Prudential makes news in online offering

Enhanced, innovative features help Prudential's online newsroom serve as a powerful comms tool

About a year ago, Prudential Financial had a breakthrough revelation.

"We noticed we would send things out [such as press releases] and we were beginning to see clickable hits," says Bob DeFillippo, chief communications officer at Prudential. "[This was a] new category that was growing and growing fast. It became very important."

With that realization, Prudential's in-house communications team began work with TEKgroup International, an online newsroom software company for the PR industry, on a new and improved online newsroom that launched April 14. The goal is to reach traditional journalists, bloggers, and consumers with information about the company and personal finance. It contains feature stories, executive bios, graphics, audio, and video.

"In a way, it's like an electronic newspaper," says DeFillippo. "Part of the business plan is to provide helpful information, and not just about the products."

In an age where everyone seems to have a Web site, MySpace page, and Twitter account, an online newsroom might seem basic. However, some companies still don't realize the vital media relations function that online newsrooms serve. As such, they're apt to have news sections that, for the purposes of a journalist on deadline, are conspicuously lacking.

"It seems like a no-brainer," explains Ibrey Woodall, director of marketing and sales for TEKgroup International. "The online newsroom is the initial interaction between the company and the journalist. You will still find a company that will have a Web page with just press releases [in] a list of PDFs."

For Prudential, TEKgroup enhanced management bios, and created a multimedia section, as well as a separate section for retirement information.

Although financial services companies are perceived to be behind the technology curve, Prudential actually taught TEKgroup something new: An automatic events re-minder conceived by the Prudential team for the events calendar that will be part of the next version of the TEKmedia online newsroom product.

Prudential also had a lot to build on. The company had an existing internal communications infrastructure that informs the external communications effort.

Prudential launched a daily online newsletter in January 2003, PruToday, and has an internal video site called PruTube that launched in May 2007. Material from both the newsletter and video site eventually reaches external audiences, though with some adjustments.

"Internally, it's about how individuals in the company, irrespective of job, contribute to the company strategy," says DeFillippo. "From the external standpoint, we tell the story from [the perspective] of how what we're talking about affects consumers."

In providing information to consumers through different channels, the company naturally must give thought to who makes up its audience. By targeting bloggers and adding social elements, for instance, Prudential is reaching out beyond just the older audience one might assume is most interested in retirement and other personal finance issues. In fact, the tenuous state of tried-and-true government programs has everyone concerned about the future.

"If you look at the kinds of products we sell, the traditional way of thinking is you're talking to people who are older and more affluent, and there's a natural bias that you wouldn't be reaching them with this newsroom," says DeFillippo. "We think that's missing the point. People don't really have faith in the Social Security system - the traditional pension program mom and dad [had] doesn't exist anymore. Whether they act now or later, we want them to be thinking of us."

Within the first week of the online newsroom's launch, the site drew between 500 and 600 unique visitors. By the last week of April, it got more than 1,000. Prudential will continue watching these numbers to make sure they grow, while also using other communications tools such as press releases and SMTs.

"We're a financial services company and you might not expect us to do something innovative in terms of communicating," says DeFillippo. "We don't know whether we've reached the [social media] audience, but we're making adjustments to be as useful as possible."

At a glance

Company: Prudential Financial

Headquarters: Newark, NJ

Chairman and CEO: John Strangfeld

Revenue: $631 billion of assets under management as of March 31, 2008

Comms budget: Undisclosed

Key trade outlets: Reuters, Bloomberg, AP, The Wall Street Journal

Comms team: Bob DeFillippo, chief comms officer; Mary Flowers, VP of global comms; Simon Locke, VP of global comms; Gabrielle Shanin, VP of global comms

PR agency: In-house, though TEKgroup International served as Web site consultant

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