Young Insurance Agents Taking the Lead in Digital Marketing

Thousands of discussions, debates and arguments are taking place in agency offices across the country between principals and ambitious young producers about the role of digital marketing.

There are also more than a few stories about millennial producers becoming frustrated by foot-dragging owners who then jump to another agency or start their own.

Rather than rehashing the arguments, I wanted to find young agents who found a way forward by frontal assault, stealth, or just by thinking outside-the-box.

“For millennials, a phone call is an interruption,” said Melissa Stallings, a young agent at Stallings Insurance Agency in Douglasville, Ga. “I want to be known as someone that people can trust and not someone who just calls about insurance.” Stallings is active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and much of the content focuses on people and the communities the agency serves.

At Atlanta-based Snelling Walters Insurance, Wezly Barnard wanted to take a more active approach online than his agency had done before.

“Management, however, has encouraged us to do our own thing,” Barnard said. “We evaluate our individual results every quarter and if they are positive after a year, then the agency may step it up.” Barnard said he has been tracking the number of cold calls, social media sites used, and the number of posts made, as well as more traditional efforts such as chamber meetings attended.

Even if a young producer is the heir apparent, prudence can prove effective.

“The best approach for us has been to take it in stages,” said Elissa Simone-Howe of the Simone Insurance Agency in Iron Mountain, Mich. “I lay out the benefits of each tool and how they will help the agency long-term.” The first project she tackled was a new agency management system. Now complete, she has moved to improving the agency website. “My father trusts my judgment and I value the legacy he built but he also understands the need to change for the future.”

To better persuade owners to “go digital,” young producers should see challenges from the owner’s perspective, too.

“You need to meet people where they are rather than where you’d like them to be,” said Meagan McDonald of McDonald McGarry Insurance Brokers in Edmonds, Wash. “I grew up with social media and understand the nuances in a way that many older producers do not.” However, in her view some agencies try too hard in their efforts to be digital, without understanding its purpose. “There is an art to it. You have to have a balance and be true to the agency’s legacy.”

Sonila Kastrati of the Amaden-Gay Agency in East Hampton, N.Y., also takes a practical approach to advocating for more active digital marketing efforts. “Initially, management was concerned about negative reviews but now they’re seeing benefits in brand awareness and retention,” she said.

Sometimes the numbers do the persuading for agency owners when it comes to embracing digital marketing.

“What made a big impression for me was two things,” Bob Frantti of the Tervo Agency in Hancock, Mich. “First, the demographics are staring at us in the face,” he said. Millennials are now the largest generation of the labor force, according to the Pew Research Center. “Just as telling however, is the fact that almost all of our senior citizen clients rely on their smartphones; not just to stay in touch with family and friends but also to conduct business.”

Why? “Because it’s so convenient,” he said.

This article was originally published in the July 2, 2018 issue of Insurance Journal Magazine.