CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - PN helps MICA turn its image around

Client: Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (Washington)

PR Team: Porter Novelli (Washington)

Campaign: The Value of Mortgage Insurance

Time Frame: June 2000 - ongoing

Budget: dollars 400,000





In 1995, Rep. James V. Hansen (R-UT) painted the seven members of the

Mortgage Insurance Companies of America (MICA) as enemies of the

American dream by alleging they were bilking homebuyers out of insurance

premiums.



Hansen pushed for legislation forcing the companies - which insure home

mortgages for people who can afford only minimal down payments - to

inform borrowers that they no longer need insurance after paying 20% of

their balance. His efforts led to a 1999 law protecting consumers, a

bill that MICA officials say they supported. But the organization felt

the legislative process had painted their industry in a negative

light.



Strategy



Porter Novelli SVP Suzanne DeFrancis and VP Roger Lowe took on the

account to help improve MICA's image. "It was a wake up call to the

industry that they had to go out and show the value of their product,"

DeFrancis says.



Hansen alleged that private insurers would intentionally fail to notify

borrowers when they had reached the 20% threshold so that they could

continue to collect premiums (averaging dollars 50 per month).



PN decided it had to focus on consumer benefit, so it set out to

convince borrowers that private mortgage insurance allowed them to get a

home sooner than they would if they had to pay 20% up-front.



Tactics



The campaign integrated a large amount of advertising with the PR

effort.



"The theme was 'You can get into a home sooner," says DeFrancis.

Focusing on the word "sooner," PN soon transformed the theme into the

tag line "Today. Not Someday."



At the May 2000 launch, PN coordinated national advertising in major

weeklies with PR efforts aimed at the banking and insurance

industries.



The agency also aggressively sought coverage in personal finance columns

and arranged interviews with the CEOs of MICA's seven members. MICA's

lobbyists carried the message to Capitol Hill.



The PR effort continued through the summer with Op-Eds responding to

"inaccurate" characterizations of the private mortgage insurance

industry. And on October 3, PN retooled privatemi.com, which targets

consumers, and mica.com, which focuses on policymakers. Privatemi.com

now features five "calculators" that allow surfers to see the difference

between purchasing a home with private mortgage insurance versus without

it.



As the new year began, PN expanded the campaign by launching a quarterly

newsletter, PrivateMI Perspective, aimed at 15,000 legislators,

policymakers, media and housing organizations.



Results



More than 1,600 affiliates of nationally syndicated radio programs (such

as The Michael Savage Show, The Osgood File and Marketplace) mentioned

MICA's new image, according to PN. The agency says articles connected to

the campaign appeared in 300 publications, including the Los Angeles

Times, Baltimore's The Sun and American Banker.



Privatemi.com reportedly has received 32,000 hits (with 3,000 visits to

the mortgage calculators), while mica.com has racked up 2,500 hits.



Future



"We're launching a new section of the Web site called the 'Online

Cancellation Kit' to help consumers get information about whether or not

they are eligible for stopping their mortgage insurance," says Jeff

Lubar, MICA director of communications. "This is like Nixon going to

China in that it's unusual for an industry to provide the public with

information on how to eliminate use of its products or services."



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