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LEVERAGING PR STRATEGIES FOR INSURANCE BROKING PRACTICE


By: Tope Adaramola  
 Published January 26th, 2012

It is no longer news that most corporate organizations are increasingly coming to terms with the need to engage Public Relations to gain better positive image and consequently improve their bottom line. Regardless of the nature of products or services rendered, PR has continued to make itself handy and beneficial to those who chose to utilize it in their day to day operation

Although there still persists the   notion that PR is analogous to Advertising or even Marketing, an understanding of what PR stands for would substantially illuminate the hazy spots. By definition, PR is a deliberate and sustainable effort aimed at maintaining harmonious relationship between an organization and its relevant publics. It could also be seen as the act of communicating with various sectors of the public to influence their attitudes and opinions in the interest of promoting a person, product or idea. These definitions imply that PR is a deliberate rather than a haphazard action or a rule of the thumb thing, aimed at gaining momentary advantage. The fact that PR  is a sustained effort denotes the element timing and consistency. It is apposite to note that PR would give expected overall positive advantage when it is sustained over a given period of time as well as lend itself to evaluation.

But be that as it may, the profession of PR has suffered grave misunderstanding in the Nigeria context, occasioned most times, by the naivety of many people who ingloriously refer to it as an euphemism for bribery, corner cutting, or other unethical conducts. This is mischievous and unacceptable. PR is truthful and ethical!

Differentiating between PR and Advertising in his insightful book on “Rise of PR and Fall of Advertising”, Al Ries underscored the growing credibility advantage which PR has over Advertising in corporate image management. He noted that advertising is saying, printing or broadcasting as desired, so long as it is paid for by the sponsor. This makes the audience or the end receiver take the message guardedly. Whereas, when someone reads a third party article written about a company or its products or services in the press or electronic, they have a feeling of it being objective and believable. They treat similar space of advert with a tinge of suspicion that the views might have been skewed to favour the advertiser. Accepted that both PR and Advertising are like Siamese twins, it is usually unacceptable to play one up above the other, as many companies do these days to their long term peril.

Coming to the realm of insurance generally in Nigeria, it is a known fact that the industry has continued to be bedeviled by multifarious problems chief of which is image or perception challenge. The problem of poor image and public acceptance had for long limited the growth capacity of the industry and its ability to contribute significantly to national economy. It has also stultify in no small measure efforts being made to position the industry on the same pedestal as its peers in advanced climes. Consequently, the image issue has definitely necessitated the need for ingenious utilization of PR strategies by all actors in the industry. Unlike its ilk in America, Europe and other growing economies in Asia and in countries like South Africa, Egypt, Kenya etcetera, where insurance occupy commanding heights in the economy, the case in Nigeria is remarkably different. It is believed that insurance is “bought” in such economies, whereas it is “sold” here in Nigeria. Despite renewed efforts by the regulatory institutions and government to reverse the trend, the industry’s image problem has remained a pain in the neck of the industry.

However, if there is a component of the industry that must imbibe PR, mostly at the level of their practice, it is the insurance broking sector. It is noteworthy that Insurance brokers constitute a significant profile of insurance sector in Nigeria, in terms of number of practitioners. They are also believed to control a lion share of the nation’s insurance business. With over 500 registered members of the Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers, there is hardly any nook or cranny in Nigeria where you are not likely to find a Broker. Suffice therefore to say that insurance brokers play pivotal intermediary roles between the insured (the public), and the insurance companies. By their professional calling, the insurance broker engages in the selling of insurance products to both corporate and individual clients, assisting them to understand the technicalities of the business for their maximum benefit. It  is  commonly held notion that the average client approximates the image and character of an insurance broker or an agent to that of the industry at large. These crucial duties predisposes them to be well rounded both in technical and interpersonal PR and communication skills. Insurance, being an intangible product could only be assessed, appreciated and accepted by clients depending on the personal presentation by the broker.

Gone are those days when the utilization of soft PR skills like grooming, etiquette, poise and personal reputation management are pushed to the background in preference for hard or technical skills or patronage. Most clients do not at first contact wish to be bordered with technical or highfalutin language of insurance, rather what they are concerned with is the personality or presentation skills demonstrated by the insurance personnel who is marketing them, or how he comes across as a professional.

An Insurance broker that will do well in the modern day competitive business environment should begin to see how it could engage the tools of PR for effective results. Whilst the use of conventional media of PR like the newspapers, radio, television, documentaries, printing and mulitimedia have their timeless value, the utilization of social media platforms like facebook, twitters, LinkedIn, blogs, etcetera  are the fad in social and business communication of today. We are in the age of ICT, making it a necessity for all insurance brokers to engage the services of communications experts, in order to assist them maximize the use of computers and internet facilities for profitability. The internet would afford the broker opportunity to market themselves and their products faster and present them with the veritable platform of social networks to leverage on clients which they may ordinarily not have met physically.

Though it is understandable that given the small or medium sizes of most broking firms only few of them could afford hiring a PR professional staff, or create a department for such in their organizations like the bigger underwriting companies, they could regularly seek PR counseling services on consultancy basis. The changing dynamics of modern day insurance warrants that insurance brokers who are professional intermediaries package themselves and their products in an acceptable way before the clients. This would definitely form the basis for the prospect to gladly accept the intangible product of insurance or make up their minds never to have anything to do with it.

 

Tope Adaramola is the Head of PR

Nigerian Council of Registered Insurance Brokers

 topejanet2000@yahoo.com

 


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