Federal Emergency Management Agency turns to WPP

WASHINGTON - The Federal Emergency Management Agency has appointed WPP Group agencies, J Walter Thompson and Ogilvy PR, to handle an $80m campaign to aggressively increase sales of government flood-insurance policies in defence against extreme weather conditions.

JWT and Ogilvy PR will work in tandem to lead the $15m-a-year integrated effort. A launch meeting between representatives from both firms and FEMA, now part of the Department of Homeland Security, took place last Wednesday.

Congress established the National Flood Insurance Program in 1968 to make flood insurance available to residents of disaster-prone coastal communities in the US. The federal government underwrites such policies in an attempt to make them less risky to insurance companies and more attainable to homeowners.

The ambitious campaign seeks to increase sales of the policies by 5% in the first 18 months, and then maintain that level of growth for the next five years. More than 4.3m Americans currently participate in the program, representing more than $600m worth of insurance.

Finding those people may prove a serious challenge in itself, however. The target audience -- homeowners at high risk of flood -- is spread widely across the country, and may prove difficult to reach en masse, according to both agencies.

"Reaching these homeowners will involve partnering with other stakeholders who can help us get our message to them," explained Ogilvy VP Danielle Mackey. "Homeowners associations, home builders, the insurance industry -- there is already a strong network of people who can help us reach out."

Other tactics of the still-developing campaign include aggressive media relations during the flood-heavy hurricane season, limited TV advertising, direct mail, direct-response television, and a new NFIP website.

Both firms have longstanding relationships with FEMA. Dating back to the mid-Eighties, Ogilvy has led efforts such as the Emergency Public Information Campaign and the Family Preparedness Program. It also provided general communications support for FEMA's public affairs in the late Eighties on other flood-related matters.

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