Communications from carriers are crucial to an agency’s business. Through producer bulletins, carriers describe changes, policy updates, and other business matters. Yet producer bulletins are the Greyhound buses of agent-carrier communication — they’re often overflowing with information, not very pretty to look at, and can be late arriving at their destination.
The people who write and distribute the bulletins may be unclear on their responsibilities or missing vital facts, increasing the chances of mixed messages or outright inaccuracies.
These problems can be compounded by a high volume of requests that under-resourced marketing teams can’t fulfill, resulting in bulletins that are produced by “fire drill” at the last minute.
Producers who receive these bulletins can be dismayed by the lack of writing and production value, and inconsistencies in terms of contacts, expectations and timing. Yet it’s important for agents to review these bulletins for critical information.
Some carriers — Chartis, Fireman’s Fund, Progressive, Travelers and The Hartford — use producer bulletins as an adjunct to their marketing efforts. These companies stand out because their bulletins are consistent, have a “designed” look and feel, and the text is clear and concise. The bulletins themselves may not sell new policies, but agents and brokers should feel like a “partner” in the communication process.
There are a few things agents can, and should, expect from carriers when it comes to communication about rate changes, policy updates, organizational notices and other business matters.
• Bulletins should reach agents seven to 10 business days in advance of an “impact date,” such as the day a rate change takes effect for new business.
• At times agents may feel inundated by bad news, but the best carriers will take a strategic view of the process so that the messages always provide context for their decisions.
• The best messages will offer support to agents whose customers may face significant rate increases or non-renewals, such as a call-out box advising agents to make contact with policyholders who experience a premium change.
• The messages should be balanced between factual information — dates, numbers, percentages — and “color commentary” from the front lines, provided by a regional sales executive, for instance, who knows the territory.
Delivering the Message
The key points should be immediately apparent.
• Who is the intended audience?
• What is the product line (or process) involved?
• What is happening?
• What are the critical dates (such as for new business or renewal business)?
• What will be the impact of the message on policyholders?
• What will be the positive and negative impact of the message on agents?
• Will some areas/products/customers be affected more than others?
• Is the message part of a broader communication plan?
Call to Action:
• What do agents need to do as a result of this message?
• Who can they contact for more information?
Bulletins are meant to convey short, specific announcements. The best carriers get right to the point. The “voice,” should be direct, clear and informative, that of a trusted advisor or colleague. The most important content — such as effective dates and numbers for rate changes — should come first so agents don’t waste time trying to find it.
Most carriers distribute their bulletins to producers electronically, either through e-mail blasts or as part of a regular posting to agents via a dedicated Web site. No matter how they receive them, agents should feel free to ask carriers questions about the information. Agents and brokers also may consider agents archiving the bulletins electronically so they’re easily accessible among agency staff.
Abbott is a marketing consultant who specializes in using agent research to help industry professionals create more effective sales and marketing tools. www.JohnAbbottCommunications.com.