"That event really set this industry back," notes Peter van Aartrijk, managing director of the van Aartrijk Group and a 20-year veteran of insurance PR. "Even though for every unhappy claimant you probably had close to 100 [who] were happy, reporters love the controversy. So it really created this mosaic of mistrust."
Regaining that trust has been an uphill battle - in part because, outside of the context of natural disasters, insurance can be a tough sell to the press. "Insurance is just not a very sexy or visual topic," says Tom Nixon, partner with Identity Marketing and Public Relations.
But Patrick Royal, public affairs director for the Independent Insurance Agents Association, notes that there are still ways to get the mainstream press interested in insurance, especially when you focus on seasonal opportunities.
"We're pitching TV stations around the holiday on stories about how to make sure you're covered in the event someone slips in the snow while at your house for a party," he says. "Insurance tends to be covered by the consumer reporter, [so] focus on tips-driven stories, and also include the key message [of, 'contact] your local insurance agent if you have questions on protection.'"
Insurance is a huge industry, so there are many dedicated magazines covering the space, such as National Underwriter and Insurance Journal. But van Aartrijk notes that virtually every trade or business outlet would be a good target for a pitch on issues like industry-specific risk management practices.
Van Aartrijk explains, "The industry really touches all aspects of business and financial life." He does caution, though, "I've never seen an industry with more jargon. [Make] sure to take that out, and focus on the things that make sense for that particular venue."
Nixon also stresses the importance of using area agents and brokers to help reporters localize any story, but concedes, "It can be frustrating because a lot of reporters approach an insurance story with a certain narrative in mind."
One way to combat that is to make sure you stay in touch with reporters with follow-up good-news stories. "If a person loses their house in a fire and an insurance company helps them rebuild it," says Nixon, "that can be a great human-interest story for the local features editor."
Localize insurance stories by reaching out to area agents and brokers to provide an on-the-ground community perspective
There are insurance angles to many consumer-centric stories, so look for key spots, like wedding season, to pitch stories like how newlyweds should contact their local agent just before or after going through such a life-changing event
There are always second- and third-day insurance stories after events like the recent California wildfires, so have a comms plan in place that gets a positive educational message out about how your client - or the insurance industry in general - is helping people recover from natural disasters