In the midst of a housing and economic crisis, Ginnie Mae is communicating its good story to various audiences.
Forty years after its inception, the Government National Mortgage Association, a.k.a. Ginnie Mae, still was an unfamiliar name to many mainstream journalists and US consumers.
Few outside of the trade press and investment community knew that the federal agency basically invented mortgage-back securities, or that it has guaranteed securities on mortgages for 34 million-plus homes since it was founded in 1968.
But the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), its sister agencies, are household names to US consumers and mainstream housing and economic reporters – even if it's not entirely for the most positive reasons.
While those sister agencies had a disastrous 2008, Ginnie Mae, the only agency of its kind to issue mortgages fully backed by the federal government, had a very successful year. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac previously acted as publicly traded companies during that time period, while Ginnie Mae was a wholly owned government corporation.
In September 2004, Ginnie Mae hired Terry Carr, its first communications staffer, to help the government-owned corporation raise its profile with these audiences.
With only two in-house communications pros, DC-based Ginnie Mae hired Burson-Marsteller, with which it had worked previously. It hired the firm in April 2008 after a competitive review, which began with an RFP that was developed starting in 2004.
“The world changed in that time,” says Carr, senior adviser for communications and marketing at Ginnie Mae. She adds that hiring Burson became more important for Ginnie Mae after the economy and housing market changed so radically.
And so the message, and overall strategy, became to educate through the prism of the mainstream media outlets that influence US consumers.
“The market just shifted to federally insured loans and we're the primary outlet for securitizing those, so we've really had to step right in and take on that additional business,” Carr says.
The communications team decided it was important to reach both the consumer and mainstream media audiences. The message aimed at the public conveyed that Ginnie Mae ensures capital for mainly first-time homeowners and low- and moderate-income buyers.
And, for the growing number of journalists covering the fallout of the housing market and the economic crisis, the goal was to inform them of Ginnie Mae's role in providing safe investments for investors and those in the financial industry during a weak economy.
Gina Screen, deputy director of communications and marketing at Ginnie Mae, says given the current economy, and how Ginnie Mae's role in the economy has expanded, understanding the agency is crucial for US consumers, media, investors, and the banking industry.
In fact, though it was once a much smaller percentage of the housing and investment markets, it jumped last fall to being 40% of the latter, Screen says.
To generate interest in Ginnie Mae, the PR team at Burson launched a proactive media effort that targeted top-tier outlets to tell the organization's story.
“As the housing industry troubles surfaced... you had news organizations putting all kinds of staff on to covering what's happening in the housing industry and the economy,” says Mary Crawford, MD of public affairs at Burson. “Those media people became a targeted audience this fall.”
Reporters from Mortgage Daily, National Mortgage News, Investor's Business Daily, Bloomberg, and Inside MBS & ABS attended in-person briefings with the Ginnie Mae staff. The organization also held Web and conference call briefings with journalists from The Hill, The Washington Times, and HousingWire, according to Carr.
Joseph Murin, president of Ginnie Mae, conducted background interviews with the Financial Times, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, Fox Business, The Associated Press, and American Banker.
“They had to... come to an understanding of who Ginnie Mae is, and what we do, in a very short period of time, when they've had years to understand Fannie [Mae] and Freddie [Mac],” Screen says.
While pitching media focused much on education, it was also a chance for Ginnie Mae, at the height of news coverage, to highlight what it has accomplished in the past few years and how the role of the organization has evolved because of changes in the economy.
“I definitely see our role as to educate people about who we are and what we do,” Carr says. “I think Ginnie Mae has a great story to tell.”
When Burson was hired, some of its original tasks were to develop and analyze collateral materials, like brochures, fact sheets, and the Web site, Crawford says.
The scope of work quickly changed to proactive media outreach, which continues to be the primary focus. But, as media interest has intensified, a need to train senior pros at Ginnie Mae developed, Carr says, so that they could learn how to tailor a message for a specific audience.
“This industry is very complex, and our biggest challenge was figuring out the right way to say it for the audience whom we were dealing with,” she adds.
The various audiences that Ginnie Mae is trying to reach include the media, consumers, nonprofit housing groups, bankers, investors, housing agencies, and the financial industry.
“It's always a good thing when your trade is interested in who you are,” Screen says. “But the fact that we have mainstream media now interested in us and our story, I'm extraordinarily pleased.”
Messages for different audiences
Lenders. Ginnie Mae is a good way for vendors to sell their loans on Wall Street because the pricing is good and securities are liquid
Investors. Securities from Ginnie Mae are a stable investment vehicle in the current economic crisis because they are backed by the US government
Consumers. Ginnie Mae makes affordable home ownership possible for Americans during the recession
The title of this story in print appears as "A reliable investment."