Merrill Lynch (ML) is fiercely trying to position itself for the looming retirement of the millions of baby boomers, a tidal wave that should begin in earnest over the next few years.
In anticipation, the financial services firm is committed to strengthening and promoting the retirement element of its Total Merrill package, which also includes investment, credit, financial guidance, and other services.
So ML teamed with Burson-Marsteller, its agency partner for nearly 30 years, to promote the company's sweeping survey on baby-boomer retirement.
The survey, with nearly 3,500 respondents, offered a detailed picture of how baby boomers fit into the US employment picture and what their plans are for their golden years. Richard Aneser, ML's director of brand planning and marketing communications, says a "great demographic shift" is under way that will change the conventional wisdom surrounding retirement. The evidence was clear to those doing day-to-day client work.
"[ML's financial advisers] were very vocal in the changing nature of retirement," he said. The survey revealed that instead of the traditional school-work-retirement chain, boomers "live a nonlinear life," jumping in and out of the workforce as the fancy strikes them.
The company set out with an integrated ad, PR, and online campaign focused on its retirement offerings. It brought in Burson nearly a year in advance of the survey's release to start reviewing preliminary data and designing a promotional plan.
The results of the survey were promising, and so was Burson's outlook. "Real news has got great legs," says Burson MD Sam Lucas. The agency set out to maximize exposure, draw visitors to the website, and encourage prospective clients to order a copy for themselves.
Burson developed a three-part approach to maximize media coverage of the study's findings.
First, Lucas says, the agency sought to create a "cascade effect" by targeting top-tier media, then allowing those stories to trickle down to smaller titles.
Second, it "layered" broadcast, print, and online outlets together to ensure their story reached a broad demographic and achieved the largest possible market penetration.
Finally, the firm packaged and tailored different elements of the survey to appeal to different outlets - putting together demographic trends for HR magazines, for example, or women's responses for women's titles. To boost web traffic, the team made sure to mention the website address in every media interview. And it teamed with marketwatch.com, the online financial news destination, to direct financially inclined readers its way.
ML also worked with Burson to make sure it kept its internal lines of communication open.
"It's critical that the financial advisers are informed and knowledgeable," Aneser said.
ML had recorded more than 65,000 hits to its website, total-merrill.com/retirement, by mid-July. Clients ordered close to 7,000 brochures via the website and a toll-free hotline.
And ML's financial advisers, who work most closely with clients, themselves ordered more than 97,000 copies of the retirement survey to pass on to the baby boomers whose money they managed.
In total, Burson says it secured 40 million media impressions for the survey, website, and Totalmerrill offering.
Burson is continuing to promote the company's retirement services and is considering making the survey an annual event to track the progress of baby boomers into nursing homes.
The earliest of the boomers will reach retirement age next year, and the competition for management of their accumulated wealth is likely to be ongoing for at least the next 20 years. But not even the survey readers know how that generation's golden years will play out.
"They're all rebelling in the boomer way," says Lucas. "Retirement as we know it does not exist any more."
PR team: Merrill Lynch and Burson-Marsteller (both New York)
Campaign: Merrill Lynch New Retirement Survey promotion
Time frame: February 2005 to present (ongoing)