I’ve been thinking of writing about public relations for insurance agencies, so I started reviewing a little booklet that I wrote on the subject a few years ago. I was surprised to recall that in the 1990s, insurance agents rated “image” fifth in the top 15 factors critical to agency value.
What does “image” even mean anymore?
It’s a word you don’t hear much these days, at least not used in that way. “Image” used to be such a popular word, too. Remember Andre Agassi’s commercials for Canon in the ‘90s? “Image is everything.” And of course image was perception — which, as the Rolling Stone ads in the ‘80s pointed out, was not necessarily reality.
I Googled the phrase “insurance image” and the number one search result was a smorgasbord of graphics used in insurance presentations. Most of the other entries were insurance company logos. The prominence of graphic design terms in the culture has obviously far overtaken the meaning of the word as a PR concept.
In Merriam Webster, you don’t get to the definition of image as a “mental conception held in common … and symbolic of a basic attitude …” until line 5 a 2).
In my first page of Google search results, the only mentions of “insurance industry image” related to problems in African countries where consumer protections against fraud are somewhat lax and consequently, the insurance industry has a tarnished image.
So what is the state of opinion in the U.S. today regarding the image of the insurance industry?
Basically, it doesn’t seem to be much of an issue any more. I read an article written in January 2010 about insurance companies complaining that it was hard to recruit people to enter the industry because of perception (image) problems. I wouldn’t be too sure that’s their tune today, though.
Here are some factors that I think might have improved the insurance industry’s image in the past few years:
- Overall economic problems weigh more on people’s minds today than anything else. Maybe people still hate insurance and think they’re being ripped off if they don’t get back every cent they pay in premium for auto or home insurance . However, they’re just too distracted by the overall economy to worry about it much.
- If any industry has the wrath of consumers, it’s banking, not insurance.
- Public opinion against the Affordable Care Act may be taking the heat off the health insurance industry. In a Wall Street Journal poll, 81% of those surveyed felt the Affordable Care Act would cost them more and complained that the legislation does not do anything about underlying healthcare costs.
- The Internet has given consumers more options over whom they can deal with, and more control over their insurance transactions.
- The Internet and social media have allowed insurance agents to communicate in a more engaging way with consumers, reducing barriers to understanding with better information and service.
I know these can’t be the only reasons and that not everyone will even agree with me on these. I’d be curious to know your thoughts.