Using Research to Pique Media Interest

One significant challenge for MetLife’s communications team when it was working on the company's "People Like Us"/open enrollment campaign, 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.”