Case Study: Employers With Benefits: An Integrated Campaign Teaches Employees the Value of Open Enrollment

Company: MetLife Agency: Bliss PR, DraftFCB Timeframe: 2006-ongoing As employees take more responsibility for choosing and funding their own benefits, many are seeking guidance from employers to help them make the right decisions. At many companies, open enrollment for employee benefits presents a golden opportunity each year during which workers can reassess benefit choices. As a leading provider of employee benefits to over 60,000 corporations, MetLife was in a strong position to educate its own personnel about the importance of open enrollment and provide them with a rules-of-thumb guide to making informed benefits decision. Externally, the company's position in the industry also made it the ideal mouthpiece for educating MetLife clients (and their clients' employees) about the value of understanding benefits options. With this in mind, in late 2006 MetLife launched an integrated employer education campaign timed to coincide with the fall open enrollment season. To create a compelling program, MetLife's PR department partnered up with its institutional marketing department and ad agency, DraftFCB. The company also worked with Bliss PR, a New York-based firm, to help develop media messages and perform outreach to targeted publications. This collaboration was key throughout the development of the ongoing program. "We worked very closely with our marketing partners, and we have a cross-discipline team within MetLife who are dedicated to the open enrollment initiative," says Toni Griffin, MetLife's director of PR. "We meet on a weekly basis. We have carefully devised project plans to ensure we're meeting all of our milestones and getting the deliverables out on time." It also helps that MetLife has an integrated approach to communications on every program they work on, says Meg Wildrick, managing director of Bliss PR. "There's a cross-disciplinary task force that's put together beforehand for every major project, such as the open enrollment project. We'll then have a [conference] call with members of the institutional business market research team, marketing, the ad agency, internal PR and our team, and brainstorm our ideas and talk about the major deliverables that we're each going to need to take on to achieve the results that we want for the campaign." Targeting employers and their employees, the project team outlined three objectives from the inception of the project: Increase visibility for MetLife and the open enrollment season in the top-tier national media by 20%; Elevate appreciation and awareness of employer-sponsored benefits among employees, resulting in increased enrollment participation and potentially increased satisfaction, loyalty and retention; and, Support the company's Institutional Business' thought leadership platform and its vision to be the recognized benefits and retirement experts with innovative solutions that help employers manage their business for success and support the well-being and peace of mind of their employees. Shortly after the official launch of the program, which had a budget of $869,565 for marketing, advertising and PR components, the campaign focused on building awareness through the media about MetLife's thought leadership on open enrollment issues, as well as its proprietary tools and resources needed to help employers maximize the open enrollment experience for employees. The PR component kicked off with a news release highlighting the findings from MetLife research (see sidebar) and the rules of thumb for employers, which were distributed over BusinessWire and pitched to more than 80 reporters at key national and trade publications. A variety of other PR vehicles were used to supplement MetLife's focus on the national broadcast and print media and to reach small, regional outlets in a timely and cost- effective manner. The media messages were aligned with MetLife's direct-to-consumer advertising campaign, which encompassed online banners, paid search, e-mail blasts and direct mail outreach. To support the brand during open enrollment season, MetLife streamlined its Web site by simplifying the language and delivering new tools and calculators that would further educate consumers. Also, a Webinar was offered to brokers and employers, and a white paper explaining open enrollment research was available for download on MetLife's site. As compared to the past, the media visibility of MetLife's open enrollment program increased significantly, with top-tier coverage increasing by 39%--way over the 20% goal. The way the team used research to pique the interest of reporters was the biggest takeway of the initiative. Katherine Kilpatrick, an account executive at Bliss PR, says research is their best tool when it comes to putting together an initiative such as the open enrollment project. "That's one of the elements that makes this campaign different from the others. It gives it a level of authority that a lot of other companies can't compete with." PRN CONTACTS: Toni Griffin,; Katherine Kilpatrick,; Meg Wildrick, Prime Ingredients: Senior Buy-In And Integration With any major thought leadership initiative, such as MetLife's open enrollment campaign, it's incumbent for PR to secure the support of upper echelon executives before you move forward, says Toni Griffin, MetLife's director of PR. "[For a program like this], you really need to have the commitment of senior management of the business who recognize the value of dedicating resources to a program that can help to increase the visibility of the business. That can help you differentiate your company from your competitors and can ultimately create opportunities for sales to engage in conversations about important issues that are affecting their customers." Another reason that accounts for the success of MetLife's open enrollment program is the fact that there are no silos--everything and everyone is intertwined and the communication channels are always clear and open, according to Meg Wildrick, managing director for Bliss PR. "The work was one of integrated communications. It really does take a village. It was an integrated initiative that involved the entire MetLife organization. There were interactive tools, there were Web site applications, there were internal communications, there was sales force and broker communication, there was PR, written brochures, etc. There was a really integrated play, and no one's part could have succeeded without the other." Using Research To Pique Media Interest One significant challenge for MetLife's communications team was securing media coverage, which traditionally has been very limited and competitive when it comes to the subject of open enrollment for employee benefits. "Certainly it was covered in the HR benefits press, but it's only been in the past few years that personal finance reporters during fall open enrollment season have been sharing information with their readers about how important it is for them to spend time when selecting their benefits," says Toni Griffin, MetLife's director of public relations. Consequently, it was important to identify a new way to approach the media and get them engaged in the subject matter. At this stage, research became a crucial component in the program. According to Griffin, it was conducted in two stages. "The first was qualitative ethnographic research, which was done in real-time as employees go through their open enrollment period (October to December)," she explains. "Through our marketing research department, MetLife conducted 28 one-on-one interviews and six joint husband-and-wife interviews immediately following the open enrollment period [in the fall of 2006]. They were all asked to keep a journal of their emotions during open enrollment. We also asked them to create a collage that described their emotions, which were very interesting to look at (laughs). We had them interview their fellow employees and we even had them take photos of the enrollment materials they received." The findings were then published in a white paper called the "Big Envelope" (a nickname that refers to the big envelope employees often get when asked to select their benefits during this period). Supported by research, the white paper provided insight into employees' behavior and feelings during the open enrollment process. MetLife has also made the white paper available to multiple audiences, including the media, agents, brokers and employers. That research was supplemented with a quantitative study that MetLife conducted in the third quarter of 2007, for which more than 1,200 full-time employees--all at companies where there are at least 500 workers or more and all of them benefits decision makers in their households--were surveyed. "There were some interesting findings that came out of this study," explains Griffin. "One major one is that employees have a range of emotions during the open enrollment process, from confusion to frustration and then relief after they've made their decision about which benefits to select. [This further confirmed to] MetLife that they had an opportunity to help employers alleviate their employees' concerns during open enrollment by providing some customized tips and decision support tools." Other findings demonstrated that when it comes to benefits options, employees are no longer looking for a one-size-fits-most approach to employee benefits. They are also looking for their employers to provide guidance and advice that is geared for them at their stage of life. "All of the campaign is grounded in research, so at the very beginning we see what employees and employers are saying," says Meg Wildrick, managing director of Bliss PR. "We all have access to that same research where we each see what the major takeaways are and come together with plans that we all vet together and then coordinate how to move forward."

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