with our daily e-mail I think we launched it with about 4,000 subscribers that came from our West and Texas magazine subscriber lists and now its teetering at 30,000 in just two or three years. Thirty-thousand subscribers in a couple of years speaks for itself.”
While the Web site has exploded, Dunford noted that the company has not forgotten about its roots in publishing.
“I think the Web site and magazine really compliment each other,” Dunford said. “Each has their strength and each has their weakness. The Web is an excellent source for news and data. It’s difficult to print news stories now in a bi-monthly magazine because by the time it gets there, it is old. On the other hand, people don’t like to sit down and cuddle up with a computer screen, so there still is a place for print. We’ve tried to turn the magazine to more feature articles and information and not news. The magazine allows us to expand on a breaking story from the Web site and analyze it.
“I think you’ll see the same success we’ve had with the Web in our national print magazines,” Dunford continued. “We have five experienced and talented regional managing editors building those publications. I don’t know of anyone else that does that. The strength of our magazine rests in the individual person, whether they’re a writer, a salesperson, a vice president, an HTML editor or a designer for the magazine. We’ve been lucky but we’ve also worked to find the best people and then allow them to do their job. We have an excellent mixture of people. Our vice president (Eric Jeter) in Texas has 30 some odd years of experience in the magazine industry. Then we have people who have just graduated from college but with the common thread that they’re all very enthusiastic and very bright. My philosophy is that if you hire the right person, you really don’t need to manage them that much, which is nice.”
As the print magazine continues its expansion, the Insurance Journal Web site continues by its side for the ride.
“The Web site allows us to provide our readers with different ways of receiving information,” Dunford noted. “We’ve launched streaming audio and video coverage where we’re taking our cameras to the industry and allowing our readers to access that information through the web. I think some day, the line between television, radio and the web is going to blur to the point where it will all be the same. At some point there might be an insurance broadcasting network or that Insurance Journal broadcasting would be part of a professional financial channel.”
As with any product, much behind-the-scenes work goes into making it a success. While readers may become familiar with bylines and stories, they often don’t see those that do the ‘dirty work’ to make it all happen.
Josh Carlson, Insurance Journal‘s web manager, took over the site in 2002 and has offered a number of new features to make it more reader-friendly and informative.
According to Carlson, “The Web site is kind of our ‘door to the world’ and has made us very visible not only in the U.S. but internationally. For example, we find that people are already familiar with us on the East Coast where we haven’t yet published a print magazine. That is related directly to our e-mail newsletter and our Web site. The site’s traffic is growing rapidly and ad sales have increased over the last year. We’ve seen a growing interest in the number of advertisers interested in both our Web site and e-mail sponsorships.”
Carlson noted that when he came to the company, among his goals were to grow the site traffic, grow the content base that the company has and make the content easily accessible.
“There are still improvements to be made, but we’ve improved the navigation of the site and added a better search engine index to the site. A lot of the content is getting good placement in the search engine and people are finding directly what they want. People probably don’t have a full awareness of what it takes to run a site like we run. Our editors put in a good deal of time daily to scout and pull all this information together.”
What is ahead for the Insurance Journal Web site as it complements the company’s magazines?
“We have big plans and I think we’ll see a growth in the content and I expect there to be a number of resources for sale on the site like books and white papers,” Carlson added.
Growth both online and in print have Insurance Journal charting new frontiers in the insurance industry.
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