CAMPAIGNS: Direct Line in bid to scrap 'switch' fee - Public Affairs

Client: Direct Line

PR Team: In-house and Hill & Knowlton

Campaign: Making the Switch

Timescale: July 2001 - ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed



Buying a home is the biggest purchase most people will ever make. As

such, it is quite easy for mortgage lenders to lock customers into a

buildings insurance policy, as part of an overall package.



Twenty-two per cent of mortgage lenders charge an administration fee if

customers decide to move buildings insurer at a later date. This fee -

typically around £25 - can act as a deterrent to those seeking

cheaper insurance. Last July mortgage lender and insurance provider

Direct Line decided to tackle the issue.



Objective



To outlaw the practice of charging customers for switching buildings

insurance provider and hence give consumers greater choice.



Strategy and Plan



Launched on 12 January, the campaign has several threads, addressing

politicians, regulators, customers and the media.



As Direct Line refunds switching fees for new customers, the firm had a

ready-made database, providing a geographical picture of charges In

November, this enabled the PR team to write to every MP, detailing how

many of their constituents were affected.



In 2002, this initiative was expanded with a report,Making the Switch,

which provided MPs with facts and figures.



Direct Line also conducted a number of face-to-face meetings with

politicians.



To gain consumer support, the PR team spoke to the Consumers Association

and the National Consumer Council.



In January, Direct Line instigated a postcard campaign, asking new

customers who disagreed with switching charges to send a pre-printed

objection to their MP.



On 29 November, Croydon MP Geraint Davies, whose constituency includes

Direct Line's HQ, put down an Early Day Motion in Parliament, calling

for the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and the General Insurance

Standards Council to take action.



Measurement and Evaluation



Formal evaluation of print coverage has yet to be undertaken, but the

launch featured in The Express, Mirror, Times, FT, the Independent on

Sunday and is still running in regional press.



The story did not catch the eye of TV journalists, but H&K estimates a

weekly reach of more than 19 million on radio, including Radio 4's Today

programme.



Results



The postcard campaign is still in its infancy, but almost 70 MPs have

signed up to Davies' Early Day Motion. Under its new powers to regulate

the insurance and mortgage industries, the Financial Services Authority

has agreed to investigate the problem of switching charges.



'In light of the feedback that we've received, we're very optimistic,'

says Direct Line senior PR manager Gill Murphy. 'The campaign seems to

be catching the interest of people in terms of the unfair practices.'



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